Tuesday, 30 June 2015

SmithsonianX course on Superheroes... Project Complete!

As noted before, I've been taking part in a fascinating course from the Smithsonian about the rise of the superheroes, looking at the historical origins of comic books and their subsequent development. As cultural changes have waxed and waned, the success of comic books has successively risen and fallen, only to rise again.

As part of the course we had to create our own superhero and a previous post provides some details about Bion, my transhuman superhero from an alternative dimension.  I had developed an idea for Bion's look in Second Life and was thankfully able to call upon a great friend of mine who raised the whole project to a higher level.

This is a friend of mine called Sera Bellic. In Second Life she is a designer and builder and she took the idea of creating superhero artwork and really made something special.

Set out below are some of the sections from my class project with the course along with some artwork created for it.  Sera took on the guise of Bion's super villain, the malevolent sorceress Agorna.  We had great fun working on it together and I am really grateful to her for all her help.  In particular, we set the battle between Bion and Agorna in one of the Sera's amazing sims, this being a land of ruin and wreckage - quite suitable for us!

Please check out Sera's youtube channel for more about her wonderfully creative work.  Please click on the images below for a closer look.

comic strip created by Sera!
The course is running again in August apparently and I would strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about the world of comic books, super heroes and also interact with some really creative and friendly people on the course!

AND NOW, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, ON WITH THE PROJECT!

What issue does your super hero contend with?

The increasing power of computer technology and its role in our lives, for good or bad.  Bion is a person from an alternative world where supercomputers have become far more powerful than humanity but the tensions between this and our society are more complex and difficult than in her world.  In our world there are issues about privacy and security, fraud and crime.  More broadly, will the increasing power of artificially intelligent technology make humans irrelevant or vulnerable? For example, increasingly intelligent software may put many people out of work.  Artificially intelligent drones and other weapons of war may start taking decisions about killing human combatants.  If computer systems became more intelligent than humanity, might that mean the human race is no longer the most powerful collection of beings on our planet?

Bion comes from a parallel dimension that saw enormous increases in computer technology from the sixties onwards. This included highly powerful artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and cybernetic implants. Bion is a transhuman, that is an ascended human with amazing powers as a result of her culture’s goal of self improvement. During a scientific experiment in quantum energy, she phased into our universe and has no means of returning!

A relevant article here is :

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/feb/28/are-we-already-living-in-the-technological-singularity


Description of Primary Superpowers: 

Bion’s body is highly engineered and has bionic implants that increase her power. She is superstrong, able to lift the weight of a car over her head. She can run at up to 100mph.  Her skin is tough enough to withstand a direct stab with a knife.  She can live without food or drink for around a week.

Description of Secondary Superpowers

Bion is constantly connected to the internet through her internal implant in her brain. Her link is ultra high fast and the firmware in her brain has greater processing power than any modern day computer in our world. She does not need to be physically linked as her link is wireless but has a range of around five metres. Her processing power is sufficient to hack any modern computer system.



Primary Weaknesses

Bizzare appearance – at seven foot tall and with a wiry, hard muscular body, Bion stands out. She is generally bald and this doesn’t help either.  Her skin tone is an odd colour, its golden hue is not like any race. Her features have a beautiful, serene look like a goddess which would get her noticed anyway.

Secondary weaknesses

Bion is totally unfamiliar to our world’s cultures and a lot of the time this makes her seem rather naïve. Initially she found the concept of lying difficult to understand but is now able to model this behaviour to some degree. 

Transference to our dimension from her homeworld

Bion’s goals are to help those around her improve their lives with the ultimate aim of doing whatever she can to improve the world for everyone’s benefit.  She seeks to promote rationality, peace and joyful living as positive values and is determined to take practical action to achieve these goals.  

As part of her story, we see the increase in computer technology affecting the lives of those around her. She comes from a post-human, post-singularity culture whereas our culture is far behind hers.  One of the themes will be the effect of increasing technological sophistication on our world and its inhabitants. What happens to those left behind and marginalised? What about the problems of privacy, fraud, manipulation and abuse of power? In contrast to her own situation, she often finds herself sympathising with those who found themselves vulnerable to an increasingly technocratic elite.


In addition, her rational and effectively stoic philosophy and outlook put her greatly at odds with the often irrational elements of our culture, including discrimination of all types, religious, cultural and national prejudices of all kinds. She cannot turn away from conflict caused by these elements of our world culture and this brings her into opposition to some powerful elements of society. As with the technological issues referred to above, this however does lead to her being allied to and ultimately sympathising with other irrational groups in our society when they are victim of prejudice or discrimination. 

AGORNA - Bion's super villain 

Agorna - sorceress of destruction
Agorna is the living embodiment of the ancient Celtic war goddess  Agrona, reborn in our age. She has been summoned by the most evil, destructive spirits of the Earth to fight for vengeance for the damage that humanity has wrought to the life of our world. She has mystical powers of magic, drawn from the energies of nature.

Originally a micro-biologist named Serah Bellwick, she learned through her studies the enormous damage being done to the natural world by humanity’s industries and devices. Always passionate, at one point she allowed her natural concern grow into untold anger and rage.  The slumbering spirit of Agrona, ancient British goddess of war, came across her seething soul and used it as a conduit to be reborn into the material world. Now, reborn as the dread sorceress Agorna, she uses her thaumaturgic power to wreak vengeance on humanity for the never ending pollution and poison we curse our beautiful world with.  Her spells draw on darkness, ice and death as elemental sources of power.


Bion has often fought Agorna, the sorceress and counts Agorna as her nemesis. Bion can be at a complete loss in dealing with this totally irrational, anti-science super-villain and her technological powers are sorely matched by her nemesis’ mystical and magical powers. These confrontations have been building up as part of Agorna’s frenzied plan to destroy Bion. Agorna has called a swarm of magical orbs from the underworld which have destroyed large sections of Solent City.  Thousands have been killed in this diabolical plan as Agorna moves through the city, laying waste to everything she sees. The remaining populace has panicked and fled and her spellbinding power is far too much for the police and army to contend with. Only Bion, Solent City’s superhero, can possibly save them!

Realising that her only option now is to fight to stop Agorna’s further rampage, Bion flies as fast as she can into a direct confrontation with her nemesis in the hope that this might distract her long enough to give more of the citizenry a chance to flee danger.  Yet, Agorna is ever ready for battle and immediately lunges at Bion, knocking her off balance before her computer aided senses have time to react. Agorna casts a darkness spell around her which negates Bion’s searing energy blast.  


Whilst she suffers greatly in their struggle thanks to the nearness in the bodily combat, Bion’s nano-technology has been analysing Agorna’s magic.  Her super advanced computer assisted systems conclude that her magic is really drawing from dark energy, the mysterious force that makes up most of the universe but is utterly undetectable using normal 21st century technology.


As they fight, nanites (microscopically sized robotic agents) from Bion’s energy aura reconfigure themselves to be able to penetrate Agorna’s dark energy magic until they weaken her sufficiently to pin her against a fallen metallic sign on a church. The nanites form a magnetic shell around Agorna, effectively crucifying her on the sign and leaving her helpless to Bion’s renewed solar energy blasts.  With her magical warding spell cancelled by the nanites, Agorna is vulnerable to these attacks. The quantized solar energy drives Agorna’s magical aura back into the underworld and she is vanquished! 



Will Agorna return? (cue cackling, evil laughter coming from an unknown dimension...)




Sunday, 31 May 2015

Full length review of Tyranny of the Daleks

I was fascinated to read a full length review of Tyranny of the Daleks and flattered that the writer took the time to set out their thoughts on it.  I agree with a lot of the comments in it. As a fan film maker, one of the defences I've always employed is that when we made our film, the enjoyment and fun of making the film was at least as important as the finished article. At the same time though, it's fair to say that if we had the skill (and budget!) to cure it of its deficiencies we would have done so as we were keen to make it as good as we could.

Have a read here:  http://www.thedoctorwhoforum.com/uncategorized/fan-film-reviews-tyranny-of-the-daleks/


Monday, 25 May 2015

Smithsonian Course on Superheroes.. and introducing Bion, transhuman superhero!

What? Can it be true? Gangster riddled pulp fiction of the mid 1930s was a key influence on the rise of superhero comics in America? The never ending build up to the doom of World War Two galvanized readers desperate to believe in a mythically powerful hero who could save them from the global conflagration? GREAT SCOTT!!

Fact after mind blowing fact has been hitting me like cobalt deathrays on my adamantium body armour as this wonderful course on the Rise of the Superheroes with the world renowned Smithsonian Institution has marched on.  The lustrously gorgeous artwork of the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip was a key influence on the style. The man, Stan Lee, tells us how as a young aspiring writer he accidentally found himself working at Timely Comics (as Marvel was originally called) and was so embarrassed about it he couldn't bring himself to use his real name.

The only way to describe the course thus far is.. EXCELSIOR! Even for a seasoned comic geek, steeped in such lore as the different continents of pre-Crisis Krypton, it's been a revelation and I can't wait till the next chunk of courseware comes my way.

But.. we've been challenged to create our own superhero and I've come up with BION.. a superwoman from a parallel Earth with a hugely advanced cyber-culture compared to our world. I had an urge to let my interest in transhumanism spill out into the world of superheroes to see what would happen. It makes sense as a transhuman would be a superhero by another name compared to us average baseline homo sapiens.  


Bion, a Transhuman Superhero
BION - background and further notes...

Imagine a world where the Apollo moon missions continued right until Apollo 20 and then lead to  human missions to Mars in the 1970s. Imagine that computers as intelligent as HAL really had existed in 2001 and become even more powerful so that during the 2000s they superseded human intelligence.  Working in conjunction with their superintelligent computer colleagues, humans have also progressed as the gene sequence was fully analysed and used to engineer humans as faster, stronger and with increased intelligence.  Cybernetic implants allow humans to fuse with technology in ways that were undreamt of before.

In this alternative reality, life from Earth, both natural and artificial, is spreading out into the solar system. Advanced cyborg humans, called transhumans, work together with superintelligent computer systems for the benefit of all. A more rational world is a more peaceful one as old national and religious conflicts become irrelevant and are resolved.  Crime is now only referred to in the history books.

By 2016, computer intelligence is far beyond anything natural humans could conceive or comprehend yet they work in a spirit of friendship with their transhuman partners for the benefit of all. The transhumans in turn look kindly on the majority natural human populations and seek only to help them, no matter how much the natural humans resist.  

One such transhuman is Bion, who has spent time in space working on huge solar power satellites to provide free energy to the people of Earth. She is allied to one of the most powerful supercomputers, Ion (on whose name of course Bion is based). Ion models itself on the old tales of the god Apollo from Earth's ancient times and is often depicted as a being of light, energy, science and music.  Compared to a natural human, Bion is very tall (at 7 ft) and her skin has a golden hue to it. She is strong enough to lift a car and can run at approaching 100 mph.  She has night vision and is able to go without food and drink for over a week. 



In addition, Bion like many post humans is constantly linked into the virtual world and so is always in contact with an enormous number of other intelligences, both natural and artificial, through her link to her society's information network.

After returning to Earth, Bion has asked Ion for a new project on looking into quantum field energy. It was during one of these experiments that by accident she phased out of her reality and into a world of conflict and war and a technology far more primitive. She had arrived in our world, a weird and crude parallel of the 2016 of her world.

Soon realizing that her abilities put her far beyond those around her, Bion hid herself away for a while to learn more about our bizarre and sometimes grotesque civilization. Eventually she realized that she would have to take action and now uses her powers for peace and the benefit of all in the hope that her efforts will help our world move to a better time for all its people.

DESCRIPTION AND POWERS

Bion is around seven foot tall and is a highly augmented transhuman, allied to the AI supercomputer Ion.  In our dimension, she is mostly cut off from contact with Ion who can only very occasionally break through the dimensional barrier to communicate briefly with her.

Her muscles have been bio-engineered for additional strength. She has night vision and her eyes can also see a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning she can “see” radio waves, x-rays and so forth.  These can be interpreted by her brain’s firmware so that she can listen or see the radio, TV or other broadcast herself without any form of hardware being required.

She has built in augmented vision and her brain’s firmware can call up a display inside her mind at any time without needing a screen. It can also project this as required onto her sight, so that if she is looking at something, her brain can display information about it as she looks at it. She can also project a screen in front of her in her own vision as well.

She is always connected to our Internet, which she finds to be a very basic network, and her brain’s own firmware is far more powerful than any of our world’s computers. As a result she can fairly easily hack most of our world’s most secure networks. There is no need for her to be physically connected to do this – she is effectively always accessing the internet via her very own wi-fi connection!

So that others can see any information she may wish to display, underneath the skin of the back of her forearms are displays that can light up as a screen for other people to view.

She can run up to 100 mph for about five minutes or so and can lift a weight of up to about 1 ton.  Her skin, which has a golden hue to it, is particularly strong and can resist most stabs with knives (although it will still be painful).  She can go without food and drink for a week.  Nanorobots in her blood stream assist with repairing her body and so if she is damaged or diseased, these can heal far more quickly than a normal human.


Bion flying with the use of holographic wings 

She finds our world very strange, with its barbarous atrocities and horrors. When she first arrived here, she went into a state of almost shock at reacting to the savagery that can be found here.  She quickly realized this was something of an information overload and spent several weeks digesting as much information as possible and consolidating it into a clearer understanding of the situation.

Nevertheless, she still has great difficulty in understanding human behaviour in our world with all its bizarreness. At first she found it difficult to get to grips with people lying or misleading her although after some experience she is beginning to be able to model this behaviour. This aspect of her personality can lead to her seeming rather naïve but in reality she just lacks data and is quickly learning. 

To most people she would seem intensely cheerful and positive, almost irritatingly so, but this is because of a thorough going philosophy akin to stoicism. Her brain has been engineered in such a way that she is never angry or fearful as both emotions are ultimately inefficient.  Though she can be appropriately cautious, she is never actually in fear as this does not help her deal with a situation.

Her body is very athletic with the hard muscle of an Olympic champion.  At seven foot tall, she really stands out. This is not an unusual height for a transhuman from her world, but here it is immediately obvious and she is aware of this and often sits or stoops to hide her height so that she is not the centre of too much attention. She appears beautiful to many people with a statuesque, goddess like cast to her features. Normally she is bald as this is the most efficient way to be but if she needs to the nanobots in her body can cause her hair to grow very rapidly, up to one metre per day and in any colour she desires. On our world she normally has a bob style haircut.

Though she is fully sexually functioning, she is able to programme the appropriate hormones in her body and currently has switched these off. As a result she is not distracted by romantic or sexual desires as these interfere with her work.

She has some of her equipment from her world and has this secretly stored in her home, a small flat in a poorer part of town.  The most important part of this is her nanofacture assembler. This is a small piece of equipment about the size of a shoe box that is an entire nanofacture building facility. Raw materials (which can be anything) can be placed in or near the assembler and the nanotechnology in the assembler then rebuilds this into whatever is desired.  Typical default programs for this are micro-drones, which produce tiny flying drones about the size of a full stop on a printed page. These can fly within a range of around five miles of Bion and feed back information to her including video display of whatever they are seeing. 

She is also able to program the assembler to create food and drink or clothing or indeed anything else she needs and this can be made from waste material. Fortunately in our world there is plenty of waste material to be found. 

Bion has few material needs as a result but prefers to live in a human dwelling and so has rented a flat. Her nanofacture assembler could easily forge currency but this would be unlawful and so she works on a building site to earn money to pay rent.  Her colleagues had a very difficult time accepting her and she learnt a great deal about our world’s gender issues. Yet now she enjoys a good working relationship with her colleagues who now respect and admire her.

Partly as a result of this experience and partly due to her innately conditioned optimism, she has concluded that although our world has many challenges and dangers there is good reason to hope.  Now, she has formed a plan to become a secret force acting for the good of all. 



Bion in deadly combat with a super-villain!

GOALS AND MOTIVATION

Bion’s goals are to help those around her improve their lives with the ultimate aim of doing whatever she can to improve the world for everyone’s benefit.  She seeks to promote rationality, peace and joyful living as positive values but is determined to take practical action to achieve these goals. 

As part of her story, we see the increase in computer technology affecting the lives of those around her. She comes from a post-human, post-singularity culture whereas our culture is far behind hers.  One of the themes will be the effect of increasing technological sophistication on our world and its inhabitants. What happens to those left behind and marginalised? What about the problems of privacy, fraud, manipulation and abuse of power? In contrast to her own situation, she often finds herself sympathising with those who find themselves vulnerable to an increasingly technocratic elite.

In addition, her rational and effectively stoic philosophy and outlook put her greatly at odds with the often irrational elements of our culture, including discrimination of all types and religious, cultural and national prejudices of all types. She cannot turn away from conflict caused by these elements of our world culture and this brings her into opposition to some powerful elements of society. As with the technological issues referred to above, this however does lead to her being allied to and ultimately sympathising with other irrational groups in our society when they are victim of prejudice or discrimination.







Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Rise of the Superheroes - a course about comic books!

I've recently started a great course about superheroes and am really excited about it.  It's called Rise of the Superheroes and their Impact on Pop Culture and this is a rather eye catching introductory video about the course:



It's just the first week at present and I wrote this by way of an introduction..


Hi everyone.  I grew up reading comics on a very regular basis and in particular DC Comics and those involving Superman.  My most active period as a comic fan was during the mid to late eighties after DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths and I was a regular purchaser of the various Superman titles.  Superman was always exciting to me as he was the embodiment of the idea that “the good” can be strong and in a rather dangerous world that thought was both comforting and empowering.  

This intense period of being a comic fan lessened around the time that Superman died in the comics but I still buy the odd one now and then and am always taking an interest in what is going on in the various comic universes.  

I enrolled in the course as linking the history of comic books with the history of American culture seemed very intriguing.  I have a little knowledge already as a long time fan and am looking forward to deepening this knowledge.  

As you might have guessed, my favourite hero is Superman.  In terms of the themes of this course, it seems possible to me that Superman might be so popular because he is a combination of the West’s Christian heritage due to his commitment to goodness or the good as you might phrase it with the powers and abilities of the Gods from Ancient Greece and Rome (and possibly also the Norse or other northern European Gods), all made larger than life by the medium of the comic books.  In retrospect, a winning combination given the culture we live in!

 My other favourite hero is Batman.  Superman is a dream or myth of the highest type, whilst Batman speak to us of human ambition and of what we might achieve were we dedicated enough and had the right resources, but also of human tragedy and the darkness of life.  

Whilst I love and appreciate the Marvel universes and their heroes, I do consider myself a DC Comics fan.  I love the broad interaction of the Marvel universe but to me DC has always had an edge that I find difficult to define. Perhaps it simply comes down to growing up reading their comics.  Also, DC had in those days a slightly more marked presence in other media than Marvel, a situation which is arguably reversed today! 

My favourite artists and writers are all about my most intense phases as a fan. Curt Swan, Cary Bates, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams. The classics. During the eighties I liked John Byrne, Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway – essentially the post Crisis Superman team you might say.

I do occasionally chat to other comic fans using Facebook but that is about the limit of my engaged with other fans.  As a fan film maker, I have previously planned a Doctor Who fan film in which the Doctor lands on a world similar in some respects to the world of George Orwell’s “1984” but instead of Big Brother, the world is ruled by Overman, an authoritarian version of Superman. Could be fun!

I'm now getting stuck into the reading list and as part of it I've decided I really need to read more Marvel as so much of my previous reading has been DC Comics. So, I popped into Room 237 in Southsea, Portsmouth today and with their help purchased a copy of the classic X-Men Days of Future Past. Looking forward to more superhero studies soon!




Sunday, 4 January 2015

Champion of Saturn - full length release!

At long last a full length edition of our science fiction mockumentary,Champion of Saturn is available for viewing!

It is the futuristic year 1950 A.D. Earth is under threat from the evil Emperor Zang, ruler of Saturn. Only Henry V, King of Earth, and his brave band of rocketship pilots can save Earth from devastation by atomic cannon attack!



Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Gallifrey Stands podcast - A very Gallifreyan Christmas!

Hello there and season's greetings. The latest edition of the Gallifrey Stands podcast includes a discussion of The Next Doctor and A Christmas Carol, two of the best Christmas specials. Please do have a listen!


Friday, 21 November 2014

Support our wonderful director in his Movember challenge!

Our fab director, Matthew McWilliams, is doing his bit for charity by taking part in the Movember challenge.. a challenge that is to grow a mustache in a month!

Its a great cause, raising money to help fight prostate and testicular cancer. So please drop by his Mo page and show your support!

To go to his page use this link: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/10292817