December 2011

Dropping Science: Happy New Year From the ISS

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bqkABFZnG8&w=853&h=480]

 

I know I wasn’t going to post any Dropping Science over Christmas but this video hit the internet earlier today and if anything illustrates what can be achieved through cooperation and scientific exploration, it’s this. Happy new year from the International Space Station and happy new year from us at the bunker.

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BTB Awards: Biggest Story

Biggest Comic Book Story

Joe Quesada’s Building the Cover – Avenging Spider-man #1 (October 16, 2011)

Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada often applies his long honed artistic skills to emblazon the titles he was supervising. One of the best artists in the history of Marvel, Quesada is known for his unflinching determination to create the best piece of art he can. Beyond the Bunker’s Dan Thompson discovered JQ’s post in which he revealed the process behind his most recent project and posted it with us. Amazingly Mr Quesada saw the tweet and tweeted it way beyond our limited range. Que the highest number of hits we’ve ever received and, deservedly, almost the highest number of hits for any post we’ve ever put up – in certainly the shortest time. Thanks again to Mr Quesada for taking the time to point his fans to our humble site…

Those of you who follow Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada on twitter may have seen his occasional “Building The Cover” sessions in which he explains the entire process of creating his astounding cover images. He posted a special one from New York Comic Con last night and I thought that it was interesting enough to share here. Just so we’re clear, this is not our work or associated with us in any way. The intention here is simply to compile together Joe’s tweets on the subject for easy reading. Enjoy.

“First step was to work up a few thumbnails. Here’s a thumbnail template I made just for such an occasion”
“These initial thumbnails were drawn in Sketchbook Pro. The absolute best pencil sketching program on the market”
“I was immediately partial to the center image, but decided to make life difficult and make it a wraparound cover…Once again, in Sketchbook, I used their mirror function in order to get a nice symmetrical framework”

“Not crazy with Spidey’s head, too stylized and he looks hunchbacked. also started toying with possible background”

“Still in mirror mode and trying a different positioning for his arms and hands. Also expanding the web idea.”

“Since Hulk and Wolvie are in the issue I decided to alter the arms again and to make room for cameos. I also decided to drop the web motif…So lets try a gargoyle while we’re at it”

“Not killing me, so perhaps a more passive Hulk and Wolvie and a smaller gargoyle”

“For those wondering, I’m drawing all of this digitally on my Cintiq using their stock pen tip and working in Sketchbook Pro at the moment…I switched over to Manga Studio EX 4 and start to lay in a perspective grid for possible buildings”

“In the middle of working on this cover I see Joe Mad’s AMAZING cover for the book, he has Hulk and Wolvie on it so I abandon the idea…No longer in mirror mode, I now start to rework Spidey’s arms and hands so that they’re different and have a much more naturalistic feel…And also back in Sketchbook, notice the digital pencils are getting tighter”

“It’s at this point that I regain my senses and wonder if I’m working to hard, maybe a single cover will do”

“Okay, who I kidding, I’m a masochist, lets go back to wraparound. I bounce now to Photoshop and start building the figure in black line…Here’s the beginning of that”

“Also, I’ve abandoned the gargoyle idea altogether, I think it’s going to be webbing and noir cityscape…Next is a light study, the idea being that Spidey is lit from the city streets underneath him”

“Now for a much tighter drawing, we’re getting close”

“A real rough pass at the kind of feel and weight I want the webbing to have”

“Time to block out the webbing for real now. Keep in mind, this is for placement only, sans all detail”

“Okay, I’ve got webbing, figure, lighting and city perspective done. Now I print this out at actual page size, light box and start penciling…here’s the final pencils as Danny Miki received them”

“For those unfamiliar with this kind of stuff, the X’s on the board indicate to the inker that that area needs to be a solid black…I rarely use x’s, but this cover had so much black and shadows that it would have been a gray mess if i had actually filled that stuff in…And, this afternoon I just got the final inks from the brilliant Danny Miki TAA-DAA!”

Fascinating stuff. If you want more stuff like this then be sure to follow Joe on Twitter.

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Biggest Movie Story (Biggest Number of Combined Hits)

A Merry Band: The Band of Dwarves Part 1, 2 & 3 (February / March 2011)

Always best to write about things you’re interested in. In 2010, one of us missed an open audition in London for The Hobbit. Upon realising that the first days of the shooting for Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit and those cast chosen to become the Merry Band that takes on old Smaug was en route to New Zealand, we wanted to know who played who and where these men had come from… While the three all appear in the top 25 most popular posts, combined they make more than 1000 hits.

Part One

‘The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells / while hammers fell like ringing bells / in places deep, where dark things sleep / in hollow halls beneath the fells.’

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit begins with 13 Dwarves arriving in small groups and one by one at Bag End to meet with a surprised Hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins and convince to aid and abet in their plot. Doughy, rough faced, beardy cave miners – sturdy and brutal warriors and cheeky imp like mini-vikings, the Dwarves represent a family of MiddleEarth’s population only a mother could love. Even Tolkien doesn’t rate them much; admitting that trouble is never far behind them.

His first depiction of Dwarves in the Silmarillion (the first of the Middle Earth novels) depicts them as evil employers of Orcs and Tolkien’s urge to fill his roll call for the Hobbit with them demanded a more sympathetic perspective. He draws most heavily from the Norse storytelling of the ferocious warrior midgets and endowed them with armour and weaponry befitting this background.

At the time Tolkien was reportedly heavily influenced by his selective reading of Jewish history and the Jewish community oddly found representation in the band of short men that visit Bilbo. Dispossessed from the Homeland (the Lonely Mountain; their ancestral home is the goal the exiled Dwarves seek to reclaim) and living among other groups while retaining their own culture, while true of many cultures in modern history, was derived by Tolkien by the medieval image of Jews, whilst their warlike nature stems from accounts and tales from the Hebrew Bible. The one cultural similarity with Tolkien’s (and Dwarves themselves) initial approach to Dwarves was that both Medieval views of Jews and the fictional Norse Dwarves were seen and referred to as having a propensity towards making well-crafted things. This, to a writer so absorbed by the representation of cultures in his own work rings very true.

Tolkien was faced with a number of choices in how to present his 13 characters – while a small number of the Dwarves are prominent in the book; fundamentally they’re a mass of opinions and reactions to the events of the book. But the reader behaves among the group as a guest would – noting those most familiar with and recognising the others as individuals that make the whole more interesting. Even with Peter Jackson’s love of characterisation ( shown in LOTR, King Kong and The Frighteners) he’ll have a tough time making sure each and every one of this band of Dwarves will be introduced to us fully over the course of the adventures. Though how they might appear on screen is of great interest….

So who are these dwarves? And perhaps more importantly in the advancement of our expectations of what we’ll see in 2012 – who has been chosen to play them? If you are expecting a repeat of John Rhys Davies’ sturdy and gravity hugging Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy you may be in for a surprise as the foremost in the cast look very little like the little men they’ve been called to play.

The band of Dwarves and the Hobbit - after arriving for Dwarf bootcamp in New Zealand

Though on the whole broad and powerful looking as a bunch they’ll no doubt fulfill every expectation put upon them. Assembled are new, younger, upcoming stars, more established actors, long standing performers who have enjoyed many roles but little recognition (most likely until now), older, less well known gentlemen and a familiar face from the previous films you just won’t recognise. They are now assembled in New Zealand for Dwarf Bootcamp, in which they will gain training, linguistic and accentual and physical, performance and technical to prepare for the role. Aidan Turner (of BBC3 horror comedy Being Human) is doing all he can to grow his own beard in time for preliminary shooting.

They are;

Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakensheild). The most prominent of the Dwarves in the book, Armitage appears on first glance an odd choice. Predominantly a theatre and television actor his only movie credit so far is as an uncredited Naboo Fighter Pilot in Star Wars: Phantom Menace, however following some very prominent roles in mainstream British TV in recent years; Cold Feet, North and South, ShakespeaRe-told, a strong performance BBCs Robin Hood series as misunderstood villain of the piece Guy of Gisbourne and an Armed Police Officer in Spooks he will appearing in Captain America: The Last Avenger this year as Nazi Heinz Kruger. (Whether he’s a misunderstood Nazi is yet to be seen). Regardless, his climb up the ladder has been steady and long and his strong voice and glower will add a lot to the head Dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. I’ll be very interested to see how he’s presented.

Tolkien borrowed Thorin’s name from the Old Norse poem ‘Voluspa’, part of the poetic Edda. Thorin appears in stanza 12 and used for a Dwarf and the name Oakenshield (Elkinskjaldi) appear in stanza 13. Thorin is proud and brash and while he and Gandalf stand their ground in the Goblin tunnels and he is the least surprised by an encounter with Trolls but his leadership is far from distinguished and generates most of the difficulties the party face on their journey. Driven into exile by the Dragon Smaug in 2770, he wants to retake his homeland. He carries a charmed blade named Orcrist, a similar weapon to Frodo’s ‘Sting’ in LOTR.

Aidan Turner (Kili) – standing at 6′ and slim in build Aidan Turner is one of the main cast members that is undergoing a transformation in order to play his part. A British Television actor, Turner found prominence in BBC1’s Desperate Romantics as Romantic period painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and more notably BBC’s Being Human as Vampire Mitchell. His performances are strong and he’s physically a very capable actor. He tends to play romantic, self-destructive leads because of his appearance so his casting as a short stop will be another interesting one. A capable character actor however and great things should be expected for him. His character in Being Human has been told he’ll be killed by a Werewolf (cool) and much of Series 3 has the appearance of a rushed rewrite – as well as reduced budget – which is unsurprising as his character will be disappearing for at least a year shooting The Hobbit (original estimate under Del Toro was 377 days before final production on the second film).

Kili is one of two brothers, both young in Dwarf terms, younger than most of the group by as much as fifty years. Both brothers are described as having the best eyesight and are often sent for searching and scouting. They are also described as cheerful, as the only Dwarves to emerge from the barrels at Lake Town ‘more or less smiling’.

James Nesbitt (Bofur) – a bit of a statesman of British television, Nesbitt (like Turner) is an Irish actor witha strong, clear accent. A powerful and capable character actor Nesbitt has forged a distinctive career since appearing in A Play for Today in 1984. His status has grown progressively with Tv projects Ballykissangel, Playing the field and most notably Adam Williams in Cold Feet ( a precursor to Friends made in the UK about 3 couples of which Nesbitt was arguably the most prominent) as well as film roles – playing Ivan Cooper in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday – a dramatisation of the Irish Civil Rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972. Most recently he’s appeared in mainstream series such as the tepid The Deep and as the central character of Murphy’s Law (for ITV). Nesbitt is an actor of considerable character and is hilarious to watch in most things he’s in. A capable performer able to handle broad styles and physical performance (Jekyll, 2007) and sympathetic roles (also Jekyll, 2007 perhaps unsurprisingly).

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur us frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

Graham McTavish (Dwalin) is a perrenial and long standing character actor on British TV and film as well as a prominent voice artist. His distinctive and boxy appearance have given him many military and hardman roles throughout the years though he injects intelligence and character well in each case. A theatre actor he has appeared as Banquo in Macbeth, as well as Thangbrand in Erik the Viking, one of the best things in a flawed series as Warden Ackerman in Red Dwarf VIII as well as with James Nesbitt twice in Jekyll as Gavin Hardcastle and Murphy’s Law. He has made the jump to US projects in recent years, appearing in Quantum of Solace, 24, Prison Break, Lost, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the new Rambo. He also voiced Loki in Hulk Vs (Video Game), Sebastian Shaw in Wolverine and the X-Men animated TV series and Thundercracker in Transformers: War for Cybertron video game. A man of some considerable stature, he is a capable and intelligent performer which accounts for his steady success on multiple platforms. He represents a warrior in almost all he does but more often than not a sympathetic one. I look forward to him representing Dwalin.

Dwalin is the first Dwarf to arrive at Bag End. He is a kindly soul, offering Bilbo a hood and cloak as they leave Bag End. After the events of the Hobbit, Dwalin rules Thorin’s halls in the Blue Mountains. His name is taken from Dvalin, a dwarf in the poetic Edda. The arc that Dwalin’s character follows suggests that he will be an interesting one to watch. An honourable character that survives the quest and gains what he deserves in the end. A precursor to Aragorn in the LOTR trilogy perhaps.

And finally for this batch of the band of Dwarves we have Kili’s brother, Fili.

Robert Kazinsky (Fili) is the definition of how you climb the ladder as a young actor. Starting on the Basil Brush Show as neatly monickered Sven Garley and as Casper Rose in Footballing soap Dream Team he completed the populist rope walk to find a place as unhinged Sean in Eastenders. Shortly afterwards he made the leap across the pond to appear in bit parts in Law and Order: Los Angeles and Brothers & Sisters. Apart from one short (Love, in 2009) and a film called Red Tails (still in Post Production he has no cinema credits. However, his performance was strong in Eastenders (the only place I’ve seen him) and I look forward to seeing him play cheery as opposed to mentally ill (TV style). An opportunity to play a character such as Fili should cement Kazinsky’s rise nicely and I suspect we can expect to see him more things afterwards.

Brother to Kili, Fili has the longest cloak on the quest (?!!). A temperament like his brother Kili, Fili is a cheerful character. Following the battle with spiders he’s forced to cut off most of his beard due to it being covered in webbing.

It grows late and the torch grows dim and I think I must retire so I must bid you all a good night / good day and leave you until next time. In which I will introduce you to the remaining members of this merry band of Dwarves. Keep warm dear reader and if you hear your trinkets moving in the night it’ll most likely be Dwarves come back to claim that which they bothered to dig up….

The Dwarves and Bilbo by Sam Bosma

Part Two

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Ken Stott (Balin). Stott is an exceptional Scottish actor specialising in slightly downtrodden and bitter individuals. A theatrical, Television and Film actor he began on screen in 1977 appearing in TV series Secret Army in a single episode. He has stocked up a pile of TV appearances in Taggart (1985), The Singing Detective (1986), Bad Company (1993), Silent Witness (1996), the harrowing Messiah (2001), the title character in Rebus as DI john Rebus (2006-2007) and the Runaway – due out this year. With occassional but notable positions in cinema over these years playing Dalfonso in Casanova (2005), Chancellor of the Exchequer in the much passed over Girl in the Cafe, made as a commentary on the lack of (or potential for) influence on social politics to common people made by Richard Curtis for Live 8. He also played Adolf Hitler in TV Movie Uncle Adolf in 2005, Marius Honorius in the unfortunately leaden King Arthur in 2004 and the ferocious and snivellingly brutal head of the constabulary as Chance in 1999’s Plunkett and McCleane playing opposite Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller and Liv Tyler. His performances are always gripping and impressive, Stott representing twice the man his height suggests – something pretty handy for a dwarf.

Balin is brother to Dwalin (Graham McTavish) and is the one Dwarf who carries with him a hidden purpose. Above all other Dwarves in the company he is the only one explicitly stated to have been present in the Mountain Kingdom of Erebor before the attack by Smaug. The book also makes clear that Balin was in the company of Thorin when Smaug arrived but curiously also reveals their respective ages as 7 and 24 (interesting given the difference in ages between Stott and Armitage). Balin is look out at all times and is the only Dwarf to volunteer to enter Smaug’s lair with Bilbo.

Balin is the only character written to have visited Bilbo at Bag End after the events of the Hobbit but his story does not end in the pages of the Hobbit. In one of the most memorable scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, it is Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul the title character’s discover. In that scene Gandalf finds the dwarves’ book of records written by Ori, and discovers from it that Balin was killed by Orcs.

The cast in question Balin, Nori, Dori and Ori (Ken Stott, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow and Adam Brown)

Jed Brophy (Nori) Jed Brophy is a ‘lucky charm’ in Peter Jackson films beginning as far back as Braindead (1992) listed as Void and Heavenly Creatures (1994). He appeared in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers as Sharku – the mounted Urukhai responsible for forcing Aragorn over the cliff and Snaga who I suspect is the Orc perturbed at the ‘Maggoty Bread’ before promptly being beheaded by the infuriated Urukhai Commander and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (simply listed as Orc Leiutentant 1) as well as James Hope – Police Officer in 2009’s SA based alien District 9, produced by Jackson. His credits outside of the franchise are few and far between and almost certainly NZ and Australian based including Joseph Savage in Return to Treasure Island and a short hilariously called Lemming Aid. Returning to the fold once again its hard to know how much or how little influence Brophy will have on the screen this time around but based on his previous work and Jackson’s clear reliance on him we can be sure that however brief a moment is offered by Nori it will likely be memorable. Notably more lightweight that his fellow actors, Brophy may need more time in the make up and costume departments or may represent a new shape of Dwarf amongst the broad cave Vikings.

Brophy hopes to ‘make it all the way through without getting killed. Horribly.’ Something his previous films with Jackson suggest is unlikely.

Nori is the brother to Ori and Dori. He is merely listed as one of the companions of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit. His survival is no way assured.

Mark Hadlow (Dori) is another NZ veteran of Peter Jackson movies playing Harry – opposite Naomi Watts- at the beginning of King Kong and the voice of Heidi, Robert and Barry the Bulldog in Jackson’s 1990 psycho Muppet movie Meet the Feebles. Besides this he has mostly gained parts in small films and TV series (including Milo in Xena: Warrior Princess in 1999 and Orrin in Warlords of the 21st Century. Otherwise Jackson’s casting represents a great jump up for Hadlow, particularly as brave and capable Dori. He says he’s ready for the adulation taht will come from starring in a movie like this. ‘We’ve had our shots,’ he laughs on set in Wellington with the rest of the cast.

Dori is the brother of Nori and Ori. When it all goes wrong it falls to Dori to carry Bilbo in the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, but Dori dropped Bilbo and the other dwarves blame him for “losing their burglar.” In the original book, Dori is described as “a decent fellow, despite his grumbling,” while Thorin describes him as being the strongest member of the company.

Adam Brown (Ori) has appeared almost from nowhere with his online credits literally being Oswald Potter in Chucklevision in 2009 and then the youngest of three Dwarf brothers in The Hobbit: Part 1 and Part 2. Predominantly a Theatre actor, he is 29 years old (born 1980) and trained in performing arts at Middlesex University, co-founding ‘Plested and Brown’ (presumably on hiatus at present) writing and performing in all six shows (Carol Smillie Trashed my Room, The Reconditioned Wife Show, Flamingo Flamingo Flamingo, Hot Pursuit, Minor Spectacular and the most recent Health & Stacey.) He has toured with the company across the UK as well as performances in Armenia, South Korea and the Best of British Festival in New Zealand (good practice) prior to his offer to join the Dwarf cast of The Hobbit. The only American in the group and professionally the most junior Adam Brown may be said to be the only evidence of a casting held in the UK (where he was based at the time) turning out cast members. Brown is proof that success and opportunity can literally smash you in the face and drag you somewhere you didn’t anticipate at a moments notice and his presence is absolutely hilarious and most likely still a slight mystery to the man himself given the cast surrounding him though we wish him the best of luck and am sure given the scale of the casting that introduced him that his placement is entirely justified.

Ori’s knowledge of Moria helps the group. Brother to Nori and Dori, Ori is the youngest of the three. Surviving the events of the original book it is Ori’s writings in Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul that is read aloud by Gandalf. So in many ways Ori is the longest surviving remnant of the original story though he never lives long enough to see Gandalf again.

On that sad note, I must call it a night once again dear reader. Only one more account of the band of Dwarves is required to round off our band of 13 with brothers Gloin, Oin, Bifur and Bombur still to come. Until then I hope you sleep well and are not disturbed by the beating of a Dragon’s wing outside in the dark.

Part Three

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Ken Stott (Balin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori) and Adam Brown (Ori) the week before was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Wellington NZ was shaken by another Earthquake a week following the previous more devastating one that claimed at least 160 lives in Christchurch. This will have effected the Dwarf training ground as it was near to Wellington but no cast, crew or associated PR has been created by it which is a refreshingly nice example of a production not jumping on an easy scoop. James Nesbitt (coach), Mark Hadlow (umpire) and Martin Freeman (umpire) will be involved in a charity cricket match to raise funds for the Earthquake appeal. Russell Crow is coaching the opposing team.

James Nesbitt was interviewed briefly about his training so far; “We’ve been here for training, because I’m going to be here for a year so the amount of work and the work we’ll be getting up to means we all have to be fit, you know, and a few of us are getting on a bit, so we’ve been training and horse-riding and doing stunts and all that kind of thing, and then we start.” He also revealed that filming was due to start and members of the cast had arrived in mid January but Peter Jackson’s perforated ulcer had caused delays while the Director got the necessary treatment. It all starts fully in ‘three weeks’ and Nesbitt himself is quoted as not minding the break.

But we have Dwarves still to introduce and its taken considerably longer than expected. Still remaining are two of the older members of the band and brothers one particularly tiresome character that holds up proceedings and is unlikely to be training as hard as the others and a seasoned warrior Dwarf.

Stephen Hunter (Bombur) Unwittingly cast as “the clown” from an early age, Stephen is at home with comedy roles, and has developed a great sense of comic timing from many years on stage. This has resulted in him being cast in dozens of comedic roles in TVC’s, and Television Comedy. Stephen is also reportedly a very strong dramatic actor, scoring leading guest roles in many TV dramas including All Saints (NZ), Mercy Peak and Street Legal (NZ). And he keeps himself sharp for the next role with regular “Meisner” training at The Actors Pulse in Redfern (NZ). This is a significant step up for the occasional TV actor from New Zealand, representing a character of considerable (though not always welcome) influence on the plot and the journey himself. Bombur has the potential to be a hilarious character so Hunter’s grounding in comedy puts him in good stead at playing the complete liability among the troupe.

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur is frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

William Kircher is a long standing TV and minor film actor from New Zealand going back to the mid-eighties as a constable in a film called Trespasses (NZ) and Worzel Gummidge Down Under (?!) as 2nd Screcrow, Farmer and Stallholder. His career has followed a path of fantasy and literary movie and TV projects such as the Enid Blyton Adventure Series (1996), the Legend of William Tell (1998) and Xena Warrior Princess as a Captain (also 1998). Almost ten years past before he returned for a couple of credits in small locally made films Out of the Blue, Wildfire and Aftershock and finally appeared in the TV series Legend of the Seeker in 2009 before being picked up to join the primary cast of the Hobbit. Kircher has a distinctive look and strong features that will likely set him apart from many of the other characters as he appears perhaps more naturally dwarf like than many. It will be interesting to see what won him the part above many others but is part of ‘ an amazing jigsaw of talent’ as he described it himself.

The clarinet-playing cousin of Bombur and Bofur, he is very fond of Raspberry Jam and Apple-tart and wears a yellow hood. He didn’t have as rough a barrel ride as many of his companions but was still too stiff to de-keg the other Dwarves. Bifur is potentially a less prominent character among the group but the long format may offer the character a little more room to breathe. While an unwritten character may be absent in the awareness of a reader, the immediacy of cinema means that a distinctive actor such as Kircher might gain a greater foothold for a footnote character. Its Bifur that will be worth watching to see how Jackson may have altered the characterisation and organisation of Tolkien’s characters as his generous nature towards characters will likely allow some minor members to offer greater influence on events.

John Callen (Oin) is a veteran New Zealand actor who’s credits begin with Pictures (NZ) as Casey in 1981, appearing in the the same Worzel Gummidge series as William Kircher though in a separate episode as a bailiff. He supplied additional voices to Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords in 2004 and Mucor in Power Rangers Mystic Force and Sonimax in four episodes of Power Rangers Jungle Fury TV series – how many Power Rangers series were there? He also offered up voiceovers for two documentaries in 20o1 and 2002 and directed for TV in 2000. His last credit before the Hobbit was Love Birds as Professor Craddock. John Callen has been brought in for his voice as much as any other attribute as true to Tolkien’s novel ‘I’m doing boy Soprano’, he quipped at the initial boot camp.

Oin, Son of Groin (pronounced Gro-in) is brother to Gloin and was counted on – along with his brother to start the campfires which both characters bickered over. Oin was ultimately a survivor of the battle of Five Points and entered Moria with Balin (where they met their doom at the hands of Orcs). However, he didn’t die in the catacombs discovered by Gandalf and Frodo – sadly his death came when trying to escape via the Western Door (featured in the Fellowship) -taken by the slightly terrifying Watcher in the Water.

And this brings us to the final member of the collective that travels to Smaugs lair alongside a certain inexperienced Hobbit and adventurous old Wizard.

Peter Hambleton (Gloin) is another Kiwi actor who appeared in the Shark in the Park (TV series), the Last Tattoo (1994) with William Kircher and Rainbow Warrior in 1992 as Maury Whitman alongside his future brother-in-height John Callen. His parts run fairly consistently throughout the nineties (predominantly in TV) but his longest stint was as Father Donleavy in The Strip TV series in 2002 and in film briefly in Home by Christmas as Sgt Syd Gurton in 2010, His last credit before joining the cast of The Hobbit was The Inspector in NZ TV series Paradise Cafe this year. His work is mostly New Zealand based and it is unsurprising that he would’ve worked previously alongside Kircher and Callen previously as the NZ TV and Film industry is miniscule. However, clearly Jackson was influenced enough by his hoem viewing to sign up 5 kiwis (although in relatively minor parts). Hambleton’s resume runs fairly consistently which suggests a professional and likable actor with an ability. It’ll be interesting to see what chemistry he can ignite with his singing and bickering brother on the cold nights preparing the fire.

Father to Gimli, Gloin survives the events of the Hobbit and travelled to Rivendell with his son as an embassy from Dain II to bring news of Erebor, Moria and what they knew of Sauron’s plans; in time to attend the council of Elrond. Making Gloin the only character to appear in Jackson’s previous film incarnation of Tolkien’s classic.

So there we have it; the circle has formed (perhaps in the shape of a Ring) and paths are linked between the old tales and the new in ways I didn’t expect as I began investigating these strange short and stout warrior travellers. Tolkien formed this band of misfits and inadequates, proud and pompous, inept and incapable, brazen and belligerent to travel to recapture something important to their civilisation. But when compared to the heroes and that populate the later, grander saga of the Lord of the Rings trilogy you begin to see that maybe in this simpler and more honed prequel to the famous tale, Tolkien created something more Human than the Humans that followed shortly after.

Short legged and long journeyed, having familiarised myself with the Merry band of Dwarves that are to travel to Erebor on a seemingly lunatic quest to fight an enormous talking Dragon and kick start a series of events that will threaten the entirety of Middle Earth completely, I look forward to getting a chance to sit back in the darkened hall of the Cinema and watch these fools do more than they ever expect. Make millions of people happy while they fight over fires, fall into rivers, climb out of barrels, argue with town leaders and survive a great Journey… there and Back again.

Really… a Dwarves tale.

Biggest Convention Story

Stan Lee is Coming to the UK

UK conventions have been trying to secure an appearance by Stan Lee for longer than many of us have been alive but it seems one of them has finally pulled it off! London Super Comic Convention announced last night that the Fantastic Four creator will make his first UK convention appearance in 40 years at their show next year!

Lee joins an already star studded line-up of creators including the likes of Brian Bolland, Steve Epting and Duncan Fegredo. In LSCC’s own words:

“Organisers of The London Super Comic Convention 2012 are going all out to make the inaugural event unique and special for all attendees, by giving them a unique opportunity to interact with Stan, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday and created many of the most enduring comic book characters and pop culture icons of the last 50 years

Attendees can look forward to having their comics signed, their photo’s taken and watch Stan “The Man” in action on guest panels.”

In a year that will see no less than four mega comic cons taking place in London, the announcement of Stan Lee is a major coup for the newcomer of the bunch. A lot of cons can boast impressive guest lists, but Stan Lee is in another category all together.

London Super Comic Convention takes place at the Excel Centre on 25th & 26th February 2012. There will be no tickets on the door so if you want to meet The Man then you’ll need to book in advance on their website.

Needless to say, Beyond The Bunker will also be there.

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Biggest Tech Story (Biggest Number of Hits)

IPAD 2 and Comics – 5 Things You Need to Know

If you’ve not noticed from the sound of a thousand apple enthusiasts hurling their old models from balconies and shuffling, zombie like towards the high street, the new iPad has been announced. We know that some of you have iPads and that some of you like to read comics on your iPad so I thought it’d be nice if we had a sift through the piles of release notes and plucked out the choice bits that are of interest to you good people.

1 – Thinner and lighter

The original iPad is hardly a heffer (it’s one of the things that makes it so good as a digital comics reader) but it’s sexy new sibling takes this to a whole new level. It weighs in at an impressive 1.33lbs making it 15% lighter than the first iPad and at 8.4mm thickness it’s a full third slimmer, heck that’s slimmer than an iPhone! Carrying your entire comics collection around with you just got even easier.

2 – No change to battery life

If you were worried that the iPad 2’s new trim waistline was going to affect the run time then you may breath a sigh of relief. Battery uptime is staying put at a very respectable 10 hours. This may drop slightly if you want to play games on the damn thing but if you’re just reading comics then it should be just fine. Let’s be honest, if you’re starring at your iPad for more than 10 hours without a break then you’ve probably got bigger problems than battery life. One word of warning – Apple are still being their usual evasive selves about what the standby time is on the device so if the phrase “about a month” is too vague for your tastes then you’ll want to check the charge from time to time if you’re not using it for long periods.

3 – It looks better than ever…but not quite as good as it could

Apple have promised the best graphics ever but then it’s only the second in the series so you’d kinda hope they’d do that anyway. Nonetheless the step up is impressive. The iPad 2 boasts 9 times the graphical processing power of it’s predecessor and has brought a duel core processor to the fight to help back that up. Will this increase in processing speed affect your comic book enjoyment? Well maybe, but not by much. Digital comics load pretty promptly anyway so the difference probably won’t be that noticeable. The extra graphical power however will be a welcome addition to those of us who like to get in close and study artwork in detail, you’re paying for the artist’s pencils after all, not his pixels. But don’t get too excited, Retina Display (the iPhone 4 tech that renders images at the highest possible resolution perceivable by the human eye) is sadly missing from this version of the device. If that’s your thing (and it is awesome) then you may be better off waiting for the iPad 3.

4 – The stupid button problem has been fixed!

When the first iPad came out it had a button on the side that locked the screen rotation so that you could tilt the device without the image on screen moving about. Awesome for reading comics as there’s nothing as annoying has having the page spin out on you just because you’re trying to read in bed. Sadly, earlier this year Apple decided to ‘fix’ this feature for no discernible reason and changed it to a mute button despite there already being a volume control on the other side of the device. Well you can stop throwing stuff at pictures of Steve Jobs now because the new version of IOS which goes live the same time as the iPad 2 will give you the option to decide which function you want the switch to have…and yes you will be able to do that on your old iPad as well. Internet, you may unbreak-in-half.

5 – No change in price

If the sound of all this has got you salivating then you’ll be pleased to know that the iPad 2 won’t cost you any more than the iPad did. The price is staying fixed at £439 for 16GB Wi-Fi and £539 for 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G and yes, you do want the 3G one.

So is the iPad 2 worth buying as a comics reader? Probably not if that’s all you want to use it for. Retina Display is the feature that will really make comics stand out on the device and the other tweaks, while nice, won’t make a tonne of difference over the last model. If you’re in the market for an iPad then you may be better off taking advantage of the inevitable price drop of the older model as rampant Apple devotees attempt to offload their once beloved devices in order to buy the new version. If, however, you like a spot of gaming with your comics, you like taking photos or you give a shit about Face Time (queue tumbleweed) then it’s a very nice bit of kit to own.

iPad 2 hits UK stores on 25th March. Oh and did I mention, it ships in both black and white. Yeah, now you want one. 😉

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Biggest BTB Story

Bizarre Magazine Gives Moon 4 Stars

Moon has always been a fan of the bizarre but now it seems that the bizarre has become a fan of Moon! The latest issue of Bizarre Magazine contains a review of Moon #1 and it seems that they rather like it. In a section of reviews on alternative comic books they described our beloved little child as “vibrant and action packed” before going on to award us a glorious 4 stars!

We had a lovely chat with some of the magazine’s reporters at Kapow and at the time they seemed pretty keen on getting the book mentioned somewhere, but it wasn’t until today that we found out just what kind of mention it would be. A thumbs up from a publication as big as Bizarre is a massive boost to a new company like us so as you can image we’re over the…er…orbital-rock-based-satellite.

You can pick up the magazine from any newsagents as of today. If you read the first Kapow article then be sure to have a little look for Mr Penfold in one of the photos, it’ll be like the oddest game of Where’s Wally you ever played. 😉

If you’re a new follower of Beyond The Bunker after reading the review then welcome to the site. Please have a look around and make yourselves at home. You can buy the comic HERE or read more about it HERE and there’s a metric asstonne of other stuff to read and enjoy around the site, with more added each and every day. Welcome to our odd little family!

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BTB Awards: Best Convention

This was, in all honesty, about the toughest category that we’ve had to face in the process of putting these awards together. Before launching Moon earlier this year, Steve and I’s experience with comic cons could at best be described as “limited” and the past 12 months have been something of a culture shock. We’ve had some great experiences and some not-so-great ones (though it should be said that on the whole it has been almost entirely positive). The UK convention scene is incredibly varied and knowing how to go about ranking these events has proven to be something of a challenge. The two events that we’ve chosen to recognise are about as far apart as its possible to get but in their own ways I think they both demonstrate some of the best aspects of what conventions have to offer.

Winner – Thought Bubble

Thought Bubble is a week long sequential art festival which is held in Leeds every year. The comic con portion of the event runs for two days across two convention halls. Very much a fan run convention rather than a commercial venture, Thought Bubble focuses on the artistic aspects of comic books and tends to lean more towards Indy books and UK publishers. That isn’t to say that TB lacks big name creators, this year saw appearances from the likes of Gail Simone (Batgirl, Secret Six), Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men) and Adam Hughes (Catwoman).

The odd thing about our love for Thought Bubble is that we very nearly didn’t go. Beyond The Bunker is London based and while that’s great most of the time (I can actually see the Excel Centre from my window) it means that trekking up to Leeds for a weekend is quite an expensive venture. They say that publishing Indy comics isn’t about the money and, while that’s true to an extent, it’s also true that you only get to print your next comic if you make a profit on the last one. Blowing a chunk of our summer’s profits on an adventure up north seemed like a risky play so close to the print bill for Moon #2.

In the end what convinced us to take the plunge was the astounding amount of goodwill towards the con that flowed from almost every creator we met. At every con we visited we bumped into people who raved about Thought Bubble at every opportunity and, having now attended it ourselves, I can see that they were exactly right to do so.

Me holding down the fort in between sprinting into town for more change

What makes Thought Bubble so good is the way it flawlessly balances scale with intimacy. At two days in length and two halls in size, Thought Bubble is just as big as its London counterparts and its guest list is easily as impressive (more so in many cases as the London cons tend to focus on film and tv guests). You could quite happily skip every other con and walk away from TB with a comprehensive convention experience. At the same time though, the event still feels like an intimate social experience where you share a pint with the creators, attend panels on niche subjects and discover a range of incredible Indy books. It is this combination of size and soul that make Thought Bubble such a joy to attend both as an exhibitor and a fan and it’s a worthy winner for this award.

Runner Up – Kapow!

At the other end of the scale lies our runner up, Kapow! The Mark Millar backed mega-con held its debut event this past April at the Business Design Centre and promised to bring the San Diego experience to the UK.

Kapow certainly lacks the intimacy of Thought Bubble. It is (by its own admission) entirely focused on big names and big companies with small creators offered almost nothing in the way of incentives to attend. But what it lacks in small town charm it makes up for in raw star power and polish. With the likes of John Romita Jr, Frank Quitely and Jonathan Ross in attendance as well as booths for several major publishers and studios, Kapow absolutely delivered on its promise to provide something new. While many cons this year had a great atmosphere, nothing could match the sheer excitement and electricity that permitted the air at Kapow.

Kapow 2011 at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London

Sure, there were teething troubles – a somewhat unbalanced guest and badly managed queues succeeded in putting a few noses out of joint – but given how ambitious the project was, these are perhaps acceptable niggles for a first show.The thing that Kapow really shares with Thought Bubble is in how vocal its supporters are. While there seems to be no shortage of people who were happy to write off the con in absentia, I have yet to meet somebody who attended it and didn’t have a great time. Much like its surrogate father, Mark Millar’s convention isn’t subtle but it sure as hell kicks ass.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXLAFP1C1Co&w=560&h=315]

Check back tomorrow for another BTB award!

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BTB Awards: Best Comic

Winner – Secret Six

Most of the talk this year has been about books that started with the DC relaunch in September however it’s a book that ended with the relaunch that takes our award for best comic. Gail Simone’s comedy epic about six D-list villains, trying to get by in a world of heroes came to its inevitable, bloody conclusion this year and with it we saw the end of possibly the best comic book run that you’ve never heard of.

Secret Six started in 2008 and tells the tale of a group of misfits lead by Scandal Savage (daughter of Vandal) as they try to hold together their minor crime operation in the face of heroes who want to arrest them and rival villains who want to murder them. One of the most consistently high scoring books on the stands, Secret Six has earned Simone a loyal following which has gradually grown to the point that she is now one of DC top selling writers.

By focusing on the characters as people rather than bland archetypes, Simone manages to make them seem sympathetic and reprehensible all at once. When reading Secret Six you may find yourself cheering for the characters on one page and chastising yourself for it a few pages later. Through it all though it’s hard not to root for this bunch of morally reprehensible yet loveable losers.

 

Six has been a hell of a ride for the past three years but all good things must come to an end and when DC decided to hit the reset button, the book ended up amount the casualties. Luckily for us, before the hammer fell Simone was able to deliver a killer (pun intended) finale to the tale which has helped to cement the series as one of the all time greats.

Runner up – Batwoman

The DC reboot has provided some fantastic stories but for my money the book that stand atop them all is J.H. Williams III’s take on Gotham City’s flame haired protector. There are no words to describe how beautiful this book is. Williams uses his position as both co-writer and artist to fully explore the limits of what you can do with panel breakdowns creating layouts that are works of art in themselves. It’s a book that constantly reminds you of the possibilities of the comic book format and the fact that it does so from within the Batman universe makes it even cooler.

That’s not to say that the story is half-arsed either. Even with lesser art, Williams and (co-writer) W. Haden Blackman’s tale of drowning ghosts and secretive government organisations would still be one of the better crime stories on the stands. Issue 1 sets you up with everything you need to understand who Batwoman is and from then on you can just hold on and enjoy the ride.

Check back tomorrow for another BTB award!

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BTB Awards: Best Game

Winner – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

2011 was a massive year for gaming. It was the year that saw Modern Warfare 3 make more money in its first weekend than James Cameron’s Avatar, it was the year that a virtually unknown game called Rift stepped up and bit a chunk out of the mighty World of Warcraft and it was the year that the world went Skyrim mad.

 

Skyrim is the fifth instalment of the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda Studios’ groundbreaking sandbox rpg franchise. The point of Elder Scrolls games is to drop the player off in a massive fantasy setting and leave them to explore at their own pace. The level of detail applied to games is legendary (Patrick Stewart is on record as saying that the character notes he received for his part in the previous Elder Scrolls game were some of the most detailed he has ever been given) and at 300+ hours of gameplay Skyrim is no exception.

To call Skyrim “big” is something of an understatement, Skyrim is HUGE. You can quite happily clock up 20-30 hours of play without ever leaving the first city and after weeks of trekking through the eye-wateringly beautiful mountains you’ll still have barely scratched the surface. Couple that vast scope with a combat system that manages the difficult feat of being equally exciting on both PC and console, graphics that will take your breath away and some of the best quest writing in years and it’s easy to place the game of the year crown on Skyrim’s head.

It was very nearly not that simple of course. For some time it very much looked like we’d be looking at a head to head battle between Skyrim and the third instalment of Bioware’s Mass Effect series as both games squared up for a November 11th release. Had both releases gone ahead we would have been looking at one of the biggest clashes since Mario vs Sonic and given the pedigree of the Mass Effect franchise it’s a hell of a tough one to call. Perhaps fortunately it’s a call we’ll never have to make as Bioware decided to abandon the Christmas market and moved their release date into early 2012. There have been plenty of great games but with Commander Shepard out of the way there really isn’t anything in Skyrim’s league.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjqsYzBrP-M&w=853&h=480]

 

Runner Up – Game Dev Story

There have been a number of fantastic PC and console games released in 2011 but given the meteoric rise of mobile gaming this year it seemed right to grant the runner up prize to something that fits in your pocket. Of the games on offer I think I’m going to have to give the prize to Kariosoft’s charming Game Dev Story.

Game Dev Story sees you take over the running of a video game company in the early 90s and gives you a set number of years to turn your little venture into a multinational programming empire. You get to decide what kind of games your company will produce (I became a pioneer of the Action/Golf genre) what staff you will hire to do the job and how your games will be marketed. It’s full of sly references to the evolution of gaming and if you like old fashioned sim games then it’s an absolute must.

Come back tomorrow for another BTB award!

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Lost Jedi: Padawan Howsi Stigos

Howsi Stigos (Sydnee Howard) is a petulant Jedi Padawan who loses her Master at the turn of Order 66 during an assault on a Droid stronghold. Battered, bruised and lost without her master, Howsi has to try to find her way across an aggressive and increasingly uncaring galaxy to find any hope of safety. Uncertain as to where to turn Howsi is on a longer journey than almost all of the other Lost Jedi as she tries to find out who she is and whether she has what it takes to be a Jedi Knight while simply trying to stay alive in a galaxy in which both Droid and Imperial armies are looking for her.

Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 2)

Having conquered (and irritated) the British comic book industry with his time on 2000AD, Captain Britain and Warrior, Alan Moore was about to cross the Atlantic. DC Editor Len Wein offered him a place in the DC lineup – though reserved judgment carefully and only offered a minor, formulaic, failing title.

Swamp Thing was a stereotypical monster title quite a distance from the mainstream legends of DC. Whether Wein offered it as a low priority title that mattered little if Moore failed or saw the potential in Moore’s alternative and original work in the UK, but nevertheless – few could’ve anticipated the work produced. It remains difficult to know if it is because of Moore’s current reputation retrospectively illuminating old work through association or if the Swamp Thing under Moore really represents timeless writing but along with artists Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben, Moore revolutionised the character. Taking advantage of the low importance of the title, Moore created beautifully experimental storylines addressing environmental and social issues alongside the horror and fantasy, supported further still with research on Louisiana – where the storyline was set.

Moore recognises comic books as a as a mature medium – potentially as influential, challenging and intellectually stimulating as books, theatre, films or television – when at their best. He recognises that there is no limitation to the content that can be applied to any character or situation, whether they wear a spandex jumpsuit or a psychic formation of roots and swamp vegetation with regenerative powers. He elevated the subject matter and the characters and trusts his reader’s intelligence as any writer should. Through Moore’s writing it becomes clear that the base material is not limited in its scope to be elevated and broadened to meet any audience or handle content thought previously beyond it’s remit. In short, Moore fails to recognise limitations. A comic book page is as alive to him as a page of prose, poetry or a painting in a gallery. In turn this elevated him above the rest of his fellow writers.

Using Swamp Thing as an experimental platform to revive many of DC’s neglected magical or supernatural characters, Moore resurrected a number of figures to greater status that even after 3 decades have not seen them recede back into the minor leagues, including the Spectre, the Demon, the Phantom Stranger and Deadman. One such figure was introduced by Moore. John Constatine is a working class magician based visually on the musician Sting, who later became the central character in Hellblazer, DC imprint Vertigo’s longest running title. From January 1984 to September 1987, from issue 20 to 64, Moore guided Swamp Thing to critical and commercial success. Thanks to Wein’s successes with the first UK invasion – featuring Moore and his soon-to-be-counterpart artist Brian Bolland, the doors were beginning to open for UK and European artists such as Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan and Neil Gaiman to continue in the same vein. Many were influenced directly by Moore and continued the tradition of brave and successful rethinks of existing titles – such as Morrison’s run on DC’s Animal Man some years later. These titles formed the foundation s for Vertigo comics.

Moore’s two-issue run on Vigilante furthered his credibility as a brave, alternative and unrestrictive writer willing to look at difficult and hard hitting stories. The central figure, Vigilante is rendered sidelined and shocked as a father, having abused his daughter, pursues her until he is chewed up in the back wheels of a vengeful young woman’s car. The daughter, having lost her Mother is traumatised and beside herself at the loss of her Father, offering a difficult, challenging and controversial conclusion more recognisable as literary conventions than the black and white moralism of comics.

Eventually, after consistent successes, Moore was offered some of DC’s most prominent characters, starting with Superman, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to discover Superman overwhelmed by a plant that offers up his wildest dreams. Moore followed this up with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – effectively the first example of A Death of Superman storyline – some 8 years before it was thought up by Jurgens and co, designed as the last Superman story in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe and illustrated by Curt Swain. The final fates of Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane are decided, handled masterfully and with a typically deft touch by Moore.

In 1988 came a Batman story that helped redefine the character along with other titles such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One but was cited as ‘a rare example of a Moore story where the art is better than the writing.’ This was The Killing Joke, a script developed based on artist Brian Bolland’s idea of developing a creation story for the Joker. Escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon through the stomach, crippling her and then parades photos of her broken body, naked, lying in glass to her Father as part of a twisted fairground ride in a bid to drive him mad. It fails. However, while opinion differs on the effectiveness of the writing – a history for DC’s most famous villain was created, a second tier character was offered a chance to define herself as a central character as Oracle in following years and Batman was darkened and hardened further into the easily recognisable figure we know today. However Moore acknowledges it as not his greatest writing and upset Bolland by referring it to ‘just another Batman story.’ However, Moore had offered Bolland a platform on which to create a defining career project. He’d once again created a wave of success at an apparent low point in his own career. Something that illustrates the power of Moore’s writing and the influence of his involvement.

A set of panels from Tales of the Black Freighter - a comic being read by a character in Watchmen

Another artist gained global fame thanks to Moore’s writing. Dave Gibbons was assigned to a limited series known as the Watchmen, on which Moore asked him to maintain a consistent three tier, 9 panel layout. Collected as trade paperback in 1987, Watchmen is a seminal work and mandatory reading in understanding the history of comic books, cementing Moore’s reputation. A Cold War mystery in which the shadow of Nuclear War threatens the world. The heroes that are caught up in this escalating crisis either work for the U.S. government or are outlawed, all of whom are motivated to heroism by their various psychological hang ups. Using political and social climate to define the history and current state and status of the individual heroes it dealt with subjects like moralism, politicised ethics, loneliness, isolationism, mental illness, sickness, economics and capitalism among others seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, interlacing the fates of characters defined by templates of central DC characters, but developed well beyond their original’s plotlines. Gibbons met Moore’s recommendations beautifully, allowing his vision to come to life. Watchmen is non-linear and told from multiple point of view, and includes formal experiments such as the symmetrical design of issue 5 ‘Fearful Symmetry’ in which the last page is a near mirror image of the first, the second to last the second and so on. Dr Manhattan, a character unrestrained by the limitations of the laws of physics allowed Moore to investigate the implications to free will if the constraints of linear human perception were removed. His most famous character, Rorschach, named after the basic visual psychological test sets the tone perhaps most effectively, bemoaning, pessimistically, a world entirely lost – to him most specifically. Isolated and increasingly unhinged and appearing early in the book as a seemingly inconsequential background figure, Rorschach represents most prominently the outsider aspect that all of the characters suffer from. A masterpiece, it is seen as Moore’s best work and the only comic book ever to win the literary Hugo Award, in a one-time category of Best Other Form. It is widely regarded as the best comic book ever written. Released around the same time as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets it has been seen as part of a movement in mainstream comic books of the time to reach out to adult audiences. Breifly, Moore became a minor celebrity, causing him, typically, to withdraw from the public eye and refuse to attend conventions. This is unsurprising perhaps as he was said to have been followed into the toilet by overzealous autograph hunters at the UKCAC.

Moore proposed a series named Twilight of the Superheroes in 1987, the title a twist on Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Twilight of the Gods’. A series set in a future DC Universe, ruled by Superhumna dynasties, including the House of Steel (watched over by Superman and Wonderwoman) and the House of Thunder (presided over by the Marvel family). About to combine in a dynastic marriage, a move that could threaten world freedoms, several characters, including John Constatine, attempt to stop them and save the world from the power of the superheroes. Perhaps because the proposition would reinstate the many worlds already eliminated in the Crisis on Infinite Earths it never saw the light of day, though DC retains rights to its contents. Many similar projects have appeared since, Mark Waid and Alex Ross of the most prominent of these, Kingdom Come, admitting to having read the notes but insisting that any similarity was purely coincidental and unintended.

Again Moore’s relationship with DC had deteriorated over rights as Moore and Gibbons were paid no royalties for a Watchmen spin-off badge set as DC defined them as ‘promotional items’. Reportedly, and rather appallingly, Moore and Gibbons earned only 2% of the profits earned by DC from Watchmen. Completing V for Vendetta for DC, which they had already begun publishing, Moore slung his bag back over his shoulder and made his way out into the cold wastes and warm embrace of independent comic writing.

Part 3 – Tuesday, 3rd December 2012

BTB Awards: Best TV Show

We’ll admit we don’t watch much TV at Beyond the Bunker (we tend to catch this stuff on DVD – which this year would’ve led to reviews of Firefly and Battlestar Galatica) but we’ll try to make sure we keep up next year as best we can. Or review DVDs we’ve seen. Or get rid of it completely. Never-the-less here’s an attempt at the Best series of the year awards 2011 based on the buzz and our own personal choices.

Denied Winner – Game of Thrones (Season 1)

According to popular buzz surrounding HBO’s blood and thunder epic Game of Thrones, featuring LOTR’s Sean Bean, Conan’s Jason Momoa and Tesco’s ad’s Mark Addy in various roles we know nothing about, it’s an absolute corker and the best thing out this year. However, because of delays in releasing the DVD – causing online bloggers all over the web to declare that they’ve been left with no choice but to pirate it to get their fix in spite of wanting to support their favourite TV programme – we haven’t seen it. But we hope to. Oh yeah.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s epic series of novels the series has an enormous following and from what we’ve heard – rightfully so. As seven families fight to control the mythical land of Westeros, political and sexual intrigue is pervasive. In all of this chaos, clear and entertaining characters are struggling to gain increasing amounts of power – through savagery, skullduggery and sexual manipulation. Sounds great.

Winner – Sherlock (Season 1)

In spite of the fact that the decision by the BBC to produce a modern day turn for the world’s most famous detective, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the titular detective and his now unwilling partner, Watson generated some concern regarding the dumbing down of a British classic, Sherlock proved to be one of the best series released in recent years for a number of reasons.

It proved itself so slick, challenging and interesting that even die hard fans of the original Sherlock were brought on board. Initially, a three episode series, Cumberbatch’s depiction of an ostrasised and maligned genius detective being followed by a beleagured and bemused hobbled war veteran turned journalist through his first set of cases wooed audiences and made Cumberbatch a household name, previously restricted to period costume and theatre performances that while no doubt engaging failed to reach so wide an audience.

Combining assured and intelligent scriptwriting by Dr Who and (in one one case) League of Gentlemen scribes Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, BBC’s primetime production values and an award baiting turn from relative unknown Andrew Scott as Sherlock’s new found nemesis Moriarty – the game is very much afoot for Series 2.

With Season 2 starting on New Years Day on BBC1, now would be a good time to familiarise yourself with the return of the great detective in this assured, intelligent and gripping series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=YcFHeTaS9ew

Best Current Series – Walking Dead (Season 2)

Frank Darabont’s translation of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead serialisation has been happily consistent with it’s source material. The bravery of focussing on the assembled survivors allows such a series to be created but the sense of scale that is realised – particularly in the devastation of Atlanta in the opening episode of Season 1 – gave the feel of the piece a much bigger scale than most American series. This was continued in Season 2 from the very first episode, featuring a debilitatingly tense scene involving ‘a herd’ and a plot point unexpectedly introduced from further through the comic book series.

It is a careful adaptation, using large swathes of detail from the original series – both following Sheriff Rick Grimes, his wife, child, best friend and a host of disparate survivors through a world now overrun by Zombies. But it darts and diverts from the original, allowing any devotees of the books guessing as to what is happening next an excellent and original experience. Developing its own storylines it remains rewarding both when it diverges from and converges on moments from the popular series.

The effects work is fantastic, easily on par – or beyond – work previously seen in various Zombie Movies. The presence of the Zombies is never lost, keeping tension in scenes where otherwise there may be none. This is also fuelled by the camerwork as the stark cinematography is deliberately sparse and simple, constantly making the viewer aware that empty space has the possibility of being occupied but most poignantly emphasising the isolation the central figures have found themselves in.

Effectively a survivors epic it has the added joy of the wandering undead to liven things up should the action become too leaden as it can at times in other long running series. Season 1 was only 6 Episodes long but with season 2 considerably longer it will allow central characters to develop in a way that will make the inevitable loss of them even more effective.

Epic scale narrowed to engaging character plots and the possibility of Zombies at every corner. The promise of this series based on events in the original books is potentially phenomenal and this series has to be seen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grWV8WZtAQc

Best Non-geek Series – Fresh Meat (Series 1)

The series follows a group of six students about to embark on the most exciting period of their lives thus far University (yawn, right?)! Away from home for the first time, on the brink of adult life, they are about to discover who they really are. From the moment they ship up as freshers at their shared house, their lives are destined to collide, overlap and run the whole gamut of appalling behaviour and terrible errors of judgement.

Sounds like every coming-of-age college series there is but this one proves itself different. The assembled characters move well out of their archetypal characteristics like students at their first university stand-up gig. Where similar series have relied on stereotypes and presumed reactions to arriving at university this one takes each individual and offers them realistic and familiar situations which they deal with in the way anyone else would. Quite badly.

The expected central figure Kingsley (Inbetweeners Joe Thomas) is sidelined pretty swiftly to share room with all his fellow housemates, in spite of a fantastic central plot involving a burdgeoning mutual attraction to fellow housemate Josie (Kimberley Nixon) which somehow always ends with them discovering the other has slept with someone else – sometimes hilariously audibly through their shared partition wall (while drunkenly arguing with each other at one point). Add to that the socially awkward Howard (Greg McHugh) who is pursued by a borderline psychotic classmate he developed a brief friendship with, straight talking hard-living Vod (the incredible Zawe Ashton) and Oregon (Charlotte Richie), desperate to be cool and terrified of being boring and you have a great mix.

But bizarrely, it’s Jack Whitehall’s character JP that walks away with the crown. A public school boy with an over inflated sense of entitlement, Whitehall manages to instill enough humanity into the prat that you do understand why the rest put up with him.

The jaunty and intelligent script bounds away through numerous scenarios, both realistic enough to be occuring but wild enough to be entertaining and the incredible cast bring it both harmoniously and raucously to life. An excellent series and well worth a look.

Most anticipated DVD – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Seasons 3 and 4

Unseen as yet and as I understand it ongoing at present – Clone Wars Season 4 is the continued influence of Star Wars on kids TV channels. Less engaging than the original 2 Dimensional seasons directed by Genndy Tartakovsky but offer more plot and development to the whole saga. With each season the CGI improves and more worlds are revealed in higher detail. Still 2 seasons behind at present however I (Steve P) have to put this on my guilty pleasures list because it expands the Star Wars Universe and is occasionally noticably created by true die hard fans who jump at the chance to develop part of the SW universe.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=br2dJRpJZe8

Most Cause for Concern – Dr Who (Season 6)

Matt Smith is an excellent Doctor, Karen Gillian is a great sidekick and we know that Steven Moffat is a great writer. However, somehow, indiscernably, the last series of Dr Who has lacked the pathos and light hearted touch that previously won it so many fans. No doubt a deliberate intention by Moffat to darken and broaden the Who, it appears to be beginning to lose it’s grip on plot this season. In spite of an introduction of The Silence, the scale and adventure wasn’t as bedded down in character and engaging emotional situations as it has been in previous seasons.

Upping the sci-fi quota, scripts have become slightly convoluted and less involving as a result. Matt Smith, while entertaining as the lithe and slightly dotty Doctor lacks the strength that the more seasoned Doctors had and while, initially, the scripts played with this they have now put perhaps too much emphasis on a young actor to imbue wonder and concern at every turn every time a ‘tree whispers’. Somehow less surprising than previous series, the science babble has gone up, the lunatic and dastardly alien beings have gone down and the geek wish fulfilment is beginning to become too visible.

I have loved Doctor Who but I am concerned that continuity is beginning to fray and that it needs a rest between seasons before it collapses under it’s own weight of expectation. Still excellent, it is however less excellent than it was, seemingly relying overly on emotional resolutions to tie up convoluted plots and slightly unoriginal concepts.

However, still excellent. Hopefully Moffat et al will see the slight error in their ways and get behind an excellent Season 7. God knows the BBC wants it!!

BTB Awards: Best Film

Winner – Senna

ts limited release will mean that Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and death of Ayrton Senna is unlikely to be topping may film of the year polls and at face value that seems sensible. A feature length documentary about the career of a Formula One driver who died nearly 20 years ago doesn’t exactly scream ‘mass appeal’ but nonetheless Senna is easily one of the most remarkable films of the year.
Utilising only archive footage and Voice-over, Kapadia creates a narrative which manages to be stronger and more engaging than most dramas. The decision not to include any talking heads segments means that the film feels more like a story being told first hand than a reflection on past events and the in-car footage (which looks mind blowing on a cinema screen) enhances this even further.
While the insights into the notoriously secretive world of F1 will be a treat for racing fans, the film’s greatest strength is its ability to appeal to people who don’t have the first idea about the sport. More than anything else Senna is a heart stopping, tear inducing story about an utterly unique individual. Whether you spend weekends pouring over lap times or you’re someone who thinks pole position is a thing that strippers do, there is a tonne of things to love about this film and you will be doing yourself a genuine disservice if you don’t seek out the DVD.

Runner up – Drive

For the runner up we go from a real life man in a car who is unable to stop to a fictional man in a car with no choice but to go on. The stylish, neon lit, meticulously shot Drive follows the story of Ryan Gosling’s driver as he makes ends meet on the streets of Hollywood – beautifully captured in various skyline, helicopter and stylistically careful ground shots creating a fantastical, idealistic and visceral stage for the action to take place on. In many ways the cinematography is the story as the central character – known only as Driver – enters into a tentative and touching relationship with his neighbour Irene (a flawlessly American accented Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who’s husband is incarcerated. Lingering silences and long, unbroken takes give the scenes involving these characters an assured intimacy that lingers with the viewer and plays realistically.

This is punctuated by acts of unspeakable violence, some of which admittedly come close to destabilising the careful balance that Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears to be looking for. The film could have played out as successfully as a 15 certificate on first viewing making the violence seem gratuitous and unecessary, however, I suspect that on repeat viewings the brutality and ludicrous violence will permeate more strongly and be powerful reminders of a thoughtful and energised movie and certainly a step up into the big time for both Winding Refn and Gosling.

The involvement of Simpsons regular Albert Brooks as deceptively chipper gang boss Bernie Rose and Ron Perlman has his apparently more savage and sweary partner Nino doesn’t hurt either.

Effectively Tarantino-lite, this is much less cartoonish, stylised and self consciously scripted. It also seems, accidentally or not, to be lifting directly from the GTA game series – with the theme and the look harking back to both Liberty and Vice City. This only adds to the fun in this subtle shocker.

Best remake / prequel – The Thing (2011)

To the arctic circle now for the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing. More than anything else it’s the choice to set the scene back in 1982 rather than reboot that has placed this film so high in our rankings. Following very much the same line as the original, it centres on the events leading up to the beginning of the first film in which two members of a Norwegian science team our found by an American research group.

The new film manages to mimic perfectly the light touch and claustrophobic lighting and setting, even going so far as to almost directly lifting moments from the original. But this is because the creature is doing what it did in the first place. The joy is in it’s appearance. The plot even deliberately curves at anticipated plot moments to both acknowledge and defy the original.

While it loses some of its appeal as the scale increases towards the end of the film, revealing perhaps a little too much of the origin this film scores highly for introducing a realistic female lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and tip toeing the line perfectly between homage and producing an original piece of cinema.

Best foreign language – Troll Hunter (2011)

Made off putting by the idiotic UK Trailer (below) this film by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen (supporting writer) follows a group of hapless students in search of a hunter deemed illegal by fellow bear hunters. Determined to uncover who he is for the sake of an interesting film, they uncover a wide government cover up beyond anything they could anticipate.

Essentially, a Blair Witch Project that pays off the film manages to lull you into simply watching the ‘found footage’ of the students, constantly having to remind yourself that things are going to increase in scale exponentially at some point. And increase they do. However, the film maintains its roots until it’s finale on snowy Nordic tundra, maintaining a calm and careful pace that US blockbusters will never master.

The Norwegian mountains and countryside are really the great treat of the film at times (when there’s no monsters to hunt) as, for instance in one short sequence, sheer mountainsides and a glacial lake are filmed out of a car window as one of the students calls to another taking a whizz as nonchalantly as Sam Mendes filmed a brick wall with a plastic bag floating around in front of it. It becomes clear that what the world finds magnificent, Norwegians can take for granted and that the filmmakers are acutely aware that half their work is done merely filming on location in their beautiful country.

But it’s the monsters themselves that take centre stage. The decisions in the way that each is introduced is masterful, each uniquely different in pacing, reveal and environment. One is viewed finally from a great distance through a window of a shack which serves only to increase its impressiveness. With an enigmatic, monosyllabic central Troll Hunter, grimly wandering into harms way on behalf of the Norwegian government with the hapless batch of determined and stunned students along for the ride, it’s spectacular, engrossing and fun.

A stark change in tone in the middle of the film does threaten to scupper it slightly but the even pacing and anticipation of the unknown final Troll at the heart of the problem keeps things moving to impressive effect. They will try to remake it. I’m sure they’ll fail. Take the Norwegian out of Norway and it’s knackered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewvWwhL1UQU

Best Comic Book Movie: X-Men: First Class

In a year in which at least three highly entertaining and thoroughly exciting comic book adaptations were released it was the one not made by Marvel that edged it for us – however marginally. It was the X-Men that clinched the title.

Easily the strongest of the X-Men films, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman along with woefully under acknowledged screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz brought the X-Men back to the 20th Century. Like Captain America, Vaughn and Goldman (the creative team behind Stardust and Kick-ass) the decision was taken to go to the roots of the title, seeing the original X-Men line-up changed to deal with those already revealed. Only, instead of merely laying comic book events over historical ones, Vaughn and Goldman interlace them directly with historical events.

We find an arrogant and slightly unlikable Professor Francis Xavier (played by James McAvoy) in the swinging sixties looking to extend his theory of evolution on to any girl with a discoloured eye or wonky toe. It’s clear that the X-Men are born from Xavier’s arrogance and it fills beautifully an absent detail in the inception of the X-Men. Brought into it is Erik Lenseherr (Michael Fassbender) who is hunting Jew killers and Nazi conspiritors around the world. Thinking that control of his power is fuelled only by anger and fury it makes Lenseherr – soon to become Magneto – a more well rounded character, as a cyclical psychology has formed in which Lensherr has to generate these feelings to tap into his power, only further perpetuating his anger and violent behaviour. All of the characters carry inherent (and human flaws) that make them accessible and offer a tone of inevitable doom to the proceedings.

Well realised set piece after well realised set piece is laced through the plot as the X-Men are pulled into conflict between both the Russian and US Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a bid to avert Nuclear War. Something that could easily have been a cynical plot device is so neatly realised that it makes sense (and, winningly, illustrates the absurd nature of the Cold War in a language understandable to younger audiences).

So close in fact were the runners up for Best Comic Adaptation that featured below are the trailers for both Thor and Captain America. We thoroughly recommend both and can’t wait for the Avengers movie next year….

Runner-up – Thor

While pipped at the post by First Class, Thor was overwhelmingly the surprise of the year, guided effortlessly to be an entertaining romp by Royal Shakespeare Company founder, Kenneth Branagh, offering up laughs, pathos, energy and a star turn by Chris Hemsworth as the titular character. Tom Hiddleston as his half-brother Loki stood out only slightly among a frankly incredible cast featuring Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgard (most likely drawn in particular to Branagh’s banner).

Thor tips the balance beautifully between fish-out-of-water comedy, fantasy epic and Superhero movie. Marvel’s incredible run of success to the Avenger’s movie next year seems to be unstoppable and Thor, as a potential tripping point has proven a nice surprise as a watchable, stand alone movie.

Runner-up – Captain America: The First Avenger

After being deemed unfit for Miltary service, Steve Rogers volunteers fora top secret research project that turns him into Captain America. We all know the story, however old school Director Joe Johnston achieved the implausible and made Captain America cool again. Borrowing heavily from Mark Millar’s Ultimates (effectively, in hindsight, a love letter to Hollywood and a considered development of the Avengers brand to become more audience friendly outside of comics) Cap still retains most of his gosh, shucks charm.

The decision to set the entire film in World War 2 is a bold and clever move, giving the audience credit where there may have been none with a more cynical film company. Featuring Hugo Weaving as arch Nemesis, the Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as Cap’s creator Dr. Abraham Erskine, Toby Jones as Dr Arnim Zola and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips it has a touch of class as well as being a crowd pleasing actioner. It also has the best villain diversionary tactic gag in comic book history as a Nazi assassin (Richard Armitage) escapes across the docks from the newly created Cap, he grabs a young boy and throws him in the dock. Cap, stopping to help the boy in time honoured fashion is greeted with the sight of the boy paddling away, shouting ‘Go! It’s okay. I can Swim.’ A wry sensibility that runs through the whole film.

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