Book Review – “Leaving Megalopolis”. What happens when superheroes turn bad?

After reviewing the fantastic graphic novel The Beautiful Death here I thought to continue with another 5-part comic I read two days ago called Leaving Megalopolis, a 2014 book from Gail Simone.

Leaving Megalopolis: When heroes turn bad. From: Dark Horse Comics

Superhero comic books, when told from the perspective of the ordinary civilian, can be outstanding work like Kurt Busiek’s Marvels series which followed photographer Phil Sheldon as he documented this brave new era. However I do find the additional hook of superheroes turning evil a guilty pleasure, and Leaving Megalopolis follows this theme.

The benchmark for me is the plot, though not the execution, of the Injustice book from DC, a comic series which was spun out of a computer game. The central premise of Injustice is that that Superman loses his head when Gotham’s Joker destroys Metropolis with a nuke and kills Lois Lane and his unborn son. Superman sets up a totalitarian state to bring about order and the story features the rebellion against his fascist rule.

Not all the heroes in that book are “bad” though. Perhaps the most similar comic to Leaving Megalopolis is The Boys from Garth Ennis which portrays a world where superheroes have been corrupted by their celebrity and their increasingly thoughtless and rash actions require a secret taskforce to monitor and deal with. I enjoyed the over-the-top nature of the book though the protagonists were rather stereotyped (The affable Scot, the Cockney geezer, the French one (who was called “Frenchie”) etc….). It isn’t a classic by any means, but it is entertaining fluff.

Heroes of Leaving Megalopolis – Do you recognise any of them? From: Dark Horse Comics

Leaving Megalopolis features even more unhinged superheroes who have unaccountably turned into deranged murderers after encountering an alien. It is unashamedly violent, akin to The Boys, and also sends up popular superhero teams (think Avengers or Justice League) in similarly dark ways. We follow a group of protagonists who want to escape the city of Megalopolis where these superheroes reside. The sense of horror is real, though I did feel that the characters were not as memorable as I might have hoped, with the exception of main protagonist Mina and her cliffhanger leaving the possibility of a sequel. I found the art unsettling in a way that mirrored the palpable tension in the writing, in particular the rage of the superheroes and their glee in causing chaos.

The survivors in Leaving Megalopolis. From: Dark Horse Comics

The main criticism was that I wanted the characters to be fleshed out more. Often certain features of plot were insinuated but there did not seem to be any follow-up, for example there is a hint that one of the band of survivors has done something bad previously, but we never find out what it might be and the book becomes sympathetic towards him. I enjoy mystery and complex characters, but perhaps there was a bit too much shrouding in all but the main character Mina.

Nevertheless, if you do enjoy your stories dark and your worlds dystopic, I recommend that you check this series out, particularly if you enjoy the theme of corrupted heroes.

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Film Review – Black Panther

No significant spoilers in this review

I just saw the latest offering in the Marvel stable in IMAX 3D – Black Panther. Alongside Moon Knight and Hank Pym (who both suffer from inner demons), I’ve found the challenges of Black Panther one of the most interesting in the Marvel comics universe. Chiefly, his turmoil as he struggles with the duties of a king and his own personal values as a person and responsibilities to the world as a whole.

Black Panther from Captain America: Civil War. Source: Marvel.com

This is explored deftly in the new film, which gives us a socio-political quandary right at the beginning – can the isolated secret technology-rich African nation of Wakanda accept responsibility to the rest of the world (and its own continent) and open up, using its resources to help other peoples? It’s a real-life problem that many countries face, and is rendered more stark by the fact that the fictional nation of Wakanda is surrounded by poor neighbours.

Map and Location of Wakanda. Source: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #12 (December 1983).

This is a great popcorn film, full of well-choreographed action sequences, stunning costumes and beautiful cinematography and computer-generated imagery. In particular, the combination of these during the fights in water at a cliff-edge were pure eye candy. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed looking at a film so much, and the key feature here is the balance: there is never too much to see on the screen, but just enough for one to appreciate. I would highly recommend watching this film on an IMAX rather than standard screen, although the 3D elements of the film weren’t particularly crucial to the experience.

Cliff Edge water fight scene. Source: Nerdist.com, Marvel.com

The performances in the film were decent, though not perfect. Chadwick Boseman was very good as T’Challa, as were Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira as his warrior queen and general respectively. I didn’t quite find Letitia Wright’s Shuri as convincing, but that may be personal taste as she is a good actress in other films I’ve seen. Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi was outstanding, and this actor is quickly showing the range in his performances – from an excellent Black Mirror episode, to Sicario, to Get Out and now this performance laiden with subtleties. He’s come a looooong way since playing a pretty stereotyped London Nigerian parking attendant in Harry and Paul. I’ve loved Martin Freeman since his role in the UK’s Office but I found his Everett Ross performance a bit ham-fisted. Andy Serkis was outstandingly over the top as Ulysses Klaue and you can’t help to think he is wasted in his many motion capture roles, I want to see him on-screen! He reminded me of Sharlto Copley in District 9 except even more unhinged. Michael B Jordan as the thuggist Killmonger didn’t do it for me as a principal antagonist – I never felt invested in the character and why he turned out as he did, and was left thinking “What if Daniel Kaluuya had played this role…”. But this is a minor gripe given the variety of great performances throughout the cast.

Cast of Black Panther. Source: www.facebook.com/MarvelCinematicUniverse

My only other criticism of the film was that the humour wasn’t as up-there as I thought it would be – there was a particularly weak joke about “sneakers” which I’m sure was intended to be funny but the cinema was silent. This could be because I had been spoilt by Taika Waititi’s outstanding Thor:Ragnarok which had me in stitches from the beginning to the end. But the themes in this film are, perhaps, such that comedy isn’t really an important element to the story, whereas the third Thor outing had invested itself in being a comedy showpiece, which is executed expertly. In any case, I can’t complain as both films, and indeed so many of the recent Marvel Cinematic offerings, were pure entertainment. Indeed, this studio is struggling to put a foot wrong, with the exception of the absolutely awful Inhumans series.

I would thoroughly recommend this film as a piece of entertainment with some interesting questions throughout.

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Book Review – “The Beautiful Death”: A fantastic graphic novel

I enjoy reading, and love tucking into my Kindle after a long day’s work. However, when I really want to treat myself I like to read Graphic Novels. I offer to the reader that this medium can provide unique experiences through a combination of word and artwork, and should be judged separately from classical literature.

The Beautiful Death from Titan Comics

As I love tales of dystopian or post-apocalyptic words, I chanced upon “The Beautiful Death”, a new 5-part series from French creator Mathieu Bablet. This is titled La Belle Mort in French, which undoubtedly sounds more enticing. I glanced at a few scenes and was immediately reminded of some classic horror manga by the Japanese legend which is Kazuo Umezu, as well as the great Junji Ito.

Basically, this is a tale set on our planet, where insects of varying sizes have taken over and humanity, as we know it, has ended. We follow three survivors who are trying to survive in this desolate world, as they follow and repeat their routine of finding a shop or home to get some canned food. They haven’t met anyone else in a long time.

Giant alien caterpillars? Source: Titan Comics

I won’t give much else of the plot away, suffice to say that it is gripping and the relationship between the characters grabs you from the beginning. What I love about this story, and indeed much Japanese manga, is that you can’t take anything for granted. The world and the protagonists are never black-and-white, but multiple shades of grey. Perhaps this is often missing in other graphic novels where there is often a hero we need to “root” for.


A desolate world awaits you. Source: Titan Comics

The world depicted in both the writing and the illustrations is barren and isolating, and the choices that the characters have to make are equally stark, leaving a “What would you do” theme throughout. The finale to the book left me gasping and has stayed with me for a while. In fact, it has rekindled my love of short-series books, as one can pick them up and finish them in an evening in the time it takes to watch a movie. I’m going to look out for this author in future, and indeed he has opened my eyes to other French artists in this medium.

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REVIEW – Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story

I treated myself to a mobile bundle on the fantastic Humble Bundle , where you can buy bundles of games and give a contribution to charity and developers. I got the Humble Mobile Bundle 22 which has an interesting range of games.

One of them caught my eye, and I just completed it. Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story
It’s a short game, but precisely what I was looking for.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the premise is that you have just found the phone of a lady called Laura, and gradually you piece together a narrative about what has happened to her, including her relationships with various people in her life.

The game builds a convincing mobile world, through text messages, emails, notes and many other applications that we all use on our own mobile devices. This might sound tedious, but the world it builds entraps you and the characters are fleshed out so well in this mobile world that you feel an empathy with Laura and a compulsion to unlock more elements of the story.

There is an extra element to this story which I don’t want to give away in this review. Suffice to say that as a guy, I encountered ideas and affinities that are hard to appreciate fully even when you think that you are open-minded.

It was a game which will stay with me for a long time, it’s also available in a number of other languages:

Please let me know of any other games which are similar in terms of narrative and characterisation in the comments section!

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Exploring the worlds of Vincent Van Gogh in Film and Virtual-Reality

The film Loving Vincent and the VR Experience The Night Cafe let you enter the mind and works of Vincent Van Gogh in unique and magical ways.

The enigmatic Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most influential and iconic figures in art. We have all encountered his most famous paintings, even if we’re not consciously aware of some of them. They imprint themselves into our collective minds in a way that is difficult to explain and comprehend. He is also a fascinating and seemingly undecipherable person, who suffered severely from depression and eventually killed himself.

Recently, we have been allowed a dip into his world through not one, but two different modalities. The film Loving Vincent is an animated biographical drama which has been lovingly and painstakingly crafted in the style of his own paintings. I watched it and was blown away by the small details in the film, which explores the circumstances surrounding Vincent Van Gogh’s death in 1890. It started as a Kickstarter campaign with 796 backers originally pledging $64,000. The outcome is a unique work of art.

It sounds rather hubristic, but I have no doubt that this film will win the 2018 nomination for best animated film.

The second way of jumping into Van Gogh’s mindscape is through The Night Cafe – A VR tribute to Vincent Van Gogh on the HTC Vive and Oculus rift. Being able to walk through a painted Van Goghian world in three dimensions is a surreal and immeasurably enjoyable experience. Although it is short, this experience from Borrowed Light Studios is free and has to be one of the most well-crafted and beautiful experiences in room-scale immersive virtual reality.

Here is my play-through:

I felt that I was living within a world made of his paintings. Not only did I appreciate his art in a new way, it also made it clear to me how Virtual Reality can have a role in forming new types of experiences that we could not imagine before.

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Cryptocurrency 101 – Thinking of jumping in?

It has been hard to avoid hyperbolic news articles about the digital currency bitcoin and the enigmatic blockchain.  These words conjure various emotions for many people – for some they are secretive technologies which are purposefully obscure and impenetrable. Many associate bitcoin with greed and hypercapitalism. It has just had a mega dip, fuelled by fear and uncertainty, yet it looks like a rebound is on the cards. Could it be the time to buy?

What is the blockchain?

Simple explanation: Invented in 2008. a block is a record of new transactions (which could mean money, but can also mean voting records, medical data and many more uses). Blockchain is decentralized, meaning that it does not rely on a single computer/server/organisation.  Information on the blockchain is encrypted, and to process any transaction a complex math problems need to be solved using processing power. These problems become more difficult over time, this is “mining”.   Once each block is completed it gets added to the chain, creating a chain of blocks – a blockchain, which is permanent and unalterable. 

Now it sounds paradoxical given the focus on encryption, but blockchain is actually a public ledger – people won’t know your identity but the information from your transaction can be seen publicly. Therein lies the mantra “always trust the blockchain”.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin therefore use the blockchain so that monetary units can be encrypted and stored electronically within the network.

Can I get rich quick, or is this a dotcom/tulip bubble?

It is true that speculators have made this seem like a crazy market, but the fact remains that we are still in early days when it comes to cryptocurrency. The total market cap is still a tiny fraction of the Dotcom companies at the turn of the millenium.  Bitcoin was The meteoric rise of Bitcoin towards the end of 2017 may not happen again for a while, or it may do. The truth is, who knows? But the blockchain is here to stay, and we are only just discovering some of its potential. Smart money would suggest that Bitcoin and the other “altcoins” (alternatives to bitcoin) remains a good investment, especially now that it has dipped.

How to get bitcoin?

The most well-established method of purchasing Bitcoin right now is by using the San Francisco based digital exchange Coinbase. Using this exchange, you can also buy other big altcoins, each of which has its own modus operandi. If you want to sign up, please feel free to use my referral link which will give both of us $10 of free bitcoin: https://www.coinbase.com/join/565648c1ea359f00da0001b4

What about hacks of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies?

Yes, there have been several high-profile hacks of exchanges in the news. The most notable was MtGox in 2014 when almost $450 million worth of bitcoin was stolen. Recently $500 million NEM coins was stolen from another Japanese exchange – Coincheck. Although the amount stolen is more, as the market is larger now, this has had less of an impact on cryptocurrency.

Nevertheless, people are understandably worried about the risk of hacking and stealing their hard-earned money.

Wallets

The solution is to keep the majority of your cryptocurrency in a wallet. When it is on an online exchange, you always run the risk of losing it to hacks.  The safest bets are hard wallets such as the Ledger Nano S:   https://www.ledgerwallet.com/r/6f42

Only you can access the wallet, assuming you don’t lose your password!

If a hard wallet is difficult to get hold of, then at the very least a software wallet should suffice.  Exodus wallet provides the best option at present for your home computer or laptop: https://www.exodus.io/ ). You can also find mobile app wallets such as CoinomiEnjin and Eidoo which store cryptocurrency, although remember to keep your passwords safe!

Trading Exchanges

But if you do want to trade between bitcoins and altcoins, hoping to find the “new bitcoin”, then make sure you keep your altcoins spread throughout different exchanges, not just in one. There are many exchanges, some of which are more mainstream and which have a solid infrastructure, and others which are more “badlands” territory, but where you can sometimes find bargains!  These are the ones that I use, with referral links:

Mainstream exchange (safest bets): 
BINANCE – bìnance.com or https://www.binance.com/?ref=16252738 

Binance is Chinese-owned and is a newer exchange, yet seems to be the most popular choice for new altcoins to be added at present. The infrastructure for both the online exchange and the mobile app is solid, and wallets for altcoins are well-maintained. They also promise to give you airdrops (free coins after a hard-fork) for bitcoin and other coins.

BITTREX https://bittrex.com – A safe bet for the largest spread of alts, however their infrastructure can become poor when volume is high. Wallets also take a lot of time to be updated, and also bittrex doesn’t give airdrops following hardforks. Nevertheless, it seems like a “safe bet” and the interface is easy to use.

More alternative exchanges:

These  can be the place to find bargains or coins which have not yet reached the mainstream exchanges. Alternative exchanges can also be home to “deadcoins” – coins which have been long abandoned. Whilst this sounds like dodgy territory, sometimes these tiny coins can be pumped and dumped by groups on Whatsapp and Telegram. If you find yourself holding one of these coins, you can make a tidy profit if you cash out!

COINEXCHANGE – coinexchange.me.uk or https://www.coinexchange.io/?r=3de43825 This is the home of “pumping and dumping”. This is a practice which attracts greed but it is very risky, because you can be the one buying at the highest price!  But if you hold a coin with a limit sell and others pump (and then dump) it,  you can suddenly cash out with minimum work even if you don’t make as much as they do!

CRYPTOPIA – cryptopia.org.uk or https://www.cryptopia.co.nz/Register…rer=Cartesiain This New Zealand based exchange is also a marketplace for goods.. It still has pump and dumps, though perhaps not as much as Coinexchange.

Future ones to look out for (exchanges will be online later in the year):
A number of new exchanges will be released over the coming months, which promise enhanced levels of security and smoother interfaces:

COINMETRO : This will come out soon and looks promising. The team communicate very well and have a telegram group here: https://t.me/CoinMetro. They are also doing an initial coin offering (link https://go.coinmetro.com/?refId=5a6b…820437c44238bd ) giving people a future stake in their exchange.

ALTCOIN.IO :aItcoin.io or  http://www.altcoin.io?kid=KSGKJ This is coming out in a month or two and also has a telegram group https://t.me/altcoin_io .

These exchanges are in early development, yet are promising because they appear to prioritise communication with the customer.

Mining

Mining is another way to make money from the cryptocurrency phenomenon. But that doesn’t have to mean setting up a maze of rigs and wires like the photo above. You can sign up for cloud mining websites which do the mining for you, once you pay for a contract for a certain period of mining. This way you can get a steady regular income without having to worry about your electricity bills. There are a number of scam mining companies to avoid, so please do your own research! The two biggest cloud mining sites at the moment are:

GENESIS MINING: https://www.genesis-mining.com/a/1473681 This is the largest cloud mining service and is easy to get started with, though their contracts do tend to be sold out a lot of the time! Feel free to use my affiliate code:  hWN94y

HASHFLAREhttps://hashflare.io/r/51EE06F6 The new kid on the block is not as slick an operation as Genesis Mining, but has more availability at present. 

Staking

Staking is an alternative to mining in some sense – all you need to do to earn with this method is hold coins in a desktop wallet, and the coins adopt a variable Proof of Stake(PoS) interest rate that gives a periodic payout.  Be careful, as a lot of the coins which work with PoS have found their value going down, so although your holdings may increase, their net value may decrease.  A lot of the coins which offer this are the smaller ones which you might only find on places like Coinexchange and Cryptopia, and you will need to download the specific wallet for that coin. Examples of PoS coins are PIVX, Netcoin, Reddcoin, Stratis, NEO, Dash, OKCash and Magi.

Good luck to you, and may you all get wealthy. Remember, wealth isn’t about having money, but having options, dreams and freedom. Don’t just dream of a lambo or island, but also giving money to something which means a lot to you. 

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