Wednesday 31 August 2022

After 16 years, 63 books and 26,881 pages, THE HORUS HERESY is finally coming to an end

Black Library and Games Workshop have announced the actual, final novel in The Horus Heresy, their absolutely massive prequel series to their Warhammer 40,000 science fantasy setting. The series began in 2006 with Dan Abnett's Horus Rising, so it is only fitting that Abnett is bringing the saga to an end with The End and the Death. However, the story proved too titanic to fit into one volume, so will be published in (at least!) two books.

The Horus Heresy is the story that provides the mythic underpinning to the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Set ten thousand years before the "present" in the setting, the saga tells of the rebellion of the Warmaster Horus against his father, the immortal Emperor of Mankind. Horus believes his father has become a despot and a tyrant, wanting to be worshipped as a god. However, Horus has also been manipulated by the insidious forces of Chaos. Almost half the forces of the Imperium of Man join Horus in his rebellion, designed to overthrow the Emperor and "free" humanity. However, many legions remain loyal to the Emperor, leading to a desperate, seven-year war that will determine the fate of humanity and the galaxy.

The End and the Death is also the final book in the Siege of Terra sub-series. This eight (now nine+) volume series depicts Horus's final gambit, a breach of the defences around the Solar system and a full-scale assault on Holy Terra with almost his entire remaining army and fleet, relying on a Warp Storm to prevent reinforcements from reaching Sol before he can overthrow the Emperor. The previous seven books in the sub-series - The Solar War, The Lost and the Damned, The First Wall, Saturnine, Mortis, Warhawk and Echoes of Eternity - depicted the monstrous fight raging for the throne world, not to mention the culmination of many subplots as various enemies face off for the last time. The End and the Death sees the depiction of the most iconic event in Warhammer 40,000's lore, when the Emperor directly intervenes in the war and faces his son Horus for the final time. But that is only part of the story.

Abnett is the Black Library's most acclaimed and biggest-selling author (not to mention Britain's third-biggest selling science fiction author, behind only Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds) and recently delivered a stunning two-part finale in his Gaunt's Ghosts series, with the brilliant duology of Warmaster and Anarch (not the final books in the Ghosts series, but the final for a while). Delivering the end of the series is a huge order, but Abnett will hopefully rise to it.

The stats for The Horus Heresy are mind-boggling. The series will now comprise 63 books in the core series (55 novels and 8 short story collections), 48 audio dramas, 2 art books, 2 script books and 1 graphic novel. The combined page count of the main series (not counting the last two) is 26,881 pages in paperback, or two Wheel of Times with an entire Song of Ice and Fire to follow up (though Horus Heresy books have fairly large print, so I suspect the word count is not quite so insane, with some estimates placing it around 7 million, which is about 1.6 Wheel of Times).

The End and the Death: Volume 1 is due for publication in 2023.

Miguel Sapochnik stepping down as HOUSE OF THE DRAGON co-showrunner

In somewhat surprising news, House of the Dragon's co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik is stepping down from his role on the show. His colleague Ryan Condal will serve as the show's only showrunner moving forwards. However, Game of Thrones veteran Alan Taylor is joining the project as a director and executive producer in Season 2.

According to Sapochnik, he made the decision having spent three years working hard on the project, bringing it to the screen and making it a success. With the show's success assured - the show has seen its audience grow across its first two episodes and has already been renewed for a second season - he has decided to move on.

Taylor is a veteran of numerous TV shows, including Lost, The West Wing and Mad Men, as well as a HBO veteran who has worked on Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Rome, Carnivale, Big LoveThe Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and Deadwood. He also directed the Sopranos spin-off film The Many Saints of Newark, and the MCU movie Thor: The Dark World. He directed seven episodes of Game of Thrones across its first, second and seventh seasons. He has won one Emmy Award for his directing and been nominated for two more.

House of the Dragon is currently airing its first season, with the third episode (of ten) due to arrive this Sunday. The series is expected to shoot its second season next year before returning to the screens in 2024.

Where to Start with...The Sandman?

The Sandman has been a massive hit for Netflix and sales of the graphic novels have gone through the roof. However, if you're an eager new fan waiting to get in on the phenomenon, where do you start? The graphic novels have so many instalments, spin-offs, prequels and editions that boarding this train is perhaps a tad more complicated than it should be.

The Original Series

The Sandman was originally published as 76 monthly comic book issues (75 monthly issues and a special) between 1989 and 1996. These comics were collected into 10 graphic novels. This is the original or "core" Sandman series. The easiest way to start reading The Sandman is to simply read the original graphic novel series in order. This consists of:
  1. Preludes & Nocturnes (issues #1-8)
  2. The Doll's House (#9-16)
  3. Dream Country (#17-20)
  4. Season of Mists (#21-28)
  5. A Game of You (#32-37)
  6. Fables & Reflections (#29-31, 38-40, 50, The Sandman Special)
  7. Brief Lives (#41-49)
  8. Worlds' End (#51-56)
  9. The Kindly Ones (#57-69)
  10. The Wake (#70-75)
Obviously ten graphic novels are a fairly expensive investment when bought independently (or in a slipcase edition), so there are other options.

DC recently reprinted the series as four large-format collected editions. These editions are not the prettiest (they are similar to Image's recent one-part binding of the entire first half of Saga: cheap but effective) but they are probably the best way of getting the whole story as cheaply as possible (you also have to be happy with the Netflix advert on the front cover):
  1. The Sandman: Book One (#1-20) (UK, USA)
  2. The Sandman: Book Two (#21-37, The Sandman Special) (UK, USA)
  3. The Sandman: Book Three (#38-56) (UK, USA)
  4. The Sandman: Book Four (#57-75) (UK, USA)
The Absolute Sandman hardcover collection uses the same numbering as above but is very expensive, although likely to sustain many more readings. The Annotated Sandman also uses this system but is published in black-and-white and features extensive notes and annotations from Neil Gaiman. 

The Deluxe Sandman hardcover collection attempts to split the difference with nice hardcover editions but keeping the price down by collecting fewer issues, so there are more of them. These are effectively omnibuses with each book containing two of the original graphic novels. This collection has a bonus in that it also incorporates two of Gaiman's other Sandman series (see below) into the main series:
  1. The Deluxe Sandman: Book One (#1-16), (UK, USA)
  2. The Deluxe Sandman: Book Two (#17-31, The Sandman Special), (UK, USA
  3. The Deluxe Sandman: Book Three (#32-50) (UK, USA)
  4. The Deluxe Sandman: Book Four (#51-69), (UK, USA)
  5. The Deluxe Sandman: Book Five (#70-75, The Dream Hunters, Endless Nights) (UK, USA)
One flaw with this series is that the advert for the Audible version of the books on the cover is actually part of the cover, not a sticker, so cannot be removed.

The Sandman Omnibus is astronomically expensive and also partially out-of-print but is also the most concise version of the series, breaking the whole thing, including the spin-offs, down into just three volumes:
  1. The Sandman Omnibus: Volume I (#1-37, The Sandman Special)
  2. The Sandman Omnibus: Volume II (#38-75)
  3. The Sandman Omnibus: Volume III (Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life, Sandman Midnight Theatre, Endless Nights, The Dream Hunters, Overture)
This edition was available in a two-volume silver slipcase, a three-volume set and individually, but at the moment you can only afford to get most of these by selling at least three internal organs and your firstborn on the black market.

Gaiman's Sequels, Prequels & Expansions

The Sandman universe soon expanded into a wider universe of stories, books and collections. These are divided into works by Neil Gaiman and works by other hands. These are the works written by Gaiman expanding his original series. Below are the most common graphic novel collections:
  • Death: The High Cost of Living
  • Death: The Time of Your Life
  • Endless Nights
  • The Dream Hunters
  • Overture
The first two graphic novels spin off the character of Death from the main series into her own stories, whilst Endless Nights is an anthology telling seven stories, one about each of the Endless. The Dream Hunters is a self-contained, spin-off story about Dream and Overture is a prequel taking place immediately before the events of the main series. Endless Nights is sometimes counted as #11 of the main graphic novel series and Overture as #0, although they can be read fully independently of the main series.

These graphic novels are available independently apart from the two starring Death, which are now more usually found in one collection simply called Death (UK, USA), and Endless Nights and The Dream Hunters can also be found as part of The Essential Sandman: Book Five (as noted above) and all five as part of The Sandman Omnibus: Volume III (also see above).

Series by Other Hands

Neil Gaiman has given his blessing for other writers to carry on with stories set in his world, both as mini-series and ongoing series. Some of these series are only loosely or nominally connected to the Sandman universe, whilst others have more definitive connections.

These are as follows:
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre (70 issues, 1993-1999, Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle)
  • The Dreaming (60 issues, June 1996 - May 2001, Peter Hogan, Caitlin R. Kiernan)
  • The Girl Who Would Be Death (4 issues, 1998-1999, Caitlin R. Kiernan)
  • Sandman Presents (31 issues, March 1999-July 2004, various)
  • Lucifer (75 issues, June 2000 - June 2006, Mike Carey)
  • Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold (3 issues, 2000, Alisa Kwitney)
  • Dead Boy Detectives (2001: 4 issues, Ed Brubaker, Bryan Talbot; 2012: 12 issues, Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham, Gary Erskine)
  • House of Mystery (42 issues, 2008-11, Lilah Sturges, Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi)
Since 2018, DC has produced a family of titles under the banner heading The Sandman Universe, with writers specially chosen by Neil Gaiman:
  • The Sandman Universe (2018, 1 issue, various)
  • The Dreaming (2018-20, 20 issues, Simon Spurrier, Bilquis Evely)
  • House of Whispers (2018-20, 22 issues, Nalo Hopikinson, Dan Watters, Dominike Stanton)
  • Lucifer (2018-20, 24 issues, Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara)
  • Books of Magic (2018-20, 23 issues, Kat Howard, David Barnett, Tom Fowler)
  • John Constantine, Hellblazer (2019-20, 13 issues, Simon Spurrier, Marcio Takara, Aaron Campbell)
  • The Dreaming: Waking Hours (12 issues, 2020-21, G. Willow Wilson, Nick Robles)
  • Locke & Key: Hell & Gone (3 issues, 202-21, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez)
  • Nightmare Country (ongoing, 2022-tbc, James Tynion IV, Lisandro Estherren)
There have also been additional graphic novels not published as individual comics:
  • The Little Endless Storybook (2001, Jill Thompson)
  • Death: At Death's Door (2004, Jill Thompson)
  • Dead Boy Detectives (2005, Jill Thompson)
  • God Save the Queen (2007, Mike Carey, John Bolton)
  • Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook (2011, Jill Thompson)
There have also been two prose works set in the world of the Dreaming. The first, Sandman: Book of Dreams (1996) features short fiction by authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Tad Williams, Gene Wolfe, Susanna Clarke, Colin Greenland and an introduction by musician Tori Amos. The second, Dream Hunters (1999) by Gaiman himself, is a short, self-contained novel. Most of the graphic novel versions of Dream Hunters include the prose version.


Probably the best overall place to start with is The Deluxe Sandman collection of five hardcovers which covers the entire original comic series plus the most significant spin-offs, followed up by the Death one-volume collection and Overture.

If that's not possible (Deluxe seems to going in and out of availability fairly quickly, despite only being released a year ago), the 2022 four-volume edition is perfectly fine, followed up by DeathEndless NightsThe Dream Hunters and Overture.

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Tuesday 30 August 2022

Vince Gilligan returning to science fiction with new TV project

Vince Gilligan has spent the last fifteen years writing about anti-heroes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, through Breaking Bad, its spin-off Better Call Saul and a related film, El Camino. But his new project will be a whole new science fiction idea.

Gilligan made his name on The X-Files, on which he rose from a writer in 1995 to an executive producer and director by the end of its run in 2002. He also co-created the short-lived spinoff series, The Lone Gunmen. After pottering about with other projects, he scored a major hit with Breaking Bad, which ran on AMC from 2008 to 2013, and then Better Call Saul, which began in 2015 and ended earlier this year after six seasons.

Gilligan's new show will be science fiction and will be set on Earth, but with an "unexpected, surprising" twist. Gilligan is continuing his relationship with Sony Television in a new deal worth $10 million. Gilligan and Sony are pitching the show to different networks and streamers, and the combination is likely to wrap up a deal quickly.

Gilligan has not ruled out a return to the Breaking Bad-verse, but it sounds like he wants to do something different first.

Saturday 27 August 2022

New STAR TREK movie loses director to FANTASTIC FOUR

The extraordinarily convoluted saga of the next Star Trek film has taken another twist, with director Matt Shakman dropping out to helm Marvel's Fantastic Four.

The next Star Trek movie, the fourteenth overall in the franchise and the fourth produced by J.J. Abrams, has been in development hell ever since the release of the last instalment, Star Trek Beyond, in 2016. In the six years since then - during which time the franchise has made a hugely successful return to television - plans for a new movie have swung between a continuation of the Abrams incarnation to yet another reboot to various side-stories involving different characters. Even Quentin Tarantino was on board for a while, musing a feature-length remake of the classic series episode A Piece of the Action.

After a huge amount of development, Paramount settled on a script by Lindsey Beer and Geneva Robertson, with WandaVision director Matt Shakman signing on to direct in July 2021. The film originally had a slated release date of June 2023, but this was delayed as the Chris Pine-led cast from the last three movies only signed on to reprise their roles on the film in February this year. However, pre-production had not yet started, apparently a result of the studio having to wait until the schedules of the ultra-busy cast had aligned. This delayed production so it would not be possible for Shakman to direct both the Star Trek picture and Fantastic Four, which now as a locked-in release date of 8 November 2024.

Marvel has been developing Fantastic Four for the last couple of years, which will mark the fifth live-action film to feature the classic Marvel superhero team but the first to bring them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jon Watts, who had helmed the Sony-Marvel Spider-Man trilogy starring Tom Holland, had been attached but apparently received a counter-offer from elsewhere within the Disney empire to work on a Star Wars TV show instead. Marvel had apparently held talks with other directors, both inhouse (Ant-Man helmer Peyton Reed was reportedly considered at one point) and from outside, before landing on Shakman as their preferred option after his work on Game of Thrones, The Great and WandaVision showed he could handle epic productions, the latter two earning him Emmy nominations as well.

Paramount have now resumed their hunt for a new director. J.J. Abrams remains attached to produce, with actors Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and John Cho all confirmed to return. The studio has also confirmed that the role of Chekhov, played by the late Anton Yelchin who sadly passed away in 2016, will not be recast.

Friday 26 August 2022

Amazon possibly lining up to buy Electronic Arts

News broke this morning (via GLHF and USA Today) that Amazon had reached a deal to buy video game publisher Electronic Arts. GLHF then offered a clarification that the deal might not be announced today or, indeed, will happen at all, leaving the video game press in a state of confusion.

Electronic Arts are one of the biggest video game publishers in the world, known for a battery of major franchises including FIFA, Need for Speed, The Sims, Medal of Honor, Command & Conquer, Dead Space and Battlefield, and, via their subsidiary BioWare, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Through recent acquisition Codemasters, they also picked up the lucrative Formula One tie-in licence. Until recently they also held exclusive rights to Star Wars, releasing hit games The Old RepublicBattlefront 2, Star Wars: Squadrons and Jedi: Fallen Order. They will continue making Star Wars games moving forwards, but on a non-exclusive basis.

EA have been searching for a buyer as part of a wider consolidation movement in the video games industry, which has seen Bethesda and EA's arch-rivals Activision snapped up by Microsoft. Microsoft reportedly were unwilling to consider acquiring EA whilst their Activision acquisition is incomplete. EA reportedly entered communications with Disney, Apple, Amazon and Comcast/NBC Universal, with Comcast/NBC apparently strongly interested.

Amazon have been making various attempts to enter the video game space, mostly through acquiring video game streaming service Twitch in 2014. Various attempts to launch their own video games label have floundered, apparently due to the company wanting faster results with a quicker turnaround than the industry is really capable of generating. An Amazon-EA merger would make a lot of sense, although it would also likely generate legal concerns over monopolies, and gamers would be concerned over what this would mean for EA's recent tactical alliances with Microsoft and Steam, that saw EA games become available via Xbox Game Pass and the Steam storefront.

Whether this announcement was premature - Amazon and EA have made a deal and are waiting for the paperwork to go through, and GLHF jumped the gun - or if was totally erroneous, is unclear.

HOUSE OF THE DRAGON renewed for Season 2

In unsurprising news, HBO has renewed House of the Dragon for a second season. The news comes after the debut episode of the series scored 10 million viewers in the USA, making it HBO's biggest-ever premiere event. This is fully five times the audience that parent show Game of Thrones itself achieved back in 2011.

In the week since the show premiered, HBO have reported that the audience has doubled across repeat broadcasts, legal downloads and streaming via HBO Max, effectively bringing total viewership to not far off what Game of Thrones was achieving when it went off-air in 2019.

Season 2 of House of the Dragon is likely to start shooting early next year in the UK, for a likely early 2024 premiere on HBO. House of the Dragon is employing massive amounts of vfx and post-production which will likely prevent it from airing annually, as Game of Thrones managed to do for most of its run. However, House of the Dragon is envisaged as around a three-season project adapting just a few chapters from George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood. HBO has not ruled out developing House of the Dragon into a sort-of anthology series which could then jump back or forwards in time to another point in Targaryen history.

The news is also likely positive for the numerous other Game of Thrones spin-off shows currently in development. At the moment HBO is actively developing The Tales of Dunk & Egg with writer Steven Conrad, The Nine Voyages of the Sea Snake with Bruno Heller, The Ten Thousand Ships with Amanda Segel, Snow with producer-actor Kit Harington, and an animated show set in the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, but has not yet greenlit any of them.

Amazon are readying their own fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, to launch next Friday, whilst Netflix's The Sandman has enjoyed massive success, but apparently won't get a renewal decision for a few more weeks due to the show's high cost.

Friday 19 August 2022

SANDMAN surprise-drops a bonus episode

Netflix have surprise-dropped a further episode of The Sandman. The episode, the eleventh of the first season, adapts two of the more acclaimed issues of the comic.

"A Dream of a Thousand Cats" is one of the most popular Sandman stories and tells the story of a cat who, distraught where her kittens are disposed of by her owners, seeks out Dream and learns more of the true history of the relationship between humans and cats. The fairy-tale nature of the story, and of course the popularity of cats, has made it one of the more enduring Sandman tales. The story is notable for confirming what was earlier only alluded to, that Morpheus deals with the dreams of every living creature in the universe, not just humans.

The TV version of the episode is animated and has an all-star cast, including Sandra Oh, Rosie Day, David Gyasi, Joe Lycett, Neil Gaiman himself (as the Skull Crow), James McAvoy, Nonso Anozie, Diane Morgan and Tom Wu, as well as the dual husband-and-wife teams of Michael Sheen and Anna Lundberg, and David and Georgia Tennant.

"Calliope" is presented in traditional live-action and follows the comic pretty closely, as writer Richard Madoc struggles with inspiration for his next novel and eventually takes possession of the imprisoned Calliope, one of the Greek muses. Madoc enjoys success, but is unaware that Calliope is the ex-wife of Morpheus and the mother of his child, attracting the ire of the King of Dreams. The TV version of this story also enjoys an impressive cast, featuring Melissanthi Mahut as Calliope, Arthur Darvill as Richard Madoc and Derek Jacobi as Erasmus Fry, with a supporting appearance by Amita Suman.

This release means that the Sandman TV series has now adapted the first 18 issues of the Sandman comic (which ran for 76 issues in total), covering the first two graphic novel collections, Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House, as well as half of the third, Dream Country.

It'll be interesting to see if the two other stories from Dream Country are likewise dropped in a surprising manner. A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Dream commissions William Shakespeare to create the first of two magical, original plays, is often cited as the best individual Sandman story and plays something of a role in the ongoing story arc of the series. The final story, Facade, is less likely to be adapted because the comic story uses another DC Universe character they don't necessarily have the rights to, so they would have to replace the character altogether.

This would free up Season 2 to adapt the fourth and fifth graphic novels, Season of Mists and A Game of You and potentially allow the show to wrap up in four seasons rather than five.

Netflix have yet to confirm a second season of The Sandman, but with the first season attracting blanket critical acclaim and being the #1 show on the service in over 80 countries, it feels pretty likely at this point.

Thursday 18 August 2022

PLANESCAPE to return in 2023

Wizards of the Coast have confirmed that the classic, highly-acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Planescape will return in 2023, with a new campaign setting, monster guide and adventure.

Planescape was launched in 1994 and was an attempted to revive the classic Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Manual of the Planes (1987) for the 2nd Edition of the game. A design team led by Dave "Zeb" Cook reworked the D&D cosmology and planes of existence to create an entire campaign setting, as well as adding the city of Sigil at the heart of the planes as a base of operations for players to use. The campaign was particularly acclaimed for its incredible artwork by Tony DiTerlizzi (based on Dana Knutson's concept art) and its moody setting, with an unusual focus on roleplaying, negotiations and how to interact with different factions. Combat was downplayed in favour of ideology and arguments. The setting was unusual in that it was clearly influenced by contemporary fantasy like Sandman and the Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game, rather than epic fantasy.

Planescape's biggest contribution to the D&D mythos, apart from Sigil, is the tiefling species, which has gone on to become one of the most popular D&D races.

In 1999, after the setting itself had been retired, the video game Planescape: Torment was launched and became possibly the single most acclaimed CRPG of all time. A remastered version of the game, Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition, was released in 2017.

Although Planescape was retired as an active campaign setting in 1998, the idea of adventuring in the planes was revisited in the Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks Manual of the Planes for 3rd Edition (2001) and 4th Edition (2008), as well as in several sourcebooks for the current 5th Edition of the game.

Planescape's relaunch will take place in late 2023 and will use the model pioneered by the revised Spelljammer setting, which hits retail next month. The setting will consist of a setting guide, a bestiary focusing on new monsters and an adventure. The new setting will return to the original roots by focusing on Sigil, the City of Doors (a city shaped like a giant ring) as a base of operations for adventures, as well as the fifteen factions of the city and its enigmatic, indestructible ruler, the Lady of Pain.

Although Planescape's return had been teased for a while, some fans were betting on a return for Dark Sun sooner, given more references had been made to Dark Sun in the new Spelljammer material. From the sound of it, fans of D&D's take on Mad Max will have to wait at least another year.

As well as Spelljammer, Wizards of the Coast is resurrecting Dragonlance in December with a new campaign book, Shadow of the Dragon Queen, and a tie-in board game, Warriors of Krynn. They are also revising Forgotten Realms with a new campaign setting book in 2023, focusing on the region surrounding Phandelver. Realms fans will continue to be disappointed by the lack of a full, proper sourcebook like the legendary 2001 one for D&D 3rd Edition.

Wizards of the Coast have also confirmed that the 5th Edition of D&D itself is getting a makeover with a new version of the game to launch in 2024. This version will be called "One D&D", but fans will no doubt just refer to it as 5.5 Edition. It will be the first major revision of the game rules since 2014, but Wizards of the Coast promise that it will be 100% compatible with the existing rules. 2024 will also mark the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons.

Embracer Group buys Middle-earth Enterprises, acquires video game rights to Middle-earth and possible film rights

Middle-earth Enterprises, the rights-holding and media company for works related to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and, partially, The Hobbit, has been sold by its owners, the Saul Zaentz Company, to Swedish video game mega-company Embracer Group. The terms of the deal are unknown, but the Saul Zaentz Company previously valued the property at over $2 billion.

The history of the Middle-earth media rights is complex, but can be boiled down as follows: in 1968 J.R.R. Tolkien sold the screen rights and related merchandising rights to his novels The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) to United Artists. United Artists sold the rights to film producer Saul Zaentz in 1976, who in turn set up Middle-earth Enterprises to handle the deal. United Artists included the full rights to The Lord of the Rings but retained some of the rights to The Hobbit, on the basis that any film adaptation would start with the first book before moving onto the sequel. However, Zaentz circumvented this by producing an animated film based directly on The Lord of the Rings in 1978, with Ralph Bakshi directing. MGM bought United Artists in 1981, acquiring their rights to The Hobbit in the process. Although Bakshi's film was unsuccessful, its existence allowed Middle-earth Enterprises to licence merchandising, including video games, colouring books and so on, as long as they were nominally related to the Bakshi film. A legal clarification also allowed the company to produce spin-off merchandise derived from the novels in very narrow fields, allowing for video games based on The Hobbit and the book version of The Lord of the Rings to follow.

In 1997, New Line Cinema acquired the film rights to The Lord of the Rings from Middle-earth Enterprises. Negotiations with MGM over The Hobbit fell through, so Peter Jackson proceeded with a feature film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by itself, released to critical acclaim and mass commercial success in 2001-03. The legal agreement between Middle-earth Enterprises/The Saul Zaentz Company allowed for New Line to retain the film rights as long as new films were produced or fresh agreements could be made, otherwise the rights would revert. New Line merged with Warner Brothers Pictures in 2008.

After very complex negotiations, a deal was struck between New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers, Middle-earth Enterprises and MGM to produce a movie trilogy based on The Hobbit. This reached the screens between 2012 and 2014 and was commercially successful, but critically derided. In 2017 the Tolkien Estate clarified that they retained television rights to the Middle-earth franchise and reached an agreement worth $250 million with Amazon Prime Television to produce a TV show based on the books. This show, The Rings of Power, debuts on Amazon on 2 September after almost three years in production. Amazon reached a deal with New Line/Warner Brothers to allow them to use some aspects of the visual design of the films if necessary.

In June 2021, Warner Brothers announced they were developing a new animated film, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, as a cinematic release. It was later claimed this was a rights-holding exercise, allowing Warner Brothers to retain ownership of the film rights for a further period of time. However, the Saul Zaentz Company argued that an animated film did not fulfil the terms of the contract. As a result, in February 2022, the Saul Zaentz Company and Middle-earth Enterprises announced they had regained control of the film rights and would be selling them off to the highest bidder, with a minimum price of $2 billion.

Warner Brothers subsequently argued that by putting The War of the Rohirrim into production, they retained the feature film rights to the franchise. It is believed the two companies then went into arbitration.

The news today, to some extent, kicks the can down the road. By selling the entirety of Middle-earth Enterprises to Embracer, the Saul Zaentz Company gets paid and basically leaves Embracer to make the legal arguments themselves.

The move certainly comes as a shock to the industry, who expected the sale to be delayed until the legal dispute had been resolved, and certainly did not expect an overseas video game company to swoop in and buy out the rights. With Amazon producing the Rings of Power TV show and having recently acquired MGM (and their rights related to The Hobbit), it was assumed that they would buy out the Saul Zaentz Company's rights. This move suggests that either Embracer offered far more money than Amazon were willing to pay, which seems highly unlikely, or Amazon decided it didn't want the extended franchise rights, which also seems unlikely. It'll be interesting to see what the explanation is for that.

In the meantime, Embracer have certainly acquired the video game rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Projects already underway, such as Daedalic Entertainment's upcoming video game The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, are unaffected by the move.

Swedish video game company Embracer Group was founded in 2011 and began buying up smaller publishers and developers by the dozen, soon expanding into other media areas. As of August 2022, the company owns Dark Horse Media (owners of Dark Horse Comics), Asmodee (the owners of board game companies including Asmodee and Fantasy Flight), Gearbox Entertainment, THQ Nordic and Saber Interactive. Middle-earth Enterprises will continue to operate as a discrete company, with its video game operations to be handled in collaboration with Embracer Freemode. 

Wednesday 17 August 2022

FALLOUT TV series using a brand-new, never-before-seen location in the franchise: Vault 32

Leaks from the Fallout TV series (not pictured because sites which have been linking them have been nuked by Amazon) have seemingly confirmed that the show will be partially set in and around Vault 32. This is a brand-new vault, not seen in any prior Fallout video game. This suggests the show will be pursuing a new story and location rather than adapting a game storyline directly. Since every instalment of the Fallout franchise changes location, characters and storylines, that's a reasonable road for the TV show to take.

In the Fallout universe, much of the world is laid waste in the Great War of 2077. Tens to hundreds of thousands of people survive in 130 large underground "vaults," located below the United States of America. Over the course of the next 200 years, people emerge from the vaults at different time periods and begin resettling the surface, but have to content with other survivors and radiation-created monsters. Only 64 of the vaults have had their locations confirmed in the games so far.

Following the vague numbering system used in the games, which generally move from west to east, Vault 32 should be located in the western part of the former United States. Vault 34 is located in Nevada and Vault 29 in Colorado. We know that the Fallout TV show is partially filming in Utah, and Utah would make a splendid location for a vault. Vault 70 is also located in Utah, albeit in background materials of dubious canonicity.

The TV show is also filming in New York and New Jersey, leading to speculation that the Fallout show may revolve around a road trip across the American wasteland. This would be a marked shift from the games, which are set in and around a very specific location.

The Fallout TV series stars Walton Goggins, Ella Purnell, Kyle MacLachlan, Xelia Mendes-Jones and Aaron Moten in undisclosed roles, with more cast to be announced.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

RIP Wolfgang Petersen

News has sadly broken that German director Wolfgang Petersen has passed away at the age of 81. Petersen with best-known for his WWII submarine movie Das Boot (1981), but also directed several works of genre interest: The NeverEnding Story (1984), Enemy Mine (1985), Outbreak (1995) and Troy (2004).

Petersen with Brad Pitt whilst filming Troy (2004).

Petersen was born in Hanover in 1941 and grew up with a keen interest in directing, fuelled by a love of the American movies that flooded West Germany in the wake of WWII. He started directing plays in the 1960s and became interested in the medium of television. He worked on the TV series Tatort (aka Crime Scene) in the early 1970s, forming a good working relationship with actor Jürgen Prochnow, with whom he'd collaborate on several projects. His first feature film project was The One or the Other of Us, released in 1974.

Petersen attracted international attention for Das Boot (1981), his film about a German U-boat commander (played by Prochnow) at the height of WWII. Although shot as a movie, Petersen's economical shooting meant he was able to film much more material than was needed for the film. This resulted in the 149-minute theatrical cut, a 300-minute TV series (released as both a six-part miniseries and a series of three TV movies) and a 209-minute "long film" cut which combined the best elements of both, often called Das Boot: The Director's Cut and released in 1997.

The movie attracted international acclaim, including six Academy Award nominations, and launched the international careers of both Petersen and Prochnow (who subsequently played Duke Leto Atreides in David Lynch's 1984 film version of Dune). The film is widely regarded as the single finest submarine movie ever made.

Petersen directed the enormously successful The NeverEnding Story (1984), based on Michael Ende's fantasy novel of the same name. The film was the most expensive movie ever mounted outside the United States or Soviet Union (at the time), and seen as a risk because Michael Ende's novels were not well-known outside Germany. However, the film was shot in English and had impressive visual effects for the time. The film did very well and was critically well-received, but Michael Ende was deeply unhappy with the adaptation and was unwilling to discuss further adaptations of his work, resulting in no sequel being made. Ende's dissatisfaction also meant a mooted remake in the early 2010s was shot down. The film recently re-entered the public eye after its theme tune played a key role in the Season 3 finale of Stranger Things.

These successes led Petersen to shoot Enemy Mine (1985), a space opera movie featuring marooned human and alien soldiers whose worlds are at war who are forced to work together to survive. The film is often cited as an unofficial remake of the WWII movie Hell in the Pacific (1968), which has a similar plot. The film was not initially successful, but has since developed a cult following.

Petersen directed Shattered (1991) and then returned to major success with the Clint Eastwood political thriller In the Line of Fire (1993), the pandemic disaster movie Outbreak (1995), the Harrison Ford action thriller Air Force One (1997) and nautical disaster movie The Perfect Storm (2000).

In 2004 Petersen directed his most expensive movie, Troy, a large-scale epic about the Trojan War starring Brad Pitt, Sean Bean, Peter O'Toole, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana. The movie had a mixed critical reception but was a box office success. A sequel, focusing on Sean Bean's Odysseus and loosely adapting The Odyssey, was considered for a while but was not made. For my money, this is an underrated movie which has excellent action sequences and an impressive scale, although the dialogue is a mixed bag and the film needed a more charismatic actor playing Paris.

Petersen rounded off his Hollywood career with a remake of The Poseidon Adventure, just called Poseidon, in 2006. However, the film was a box office bomb and attracted poor reviews. Petersen made one more film, a 2016 heist comedy called Vier gegen die Bank which was his first German-language film since Das Boot.

Petersen passed away on 12 August 2022 from pancreatic cancer. A versatile director with a keen eye for both spectacle and human drama, he will be missed.

Friday 12 August 2022

Uganda to bid to hold the first-ever African WorldCon

The World Science Fiction Convention may be headed to Africa for the first time in its history. A convention committee has formed in Uganda to bid for the right to hold the 2028 convention.

WorldCon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society and is the premier science fiction and fantasy convention dedicated to literature. The first WorldCon was held in New York in 1939, and left the States for the first time in 1948 with a convention in Toronto, Canada. The first European WorldCon was held in London in 1957. In recent years the convention has moved further afield with events in Australia, Japan, Finland, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand (reduced to a virtual con due to the COVID pandemic). The first-ever WorldCon in China will be held in 2023, specifically in Chengdu. This year's convention will be held in Chicago.

If successful, the first African WorldCon would be called KampCon and would be held in Kampala, Uganda's capital city. The bid chair is Kabunga Michael, an author, artist and fan. Film director Anita Nannozi Sseruwagi is also supporting the bid as part of the committee.

The bid is currently unopposed, although this might change with time. Other currently-unopposed bids include Glasgow, Scotland for 2024; Seattle, Washingon, USA for 2025; Tel Aviv, Israel for 2027; Dublin for 2029; and Texas for 2031.

UPDATE: Brisbane, Australia will also be bidding for WorldCon in 2028.

For All Mankind: Season 3

1992. The United States and the Soviet Union are preparing for a new phase in their rivalry: a race to get the first people onto the surface of Mars. But they are joined in the fight by Helios, an independent company run by a charismatic, visionary founder who wants in on the action. The three-horse race to Mars gets underway, but political expediency may compromise the integrity of the mission.

Fifteen years ago, Ronald D. Moore had just delivered the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica, arguably the two greatest seasons of science fiction television in genre history. Brilliant vfx, fantastic acting and strong writing had combined to deliver a show that could very comfortably go head-to-head with any of the A-tier "prestige dramas" airing on the likes of HBO. Season 3 started the same way, but quickly fell of a cliff: imaginative writing and storylines had been replaced by lowest-common-denominator soap opera drama (such as an overreliance on love triangles), the formerly well-thought-out worldbuilding had developed cracks through which you could fly a Mercury-class battlestar, and contrivance and convenience had replaced intelligent plotting.

Unbelievably, the same thing has happened again. The first two seasons of Ronald D. Moore's For All Mankind are brilliant, with superb writing helping deliver fantastic performances and clever storytelling, all supported by some of the best vfx ever seen on the small screen. Season 1 was excellent; Season 2 was better, by a hair.

Season 3 starts off in exactly the same vein with what might be one of its strongest hours. Polaris is a fantastic, self-contained disaster movie with several regular characters stuck on the world's first orbital hotel, which soon develops a fault. Unfolding like a cross between Apollo 13 and one of the best episodes of Thunderbirds, the episode delivers fantastic spectacle rooted in interesting ideas. The next couple of episodes speculate intriguingly on the politics and science behind an increasingly dangerous space race as NASA, the Soviet Space Agency and Helios all compete to get to Mars first, rather than safely. We get one more great episode out of this, Happy Valley, as the race turns dangerous with one of the ships developing a fault, forcing the others to argue about who is going to go back and rescue them.

However, there is a ticking time bomb in For All Mankind that was planted back in Season 2 which explodes with full force in Season 3. Back in Season 2 we got a brief burst of tedious melodrama with a spectacularly unconvincing love triangle subplot that was mind-numbingly dull and unconvincing, but at least was dealt with briefly. In Season 3 this plot is inexplicably brought back, even more inexplicably given massive prominence and then turns into some kind of surreal satire of itself as the season goes on, resulting in deaths, mayhem and explosions in a manner so contrived and unbelievable as to verge on the comical. Episode after episode, you just hope this storyline and the character it centres on, the selfish and utterly unsympathetic Danny, will just end and instead the writers double down on it. It's like watching a football team that's heading to win the World Cup but the coach benches all of his star players to focus on the least-talented players ever to set foot on the pitch.

Although this storyline is the most egregious example of the declining in both writing and plotting this season, it is not the only victim. Another storyline about a character being compromised by Russia ends with them being whisked off to the Soviet Union, presumably by the same teleporter used to capture Jim Hopper in Stranger Things. In another storyline, a character is swept up by a cult-like group who think that NASA is hiding...something. Their bananas ideology is never really explained and their goals and objectives are obtuse, so it's kind of hard to invest in this story or what's going on, especially as the ramping-up of their status from "minor annoyance" to "massive national security threat" takes place so jarringly abruptly that it, again, verges on being silly rather than dramatic. The worldbuilding is also iffy: the United States now has limitless energy thanks to the advent of fusion power, meaning some of the economic issues the country is reported as facing should be non-existent instead of major problems. It's also questionable if the Soviet Union should still be around and if North Korea should be as advanced in this timeline as it appears to be. 

Other problems are perhaps a bit too pedantic. This season mostly takes place in 1995, a full twenty-six years after Season 1, but very little effort has been made to make any of the characters look their age. Joel Kinnaman and Shantel VanSanten look amazing for playing people well into their sixties, whilst Nate Corddry is given some very unconvincing aging makeup (made worse by him having much better aging make up over on Amazon's excellent Paper Girls). It's one of those things you can forget about in a show that's otherwise firing on all cylinders, but here it accentuates the feeling of the wheels coming off the wagon whilst it's rolling downhill.

There are still flashes of greatness. The actors do their solid best with increasingly risible material and newcomer Lev Gorn has a great arc as the Soviet mission commander Grigory Kuznetsov, a hard-wired martinet who cracks (just slightly) to become an effective partner to Danielle Poole on the Mars mission. The political storyline revolving around Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) becoming the first female President of the United States and facing a crisis when her sexuality (and her efforts to hide it) comes to the fore has a lot of legs to it, but is undercooked (and I'm not sure her resolution would really save her career). The show's energy and momentum lifts whenever Sonya Walger returns as Molly Cobb, making it a shame she's is so little of the season. Robert Bailey Jr. has a great subplot as Will Tyler, NASA's first openly gay astronaut, but again this is a story that's shunted to one side with almost indecent haste. There's also some excellent vfx, if not as flawlessly brilliant as in the first two seasons. 

For All Mankind's third season (**½, but ****½ for Polaris and Happy Valley) has some individually great episodes, especially early on, and some great performances, effects and ideas. But it also has some agonisingly painful dumbness in its worldbuilding, its plotting and its characterisation that drags what was one a fantastic show down to mediocrity. The finale does resolve some of the stupider storylines, hopefully permanently, and we can hope that the already-commissioned Season 4 will be a return to form. The season is streaming worldwide right now on Apple TV+.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Subnautica: Below Zero

Scientist Robin Ayou is dissatisfied with the official reports about the death of her sister, Samantha. Samantha died on the remote planet 4546B due to "employee negligence," according to Alterra Corporation. With Alterra withdrawing all personnel from the planet for unknown reasons, Robin smuggles herself onto 4546B and finds an arctic zone teeming with life and unexplained mysteries, some alluding to the disappearance of the starship Aurora in the vicinity. Robin's investigations into her sister's fate leads her to meet survivors of other expeditions...some from a very long time ago, and not even human.

Below Zero started life as an expansion or DLC for the original Subnautica but, as is so often the case, developed over time into an original title. This leaves it as that sometimes confusing beast, the "stand-alone expansion," a game that is smaller and more focused than the original but is newer, so has somewhat shinier graphics and improved quality-of-life features, like a better user interface and expanded base-building options.

As with most expansions (standalone or not), it would be very easy to say, "if you like Subnautica, you'll like this," and leave it at that. That is, as far is goes, true. However, Below Zero is something of a different beast to its forebear, being both slightly more difficult and somewhat more focused on its narrative.

The original Subnautica had you (playing Ryley Robinson) as the sole survivor of a starship crash, left initially fending for survival in tropical waters and later having to find your way off the planet whilst also battling an alien infection. The narrative elements were light, mostly appearing only in PDA entries and voice logs. Still, these elements drew players deeper and deeper below the planet's surface, eventually finding a way of curing their disease and fabricating the parts needed to build an escape shuttle.

Below Zero has you arriving on the planet deliberately, in search of your missing sister, although your only way of getting there is to hitch a lift with a passing ship and bailing out when nearby, with no ultimate exit strategy. This time you land in an arctic region, which introduces a major new problem that Ryley didn't have to worry about: freezing to death. Sticking your head above water long enough to breathe is fine, but staying out of the water for a few minutes is an invitation to turn into a popsicle. Building a base and vehicles are therefore more urgent tasks than in the original game, since these provide a respite from both suffocation and hypothermia during your explorations of the planet. However, building materials have been changed slightly since the original game, making building up a base slightly more difficult. Titanium, in particular, is thinner on the ground since you have not got a thousand-metre long wrecked starship leaving a miles-long trail of titanium parts across the biome this time around. A Subnautica veteran will overcome these issues in short order, but newcomers may find a game with a tricky difficulty curve.

As with Subnautica, the early part of the game is spent building up resources and building your initial tools, starting with a knife and expanding to torches, a base-building nano-device and small vehicles, like a "Seatruck," which can be expanded later on with additional modules (thus combining the functionality of the both the Seamoth submersible and the giant Cyclops submarine from the original game). Acquiring more tools and more equipment allows you to dive for longer and travel further across the map, eventually discovering the various Alterra facilities your sister was working at. Finding clues in each base leads you to the next location of note. Below Zero's selling point is that at several points your mission will lead you onto land, onto the massive frozen landmasses that envelop the map around its northern edge. Avoiding freezing is even harder than avoiding suffocating, requiring you to use vehicles (like the trusty Prawn Suit, returning from the OG game, or the new Snowfox hover-bike) or make judicious use of spicy food or standing next to hot springs.

All of this is mostly fun. Things are enhanced by a larger array of base-building options, with large, multi-purpose rooms and control rooms (allowing you to control power distribution and the visual theme of the base better) now available. The developers have also dramatically upgraded the game's engine, with slightly better graphics, far less crashes and clipping and some nice new options, like the ability to pin ingredients to your screen to stay on top of the things you are looking for. A new handheld scanner also makes locating minerals easier, though its range is extremely limited.

The traditional Subnautica gameplay loop - find, build, explore, repeat - remains compelling, but Below Zero does have a few limitations which means it's not quite as exciting this time around. The first is that Below Zero is a smaller game. The area of explorable ocean and seabed is much smaller and it's not as deep a game. Literally. In Subnautica you could drop down about two kilometres below the planet's surface, but Below Zero barely reaches half that, and there's not much in the deepest areas that require you to stay down there. This combination means that there's no Cyclops super-submarine - it literally couldn't fit down the crevasses leading to the deeper biomes - commanding which was possibly the single greatest thing about the original game.

In addition, exploring the surface arctic biomes is initially a refreshing change, but rapidly becomes more tedious. It's too easy to get turned around and end up walking in circles, and the various hostile creatures you encounter (the Snow Stalkers and Ice Worm Leviathans) are more inconvenient than actually dangerous. It's also a shorter game, easily completable in under 30 hours, whilst the original game took at least 40 hours to polish off and there was greater encouragement to do optional tasks like building bases in every biome or exploring more for the sake of exploration. You can still do stuff like that in Below Zero, but the much smaller map means you'll exhaust the game's opportunities pretty quickly.

I did enjoy Below Zero's more present story. The original Subnautica could be very obtuse in letting you know what your next goal actually was, whilst Below Zero makes it clearer through voice logs and even (gasp) actual cutscenes and conversations with other characters what your next goal is. The same dual mission structure as the original game is in play here as well, with you originally having to cure an alien plague to shut down a defence system before you could escape the planet. In Below Zero you have to find out what happened to your sister, complete her mission and then deal with a secondary objective related to various alien ruins on the planet. Those who enjoyed the sparseness of the original game (where your character never spoke, unlike here) might feel the story more intrusive here, but in reality the game is still 95% you doing your own thing to 5% story, as opposed to the original game's 99% to 1%. I also enjoyed the fact that there's more friendly flora and fauna, like the Sea Monkeys who are an initial annoyance but later help you find resources.

Subnautica: Below Zero (****) is not Subnautica 2, but it is a fun, enjoyable game that takes the original game's appeal, sands off some of the rough edges and introduces some quality of life improvements that make the game flow better, as well as featuring a better story. However, it does also struggle with a slightly steeper learning curve than the original game, the absence of some fan-favourite creatures and vehicles, and a significantly smaller map. I would certainly recommend that newcomers start with the original Subnautica before moving onto this game. Below Zero is available now for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and X/S, and Nintendo Switch.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Sunday 7 August 2022

The Sandman: Season 1

1916. English sorcerer Roderick Burgess, distraught over the death of his son at Gallipoli, seeks to bind and imprison Death itself. His plan misfires and instead he captures Dream. Dream is unable to give Burgess what he wants, and eventually Burgess leaves him to rot in a glass prison in his cellar. During Dream's absence, his realm, the Dreaming, falls into disrepair and many dreams and nightmares escape into the world of the living. Some people also fall into a permanent sleep, a sleeping sickness that lasts decades and claims thousands. Eventually Dream escapes, and finds he must return his realm to order and reclaim the dreams and nightmares...even those who are prepared to do anything to retain their liberty.

Adapting The Sandman for the screen is a Herculean task. Neil Gaiman's 76-issue comic series ran from 1988 to 1996 and was collected as ten dense graphic novels, telling stories spanning thousands of years and involving a cast running into the hundreds. At the centre of it all is Dream or Morpheus, a non-human anthropomorphic personification of the concept of dreams. In many issues Dream doesn't even show up, or only has a brief cameo. The series alternates between epic story arcs and self-contained fables, and the tone can spin on a dime from comedy to tragedy to outright horror to fantasy to historical drama. Very minor moments in earlier issues can have massive ramifications fifty issues later.

There is also the legacy that Sandman has accrued. The series occupies a space in comics similar to what The Lord of the Rings does in fantasy novels, a dominant force whose sheer name value and beloved following makes tackling an adaptation a humbling and challenging task. Fortunately, at least in this case the original creator was on hand to help tackle the adaptation and guide it to the screen.

Netflix's The Sandman is an unabashed triumph, something that is a relief to say after so many recent streaming adaptations of beloved fantasy works were underwhelming, if not outright terrible. The one-two punch in recent weeks of Sandman and Amazon's splendid tackling of Brian K. Vaughan's Paper Girls may make one wonder if streaming services are turning a corner and are now producing better adaptations, but I suspect we will continue to see variable results moving forwards.

The Sandman works because it combines a talented cast of actors, directors, vfx personnel and behind the scenes crew with excellent judgement over how to develop the source material. Some episodes are lifted from issues of the comic almost verbatim, with Gaiman's almost-thirty-five-year-old material still feeling as fresh and engrossing as when it was originally committed to paper. Other episodes see the source material reimagined or tackled in a different way due to practical concerns, or cost, or not having the rights to certain characters or ideas, and in every case the judgement is sound.

The first season of the TV series adapts the first two graphic novels in the series, Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House, constituting the first sixteen issues of the comic. In the former story arc, Dream is imprisoned, escapes and sets about repairing the Dreaming and recovering three of the symbols of office (a ruby, a bag of sand and a helmet), which involves confronting a murderous killer, tracking down a demon-hunter in contemporary London and descending into Hell itself for a tense audience with Lucifer. In the latter, Dream sets out to recover three missing inhabitants of the Dreaming who escaped during his imprisonment, as well as investigating the appearance of a "dream vortex" which threatens the fabric of reality.

The adaptation collapses these two stories into ten episodes (some of them surprisingly short by modern standards) and overlaps them a little bit more than in the comics, positing the Corinthian (a brilliant Boyd Holbrook) as more of an antagonist for the entire season. The result is a compelling pace, with excellently-crafted cliffhangers demanding you watch just one more episode. This is enhanced by brilliant casting: Tom Sturridge has a hard job playing the taciturn, oft-emotionless Dream, but he manages the impossible by nailing Dream's implacability but also giving him brief bursts of humour and charisma. Vivienne Acheampong is outstanding as the fussy librarian Lucienne, who keeps the Dreaming ticking over in Dream's absence, and Kyo Ra is superb as Rose Walker, the closest thing we have a to a "regular human" lead in the story.

Other actors appear just for one episode or so, but are fantastic: David Thewliss is chilling as John Dee, Jenna Coleman is suitably bedrazzled as walking human dumpster fire Johanna Constantine (a rights-enforced gender flip of John "Hellblazer" Constantine) and Gwendoline Christie is fire and ice personified as Lucifer Morningstar. Ferdinand Kingsley is also outstanding as Hob Gadling, an ordinary human whom is gifted immortality by the Endless on a whim to see how he handles it, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste imbues Death with the whimsy, humour, wisdom and depth of her comics counterpart.

Contained within the first season was the tricky mandate to adapt three of the greatest individual issues of comics ever published into live-action: "Twenty-Four Hours" (here realised as episode five, 24/7), "The Sound of Her Wings" and "Men of Good Fortune" (here combined into episode six, The Sound of Her Wings). "Twenty-Four Hours" had to be changed a fair bit, due to the absence of a narrating figure and limits on the amount of horror even Netflix can put on screen, but the end result is still fascinating (and horrific). But The Sound of Her Wings is flawless, taking the two vaguely related stories from the comic (the first in which Dream spends a day watching his sister, Death, at work, and the second in which Dream spends one day every 100 years meeting Hob Gadling, who may or may not be a friend) and combining them into a beautiful hour of drama.

Flaws are almost non-existent: Mervyn Pumpkinead's CGI feels a bit stiff compared to the flawless vfx elsewhere, and the utterly brilliant end credits (which vary from episode to episode) barely have a chance to start before Netflix forces them off the screen for the next episode. And that's really about it.

The first season (*****) builds to a suitably epic conclusion, with quiet moments that readers of the comics know will have a seismic impact further down the road, but ultimately leaves the viewer shocked that the team have managed the impossible: they have taken The Sandman and made a superb television series out of it. The hope now is that they can continue.

The first season of The Sandman is available to watch on Netflix worldwide right now and I recommend you avail yourself of the opportunity to catch up on it as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.