Friday, 17 August 2018

The Flash: New Costume Sparks Body-Shaming Backlash

Originally published on Set The Tape

News has been leaking online over the last few days of a brand new costume that will feature in season five of The CW’s The Flash series. Whilst a new costume for the popular hero has been a source of excitement for many fans, a small yet vocal minority have lashed out not only at the design, but at actor Grant Gustin himself.

The new suit looks to be much closer in design to the one worn by the character in the comics. The leather has been replaced with fabric, and most startlingly different, the chin is no longer a part of the cowl. The open face look of the new design jumps out instantly as it’s such a big departure from all of the versions of the Flash suit we’ve had yet, but it also looks just like the character in the books. As a fan of the source material, it’s a bold decision to change to look like this, but I think that it looks great.

Unfortunately, the internet being the internet, there were people who immediately took to the web to complain about the new costume. People have complained that the mask looks ‘too goofy’, that the ‘leather look was better’ (despite so many people complaining about the leather for four years), and that it ‘looks like a carnival kids’ costume’.

Whilst these kinds of complaints are to be expected from any superhero costume (has there ever been one that everyone has liked?) it’s worth remembering that this is a leaked image of an unfinished costume. There are changes being made to it, it’s in unflattering light, and there could even be extra effects added to it. It’s the same as the complaints about the Titans costume leaks from a few months ago.

What was surprising about some of the comments, however, is how many have attacked Gustin personally. People have complained that Gustin is ‘too thin’, that he needs to be more muscular to play the character, and some have even said that he looks ‘sick’.

These comments immediately generated a response from Gustin himself, who took to Instagram to say the following:

'So here’s the thing about this bullshit photo leak. It’s a cool suit. That’s a terrible photo that I was unaware was being taken, much less being posted. Some things need work and they will be worked on. We’ll get there.

'As far as the body shaming. That’s what pisses me off. Not even for my sake. I’ve had 20+ years of kids and adults telling me or my parents I was too thin. I’ve had my own journey of accepting it. But there’s a double standard where it’s okay to talk about a dude’s body. I do my best to stay in shape and add as much size as I can through out these seasons. I’m naturally thin, and my appetite is greatly affected by stress. Stress is something that ebbs and flows for me throughout a season. Thus gaining weight is a challenge for me. I didn’t cast as a slim actor as The Flash. I went to an audition for a role I never dreamed I’d actually book.

'But, here I am 5 seasons later. I’m happy with my body and who I am and other kids who are built like me and thinner should be able to feel like THEY could be a superhero on tv or film or whatever it may be someday.

'I love the suit that has been designed for me, and I think when everyone sees it in its entirety, you will love it too. Things have been adjusted since that leaked shot was taken, and more things will continue to be adjusted until it feels right.'

Grant Gustin also posted a short video to the social media site in which, visibly upset by the comments that he has been subjected to, he says ‘fuck whoever leaked that’.

Sadly, I have to agree with Gustin on this topic. Not only do leaks spoil the experience of the show, but also give false expectations of what things will look like. Behind the scenes photos aren’t how things are supposed to be viewed. You see things in a way they’re not designed to be seen, without finished effects, or even in a way that they’ll never look on screen. Sometimes people understand this about behind the scenes images – nobody thought that Spider-Man’s new suit would be black and grey spandex covered in numbers in the final product – but people seem to forget this about practical costumes. Camera angles, set lighting, how an actor moves all affect how a suit will look.

As for Gustin being ‘too thin’ for the role, I don’t understand these complaints. The Flash is a runner. He’s not a muscular fighter. It makes a lot of sense for him to be thinner. When you factor in how fast his meta-human metabolism is and how quickly his body burns calories it would be incredibly hard for the character to put on lots of weight. Gustin is slim yes, but I’ve never looked at him and thought that he looks unhealthy, or that he doesn’t look right in the role. He’s played the part perfectly for four years, and embodied the Flash in ways that other actors haven’t.

Not liking a design is one thing, but not liking an unfinished costume and then attacking the shape and size of a person’s body because of it is not only a foolish decision, but also incredibly ignorant and cruel. With toxic fans affecting so many franchises lately, it’s time to put a stop to this kind of abuse and to call out those doing it.  Instead, let’s keep coming together to enjoy something that we all love.

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Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch #3 – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘With the abrupt arrival of a Xenos craft on Sidra, the Kill Team are tasked with a new mission; to warn Xyston of the new invasion, Kaelar and Izrafel make their way to the gunship, only to find that it has been destroyed by the Xenos horde. Left with few options, and the highly corrosive acid rain beginning to fall, the team advance towards the transmission station in the heart of the colony, in the hopes of making contact with the Xyston Watchtower. After separating from the team, Sergeant Agathon is ambushed by a prime Ur-Ghul. Tiberius comes to his aid, whilst the rest of the team face a horde of Orks. Now the real battle begins.’

The tease for this issue, that ‘the real battle begins’ is incredibly apt for the third issue of the book as there are only around five or six pages within the book that aren’t given over to the horrific battles that the Space Marines of the Deathwatch are forced to fight.

The Space Marines of the Warhammer 40,0000 universe are easily some of the most ridiculously overpowered soldiers in sci-fi, one man armies capable of taking down dozens, if not hundreds of enemies themselves. Whilst this can sometimes fail to come across when playing the game (depending on your dice rolls they can be made to look ridiculously weak if you’ve got some bad luck) writer Aaron Dempski-Bowden really manages to put this concept across.

Following the brutal surprise attack from an Ur-Ghul in the final moments of issue #2 Veteran Sergeant Agathon has been thrown around, his armour broken and smashed, and even had one of his arms bitten off. Despite these wounds (which would spell the end of any normal human) Agathon doesn’t even slow in his paces, running and gunning from further Ork attacks, and manages to lead his team effectively.

Despite these demonstrations of Space Marine hardiness from Agathon, the stand out character for this issue has to be Rurik Warsong, the Terminator Armour clad warrior from the Space Wolves chapter. Having taken a leg wound that means he can’t run he chooses to stay behind to buy his comrades time to flee. Taking on more Orks than should be possible, Rurik kills dozens, all whilst being stabbed, cut, shot, and even impaled.

Rurik’s last stand is something to behold, with the old warrior thinking back through his past, remembering killing a giant wolf with nothing but an axe at just eight years old, to destroying enemies of the Imperium such as Chaos Space Marines and Necrons over 300 years. It spurs the ancient warrior on to fight to his dying breath, even when his weapons run out of ammunition. It’s a stunning moment, managing to feel suitably epic in its scope, whilst also capturing the sadness of the loss.

Tazio Bettin and Kevin Enhart, the artist and colourist respectively, manage to bring these moments to life in a stunning way, capturing the brutality of the battles. The action sequences have weight to them, and the giant warriors tearing through hulking Orks has a sense or realism to it that could have been lost with others working on the book. One of the prettiest sequences, however, has to be Rurik’s memories of his home-world, where the oranges and reds are replaced with blues and whites, bringing to life the frozen landscapes of Fenris in stunning visuals.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch #3 isn’t big on story, not a great deal happens, but it manages to pack in some great character moments, and even gives powerful insight into Rurik (the MVP of the issue) without taking away from the brutal pace of the battle. The artwork and writing work brilliantly together, and sets up for what’s sure to be a fast paced and bloody finale.

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Monday, 13 August 2018

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘After being out of print for years, a grindhouse-style classic returns—better than ever. Inspired by the magazine Heavy Metal and the films of John Woo, creators Kevin Eastman and Simon Bisley present a much darker take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, spinning a pulse-pounding yarn of over-the-top action and more than a bit of the old ultraviolence. In gritty 1990s New York, our boys Raphael and Casey are swept up into an international murder/revenge/assassination plot, complete with gangsters, thugs, cops, cyborgs, machine guns, and (of course) hockey sticks. Don’t miss what might just be the longest-running gunfight in comic book history!’

I grew up watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon as a kid (Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for those like me, watching it in the UK) and fell in love with the gang of green heroes. As I got older, I found out that the show was based upon comics and that the books were much more adult and darker in tone than the children’s series.

I’ve now read quite a bit of these comics and have experienced this ‘darker’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but even the early comics didn’t quite prepare me for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount.

Originally published as a mini-series in 1996, the story tells the bloody and gruesome tale of Hong Kong gangster Midnight, who has travelled to New York City on the run from her former colleagues who are now hunter her for apparently betraying them. Running into Casey Jones, then Raphael, the two of them end up helping Midnight as she travels across the country seeking Sanctuary, a place where she can be safe.

Whilst this doesn’t sound too far removed from a fairly standard TMNT plot, the execution (and I’ve chosen that word intentionally) is something very different. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount, as the name suggests, wracks up a huge amount of kills. Johnny Woo Woo, the cyborg assassin sent after Midnight, cares nothing for collateral damage and as such mows down anyone that’s between him and his target.

The majority of the book is one long gun fight with dozens killed. They are not quick, clean kills either; people have arms and legs blown off, their guts blasted out, and are even decapitated by bullets. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount isn’t helped in its ultra-violence by the artwork of Simon Bisley.

An artist that I’ve always considered ‘messy’, Bisley’s scraggy and misshapen people look gross at the best of times, but are downright disgusting when being shot to pieces. It makes the death and violence more visceral than it otherwise would be. Whilst the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has never shied away from violence, it has never been gratuitous or disgusting; but this book seems to revel in it, appealing most to people who love gore and torture porn.

Bisley’s art also adds horror to the book whenever he draws Raphael, making the heroic turtle look like like a hideous monster. His limbs are misshapen and uneven, covered in veins and bulges, his mouth looks like The Joker and the Cheshire Cat had a nightmare baby; he’s ugly and looks like a demon.

The worst of the artwork has to be Midnight in the final battle against Johnny Woo Woo. Wearing what can only be described as a thong and strips of skintight cloth, Midnight’s over the top breasts are barely held in place as she participates in a knife fight, every panel focusing on either her arse or pointed nipples. She’s made into a violent sexual fantasy designed to arouse as she performs violence.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount has been described as encapsulating the ‘grim and gritty’ sensibilities of the 90s and turned it to the extreme. This is completely true, but it takes everything that was awful with 90s comics and dials it up to 11. The violence is over the top and full of gore. Women are sexualised objects with breasts bigger than their heads and costumes that could barely clothe a cat, and even the heroes are pushed into ‘ultra-dark’ as Eastman makes Raphael murder dozens of people with guns and grenades.

The book might be written by Kevin Eastman, one of the creators of the Turtles, but it feels like he’s failed to capture the essence of the characters or the series at all. Gory and violent for the sake of it, filled with awful language and even has Raphael using disgusting slurs such as ‘retarded’; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount is the goriest, most violent and vulgar TMNT comic I’ve ever read. Absolutely awful.

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Thursday, 9 August 2018

Dark Souls: Age of Fire #3 – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘His armour charred black by the flames of Izalith, Silver Knight Arkon now marches to Anor Londo in search of the brother knights who abandoned him. Meanwhile, in the Lower Ward, the undead curse begins to spread, with no care for rank or status. But who is to blame for this accursed outbreak?’

It’s hard to read Dark Souls: Age of Fire without being shocked by how beautiful the artwork is. Even three issues into the title Anton Kokarev is still able to push the bar further and further, and the very first scene is a testament to this. A meeting between the now cursed Silver Knight Arkon, transformed into a black knight, comes face to face with Artorias, the Wolf Knight, in a forest in the middle of a rain storm.

The effects look beautiful, dark and gloomy skies, streaks of rain filling each panel, as the two warriors enter into combat. There is very little dialogue in the scene, instead each panel tells a very clear story; the warriors watching each other, swinging their swords through the rain, clashing and blocking, circling each other. It’s like watching a samurai movie play out in comic form; and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Following this brief but brilliant action sequence, the rest of the issue focuses on the undead curse that is sweeping through the Lower Ward and the machinations of Seath the Scaleless, the albino dragon. This is where the story really delves into the lore of Dark Souls and explores the backstory only hinted at within the games.

The undead curse is played as truly frightening and some of the depictions of them are truly terrifying. In one panel, Kokarev depicts them as mindless, withered, shambling victims, yet in the next panel they’re screaming, banshee like monsters.

Elsewhere Channeler Liste is seen in his manipulations of the public, whilst simultaneously assisting Seath the Scaleless with his experiments – experiments that have caused the undead curse that is sweeping through the population, a duplicity that comes back to bite him when Seath turns on him.

Despite these moments of story and lore exploration, the book doesn’t go into great depth. The book touches on important events, yet doesn’t give them the time they need. I don’t feel like this is something that writer Ryan O’Sullivan has done intentionally, as his characterisation is very good, but comes across as an editorial decision to try and maintain enough mystique around these big moments that they can be explored in future comics, novels, or games, depending on the company’s decision. Thankfully, O’Sullivan is weaving enough personal elements into the story through the cast of characters, but it is a little disappointing that we don’t get a little more detail.

Dark Souls: Age of Fire continues to be entertaining and visually stunning, and offers readers artwork that stands out amongst other competition as something really special. Hopefully future issues will dedicate more time to story without having to sacrifice character.

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TV Rewind… Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1X08 – The Well

Originally published on Set The Tape

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode ‘The Well’ is definitely much better on subsequent watches rather than the first time it aired on television. Billed as a direct tie-in/follow-up to Thor: The Dark World, many fans were understandably annoyed when the episode only spent the first three minutes in a post-Thor London, before moving on to another, vaguely connected story. Marvel spent a lot of time advertising it as a big follow-up to the film – and as that it totally fails, but seen separately from that advertisement, as an episode on its own? ‘The Well’ is actually quite good.

Ignoring the opening scene, which is just the S.H.I.E.L.D. team playing clean-up after the climactic fight from Thor: The Dark World, the episode centres on a ‘Norse Pagan hate group’, who have managed to track down an ancient Asgardian artefact, one that gives the wielder super-human strength and uncontrollable rage.

It turns out that the artefact is one of three pieces of a Berserker Staff, a weapon used by a member of the Asgardian army, a Berserker Warrior. With the hate group searching for the other pieces, and spreading chaos in their wake, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the team have to try and find the other pieces first.

It’s a pretty fun little story that takes our team of heroes around the globe, but what makes it something special is the inclusion of the Berserker Warrior himself, who has been hiding on Earth for a thousand years. Not only does this give the series its most powerful character to date, but the Warrior is played by Emmy Award winning Peter MacNicol, who many film fans will remember from his comedic roles in Bean, The Adams Family Values, and Ghostbusters II.

MacNicol is so unlike any other Asgardian we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. This isn’t just because he’s been living on Earth for hundreds of years, but because he’s a common man. Thor, Loki, and even the Warriors Three, are all members of the Asgardian court. They’re royalty, or spend all their time around royalty. MacNicol is just an ordinary man who joined the military, got disillusioned with his life as a warrior, and chose to settle on Earth. He’s relatable where Thor and the others feel alien.

‘The Well’ isn’t all about Asgardians, however, as it also gives us more of an insight into the pasts of Agents Ward (Brett Dalton) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) when they fall under the influence of the Berserker Staff. Bringing out their fear and anger through their darkest memories, the staff causes Ward to have to face a trauma from his childhood.

Whilst it’s good that we are finally learning more about the character it doesn’t quite feel like enough. We see his younger brother trapped down a well as he’s trying to help him, but we don’t get full context as to what’s happening and why. This would have been the perfect opportunity to give us more details, to flesh him out more; but the series seems to be holding back on much of this information so that it can stretch out the ‘mystery’ of Wards past.

This is something that happens here with May as well. Like Ward, she comes under the staff affects, but is able to control herself. Claiming that this is because she lives with her trauma every day rather than burying it. But, we don’t find out what this is, leaving even more mysteries hanging over the audience. I understand that this is episodic television that’s going to be unfolding over twenty episodes, but it feels like the writers are making the mistake of giving too many characters a ‘mystery past’; the only ones who don’t seem to at the moment are Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).

Overall the episode was quite fun, and had some interesting ideas, but is beginning to make its characters run the risk of becoming boring. The most interesting character development in the episode happened right towards the end when Ward and May hooked up, but other than that the inclusion of more mysterious pasts is beginning to grate a little.

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