Thursday 24 November 2022

Eaglemoss model projects to continue with other companies

Beleaguered SF model and figurine company Eaglemoss is looking to move its projects onto other companies.

Eaglemoss has spent the last decade or so producing lines of surprisingly affordable spacecraft models based primarily on the Star Trek franchise, but also the Battlestar Galactica, Alien, Predator, Doctor Who and Expanse lines. In July the company entered administration, a form of financial support to try to stave off bankruptcy.

In a podcast in August, former Eaglemoss staffer Ben Robinson offered an explanation and update on the situation. He said the company tried to expand too far, too quickly, at precisely the wrong moment (when costs and inflation started soaring). He also said that Eaglemoss's financial woes are such that the company itself is unlikely to stage any kind of comeback.

However, there is significant interest in the company's projects and existing stock from other companies. The best news is that PCT and Ixo Collections are looking to complete the partwork magazines that were incomplete when Eaglemoss went into administration, most notably the Ghostbusters ECTO-1 and Star Trek Enterprise-D. These will allow collectors to finish their models, which have been sitting incomplete for the last four or five months.

Other companies have expressed an interest in picking up Eaglemoss's licences, which are currently mired in red tape until the administration process is complete. The Star Trek line, in particular, is likely to find a new home. As Robinson notes, the Star Trek line was overall very profitable even for fairly niche and brand-new ships, and CBS-Paramount is very keen for the line to continue. The fate of the other franchises may be more questionable.

There is a fair amount of stock locked up in Eaglemoss's warehouse, and there are hopes that this stock will be released to subscribers and retail in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday 20 November 2022

RIP Greg Bear

News has sadly broken that science fiction author Greg Bear has passed away at the age of 71, following a series of strokes.

Born in 1951 in San Diego, California, Gregory Dale Bear studied writing at San Diego State University from 1968 to 1973. Remarkably, he sold his first science fiction short story, "Destroyers," at the age of just 16. In 1970 Bear was part of a group of science fiction writers, SFF fans and comic book fans who decided to host the very first San Diego Comic-Con. In the years since, the San Diego Comic-Con has become arguably the single biggest and most important such mass media convention in the world.

After publishing short fiction throughout the 1970s, Bear published his first two novels (Hegira and Psychlone) in 1979. In 1983 he published the novelette Blood Music, which immediately won him the Nebula Award and Hugo Award. He expanded the story into a full-length novel, published in 1985 and arguably his best-known single novel. Almost simultaneously he published the other contender for that title, Eon.

The two books are both, in their own way, a reconsideration of classic SF ideas originally presented by Arthur C. Clarke. Blood Music is something of a revamp of Clarke's Childhood's End, presenting the transformation of humanity into a new form via rapidly enhanced biological evolution. Eon is a riff on Rendezvous with Rama, with humanity exploring a huge artificial construct that enters Earth orbit in the form of an asteroid. Hidden inside the asteroid is a portal leading into an infinite corridor known as "The Way," which transcends both time and space. Bear would revisit the Way in sequel Eternity (1988) and prequel Legacy (1995).

Bear wrote numerous other significant SFF works. His only major contribution to fantasy came in the form of Songs of Earth and Power, a duology consisting of The Infinity Concerto (1984) and The Serpent Mage (1986). He returned to SF with The Forge of God (1987) and its sequel, Anvil of Stars (1992), in which Earth is destroyed by a hostile alien intelligence but some humans are able to escape into space, where they plot vengeance. He flirted with cyberpunk with Queen of Angels (1990), and joined the "Mars rush" (a burst of Mars-focused novels from a number of authors, including Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson) with Moving Mars (1992). The Nebula-winning Darwin's Radio (1999) explored the weaponisation of evolution.

Bear was noted as a writer of hard science fiction, but critic David Langford also recognised Bear's love of massive explosions and apocalyptic events, including melting the human race into sentient goo in one book, blowing up Earth entirely in The Forge of God, removing Mars from the Solar system in Moving Mars and wrecking a transdimensional world of infinite size in Eternity. Bear took mock-umbrage from this characterisation.

Greg Bear became a dominant writer of science fiction, often incorporating starships and far-future settings, at a time when many SF writers were focusing on near-future stories (particularly in the cyberpunk movement). He and two other contemporary writers in this mode, Gregory Benford and David Brin, became known as the "Killer Bs," for their critical acclaim and dominance in this period (the 1980s and early 1990s). They were occasionally named as successors to the "Big Three" of 1950s and 1960s SF, namely Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, although they failed to match the earlier trio's name recognition outside of the SF field or in terms of sales (for example, none of Bear's work has been adapted to television or film, although Eon has been optioned several times).

In the late 1990s, Bear joined Benford and Brin on working on The Second Foundation Trilogy, an officially-authorised sequel series to Asimov's classic SF series. Benford wrote Foundation's Fear (1997), whilst Bear penned Foundation and Chaos (1998) and Brin rounded off the project with Foundation's Triumph (1999).

Unlike many of his peers, who had a tendency to look down on media tie-ins, Bear, was also happy to work in other people's playgrounds. He penned the Star Trek novel Corona in 1984 and the Star Wars novel Rogue Planet in 2000, which acted as both a sequel to The Phantom Menace and a prequel to the New Jedi Order saga. In 2011-13 Bear agreed to flesh out the ancient backstory for the Halo series of video games by penning the Forerunner Saga trilogy, consiting of Cryptum, Primordium and Silentium. Bear incorporated previous Halo mythology and his own ideas, which in turn became canon for subsequent video games.

Bear suffered a series of strokes in recent days which led to him being hospitalised before passing away. He is survived by his wife Astrid and two children. The field of science fiction and fantasy fiction is a poorer place for his loss.

Friday 18 November 2022

BBC confirms new DOCTOR WHO companion

The BBC has confirmed that actress Millie Gibson is joining the cast of Doctor Who as the new regular companion. She will play the role of Ruby Sunday and will debut alongside Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor.

Gibson made her screen debut in 2017 playing Indira on the BBC children's drama Jamie Johnson. Two years later she joined the cast of Coronation Street, Britain's longest-running soap opera (three years older than Doctor Who itself), as Kelly Neelan. She picked up significant critical notices in her three years on the show.

At 18, Gibson is the joint-youngest actress to appear as a companion, a position she shares with former actors Jackie Lane (who played Dodo Chaplet in 1966), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa, 1981-83) and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric, 1981-82). However, due to the much longer lead-time on production these days, she'll have turned 19 by the time her first episode airs.

Based on the wording, it sounds like Gibson will first appear in the 2023 Christmas Special, when Gatwa is expected to take over full time as the Fifteenth Doctor. Prior to that in November, there will be three anniversary specials airing to celebrate Doctor Who's 60th anniversary, with David Tennant playing the Fourteenth Doctor, with a story arc revolving around the mystery of why his new appearance is identical to a former one (Tennant previously played the Tenth Doctor from 2005 to 2010, returning for a guest spot in 2013). Catherine Tate is also returning as former companion Donna for these specials. 

Gatwa is expected to cameo in these specials as the "new" Doctor apparently tries to work out why his regeneration has gone awry, possibly in dream sequences or mental images of some kind.

Doctor Who is expected to return to the screens in November 2023, on the BBC in the UK and Disney+ internationally.

Friday 11 November 2022

RIP Kevin Conroy

News has sadly broken that Kevin Conroy, best-known for voicing Batman across numerous animated series and video games over thirty years, has passed away at the age of 66.

Who was he? He was the goddamn Batman.

Born in Westbury, New York, in 1955, Conroy studied drama in New York City. He was room-mates with Robin Williams and was in the same study group as Kelsey Grammar. After graduation he started working in the theatre and, starting in the early 1980s, began splitting his time between stage acting in NYC and TV acting in Los Angeles.

Conroy achieved his first breakthrough by being cast as lawyer Bart Fallmont on Dynasty. By the end of the 1980s he had become a regular guest castmember on various American TV shows including Cheers and Murphy Brown, and a regular on Vietnam drama Tour of Duty.

Conroy's gravelly voice made him the natural choice to voice Batman and Bruce Wayne in Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95). Taking his cue from Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's two films, Conroy gave Batman and Wayne different voices to help hide the character's secret identity. Conroy continued to voice Batman in spin-off shows The New Batman Adventures (1997-99), Batman Beyond (1999-2001), Justice League (2001-04) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-06). He also voiced Batman in the theatrical movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and various straight-to-video and DVD projects. He also played Batman during guest spots on related DC shows, such as Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000).

Conroy returned to the role for the Arkham series of video games: Arkham Asylum (2009), Arkham City (2011) and Arkham Knight (2015) (he skipped 2013's prequel, Arkham Origins, which featured a significantly younger and less-gravelly Batman). The games gained blanket critical acclaim and introduced Conroy to a younger audience who hadn't grown up with the prior animated series. Conroy's co-star from The Animated Series, Mark Hamill (who played the Joker), noted that his pleasure in working with Conroy was such that he would sign onto projects without seeing a script if he knew Conroy was involved.

In 2019 he finally played the role in live-action, starring as an older alternate-universe Bruce Wayne in the CW's Batwoman (as part of their Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event).

Conroy's immense popularity led to voicing gigs on many other shows, including The Venture Bros. and the various recent He-Man projects for Netflix.

Kevin Conroy passed away on 10 November from cancer. He is survived by his husband, Vaughn C. Williams.

With the physical actor playing Batman constantly changing, Conroy arguably became the definitive voice of the Caped Crusader, one of its most popular players and the longest-running and most prolific actor in the role when counted by the sheer number of episodes, films and video games he appeared in. The impact he had on an entire generation of kids growing up should not be underestimated; during search and rescue efforts after 9/11, Conroy helped out providing food to emergency responders and, at a friend's urging, geed up the police and firemen with Batman lines. He will definitely be missed.

Thursday 10 November 2022

Netflix releases trailer for DRAGON AGE: ABSOLUTION

Netflix has released a trailer for its animated series, Dragon Age: Absolution, and confirmed it will launch on 9 December 2022. The show is a tie-in with BioWare's Dragon Age series of fantasy CRPGs, the fourth of which is expected to be launched in 2023.

Mairghread Scott is producing and writing the show, which will consist of six 30-minute episodes. The show is set in the Tevinter Imperium, which is also the setting for Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, the new game in the series. To what degree the TV show ties in with the game or sets it up remains to be seen.

Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is apparently now feature-complete and has passed its alpha milestone, so hopefully it will launch in 2023 (or early 2024). BioWare has also begun teasing its new Mass Effect game a bit more, although that is still a few years off. BioWare has a steep hill to climb to restore player confidence after years of mismanagement and underwhelming game releases, so hopefully the two new games in its signature franchises will deliver.

Monday 7 November 2022

CARNIVAL ROW Season 2 gets airdate and confirmation it will not return

Amazon's much, much-delayed second season of Carnival Row will hit screens on 17 February 2023 and will not return for a third season.

Season 1 of Carnival Row dropped in August 2019 and picked up solid reviews and streaming figures, although it didn't set the world on fire (I quite liked it though). Season 2 of the show seemed to be plagued by difficulties and delays, with shooting interrupted by the COVID19 pandemic and then by star Orlando Bloom taking paternity leave (with some rumours that he ended up shooting most of his scenes separately to everyone else on greenscreen, which will be interesting to see if it's true or not). The show also chewed through executive producers and showrunners, with three leaving between the two seasons or during production of the second season.

The date may hint at a later airdate for the second season of The Wheel of Time. Wheel of Time's second season has been in the can for some time, and in fact shooting is starting on the show's third season fairly soon. Season 2 will likely not now premiere at the earliest until Carnival Row completes its second season, which should be around late March.

Friday 4 November 2022

HBO cancels WESTWORLD after four seasons

HBO has cancelled its SF TV series Westworld after four seasons. The producers had been angling for a fifth and final season to wrap up the story, so there will be some disappointment that the show will not get its originally conceived ending.

Westworld started airing in 2016 and came from the team of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who had previously worked on Person of Interest. The show was a reboot of the 1973 film of the same name, written and directed by Michael Crichton. The first season attracted blanket critical acclaim and high ratings for HBO, but each following season saw both the acclaim and ratings reduce significantly. After the 8-episode fourth season failed to arrest the decline (scoring barely 300,000 viewers on the initial airing), and still costing over $100 million, HBO decided to cancel the show rather than press on with it.

As well as the acclaim and ratings, the show suffered from a protracted release schedule that saw two or more years pass between seasons, frustrating viewers.

The show won nine Emmy Awards during its time on-air and featured highly-rated performances by the likes of Evan Rachel Wood, Thandiwe Newton, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Paul and Tessa Thompson.

The show was produced under the banner of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions. The cancellation means that 2023 will be the first year since 2000 that Bad Robot has not had a TV show airing or in production. The company is developing six other shows, but these are not expected to hit the screen until 2024 at the earliest.

Thursday 3 November 2022

SANDMAN renewed for a second season at Netflix

It's been a wait, but Netflix have renewed The Sandman for a second season.

Netflix released the first season of the show on 5 August, immediately garnering very strong reviews and solid streaming numbers. The streamer took the unusual step of releasing a bonus extra episode two weeks later.

Despite the rare mix of both critical and commercial success, Netflix have taken an unusually long time to renew the show, something attributed to the first season's budget of upwards of $15 million per episode. Although Netflix is no stranger to spending big on a show, they normally prefer to start lower and gradually increase the budget over time, such as Stranger Things' gradually building budget from $7 million per episode in its debut season to over $20 million per episode in the fourth, with some episodes reportedly hitting $30 million. Sandman was a bigger up-front investment and the streaming numbers were very healthy, but perhaps not a slam-dunk on cost. However, Netflix were in danger of acquiring a reputation as the company that always cancels even good shows prematurely, and word-of-mouth on Sandman was so strong that the streamer likely feels a second season should boost the whole show's numbers positively.

The first season adapted the first two graphic novels in the Sandman series (of ten in total, at least in the main series), Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House, as well as two of the stories in the third graphic novel, Dream Country. The second season will, presumably, complete Dream Country and adapt the fourth and fifth graphic novels, Season of Mists and A Game of You, bringing the story to its halfway point and allowing them to adapt the entire series in four seasons (a more enticing proposition than the 5-7 season plans being mooted by other streamers for their big fantasy projects).

The Sandman Season 2 will likely shoot in 2023 for release in 2024.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

HBO's LAST OF US adaptation to launch on 15 January

HBO's adaptation of the video game The Last of Us will launch on 15 January 2023.

The TV show's first season will consist of nine episodes and is based on the first game in the series. The show stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, two survivors of an apocalyptic event caused by the arising of zombie-like monsters. They travel across America, linking up with other survivors (friendly and not), avoiding the "clickers" along the way.

The show also stars Gabriel Luna, Merle Dandridge, Nico Parker, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman and Anna Torv, whilst the original game voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson will also appear.

Chernobyl writer-producer Craig Mazin is co-showrunner of the project, alongside the video game's creator and head writer, Neil Druckmann.

New DEUS EX game in development

Eidos Montreal are "very early" in development on a brand new Deus Ex game. The studio was recently sold by Square Enix to Embracer Group, along with all of its attendant IP.

Eidos Montreal previously developed Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016), which were both extremely well-reviewed and Human Revolution sold very well as well. Mankind Divided underperformed according to Square's expectations and the studio moved to developing Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018), and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2021). Eidos Montreal is currently providing assistance to Playground Games in their reboot of the Fable franchise for Microsoft.

It is unknown if the new game will continue the prequel story of Adam Jensen that began in Human Revolution and was left unresolved in Mankind Divided, or will be a sequel to the original two games, Deus Ex (2000) and Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003). It might even be a modern remake of the original game, which remains one of the most highly-acclaimed video games of all time but could do with a makeover in terms of graphics and UI (although, strictly, only if the original game's insane freedom and branching story are kept intact).

As the game is in its earliest stages and the last Deus Ex game took five years to make, it might be a fair while before we hear any more about the project. At least it's good to know the franchise will continue, eventually.