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Diana Takes on the Post-Apocalypse in Our Exclusive First Look at Wonder Woman: Dead Earth

A tired Diana awakens to a changed world in Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.
Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)

Wonder Woman has faced many trials and tribulations in her quest to save the world of man from itself. But what happens when Diana wakes from slumber to find man’s world already lost? Welcome to DC Comics’ new take on the Princess of the Amazons, Dead Earth.

io9 can exclusively reveal the first details on Black Label’s latest take on a DC icon in Wonder Woman: Dead Earth. Written and drawn by Daniel Warren Johnson, with colors from Mike Spicer, Dead Earth will be a four-issue, prestige format miniseries as part of the publisher’s Black Label line, aimed at older audiences as part of DC’s recent reshuffling of its imprints and age groupings.


Set in a world where Diana has been sleeping for centuries, the Princess of the Amazons wakes to find the world of man ravaged by nuclear war, rendered a barren wasteland. With her fellow heroes gone and the last remnants of humanity struggling to survive, Wonder Woman has to face this dead earth alone—protecting the last standing city of humankind from gigantic monsters while also uncovering the real mystery behind what caused the apocalypse in the first place. Check out the full cover to the first issue below, by Warren Johnson and Spicer, making its debut here on io9!

Watch out behind you, Diana!
Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)


“I like the audacity of an immortal hero saying to a human, ‘I do this because I love you,’” Warren Johnson said in a statement provided to io9. “That line is in the first issue, actually. I was thinking, what better way to explore how much a character loves a maybe undeserving humanity than to really test the limits of where that love goes, when confronted with the harsh reality of what humanity is capable of? Within this world, humans are doing their best to survive, and when humans are trying to survive, a lot of times the worst parts of ourselves come out. So that’s on full display here in Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.”


It’s not just humanity that’s gone through some major changes in her absence: Diana has as well, her powers altered by her time sleeping, leading to her taking a more…rough and tumble approach befitting a post-apocalyptic earth. “Because her changed powers are limiting her ability, it allows for more of a down and dirty feel,” Warren Johnson continued. “In the first issue, she has a bar fight—she kicks a table into a bunch of warlords. I’m really excited about that concept of this very elegant figure getting down in the dirt. Getting to draw that is really fun, and it’s a way to reexamine the character.”

As well as the gallery of Warren Johnson’s work-in-progress pencils for Dead Earth above, you can check out some final textless pages from Dead Earth’s first issue below, colored by Spicer.


Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)

Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)


Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)

Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)


Image: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer (DC Comics)

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth #1 hits shelves in December.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.


Source: Kotaku.com

Astral Chain: The Kotaku Review

“Action game.” That’s what Astral Chain’s publisher Nintendo calls it. That’s what its developer Platinum Games calls it. That’s what we called it when we first reported on its existence. But Astral Chain is so much more than just an action game. I’d go as far as saying that “action game” is the least of what Astral Chain is.

Stylish action is what we’ve come to expect from Platinum Games. It’s the Osaka-based studio’s bread and butter. Whether it’s highly stylized original work like Bayonetta, Nier: Automata, and Vanquish or licensed games like The Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation, much of Platinum’s work is built on a strong foundation of action combat. The style is fast and flashy, with gorgeous animation and special effects, while still being technical and deep, with timed dodges and parries and counters.

I anticipated such combat in Astral Chain, and I was not disappointed. I was, however, surprised to discover that while fighting is the foundation of Astral Chain, Platinum has built such a rich and storied world upon that foundation that the battles often take a back seat to the non-ass-kicking portions of the game.

There is no dearth of ass to be kicked in the apocalyptic world of 2078. On the brink of extinction, the last remnants of humanity have retreated to the Ark, a fortified megacity built atop a man-made island. But humanity can’t catch a break, and finds itself set upon by Chimera, creatures from the astral plane who kidnap citizens and spread crimson corruption. The world’s last hope is a special police force known as Neuron. Neuron has figured out how to capture and harness the power of the Chimera, transforming them into Legions, living weapons bound to human operators through chains of an astral variety.

The twins. One is the player. The other a narrative device.

 The game opens with a set of twin orphans, brother and sister, recruited into the Neuron ranks. Depending one which of the pair the player selects, one will be the main character with a name of the player’s choosing, and the other will be a non-playable character called Akira. When disaster strikes and the majority of Neuron loses the ability to control Legions, this twosome becomes the last hope of the last hope, running point on missions to investigate Chimera activity, rescue citizens captured by enemy forces, and investigate threats both alien and human. Being on the brink of extinction does strange things to people.

Character customization let me make the same character I play in every anime-style game!

From that basic premise, Astral Chain’s narrative slowly unfolds over the course of 11 chapters, here called “files.” A powerful villain emerges, threatening to undo all the good work Neuron has done. Exactly how “good” said work is eventually comes into question. The mystery of the Chimera creatures plaguing humanity is explored. There are a couple of surprises in the game’s story, twists that caught me off-guard, but nothing too convoluted. It’s an anime-style game with an anime premise and anime-quality writing.

Not all of manga artist Masakazu Katsura’s character designs are sexy. But Kyle here? Super sexy.

Satisfying combat and a well-crafted story are all a basic action game needs. Throw in gorgeous characters designed by manga artist Masakazu Katsura and a slapping soundtrack and you’re done. But again, Astral Chain is more than a basic action game. The fighting and fiction are Astral Chain’s skeleton, functional yet bony and pokey. Platinum Games has layered that sturdy frame with oodles of soft and squishy world-building, adventure-style investigative gameplay, and all sorts of optional mechanics allowing players to fiddle with fashion, take photos, or get to know their non-player allies better. It’s a plush layer of padding that turns a serviceable action game into a fully-fleshed out action-adventure.

Here’s how the average file in Astral Chain plays out. Players start off in Neuron Headquarters, a four-story fortress outfitted with a helipad, motorpool, research and development lab, medical office, training simulator, restrooms, and more. It also houses the main operations room, from which Neuron officers are deployed on life-and-death missions, but that’s for later.

I like to kick things off by talking to every non-player character in the office. Some of them will chit-chat. Others will have optional missions, like delivering an item to another character or carrying a teetering stack of supplies to their destination. As I talk to everyone I make sure to take photos of them all with the in-game camera, because taking pictures unlocks character bios, giving me important details and backstory.

Do you like stylish menus? Astral Chain rewards players with the ability to change menu color and opacity. Yes, I said rewards. Happy birthday, have some awesome utility.

Then I check the Orders menu. Orders are tasks players can perform that reward them with upgrade or cosmetic items. Completing game files, putting points into the talent trees of my collection of Legion weapons, performing side quests—all of these actions unlock rewards. There’s even a set of Orders that ask me to take pictures of certain characters and places using the aforementioned in-game camera.

Speaking of upgrades, I then head down to R&D to use material rewarded or gathered while out in the field to upgrade my baton and my Legatus, the device used to control Legions. The baton is a weapon that can transform between a quick staff, a slow and powerful blade, or a ranged pistol. It’s very handy. I generally pop into the Legion upgrade menu while in R&D as well, unlocking and assigning skills for my captured creatures. While the player starts with just one Legion, eventually they gain access to five, each with their own unique abilities and fighting styles, so it pays to stay on top of upgrades.

Here we are on the astral plane, riding our pupper like a horse. Platinum could have stopped here and the game would have been fine.

I stop by the locker room to change clothes, one of my favorite things to do in a video game. Astral Chain features a nice selection of clothing items and color schemes to customize the player character. There are hats, glasses, masks, and more. I can change my character’s hair style and color as I please. I spend a lot of time in the locker room.

Eventually, I head to the roof or the garage to deploy on whatever urgent mission I was briefed on when the file began. It’s just that there are so many other activities to participate in, and I don’t want to miss anything.

Make sure you have plenty of room on your memory card before playing. I took hundreds of screenshots.

The distractions from battle continue once deployed to the sprawling streets, sewers, and slums that make up the Ark. The last bastion of humanity is colorful and teeming with life. People walk the streets bathed in the glow from neon signs, because we’ll stop buying shit when we’re extinct, dammit.

The citizens of the Ark are witnesses who help Neuron with investigations, providing important keywords and phrases for our police cluebooks. Many of the game’s files involve an element of detective work, tracking down enemies or rifts to the astral plane before getting around to the fighting. Citizens are also a source of side missions, further distracting players from the combat that many assumed the game was all about.

Even when deep inside the astral plane, the home realm of the bizarre creatures seemingly hell-bent on our destruction, there’s more to do than just fighting. The crimson-colored astral plane is a convoluted space, filled with secrets to discover and obstacles to be overcome by clever use of each Legion’s special abilities. The Arrow Legion can activate switches from afar. My very special pupper, the doglike Beast Legion, can track scents, dig up buried objects, and act as a mount when the player needs to go fast. The Arm Legion, named for its massive appendages, can open heavy doors, slide blocks, and maneuver platforms. Expeditions into the astral plane are as much about puzzle-solving as they are fighting Chimera.

I guess we should talk about this action game’s action. It’s quite nice. As the player character I swap between my baton’s basic, heavy sword, and gun modes, dealing damage near and far, fast and slow as I see fit. I dodge enemies’ attacks. I counterattack. By myself, battles are a bit basic. But I am hardly ever alone in Astral Chain.

There is no better overview of the action in Astral Chain than Nintendo’s own action trailer.

While I battle, my chosen Legion battles as well, attacking with sword slashes, claws, arrows, punches, and mighty axe swings, as applicable. With the press of a button I can send them charging at a specific enemy. With another press I can follow them, doing damage to all enemies in my path. I can hold down the left trigger on the Joy-Con and directly control my Legion, wrapping them around enemies so the chain connecting us binds them in place. If my Legion and I are placed correctly we can lariat certain charging enemies with the chain, sending them flying as if launched by a slingshot. It’s fast and frantic and highly enjoyable. Not so enjoyable that I miss it when battles end and I’m back to exploring and investigating, but enough that I’m never frustrated when enemies appear.

Looking back now that I’ve finished the game, there’s not really all that much fighting in Astral Chain. There are plenty of small, short battles and quite a few fights against massive, creepy-looking bosses monsters. I’m not saying that fans of Platinum Games’ signature action will be disappointed. I’m just saying that more than half of the 18 hours I spent completing the game was spent exploring, solving puzzles, taking screenshots, collecting cats, and occasionally dressing up as a Neuron’s quirky dog mascot.

Welcome to the bathroom.

I came into Astral Chain expecting a nice action game with a pleasant anime aesthetic, a a scoop of ice cream with a cherry on top. Platinum Games gave me a giant sundae piled high with whipped cream and sliced fruit and chocolate sauce. And nuts. Pecans. Love those pecans. What I wanted is there, and it’s good. There’s just so much more, and I love it all.

Source: Kotaku.com

Watch the Birth of Galaxies in an Exclusive Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 VFX Reel

Season two of Star Trek: Discovery embraced the more fun side of the franchise, but still kept things action-packed and intense. That means a lot of cool explosions, larger-than-life galaxies, and scores of flying ships. This exclusive behind-the-scenes video shows how VFX studio Pixomondo created some of the biggest moments from the sophomore season of Discovery.

As you can see in the video above, the VFX breakdown shows how the studio brought those intergalactic moments to life, whether it’s Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) flying through space on a small pod vessel or showing hundreds of asteroids floating around the galaxy in a beautiful but chaotic dance.

As we get ready for season three of Discovery, as well as new shows Star Trek: Picard and Lower Decks, it’s great to take a moment to appreciate how far special effects have come since the initial voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Of course, what brings viewers back isn’t the digital effects, but the love of Star Trek and everything it represents.

Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is currently filming and hasn’t announced a premiere date yet. Picard’s solo debut comes out on CBS All Access in early 2020.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

Hasbro’s New Overwatch Figure Shows Off Reinhardt’s Pretty Face

Out of all the characters recreated in plastic for Hasbro’s first wave of Overwatch action figures, the hands-down, hammers-up best is the super-sized Reinhardt with his gorgeous mech suit and dinner plate-sized shield. The only way it could be better would be if we could see the old man’s pretty face. Oh hi there, San Diego Comic-Con Reinhardt Bundswehr version.

Hasbro hit the jackpot when they secured the license for Overwatch action figures. Not only does the toymaker have the rights to make figures based on the entire roster of Blizzard’s hero shooter, they also have a well of variant figures based on the game’s bountiful array of cosmetic skins. That means masked Anna and unmasked Reaper from the first wave, which I reviewed earlier this year, aren’t the end-all, be-all. This new version of Reinhardt is posing plastic proof.

Available exclusively at the Hasbro booth during San Diego Comic-Con, the Bundswehr version of Reinhardt strips the mask off of Overwatch’s best tank, letting the poor old man breathe easy for a bit. The eight-inch tall figure comes packaged in a large box, frozen against a cardboard backdrop of combat chaos.Reinhardt’s hammer, which is gold instead of the silver and gray of the original figure, sports a translucent yellow impact effect. It’s a lovely box, the sort that collectors might want to keep sealed for shelf display.

For me, however, a toy is not a toy until I’ve played with it, so I tore open the packaging and grabbed some glamor shots of Herr Wilhelm. Old and scarred with a neatly-trimmed beard and slicked-back hair, the unmasked version of Reinhardt is who I aspire to be when I am slightly older. Just gotta figure out the whole hair thing.

And yes, the package also includes my favorite toy accessory of the year, the microwave-safe platter shield, complete with painted wolf emblem.

This German military service version of Reinhardt is available at Hasbro’s booth at SDCC for $60. I imagine it’s also on eBay, selling for around *checks price* $100. More importantly, he’s a harbinger of things to come in Hasbro’s Overwatch Ultimates figure line. We’re going to be up to our pauldrons in variants, you guys.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Familiar Star Wars Face Returns in This Exclusive Thrawn: Treason Excerpt

Thrawn finds himself torn between loyalties.
Image: Two Dots (Del Rey/Lucasfilm)

Timothy Zahn’s return to his most famous creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has been one of the consistent highlights of the new canon of Star Wars under Disney. So far we’ve got to see Thrawn’s early days in the Empire and a fateful encounter between him and Anakin Skywalker, and io9 can now give you an exclusive look inside the third entry in this new Thrawn series.

Set before the climactic events over Lothal in the finale of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, the third entry in Zahn and Del Rey’s Thrawn saga, Thrawn: Treason, hits shelves this month. The book finds the Grand Admiral at odds—not just with fellow Imperials, as he finds his TIE Defender project stalled in favor of a certain battlestation project courtesy of Rogue One’s Director Krennic, but his loyalty to both the Empire and his own people, the Chiss, when a dire threat to his homeworld brings Thrawn crashing back into an encounter with the Chiss Ascendancy.

That dire threat is brought to Thrawn’s attention by the return of a familiar face, as you’ll see: Thrawn’s former protege, Commander Eli Vanto, returning for the first time since the original book in the series, Thrawn, released in 2017! Back at the end of that book, Eli had found himself on a mission on Thrawn’s behalf, sent into the Unknown Regions to serve as an Imperial attache to the mysterious Chiss Ascendancy itself.

Ahead of Thrawn: Treason’s early release at San Diego Comic-Con this week, check out our exclusive excerpt below—in both text and in Marc Thompson’s narration from the Thrawn: Treason audiobook—to see what Eli’s been up to in his time among the Chiss, including rubbing shoulders with another face fans of Zahn’s Star Wars expanded universe material will remember…

It had all started out well enough, Lieutenant Eli Vanto thought as he paged through yet another data listing filled with delicate Chiss script. Thrawn had told him that the Chiss Ascendancy had vital need of his talents and abilities, and that he’d arranged for Eli to be quietly released from his current duty aboard the Chimaera. Eli had accepted the new assignment and left Imperial space, arriving at the rendezvous point Thrawn had sent him to full of hope and expectation, with the excitement of the unknown tingling through him.

I am Admiral Ar’alani of the Chiss Defense Fleet, the blue-skinned woman had greeted him from the bridge of her ship. Are you he?

I am he, Eli had confirmed, making sure to fill his voice with the mix of confidence and respect that had served him well during his years in the Imperial fleet. I am Eli Vanto. I bring greetings to you from Mitth’raw’nuruodo. He believes I can be of some use to the Chiss Ascendancy.

Welcome, Eli Vanto, she’d replied. Let us learn together if he was correct.

That had been over a year ago. In retrospect, Eli thought a little sourly, he should have realized from Ar’alani’s neutral words and tone that she wasn’t impressed.

His first act aboard the Steadfast was to receive demotion from Imperial commander to Chiss Defense Fleet lieutenant. No real surprise there—different militaries would hardly have equivalent rank systems. His second act was to be dropped into an intensive course in Cheunh, the main Chiss language. Again, no surprise—though many aboard spoke the Sy Bisti trade language Eli was fluent in, it was certainly unreasonable to expect everyone to bend to the needs of a single crew member. Especially a newcomer and an alien.

But in and through all of that, Eli had expected to be put onto some kind of leadership or command track. Instead, he’d been dumped down here in the analysis department, sifting data, looking for patterns, and making predictions.

It was something he was very good at. Even Thrawn, with all his tactical and strategic genius, had recognized Eli’s superiority at such things, and had utilized his skills to their fullest. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that surprising that he’d passed that information on to Ar’alani.

The problem was that as far as Eli could tell, none of the data he’d been tasked to analyze meant anything at all.

They weren’t listings of ship movements or cargo or smuggling manifests. They weren’t groups of personnel, or alien troops, or alien operations. They weren’t even anything internal to the Steadfast, patterns of power usage or data flow or something else designed to spot flaws in ship’s functions or to predict imminent system failures.

To be honest, the whole thing felt like busywork. Eli had always hated busywork.

Still, Ar’alani struck him as a subtle sort of person. Maybe this was a test of his patience, or his willingness to enthusiastically obey even orders that seemed to make no sense. He’d certainly gone through a lot of such scenarios with Thrawn.

And really, it wasn’t like the tour had been all routine. There’d been a seriously nasty skirmish with the Grysks and some of their allies near the Imperial edge of the Unknown Regions, which had made for a very interesting couple of days. After the excitement subsided, he’d hoped things might pick up a little.

To his disappointment, they hadn’t. In fact, in many ways they’d actually slowed down.

Which wasn’t to say the Steadfast wasn’t in danger. On the contrary, it was in about as much danger right now as it had ever been.

The intercom at his station gave a little three-tone warble. “Lieutenant Ivant, report to the bridge immediately,” First Officer Khresh’s voice came over the speaker.

“Acknowledged,” Eli called back, mentally rolling his eyes. The vast majority of Chiss names were composed of multiple syllables in three distinct parts, the first of which identified the person’s family, the second of which was the given name, and the third of which reflected some social factor Eli hadn’t yet figured out. Since using multisyllable titles all the time could seriously bog down conversations—and worse, timely military orders—the normal convention was to use core names for everything except in the most formal situations.

But there were a few exceptions to the norm. Admiral Ar’alani herself, for one, apparently had only a two-part name and no core name at all. The ship’s navigators, the young Chiss girls gifted with Third Sight who used their ability to guide the Steadfast through hyperspace, also followed that pattern. Eli also hadn’t figured out why they got the same naming convention as senior flag officers.

Early on, Ar’alani had explained to her officers and crew that Eli was another such exception, and that he should be addressed as Lieutenant Vanto or Lieutenant Eli’van’to. But for most of them the explanation didn’t seem to have taken. Someone had taken Ar’alani’s conversion of Eli Vanto into a standard three-part Chiss name, then created a core name out of the middle of it, and the name had stuck.

At first, Eli had wondered if it was a subtle insult, either to him or to the admiral who’d brought this alien into their midst. But Ar’alani hadn’t taken offense at the flouting of her order, at least not in public, and eventually Eli decided to treat it as their way of accepting him as one of their own.

And it could have been worse. If he’d been unwise enough to tell them his middle initial—N—the name might have become Invant, which was way too close to Infant for comfort.

He was halfway to the bridge, passing the standard green- and blue-rimmed compartment doors, when the double-red-rimmed door to the navigation ready room a dozen meters in front of him slid open. One of the navigators stepped out into the corridor and turned toward the bridge.

Normally, seeing the back of a navigator’s head wouldn’t have given Eli a clue as to who she was. All of the Steadfast’s navigators were girls, nearly all of them between the ages of seven and fourteen, when Third Sight was at its strongest. On top of that, they tended to keep to themselves, and in all his time aboard he’d only met three of the five.

Vah’nya was the exception to all the rules. She was twenty-two years old, and unlike the children who shared her job she felt perfectly comfortable mixing with the rest of the adults aboard. Eli had seen and talked with her on a number of occasions, and had found her congenial company.

“Navigator Vah’nya,” he called.

She turned to face him, a small smile touching her lips as she saw who it was. “Hello, Lieutenant Eli,” she said. “What brings you to this part of the ship?”

“I’ve been ordered to the bridge,” he said, eyeing her closely. Not just good company, but also highly intriguing. Though her Third Sight was slowly fading, as it did with all navigators, even at twenty-two she still had greater skill than all but one or two of the younger girls.

He’d looked into it a bit, and as far as he could tell no one knew why her ability had lasted this long. But then, with the whole Chiss navigation system a deep, black secret, it wasn’t surprising that it hadn’t been very well studied.

On top of all of Vah’nya’s other interesting qualities, she was the only person aboard he’d been able to persuade to call him by his real name. That alone would have earned her high marks in his book.

“Ah,” she said. “So you were not merely coming to see me?”

“No, not at all,” Eli said, feeling his face warming. He wasn’t entirely sure of the protocol regarding fraternization among the officers and crew, and he had no intention of learning about it the hard way.

“Too sad,” Vah’nya said, in a tone that could have been mild sarcasm or complete sincerity. “Did Junior Commander Velbb say what it was about?” she added as the two of them continued forward.

“Actually, it wasn’t Commander Velbb,” Eli told her. “The order came from Senior Captain Khresh.”

“Really?” she said, frowning. “That is unusual.”

“I know.” Eli gestured to her. “What about you? Are you coming on watch?”

“Yes,” she said. “Though I feel I’m unlikely to be needed.”

Eli wrinkled his nose. She had that right. Barely three hours after the Steadfast arrived in this system, Ar’alani had ordered a hard shutdown of the entire ship, a stage below even dark stealth mode, cutting unnecessary power use and all emissions, including active sensors. She’d given the ship one final burst from the drive, and from that moment on they’d been drifting, dark and silent, through the loose asteroid belt three hundred million kilometers from the system’s sun.

That had been nearly a week ago. Eli had checked the ship’s position, and studied the passive sensor reports, and he still had no idea what they were doing here. His best guess was that they were still following the ship they’d been tracking ever since leaving the Unknown Regions and that Ar’alani was afraid of spooking it.

As well she might. They were a long way from Chiss space and the various vague threats arrayed against them. This was a system deep within the Galactic Empire.

And the threats here were anything but vague.

Thrawn: Treason is out later this month, with fans attending SDCC getting the chance to pick up an exclusive early edition featuring new cover art from Two Dots, starting from Wednesday, July 17. But that’s not all—io9 is excited to reveal a look at the brand new poster by Darren Tan, for fans who pick up a copy of the Barnes & Noble edition of the book when it releases soon, featuring not just Eli, but Chiss Admiral Ar’alani!

Eli and Ar’alani make quite the team.
Image: Darren Tan (Del Rey/Lucasfilm)

Thrawn: Treason hits shelves on July 23.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Look Inside a Heroic New Collection of Magic: The Gathering Art

Chandra brings the heat, because that’s what Chandra does.
Image: Lius Lasahido (Wizards of the Coast/Abrams ComicArts)
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.  

Magic: The Gathering might be about flinging spells and summoning creatures to also fling at your opponent—well, doing that through the medium of more delicately putting cards down on a table—but its the spell-flingers themselves, the Planeswalkers, that are the stars of this gorgeous new art book.

Magic: The Gathering—Rise of the Gatewatch, set to release in a few weeks from Abrams ComicArt, tells the story of eight founding Planeswalker members of the Gatewatch, and some of the most famous mages in Magic’s pantheon of characters: Jace Beleren, Kaya, Chandra Nalaar, Nissa Revane, Ajani Goldmane, Liliana Vess, Teferi, and Gideon Jura. In Magic’s story, the Gatewatch was formed as an alliance between some of the most powerful casters in existence to essentially be a multidimensional version of the Avengers, fighting the threats to every elemental Plane no other heroes ever could.

The cover art for Rise of the Gatewatch.
Image: Wizards of the Coast, foreword by Jenna Helland (© Abrams ComicArts, 2019)

Rise of the Gatewatch will provide a visual history of each Gatewatch member, from their early days to the recent, climactic events of the War of the Spark expansion in the card game, all through lush and evocative art from across Magic’s history, including the cards themselves, packaging details, and even banner art made for conventions.

In some cases, it’ll be the first time ever fans have gotten to see some of these visuals printed outside of their original format. To celebrate its impending release, you can check out a sample of just some of the art included below, making its debut here on io9.

Rise of the Gatewatch hits store shelves July 23rd.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

Mattel’s Comic-Con Batman Exclusives Include Some Very Colorful Action Figures

Lookin’ fab, Bruce
Image: Mattel
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.  

Oh sure, there are other parts of Mattel’s Dark Knight-themed exclusives for San Diego Comic-Con. But do you really need convincing beyond the return of the Technicolor dreamboat that is Rainbow Batman?

io9 can exclusively reveal two of Mattel’s exclusive bits of DC merchandise for the rapidly incoming San Diego Comic-Con, which will be tempting our wallets with all kinds of shiny new goodies in just over a month’s time. As 2019 is also the year of two special anniversaries for Batman, the two DC offerings this year are naturally all about Gotham’s favorite crime-fighting son.

First up is Hot Wheels’ diecast car of the Armored Batmobile from the Tim Burton Batman movie, which turns 30 this year. As well as a fully detailed replica of the ‘89 Batmobile itself, the special set also comes with a small diecast figure of Michael Keaton’s Batman, but also a special protective shell replicating the film’s armored upgrade for the vehicle. Simply pop it over the Batmobile and your Hot Wheels car is protected from the deadliest threats a small toy car could ever face! So like, falling off a shelf, probably, if you take it out of the fancy Batman ‘89-themed packaging. If you’re at the con, this set will cost you $25.

If you’re a fan of Mattel’s DC action figures, though, the other offering might be more tempting. A celebration of Batman’s Silver Age roots in the comics, the four-figure set gives you four remarkably silly renditions of Bruce Wayne’s early comic book adventures. Clad in a special, old-school comic art themed box—80-page Giant Batman is a great little throwback joke!—the four figures feature 23 points of articulation, and each one is clad in a colour scheme representing a specific story from the Silver Age of Comics.

The first is a classic Batman representing the Dark Knight’s iconic blue and grey costume for many of his Silver Age adventures, while the other three are more one-off specifics. There’s Negative Suit Batman from Detective Comics #284, in which a blast from an experimental ray rendered Batman averse to light itself. There’s Zebra Batman from Detective Comics #275, in which an encounter with magnet-powered supervillain Zebra-Man left Batman’s suit scrambled into Zebra-esque crazy black-and-white waves.

Those are both pretty colorless schemes, so the set gets a blast of candy-coated crayon in the form of the iconic Rainbow Batman, from Detective Comics #241, which included a storyline where Bruce attempted to protect and injured Dick Grayson from harm by wearing a series of garishly colored Batman outfits while they were out on patrol, distracting thieves away from the Boy Wonder’s compromised state. It’s ridiculous, and I love it, and I will purchase any and all versions of this suit wherever possible. Like right here, where the pricey set will set you back $80.

There’s good news if you’re going to San Diego next month—starting June 17, Mattel will put up a limited collection of both of these exclusives online for prepurchase at its Mattel Store, so fans can get their sets guaranteed to claim at Comic-Con itself from July 17. Pre-purchased sets will begin shipping after the convention comes to a close.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated pre-orders for both of these items would be available for fans not attending San Diego Comic-Con. Pre-orders are actually only SDCC attendees to pre-claim their sets, and not available for those not attending. It has been updated to reflect that, and io9 regrets the error. 

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Source: Kotaku.com

How the Team Behind Detective Pikachu Answered the Existential Questions Around the Movie’s Strangest Pokémon

A lot of work went into making these two look the least nightmarish they could.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Pokémon come in all shapes and sizes. Some are cute little sheep, some are giant bugs. Some are gods. Some are ghosts. Some are…your keys? They can get weird. Weird enough that one of the VFX teams behind the movie found themselves asking questions they thought they’d never have to ask themselves.

Outside of a few notable additions, Detective Pikachu mostly sticks to the first generation of Pokémon—the 151 creatures that made up the roster you could catch in the original games in the series, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Although Pokémon have gotten even stranger in the years since those games (there’s now over eight hundred of them), that didn’t mean that FX studio MPC avoided contending with some very important, really bizarre stars in Detective Pikachu—namely Mr. Mime and Mewtwo.

Tim and Mr. Mime engage in some stagecraft.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

“Mr. Mime was one where, when we were designing him, it was a bit ambiguous in terms of, ‘What is Mr. Mime?’ And what material do we think he’s surfaced in, anatomically? What is he? And so, when we were developing him, a lot of our initial biases were ‘Well, he’s the Pokémon who’s humanoid with cartoony proportions…’,” VFX supervisor Pete Dionne told io9. “But then as we were developing him, it became clear about two steps into it that it was going to turn into the creepiest, most kind of odd-looking human/Pokémon hybrid. We landed in Uncanny Valley. So, we kind of changed gears on that one and tried to figure out, instead of—where we looked for all the other characters, to nature, to try and bring realism to the characters—that was one character where we did the complete opposite.”

While most of the animalistic Pokémon in Detective Pikachu took inspiration from real-world creatures, Mr. Mime had to take inspiration from real-world materials in order to avoid becoming a total nightmare.

“Our biggest design challenge with Mr. Mime is, ‘How do we not make him look human?’ And how do we make him look real without looking humanoid?’ So, that’s where we had a little bit of fun with it,” Dionne explained. “His shoulders, for example, big red balls—so, what’s the realest big red balls you can think of? We sourced those rubber kickballs that we’re all familiar with, and the texture on top of those. And the same things for his blue horns and white torso, he’s squishing around, and there’s no getting around these proportions, so we embraced it and treat them as foam, but like, a Nerf football you leave outside for the winter and all the paint crackles up on it.”

A particular challenge with Mr. Mime was his third texture: his skin. Actual skin was out of the question for the team, according to Dionne. “In his face, we tried to make it as unfleshy as possible,” Dionne said of the unspeakable horror that is Mr. Mime flesh. “When we were doing special effects make-up and trying to do prosthetic effects [with the Pokémon], instead of flesh it looked like silicone or latex—so we said, ‘Let’s embrace that, don’t try to cover it up. Just make him a thick wad of silicone and latex and all this’ in the scanning, shading, and the light interplay. [He] was one character that answered some questions we didn’t realize existed.”

Mewtwo strikes back!
GIF: Warner Bros./Legendary

Another ended up being the film’s quasi-antagonist, the legendary psychic Pokémon Mewtwo. “Mewtwo was tricky,” Dionne continued, “mostly because of the narrative requirements of the film. We needed to see him and read him as this intimidating villain. And any time we tried to build him up in the spirit of the original anime, where he’s very juvenile, he just didn’t have that kind of menacing presence that we required for portions of the film. But at the same time, whenever we started adding more recognizable musculature to him, or more aging and wrinkling—more maturity—to him, it just really quickly stopped looking like Mewtwo.”

Striking a balance between Mewtwo’s smooth youthfulness in its anime and game design took Dionne and the team to some strange places. “What we ended up doing was finding the right compromise on his overall form of still trying to be muscular, but also a juvenile bodybuilder,” Dionne explained. “So instead of a 30-year-old, a really ripped 14-year-old. That body—how do we translate that into Mewtwo?”

For the actual texture of Mewtwo’s body however, the animal kingdom provided better comparison than humans did. “We started looking at hairless kittens, where they have that very thin, almost translucent flesh that still has lots of wrinkling and clumping on it, but it’s just supple and soft and youthful,” Dionne told us. “As we were detailing and sourcing Mewtwo, we had a lot of development in terms of trying to do the juvenile version of the references we were looking for.”

While getting over the hurdles of trying to make the unreal real, MPC ended up overdesigning the roster of Pokémon it had for Detective Pikachu, in case the Pokémon Company rejected some of their designs. “We kind of overbuilt a lot of these, and we ended up with around 60 Pokémon in the film,” Dionne revealed. “We certainly designed more to account for [situations where] if there’s Pokémon we can’t find common ground, from a design point of view—where we can’t bring into the real world and still maintain the kind of core design principles of that specific character—that we could just kind of cut bait and move onto the next one. There were Pokémon left on the chopping block.”

Alakazam’s official artwork in the Pokémon games.
Image: Ken Sugimori (The Pokémon Company)

One poor Pokémon in particular that got left behind? The Psychic Pokémon Alakazam—and it’s for a reason almost as creepy to contemplate as either human Mr. Mime or ripped teenage Mewtwo. “The one thing we just couldn’t get past on that one was he has his—he’s wearing his traditional gi or, whatever his outfit is called,” Dionne said. “And the Pokémon Company interpreted that as not being cloth, but his skin. There was no way we could get around that one.”

Some things are perhaps better left unseen.

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Source: Kotaku.com

One of Detective Pikachu’s Grossest Moments Is Even Weirder Than You Thought

Open wide, lil’ buddy.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

Detective Pikachu’s trailers were full of wonderfully cute (and occasionally freaky) Pokémon—but one of the biggest reactions came with the debut of Lickitung. Or rather, Licktung’s ginormous, gross tongue as it slathers Tim Goodman’s face with saliva. It turns out there’s actually a much creepier factoid behind that moment than Pokédrool.

We recently had the chance to speak to Pete Dionne, a VFX Supervisor at MPC who worked on bringing the Pokémon of Detective Pikachu to life. Naturally, we’re inquisitively-minded folks, so we asked the obvious: What does a Lickitung tongue actually feel like?

Turns out, the answer is babies.

“It feels like a baby’s tongue,” Dionne revealed. “Ultimately, what we ended up using was a giant, scaled-up baby’s tongue, with the same very soft, but slightly coarse texture, with the slightest level of moisture. And trust me when I say a lot of discussion went into that.”

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) with Pikachu.
Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

The Pokémon Company—the de facto arbiter of all things Pokémon, from games, to anime, to manga, and yes, even Detective Pikachu in its collaboration with Warner Bros. and Legendary—disapproved of the film’s lone Lickitung scene initially. Mainly due to the significant quantity of drool the licking Pokémon leaves on Tim Goodman’s face, a lighthearted moment in a grim trip for the young man as he ventures into Ryme City after receiving the news of his father’s apparent passing.

“At the core of all the Pokemon design, one thing that the Pokémon Company—who played a very active part in developing these with us—one thing that they were uncompromising on was ‘all Pokemon, no matter what the circumstances, need to remain adorable.’ That’s kind of a core, fundamental principle,” Dionne said of MPC’s relationship with the minds behind Pokémon. “So that introduced a lot of really tricky problems across many characters in the film when we tried to translate them into real life, or tried to service them when putting them in scenarios where they maybe can’t be completely adorable—or maybe we can’t dimensionalize certain aspects in a way anyone would find adorable. They were uncompromising, and we would do iteration after iteration until we found a compromise.”

According to Dionne, it was the saliva was decidedly uncute to the Pokémon Company, so they had to tweak Lickitung’s moment in the spotlight to get it just right. “The first proposal was that [Lickitung] wouldn’t even have any saliva. Saliva is too gross,” Dionne continued. “It would just be a completely dry, soft silicone tongue, which, you know, wasn’t going to work for the whole gag.”

The baby aspect of the creature’s tongue? Fine! “So there was endless amounts of finding, ‘In nature, what is the cutest version of a tongue?’ and then finding reams of reference for that,” Dionne said. “That was kind of our design process, across the board.”

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Source: Kotaku.com

How Detective Pikachu Built Its Adorable Star

For visual effects house MPC, Pikachu stood as the ultimate thesis for its approach to designing the world of Pokémon for Detective Pikachu. io9 recently spoke to MPC VFX Supervisor Pete Dionne about his work on Detective Pikachu, and the particular challenges behind bringing the most vital Pokémon to life.

Detective Pikachu’s adorably weird approach to the world of Pokémon was a risky gamble—but it would’ve fallen apart if its titular hero didn’t work. For MPC, that meant one of the biggest tasks of the whole movie was making one of the most iconic characters of all time come to life in a whole new way.

“Being the most recognizable and iconic Pokémon, and character designs, in the last few decades, he was probably the most difficult character [to get right] from the point of, ‘How much do we bend his design before he no longer looks like Pikachu?’,” Dionne told us. “Other characters, there’s a little more leeway poking through than with Pikachu—the slightest deviation from the original TV design and he stopped looking like Pikachu. Knowing that we’re throwing fur on him and putting Ryan Reynolds’ snarky personality in him, how were we going to find the balance?”

MPC started with a mandate it never wavered from while breaking down Pikachu’s design. “It became really clear that we needed to embrace every single aspect of that design, the original 2D design, as possible,” Dionne revealed. “So, as we were designing him, we started with just the silhouette of Pikachu, and fundamentally, we chose no matter what we come up with, we’re not going to change the silhouette. From the very beginning of our process, building him out, we were always comparing him against that original design.”

Once MPC established that Pikachu’s silhouette couldn’t change, Dionne and his team turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration from the ground up—right down to his musculature and bones.

“We did research into animal anatomy—I think it was a bushbaby, or a lemur. We took their skeletal system and stuck it into the body of Pikachu and started changing proportions. Along with the muscle system inside, as well,” Dionne said of the early process. “We just started looking at all these different animals. “What kind of animal could exist within this [silhouette]?” Like, physically, within this form. And then we came up with something we were happy with, like, ‘This could exist, this could make it through the night in the real world as an animal.’”

Once Pikachu had a body that made sense in the world of Detective Pikachu, the team faced another tough question that arose from familiarity with his design as a flat, 2D creature for the best part of two decades. “In surfacing, there was a debate whether Pikachu had fur or not,” Dionne said, once again turning to real-world animals as a source of inspiration. “We went back and forth, trying versions with him, starting with the process of, ‘What is the cutest furred animal we can come up with?’ So we started referencing that—fluffy bunnies and kittens—and we started adding the fur on top of Pikachu.”

It wasn’t just a case of whether Pikachu had fur or not though—the exact nature of the fur in order to properly emphasize his trademark cuteness was a major factor. “[We started] paying really close attention to, ‘What makes this kitten look so fluffy and cute and adorable, compared to this other kitten that looks coarse and rugged?’,” Dionne continued. “And [we] built little fine details into the quality of the fur and flow and distribution in certain regions of its body. We really tried to pay special attention to that.”

And that attention applied everywhere—even when it brushed up against the rest of Detective Pikachu’s approach to realistic design. “[The] anatomy on the inside of ears, you know, there’s no way to make that look adorable,” Dionne joked. “So, we embraced Pikachu’s lack of an ear cavity and groomed it with a fuzzy fur you’d expect to come out of a bunny’s ear, where a cavity would be—so it still implies, without having any details that break the adorableness of it.”

Those debates continued throughout the process, not just for how Pikachu would look, but how he’d walk the walk and talk the, uh, Pokétalk. “We’re going through this process, as well as motion studies about how well he moves through the environment,” Dionne said of the other side of designing Pikachu’s model. Once again, real animals that had first inspired Pikachu’s underlying skeletal structure provided a reference point. “We went through and looked at upright quadrupeds navigating on two feet and how steady and unsteady they are,” Dionne continued. “What are their physical limitations? So we started talking about how to make Pikachu move around his environment upright throughout the majority of the film, but still make him feel like a quadruped. [When] we got to that place we felt pretty confident.”

For all MPC could pour into making its Pikachu move and look like a realistic version of the classic design, the team still had another issue to contend with: They were designing a motion-capture creature for a star that had yet to be cast. “The biggest challenge, though, was getting Ryan Reynolds’ facial performance in the Pikachu,” Dionne said of the design process. “Interestingly, one of the things that was great was, early on in the process before Ryan was cast, when we were initially building our Pikachu, we were at the point where we built an additional facial rig, and we wanted to start exploring this against an actor and see what we could learn from it,” Dionne said. “So, we got the list of all the actors being considered and grabbed clips of them on YouTube and started animating our Pikachu to all those different actors.”

It’s a good thing Reynolds eventually agreed to the role, according to Dionne—because tests with his footage provided the perfect canvas for Pikachu. “Amazingly, Ryan Reynolds stood out among the bunch because a lot of the other actors had big, gestural performances in their face and body, and Ryan—he’s so dry,” Dionne revealed. “It’s that little cock of the eyebrow or that little smirk as his lip rolls up, that conveys so much expression and character. And so, what was great about Ryan from a facial performance point of view—we were really able to have a constrained performance and not contend with anything that was too big and over the top, which becomes cartoony very quickly. It was a gift having Ryan as Pikachu because right from the get-go, his face translated quite well.”

As good as Reynolds was to work from, however, another problem arose when trying to incorporate human facial capture animations and Pikachu’s finalized design. “To actually capture what’s fun about Ryan’s performance and have the face still look like Pikachu—that’s another problem,” Dionne said. The team at MCP found very quickly that too much of Reynolds’ performance broke Pikachu’s “feel” as a working design. “Any time we started articulating the face like a human’s—with human anatomy and expressions—it didn’t look like Pikachu at all,” Dionne noted.

There was an unconventional solution however, according to Dionne, to act as a bridge between Reynolds and Pikachu. “What we did was build Pikachu’s facial rig with underlying anatomy and muscle structure as a feline, like a cat,” Dionne told us. “Using that as our base, we mounted a headcam on Ryan, and ran him through an entire facial expression workout. There are pretty much 80 different facial expressions—we’d just get him to do [those] poses, and from them, we’d have a library of all his individual expressions. Then we did the same thing for Pikachu, using 2D animation.”

Pikachu might be incredibly expressive, but in the games and anime he doesn’t have anywhere near as many facial expressions as a human does. “We kind of came up with the equivalent, which is funny, because with Ryan, every one of 80 poses is different from the next. Pikachu, he only has six or seven poses,” Dionne said of Pikachu’s time in the expression workout. “If he’s happy, his mouth is a ‘W’ and if he’s sad, it’s an upside-down ‘V’. Even beyond his mouth, his upper brow tucks into his eyes, which does all the heavy lifting. There’s not a lot to work with. But that’s what Pikachu is, and that’s what we needed to embrace. So, we just kind of built up an equivalent library of Pikachu doing all these different expressions. Then we were able to kind of cross reference and build our library of CG Pikachu [expressions].”

Then came the toughest part of the whole endeavor, according to Dionne. “How do we find a really calculated compromise between the two,” the VFX supervisor pondered, “so that we can capture the nuance in Ryan, but never break the design of Pikachu’s face?”

The answer, in the end, was actually a more hands-on approach to animating the Pokémon, instead of solely relying on motion capture. “As Ryan was performing for the film, every time he’s performing, he would have that head-mounted camera capturing his performance,” Dionne said. “For technical reasons, it wasn’t that beneficial to use that technical data explicitly to draw out that performance. We found we got more out of it if we just took that captured performance, and an animator would use that side-by-side as a footpath with the facial performance, driven by Ryan’s face.”

A little less Ryan Reynolds, and a little more Pikachu—but 100 percent adorable.

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Source: Kotaku.com