Sunday, 22 January 2017

So, I started modelling again.....Part 4: Slacked off a bit

January hasn't been too productive to be honest. Real life in the form of a cold, the day job, a sudden compulsion to write, and my landlord put a dent in my progress. That said, that doesn't mean I haven't done anything since my last update here. Presenting the currently unnamed Terrorship.

Butt shot

I'm quite pleased with it, and here's the next, although its still a good distance from completion.

I've also got some ideal bits for the Ravager class torpedo caddy. (And yes, the box is important.)

More to come. I'm hoping to attend the Robin convention in February, to get some bits, if time allows.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Remembering Transformers: Armada

This article has its roots on twitter, mainly collecting articles by @inkybauds, but also thoughts that have been bubbling away in the back of my head. While I am old enough to have experienced Generation 1 first hand, the first Transformers toys and media, I'm not wedded to the concept as many fans, and TakaraTomy, seem to be. I'm more than happy to enjoy the new iterations of the brand, the new spin of things, without immediately comparing it to a toyline or cartoon only slightly younger than I am. This leads me to the seemingly very unpopular opinion I wish to discuss, I like Transformers Armada. I liked it at the time of release. I like it now. I like those Armada toys I still have better than the G1 toys I still have. While I am enjoying Titans Return, probably more than you are, I am more interested in those infrequent Armada homages and remakes, than revamping everybody from the 80's. The latest cartoon accurate Masterpiece release? Not my thing. Combiner Wars Armada Megatron? My thing. The only thing more my thing than that thing would be a continuation of Transformers: Animated. Today, I will ramble about why.

Unpopular with fans at a time when Hasbro had money trouble, Beast Machines marked the end of the beast era proper. And, by extension, the original Transformers continuity. The planned sequel, Transtech, was dumped and while its replacement was worked on, a stop-gap measure was needed. This was quickly provided by Takara, whom had their own problems with the brand in the late 90's. For the new millennium, they produced “Car Robots”, a new continuity(1), featuring a mixture of new toys and toys previously unreleased in Japan. This did feature beast modes, but in a purely antagonistic manner, and the proportion of beastformers declined over time. Hasbro rebranded it as “Robots in Disguise”, and played up the references to the original continuity in the redubbed cartoon. It worked very well. Unfortunately, while Robots In Disguise proved to be a far greater success in the West than in Japan, one aspect that was less popular was complexity. Those few original designs featured where often shellformers of an infamous kind, or needlessly complex, and parents complained. It seems this filtered through to the design studios at some point, and ended up influencing what was being worked on. Like RID, the new series would be another new continuity, paying tribute to the Generation 1 concepts and reusing names, but was doing its own thing. It would also have a Japanese cartoon that would be redubbed. But more importantly, it would favour simple, colourful and blocky designs for kids to enjoy. Intricate transformations and balljoints basically disappeared, replaced by unique play features, again, for kids. This would be activated by tiny transformers called Mini-Cons, paired with each full size toy, or sold in teams like the old Micromasters. This is what was called Transformers: Armada.

It didn't go down well with people, but it also so sold so well they couldn't make toys fast enough.

 Demolishor & Blackout, a typical 1st wave Armada set. Not pictured: everything they do.

This design approach was of course the complete antithesis of what much of the older fandom wanted, and in those early days of the internet, boy did we hear about it. Beast Wars kids, having been raised on complexity and balljoints, were less than impressed with the simplifications being made, and the absence of beast modes. G1 purists, initially cocky that vehicles were back in fashion, were less than impressed at another new continuity that reused names but was otherwise indifferent to 80's homages. Later releases would help placate both groups, but a series that favoured new kids over old collectors? This always gonna annoy people, and actual children LOVED it. All the while this was going on, the internet was slowly breaking down barriers between east and west, while anime was the new hotness, so another aspect of the fandom was acting up. Not only was there derogatory comparisons to Pokemon, there would prove to recognisable differences in both toys and the cartoon, nothing significant, but enough for people to feel superior about imports and fansubs. Some of my first experiences of the fandom as an alleged adult was viewing endless moaning about bricks, bad dubbing and missing paint apps. I didn't necessarily agree with the tone of these discussions.

 A comic from 2005, its audience older collectors, published by Fun Publications.

Having missed the beast saga entirely, this aggro passed over my head. Those Armada toys I did get seemed light years ahead of the G1 toys I had in the attic, and while that's probably a sampling error, let's think about why that was. Your average 80's Transformer could only move its arms up and down; in Armada that was the entry level for Mini-Cons. G1 toys, especially the early ones, had lots of easily lost bits that were vital to the experience; in Armada that was limited to missiles and guns. G1 toys were sometimes held up to be more realistic and less kiddy; I was around for the Micromasters and Pretenders. Armada toys were regarded as “Play Skool”, I was amazed they sculpted detail now, rather than using stickers. It would be Transformers Animated before I truly started collecting again, six years later, but it was Armada that got me buying the occasional toy and paying attention to the fanbase. If I'm thankful for the series for anything, its that. 

 The Space Mini-Con Team, a notable set of Mini-Cons. Not pictured: their combined gun mode.

Being Fair
There were of course good reasons to dislike Armada though, and it would be intellectually dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. The supporting cartoon was pretty poor, and the western version only made it worse. Animation mistakes and “gotta catch em all” plot lines abound, although its generally accepted things picked up in later arcs(2). The comic fared better, and featured some G1 pandering, but it was a Dreamwave production, so your mileage may vary. As for the bits that matter, the actual toys, some were not well-received at the time or aged well. This was reinforced by Armada being in the habit of releasing recolours with a frequency not previously seen, and as the same character, rather than a seeker style new personality. And, even accounting for the marmite factor, its hard to disagree with much of the criticism for the toys. For an example, I refer you to noted youtubist TJOmega and his Plastic Addict series, where Armada toys did tend to turn up. Here's his harsh-but-fair analysis of the infamous Side Swipe toy. This probably ruins my argument.

Yeah, he's less likely to do caustic/comedic reviews these days. Check out the Random Reviews.

Anyway, having some bad toys and weak media is not the same as having a bad line though. Other Transformer lines have done similar and worse. Armada's play pattern was a good one, and while not everything worked, the colour and variety made up for weaknesses. The undoubted reason for this was the tiny Mini-Cons themselves. Not only did they make great pocket money toys, they basically turned larger toys into playsets. You can see shades of this in the modern Titans Return line, where having a small partner robot has made the vehicle mode more fun. Mini-cons could and would trigger just about anything, in either mode, so there was always something to do. These tiny dudes were also very visually varied, not always being humanoid, and they've aged very gracefully too. Compared to modern toys of a similar size, they hold their own, these toys introducing level of complexity and articulation, yes, the same traits the larger toys lack, which has yet to be truly bettered. Some were also headmasters, some were targetmasters, some combined, some had gears, some had missiles, one was AN ACTUAL BICYCLE, the list goes on. Mini-Cons proved to be so good, the concept not only persisted in Armada's two sequels, but in completely new moulds for Classics, Universe, Power Core Combiners, the Japanese version of Prime, and the Thrilling 30 bit of Generations. Basically, Mini-Cons rock, and haven't stopped rocking since 2002.

Also, Armada has a notably good video game adaptation. I just wanted to work that in somewhere.

The Big Things
Are the larger toys as good? That's less clear cut. If you are on board with playing with your Transformers as opposed to merely posing them, there's plenty to recommend. Armada toys always do as much as they can, as uniquely as they can, and they pre-date modern cost cutting trends. There's no end of missiles, spring-loaded mechanisms, geared mechanisms and electronic gimmickry, if that's your sort of thing. Treadheads got Megatron and Demolishor. The seekers were back, with this iteration of Starscream having enduring popularity. Cool cars abounded. There was a faction switching toy that was also a double headmaster. Optimus Prime got two different power-up partners. Megatron even got one, the generally awesome Tidal Wave, a massive toy based around three different combining ships. Play value can easily match a tranformer from any other line. Articulation is not a strong point, but many toys feel only a joint away from being fine. That having been said, three toys do stand up above all others as examples as both of the Armada ethos and answering the articulation complaints. 

 Tidal Wave & Ramjet, an impressive toy from wave 4. Not pictured: everything they do.

The Beast Wars repaints! You know, the recoloured transmetal moulds they put out as they couldn't make actual Armada toys fast enough? Because they actually sold really well?

Ha ha, just kidding. Good toys are they, but that isn't why I'm here. Coming at number 3 is Hoist, an excavator whom was retooled into two different Beast Wars characters. Coming at number 2 was the Supercon release of Optimus Prime, known as “Bendy Prime”, whom will probably be on display until I die. And at number 1, there's Unicron.

Yes, Unicron. The star of the 1986 film. Rendered in plastic, as what must be the single greatest act of fan-pandering ever made in the brands history.

Yes, even more than the Masterpiece line.

 Unicron, A.K.A mecha-satan. Not pictured everything he does.

While, as mentioned, I don't venerate G1 as much as other people, there was a huge hit of nostalgia for me with this one. Unicron was explicitly tied to the film which I loved as a kid, and was a huge part of a comics too. And not to put too fine a point on it, Unicron was incredible. And he still is. Gigantic, but articulated down to the fingers. Endless sculpted detail. Many gimmicks. A missile launcher of such complexity and noise that it scared my Grandad's dog, and no, it wasn't aimed anywhere near her. Even the haters had something nice to say about Armada after that. And this toy has been released four times, later versions replacing the head with something more G1, with a platinum edition on the way.

Armada doesn't get enough respect. Its never quite overcome the bad impression that the cartoon made, and fans always react badly to a Transformers series doing something different. The fact is though, the brand would be in a very different state without Armada selling so well. We'd probably find ourselves like He-Man or MASK or whatever, known, but no-longer relevant. Sometimes a hard reset is needed to keep things fresh. Armada got two direct sequels, and that success eventually allowed for the Classics line of 2006 and the modern films. And more importantly than that, the toys aren't as bad as some claim, its just they are designed differently.

If you are tired of G1 remakes, and want a change of pace, Armada is the toyline you should look at.

Foot notes
  1. Uhhh, its complicated, just go with it for now 
  2. A direct comparison to G1 cartoon is very tempting. Maybe another day.

Images not by me are copyright of Hasbro etc.

Monday, 26 December 2016

So, I started modelling again.....Part 3: Its cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere

Due to both work and family commitments, December is not a great time for me to get things done. Mind you, creativity grabs me when it wants, resulting in this monstrosity.

A little context. Back in the day I was fond of Battlefleet Gothic, a somewhat insane game of space combat. Think of it as more tall ships and Admiral Nelson than fighters and Admiral Ackbar. It was on my radar due to it getting a PC game,, which I intend to get eventually, but I soon realised the rules had since passed into the public domain. Papercraft fleets were also a thing. So, me and a few mates ended up playing a game. I shan't bore you with a recap, the fleets were very unequal as it turned out, but will happily boast that I took out two ships via boarding actions, which made for a moral victory. If not actual victory. Anyway, I decided to take a stab at scratchbuilding an Ork Terrorship, and here we are. Its mainly off-brand lego, green stuff, and assorted plasticard. Some details, like the bridge come from a 1/750 destroyer kit, while the main guns are from WH40k. Scale is a worry here, but, you know, first try. And it ain't done.

Will I make of these? I don't know. Depends how much I end up playing the game. To a certain extent, you have to scratchbuild ships for BFG though. Its been out of production for years, and most of the miniatures have the mixed blessing of being metal pieces, so after market prices are a bit insane.

Mind you, working way up to an orky version of the SDF-1 Macross or the JMC Red Dwarf.....that would be fun.

Friday, 23 December 2016

My Top Twenty Transformer Things of 2016

Since I started selling toys on eBay, I've not been able to do reviews. Its a matter of appearing biased and having conflicting interests. I still collect however, and its the time of year for awards. So, I thought I'd list my favourites, not detailed analysis, but brief discussions of why I like them. All the toys and/or comics would be good, or at least interesting, but the number 1 would not necessarily be the best Transformer this year. I don't dabble in Masterpiece or Japanese lines, and my interest in the comics usually stops with James Roberts, so my sample size is a bit small. So, something in the line of last year's top ten, toys I have in my personal collection which were released this year. More or less. Then I realised its actually been a pretty good year for Transformers, and 10 wasn't big enough a number. Especially since Titans Return Wave 3 started appearing in December, and Six Shot was looking to be a shoe-in for top 5 if I got it in time. Did I get it in time? Well, keep reading.

Let's do a top twenty instead.

Numbers 20-11 represent the honourable mentions category. Toys I'm glad I have, but got pushed out of the top ten by others. You'll notice a lot of retools in there, but that's not a bad reflection on them, as we have parts reuse in the Top Ten too. Buckle up.

20: Titans Return Rewind
While definitely the most successful attempt to reinvent tapeformers, the legends class "tablets" of Titans Return have ended up as an also-ran. Good enough as a group, but one hopes for more interesting toys in later waves. Rising above, more for what he is than what he does, is Rewind. As a toy, he's a nice robot, with an IDW head, a serviceable tank mode, whom adds to Blaster as a chest minion. As one half of a married couple of two guys, yet in Toys R Us, he means a lot more.

19: Titans Return Brawn (Titanmaster)
While not the best solo titanmaster release, Brawn gets on this list due to his general competency and theme. Whereas a lot of the toys at this pricepoint seem a bit misplaced, having Brawn as a tiny dude riding in an ATV isn't a stretch, even if the hoverbike mode is. It helps that the titanmaster evokes his toy design in robot mode, whereas the head is pure cartoon. That aside, functionally its the most consistent toy so far of its kind, not having a weak mode, and probably having the best weapon form. Just a shame that so much detail goes unpainted.

18: Robots in Disguise Quillfire (Warrior)
The modern Robots In Disguise cartoon and its toys have largely failed to register with me. I don't think I was the only one put off by the thought of a series about Bumblebee, and its non-standard size classes reminiscent of Age Of Extinction. The quality did however improve as things went along, eventually giving us this guy. Quillfire is very close to being a proper deluxe, if only his doors folded up, while having loads of character, and two weapons both which stow internally. I'm also amazed they articulated the neck, it could have been so easily been fixed as a cost saving measure.

17: Titans Return Blurr (Deluxe)
Yo listen up here's a story
About a little guy that lives in a blue world
And all day and all night and everything he sees
Is just blue
Like him inside and outside
Blue his house with a blue little window
And a blue Corvette
And everything is blue for him
And himself and everybody around
Cause he ain't got nobody to listen
I'm Blurr da ba dee da ba daa

Etc. etc.

Anyway, Blurr is a nice mould, but the blue is overpowering. Gonna repaint mine, I think.

16: Combiner Wars Trailbreaker (Deluxe)
An unexpected pleasure from the final gasps of Combiner Wars, Trailbreaker is another benchmark transformer. Not because he's a brilliant toy, although he has little to apologise for, but more for being better a toy on the second pass. The original Offroad mould is an also-ran of Combiner Wars, suffering from some tabbing issues that affected the already unstable Menasor, and a lack of anything to make it stand out amongst its peers. Trailbreaker fixes both problems, being rock solid in all modes, and adding Rook's party trick. More like this please.

15: Combiner Wars Victorion (Boxset)
My last Combiner Wars purchase, I hope, the fan-built-female-combiner set was an impulse buy at a good price, but proved to be better in hand then I expected. Its that beautiful sword and all that subtle retooling to make them feminine without going the sexy robot route. Unified colour schemes, and the fact the Combiner Wars toys are rarely bad helps too. That said, quality control issues and simple mould fatigue seem to be at play here, taking the shine off.

14: Titans Return Powermaster Prime (Leader)
An extensive and perhaps obvious retool of Ultra Magnus, this adds new play features, a third mode, addresses the hand issue, and brimgs an industrial amount of nostalgia. Given that Magnus was already a pretty good toy, this basically adds up to great, but is likely to be overshadowed by later releases. In a repeat of Devastator, the Japanese equivalent has additional tooling, which looks to be an improvement in almost all ways except feet. Whichever version you go for though, this toy nails the robot/truck/base play pattern better than any Optimus we've had for a while, if a bit gappy.

13: Titans Return Fortress Maximus
Perhaps the most interesting retool in this modern age of retools, Fortmax is a remix of 2013's Metroplex, another modern classic. Is he as good? Well it depends. The robot mode certainly looks better, the proportions greatly improved, and the reuse of parts borders on the ingenious. Cerebros is also a high point, overcoming his status as soundbox on legs to the point where some want him separately. And while I want to slap the person whom included the sticker sheet, the metallic foil effect adds a lot to the finished product. On the flipside, the city form is necessarily different from the G1 toy, and there's an almost "Uncanny Valley" feel to things as now undocumented engineering is retained from Metroplex. Odds are, you've already made up your mind on this one, but its got an appeal.

12: Combiner Wars Sky Lynx (Voyager)
I was down on this toy at first, my opinions coloured by questionable quality control and overhype. On balance however, Commander Modesty ends up as the best overall CW torso bot, if lacking for appropriate limbbots. No single mode is a total success, but there is no weak third mode either. The torso mode is heroically proportioned, and makes better use of the jet moulds than Superion does. And let's be real here, Sky Lynx is so utterly bonkers, its impossible not to like him.

11: Titans Return Crashbash (Titanmaster)
An extremely charming little toy, this is a spare head that combines with a wyvern to make an adorable T-Rex. Or what can only be described as a triple barrelled butt cannon. He's a great pocket money toy, all these individual titanmasters are, but this is the one to beat in later waves. Of course, given the number of times this toy has been will probably be in those later waves too.

10: Combiner Wars Shockwave (Legends)
Another toy making this article because I didn't get it until April, Shockers is an ideal representation of the character, and the best thing about the CW Combaticons. Seriously, articulation, appearance, transformation, and play value all tend towards great. When the only change you'd make is the characteristic use of translucent plastic, you know you've got something good. I liked this toy so much, I brought it even after I'd got it 3 times as the Botcon Reflector set.

9: Titans Return Hardhead (Deluxe)
Hardhead is an entirely satisfactory toy, but it has a mouth-plate, unlike basically all fictional depictions of the character. Putting that aside, HH is possibly the best deluxe overall in Titans Return wave 1, and out-performs toys in other size classes too. If you've got an Autobot with two guns and effective articulation, you are half way there with me, but this guy looks great, and he really sells the play pattern.

8: Titans Return Mindwipe (Deluxe)
While all of the wave 2 Titans deluxes are worth a look, Mindwipe is the most interesting and arguably the most functional. This is mainly due to his unique transformation where the legs unfold into bat wings, and the number of daft fan modes that result. He's also well-made in robot form, and I find his accessories to be a surprisingly attractive. A solid performer.

6/7: Titans Return Blaster/Soundwave (Leader)
Ever since Jetfire came along in 2014, the modern leader class has felt a bit of a compromise. Be it gappy plastic, sub-par engineering or a questionable design choice, a good all-rounder had yet to appear. With Blaster, it arrived. While not exceptional in any mode, this toy is consistent and hides its hollowness. Big. Simple. Fun. And Soundwave adds an accessory. Both represent the best versions of their characters outside of Masterpiece, if slightly let down so far by the quality of the chest minions so far.

5: Sins of the Wreckers (Comic series)
I feel really sorry for Nick Roche, because not only was Last Stand of the Wreckers a tough act to follow, not only was MTMTE was reaching a fever pitch at about the same time, the guy suffered a family tragedy while he was working on it, delaying the series. This has unduly marked the reception of Sins, trapping it a cycle of hype, anti-hype, and uncertainty. Its fortunate then that its a honestly excellent work. Personal where Last Stand was bombastic, but no less shocking or political, the plot Sins is something I dare not spoil by explaining it. I will however say that certain characters and scenes you will never forget. However much you may want too......

4: Titans Return Chromedome (Deluxe)
Chromedome was one of those toys that was gonna be a lot of peoples favourite, but also where some collectors were not immediately on board. Along with Rewind he forms the premier MTMTE couple, beloved by Tumblr and almost anyone whom actually reads the comic. But if you hadn't, all Chromedome just looks like is a retool of the excellent if over-used Combiner Wars Dead End. He's not, he's just copying engineering, although he share parts with #17 on this list. All that said, Chromedome ended up a very high quality toy, and was only pushed our of the top 3 by a late addition. This guy is basically Dead End plus Blurr, with an IDW face. He's the Marvel superhero film. He's very familiar, but he's so well put together, the end result is awesome. Chromedome is the new standard for car transformers, having all you could want at the price and no meaningful flaws.

3: Titans Return Triggerhappy (Deluxe)
The first last minute addition to this list, Triggerhappy came out of nowhere to be everyone's darling. While he personally ties into some happy childhood memories, this toy is notable for its very novel transformation, a distinctive jet mode, and satisfying robot mode. Its extremely well-presented too, with numerous effective paint applications, minimal gaps, landing gear, and a dedicated figure stand port for each mode. This all rests atop the Titans Return play pattern, which makes Triggerhappy extremely compelling as a toy. He's the best jetformer we've had in a while, and like Chromedome represents the new standard for such things, whom he ranks above for seemingly being completely new.

2: The Dying of the Light (More Than Meets The Eye Volume 10)
"Season 2" of MTMTE has been subject of a lot of controversy, but this five issue story proved to bean undeniable high note More Than Meets The Eye has always been willing to take risks amongst the character comedy, and its biggest was to make Megatron a regular character, on probation for his innumerable war crimes, and seeking to change his legacy. Against all odds, they pulled it off. Megatron's character gained nuance and complexity that just wasn't there before, and we slowly realised he was sincere. In this story arc, it all came crashing down, as his past caught up with him and people started to die. But it wasn't just about him, as plot threads bubbling away since 2012 came to the fore, and the core cast found itself re-enacting Rorke's Drift. As if we needed reminding, this story proved James Roberts and Alex Milne are names you want on a Transformers comic.

1: Titans Return Six Shot (Leader)
By far the most ambitious toy on this list, Six Shot had a lot riding on him. Transformers with more than 2 distinctive/convincing modes are rare enough on their own, but 6? We hadn't had that since the 2000 Robots in Disguise series with Megatron/Gigatron, the closest thing since being the 4 mode Animated Shockwave. When I saw the pictures, I knew that as long as it didn't break on day one we were looking at a modern classic. Getting it in person revealed some imperfections that confirmed it was made by mortal hands for the mass market, but yes.

Six Shot is possibly the biggest crowd pleaser we've had since Generations Springer.

Perfect? No. He's basically made of friction joints, and I took steps to tighten things immediately. He's entirely in the G1 aesthetic, so his altmodes require “imagination”. There's the whole submarine silliness too, and the guns look a bit weedy. These things do not matter. He does all the original did, modernised with articulation, tabs to interact with base modes, AND a titanmaster whose design is a spectacularly dark in-joke. Play value is off the charts, as is style, and this makes him my #1.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

So, I started modelling again.....Part 2: Tankie, Teef, and a Tinboy

What the hell, lets make a series. Not necessarily a weekly thing, I don't create to a rota, but what the hell.

Let's talk about the tankie. I was putting the finishing touches on this when I last posted, and to recap, its a bitz box job, rather a true scratch-build. There are three major components, the resin tracks, a central hull being made from off-brand lego, and a turret from a crappy tank toy. These where then dressed with mix of resin, white metal, plasticard, anything that fit really. I call it "Tankie", as its cute much the same manner as the Metal Slug tank, but its more of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle with the rear door. The project then turned into another rust painting exercise, I like how it came out, but I think I over did the orange. Then again, we've had Mad Max: Fury Road, and that was a bright as a supernova, so why not?

Oh, and I've been practising teeth, with mixed success. I pulled this somewhat badly glued together boy out of the bitz box, and got some new paint. Its not a great job, but at least its game-worthy.

As for other projects, I'm planning to slowly build up to a Stompa/Gorkanaut type/thing. I did make some progress on that, but I dropped it, so its been shelved in 17 different pieces. I plan to come back to it once I've had a bit more practice, or I stop feeling daft. Whichever happens first. For the meantime, in a no doubt shocking turn of events, I'm doing some robots. I am continuing to experiment with painting techniques here.

There's a few more, but they aren't really ready to show yet.

Back soon.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

So, I started modelling again.....

OK, as I've mentioned in previous posts, its not been a great year for me. I don't feel I can discuss it here, but its coming to a logical end. Things may be improving finally, but I've needed to get a new hobby to distract myself. As it turned out, an old hobby. I went back to model making, something I've not really done for three years. To provide context, like numerous Nottingham nerds, I was a big fan of Games Workshop games. I played Orkz, still have a quite expansive army, but I went off the hobby. There are various reasons for this, but the main reason was the most recent Ork codex, followed by the head-in-bum stupidity that was their Warhammer reboot. I'm not quite over those things, so I don't think I am gonna be commanding an army in WH40K any time soon. However, after some light toy customisation, I found the process of creation to be very relaxing. So, I rummaged through my still very expansive bits box, and went to town.

Not to sound too much like a prat, but its nice to remember you are good at something.

First off, is the bandit, which I suppose in rules terms would be a Looted Wagon or Rhino. The main hull is a Space Marine Predator, of the hairy-chested Space Wolf chapter, if I recall correctly. While a Predator is a main battle tank, for real life money reasons, its based on the Rhino transport. The turret and guns were long gone, but it was only a matter of filling the holes and bolting on new bits to make into an APC. Several of the new parts, such as that big ram, come from a company called Ramshackle Games. If I post more photos, you'll see more of their stuff. Also had a happy discovery during painting; orange is a great way to do rust.

Smokey here is however pretty much solid Games Workshop. There are fairly modern plastics used here for the head and shoulder pad, but its mostly old school white metal. I'm still experimenting with paints and remembering techniques, so he's not quite done. The armour is painted in the same manner as the tank, more-or-less, but the skin is a “Vallejo Game Color Goblin Green”. That was a little odd to work with, as it basically inks itself as it dries. I need to remember how to do teeth....

Another project I'm working on is “Tankie” here. Its much more a scratchbuild, in that while the tracks are resin, the main body is lego, and the turret is off a cheap tank toy.

More to come, if I feel like it.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A Brief Review Of Doctor Strange

Sorry, I know its been a while.

Well, its a Marvel film, do we need to say any more?


You can go now.

Oh, we do, sorry.

Right, Doctor Strange is the latest in the generally very consistent Marvel canon, and one of its smaller scale entries, as its an origin story for a single character. Like last year's Ant-Man, its almost a throwback to the “Phase 1” films, and has a fairly light connection to existing plot threads, excluding a mid-credits sequence and a rather notable name drop. This was probably for the best as this film attempts to place hand-wavy magic into a world of soft sci-fi, a tough sell at the best of times. This film however pulls it off, creating utterly beautiful action sequences that feel like lucid dreams. I do want to see this film again in 3D, I feel it would add to the effect, rather than than be a cheap gimmick, which is high praise from me. Its also a generally slick production with a strong cast, and a general feeling of competency. Benedict Cumberbatch is another great casting choice, fitting into the role as well as Robert Downey Jr. did with Tony Stark, and the beard is a massive boost to the man. The remainder of the cast do well with what they have, the narrative progressing in a solid manner for the genre, and there is no obvious weak point in the entire enterprise. 

This however is not quite the same as saying Doctor Strange is a great film in its own right. Something about it didn't click with me. There is where the comparison to Phase 1 comes back. Those were always entertaining films, but I didn't love any of them until the Avengers assembled. Doctor Strange has so much going with respects to its core concept that its almost surprising it works as well as it does. But we are still in a position where the rules of the world still need to be explained, and this undermines the concept of danger. The formula of the Marvel films, or perhaps just the genre at large, also shows through. Doctor Strange doesn't look like any other Marvel film, including Thor, but it has a similar feel in places, and the same sense of humour. You'd be daft to say this film was identical to say Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America, but you can pick out common themes. If you'd been inclined to sketch out a plot for this film beforehand based on the trailer, you'd probably have got the specifics wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised if you got the broad strokes. The ending was a surprise, however. Doctor Strange, while quite trippy could have been a lot stranger, perhaps to its benefit. Then again, to misquote someone, you have to have your feet on the ground, before you can build castles in the sky.

And, you'll forgive me if I don't open the can of worms that was casting Tilda Swanson as the Ancient One. She does a good job, but that's a topic for another day.

All this is however is me attempting to draw a line between the merely good, and the exceptional. Doctor Strange is good, and there's nothing wrong with that. While I don't wish to make comparisons with the distinguished competition, this film certainly handled magic a lot better than Suicide Squad did, and remains infinitely more watchable than some films about superheroes released this year.

The Verdict
Doctor Strange is exactly what it looks like, no more, no less, and that's just fine.