Sunday, January 29, 2012

Choosing Gender in Games

As those who know me will know knowingly with their knowledge of me, I'm a gamer... of sorts. Well, I like my games. A lot. I go through phases of heavy gaming and little-to-no gaming, and currently I'm tending towards the former. I've mostly been playing strategy and role-playing games lately, and the way they can deal with gender may be surprising. I've got a number of strategy games, largely from Europe. Anno 1404 and its expansion Venice, Anno 2070 (the latest in the series), The Settlers VI, The Settlers VII and Patrician IV. To contrast this I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I'll describe how they represent gender, and then continue my thoughts.

Anno 1404, Anno 1404: Venice & Anno 2070
The user is allowed to pick a user picture from a variety that is provided, whilst others can be unlocked through gameplay. Largely they're male, but there are some females of varying ages. This has no bearing on how the game reacts to the player, as the user pictures do not define gender.

The Settlers VI
The player is designated as 'male' via cutscenes in the main campaign, but with no elaboration. There is no physical manifestation of the player, and one must assume that the player's gender would have no bearing on the story whatsoever. The player is, however, allowed to choose from (at the point I'm at, which is Mission 8 or 9) one of six characters - four male, two female - as their knight. This knight is a special character with unique abilities and is essential for gameplay. The character chosen has no bearing on how the game reacts to the player.

The Settlers VII
Now, this is a good one. The main campaign that comes with the game has a single playable character - Princess Zoé. There is no room to choose. The smaller campaigns, including those in the additional content packs, tend to have fixed characters too. The player is cast as Princess Zoé (or, with a little outside-the-box thinking, Princess Zoé's closest, invisible advisor that's never mentioned), and you play her story. Like the Anno games above, the player is allowed to choose a user picture and this is used as your character icon in non-story games, but there is no explicit choice of gender.

Patrician IV
The game allows the player to choose between male and female at the start (there's little to no character creation; you have no physical form in this), but the game assumes you to be male and refers to you as such in the story. I'm not sure if this extends to non-story modes, but I assume so as it seems to be errors caused by translation.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The player is allowed to play as male or female and customise their character as they see fit. There are no real gameplay differences between male and female, but the game's NPCs (non-player characters) react to the player character's gender from time to time. 

As I've hopefully shown, these games allow for some choice of gender, typically with no bearing on the gameplay. There are a few games in which you're punished for playing a female character, such as Mount & Blade: Warband, but these tend to be few and far between.

Which of those above is my favourite for gender? Well, I'm going to have to say The Settlers VII. It has a mix of female and male fixed campaign characters, but it doesn't let gender be any judge of character. Zoé is shown to be more capable than most other characters, with the story mode actually pitting you against a king, an ex-king (I know) and someone else in the final mission. I don't think it's perfect, though. There's a distinct lack of female settlers, with most of those shown in-game being male, although I'd also say it doesn't entirely fall into the trap of "women's jobs", in that some of the female settlers are doing things like carrying goods around (including wood, ore, etc). There are no female soldiers, however, and I've not yet encountered any female generals for hire in the tavern.

But I still love the game. It's not afraid to have a female protagonist (and there's even a female antagonist at one point), but it doesn't make any song and dance about it. Zoé's success in the end is impressive because she, as a young person with little experience in the world, overcomes betrayal, lies and her own over-eager attitude and takes what she sees to be rightfully hers, and also to free a people from its oppressive leaders. Her gender has nothing to do with it. Heck, she's a princess who wears trousers.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also does it fairly well, but... I think it misses the mark a lot. The player's gender has little bearing most of the time, nor does the player's race... and that's where it falls flat on its face. It's a world with - if you pay attention to the storyline - a lot of racism, discomfort and social troubles. If you play a Khajiit or an Argonian, two of the most oppressed and disliked races according to the in-game lore, you're not subject to much beyond a few repeated comments from the game's NPCs. No-one mistreats you, though, there's no "Oh, you're a Khajiit? Get out of my shop you thieving, flea-infested cat", as an example. It feels very shallow. Obviously there's reasons for that (not wanting to block players from content, for example), but I do wish the game was a little more perceptive and reactionary.

It even manages to, mostly, avoid gendered armour (mostly). There's a lot of breast covering, as one might expect, but if a male piece is topless then the female piece will be not far off that. The armours generally worn by bandits (Hide, for example) will be little different between the genders. There's a lot of pieces like the Dwarven armour (see above) which too is fairly gender neutral. But some pieces do it wrong, because Bethesda can't keep away from Boob Plate armour. There's the Steel Plate armour, the very exposing Falmer armour and some pieces such as Orcish adapt slightly to the female form, much to my annoyance. There's nothing wrong as such with mildly feminised armour, but often it's taken too far (such as the steel plate) and becomes - realistically - dangerous to the wearer. I understand that this is a fantasy game, but both Oblivion (the previous game in the series) and Skyrim have a heavy dose of realism to their art styles, and as such the aesthetics of the armour should reflect that.

But then we get to games like Patrician IV and The Settlers VI, which manage to do it wrong. If you're a faceless, omnipotent player, the game should not gender you if there's no real choice in who you are. The cutscenes should not refer to me as him or even her, because I've had no input in that and the game has not told me who I am. Even worse is Patrician IV's situation, in which it refers to you as male despite being allowed to choose your gender. This might be poor scripting, it might be something else, but I find it really poor. This contrasts with The Settlers VII which allows the player to choose a female user picture, but does not gender the player with that choice.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this. If a game allows the player to choose their gender, there are two ways to go about it, either way being equally valid, and they are to either let it have a noticeable impact or none at all. If the game world is gender neutral, then there should be no impact beyond pronouns. If it's not, there should be a bigger impact. But if you're letting the player choose the gender, make sure any gender-based reactions are correct. If you have references to the player as "him", make sure that upon choosing female they are "her", because otherwise it negates the choice. Why allow the player to choose if you're just going to ignore said choice?

Thoughts of a Kindle Owner

Late last year, I was given a Kindle for my birthday. Hurrah, you may think, and that's indeed what I thought (albeit with an air of that disappointment that comes when you get something big and expensive, because you kinda feel bad for it) at the time. But I've had it for about a month and a half now, and I've only read a few books on it. Partially it's because I've been stuck in two Ciaphas Cain omnibus editions, partially it's because I got a 400 page Archie graphic novel along with some others. But there's another set of reasons...

So, this is Talia. Talia is my Kindle. The picture was taken with Snow (iPod Touch 4th Gen) and uploaded with Danielle (my self-built PC), the names of which are all linked. Anyway... Talia only has about 22 books on her, four or five of which (at least) I've read, and the majority of which I picked up for free or sub-£2.

I only have a few big publisher releases on her, though, and there's a good reason for that. In my mind, it's not economically sound to buy ebooks. That sounds a little odd, so let me explain. The pricing of ebooks for big releases is currently a barrier for me. I can pick up the ebook of, say, Ari Marmell's The Conqueror's Shadow for £4.99 - not a bad deal for a book. However, I can order the US retail edition for £5.22 from The Book Depository. 23 pence more and I have the physical edition in my hands, albeit after a few days wait. Sometimes the ebook is cheaper, and noticeably so. I picked up the ebook of Teresa Frohock's Miserere for about £5, which is £4 or so cheaper than the physical edition (which is a trade paperback, hence the higher price). L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s paperbacks tend to be expensive in the UK relative to books published in this country (e.g. Tor UK's catalogue), often being around the £7 mark, but I can buy the Kindle editions of his paperbacks for roughly £4.22 a go, which I find to be brilliant.

See, this is where - as a fantasy/sci-fi reader - I feel the Kindle falls flat a little. Books are not cheap on it, not cheap at all. To use Gollancz as an example, they have Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. I can buy the Fantasy Masterworks edition of the first half of the series (books #1 & #2 in a collection) for £6.79 on Amazon for the paperback, or £6.40 in their Top Ten Hardcover edition. I have to pay £5 each for the books (meaning the series is £20 in ebook form), or I could - not now, but not long ago - pay about £13 for a massive trade paperback edition of all four books. The ebook form of the series is by far the most expensive way to go.

Black Library are also bad for this. They sell their ebooks exclusively on their site for £6.50 a book. £1.50 cheaper than the retail edition's RRP, which isn't... terrible, but isn't great either. Their omnibus editions, in retail form, are great. £11 tends to net you at least three novels, and some short stories. There's some exceptions to this, such as the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus The Founding which is only three novels, but a Black Library omnibus is guaranteed to be full of content. And then we get to their ebooks editions. Not a single ebook omnibus is available, meaning you have to pay for each book separately. In the case of the first Gaunt's Ghosts omnibus, this means an ebook copy would cost you £19.50. Going by their own retail pricing, for £2.50 more you can get the first AND second omnibus editions. The Ciaphas Cain first omnibus, Hero of the Imperium, would be even more expensive as it has three short stories, which are priced at £1.50 each on their site. So, that's £19.50 and £4.50, which is a total of £24. It's cheaper to buy both omnibus editions of Cain, too. I'd like to say it's a niche market, but the Warhammer 40,000 books have many spots in the Top 100 books on both Play and Amazon, as well as stores like Waterstones carrying quite a selection of Black Library novels.

But it's not all doom and gloom. The Kindle has its own benefits, for authors and readers alike. If you browse the Fantasy section of the Kindle store, there's a lot of self-published or small press authors selling at £2-3 a book, with the first books of their series being free (if only for a short period). This is actually quite good for me as a reader, perhaps less good for the authors, but I bet it works as a business tactic. A free book is hard to pass up - if it looks interesting, you're likely to try it as it's not going to cost you anything beyond your time. Just last night I picked up two or three free novels from Amazon as they looked interesting, and I hope to get to them in the near future. I've not looked into the pricing of the sequels, but that's a hurdle to jump when I get to it.

See, this is where the Kindle shines for me. It's got a myriad of free titles, and its multi-format capabilities allow authors to give things away on their sites if they so wish, and people can put them on their Kindle. I have a .pdf book on there which works fine (but doesn't look as good as a native ebook, sadly), and that means less technically-inclined authors don't have to wrangle with working out how to make proper ebooks. I can read books I otherwise wouldn't have, I can take risks on authors without a financial loss to myself (and seeing as I'm unemployed right now, that's quite important). Reviewers and publishers/authors can also work well with Kindles. How, you might ask? Well, e-ARCs! Publishers and authors can save money by just sending out ebook review copies to reviewers with ereaders, and I think that's pretty cool.

I like my Kindle. I'm not using it quite how I imagined I would, but I wouldn't be without it now. It's worth having just for the doors it opens to me as a reader, as I can access books and stories that otherwise I wouldn't have taken the time to look into. Click a button, enable Wi-Fi, wait a second for it to download, bam - the book is ready. Or I can use it to read a preview of a book I might buy later, if I so wish.

It won't replace my physical book collection. Not in a million years (or, more accurately, not until the pricing sorts itself out). I love looking at covers and holding the book in my hand too much, but for now it's perfect as a complimentary reading tool.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Creator Spotlight - Vera Brosgol

In June 2011, a graphic novel by a fairly unknown artist/writer by the name of Vera Brosgol was released into the market. Published by First Second Books, a publisher owned by the same company that owns the immense Macmillan group, Anya's Ghost released to massive amounts of praise. I came across it first due to an excerpt available on genre site, which I found during a particularly boring day at work, and I was hooked from that very moment. I ordered it the week it came out and devoured it in one evening. It instantly became the best release of 2011 for me, in terms of graphic novels (and perhaps with regards to the wider picture), and this success carried over to sites such as Goodreads, in which Anya's Ghost found a very respectable place as the 8th best graphic novel in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2011. I wanted to shine a spotlight on Vera and celebrate her work, and hopefully get others into experiencing Anya's Ghost for themselves.

Anya's Ghost itself is a very fun read, and I think Neil Gaiman's quote sums it up perfectly. Vera's art is crisp, clear and interesting, with the exaggeration allowing a wide range of expressions, and her writing is just as strong. To sum the story up, Anya is a Russian teenager who at a young age migrates to America with her mother and younger brother. After years of bullying, Anya is left insecure about herself, and whilst her body doesn't de-curve itself, she manages to integrate herself a little better by working on losing her Russian accent and gaining American ideals.

When the story starts, Anya is attending high school and is a bit of an outcast. Her only real friend is Siobhan, who is quite the rebel, and through the local Russian community she's also - much to her annoyance - seen as a friend to Dima, a boy roughly her age who is less integrated and a bit of a nerd to boot, which Anya feels does little to her ability to fit in. Taking the opportunity to miss classes, she goes for a walk in the local park, her mind swimming with frustrated thoughts and pent-up anger, but as she's distracted she doesn't notice the large hole she's walking towards. As luck would have it, she falls down the hole and lands next to the skeleton of a young child which causes her to panic, but then something strange happens. As Anya lights up a cigarette, she notices the ghost of a young girl staring at her, and her life begins to change...

Cropped from excerpt of Anya's Ghost.
I absolutely adored this story. Brosgol captures the alienation in high school of anyone perceived to be different with incredible accuracy, and it helps the reader identify with Anya and her problems. I felt that the intertwining of 'teen problems' - self image, friendship, embarrassment and so on - was seamless but not in the way that lets you overlook them, instead presenting them to you and allowing you to think about them whilst the story explores each point. But I digress, there's a number of reviews out there and I would say reading this is the only way to truly grasp what I mean.

Can you tell I have a bit of a teensy crush on Anya yet? Probably not. I've hidden it well.

Illustration titled "Anya's Ghost - Bedroom", taken from Vera Brosgol's site.
I also want to talk about Vera's other work, and also about her art in more general terms.

One thing I absolutely adore about her art is that it's exaggerated and cartoony, but in a way that accentuates and enhances the expressions and figures of the characters. I feel that the way she draws women is more a celebration of femininity than anything else, and this is apparent in the Draw This Dress project that Vera does alongside Emily Carroll, which is fairly self-explanatory. There's a range of figures that she draws, from thinner to wide-hips, from heavy-set to curves that even Christina Hendricks could be jealous of.

On her site, there's a couple of general illustrations that have a cheeky or playful tone to them. There's a tug-of-war with six girls in just their panties and socks, there's a pillow fight and even a girl flashing the viewer whilst riding a bike. There's something refreshing about the way Vera does it, and it's infinitely more tasteful than I've seen elsewhere. It's almost as if she takes these titillating situations and removes all of the hidden subtext, instead leaving some beautiful art that's cheeky but nothing more. For example, this next image is from the Draw This Dress project, and it's of some fetish undergarments from the early 1900s, and the image somehow manages to fit in with the theme of the clothing yet not be anything more. It's utterly stunning.
Fetish Underwear drawing, taken from Draw This Dress.
So, hopefully I've brought Vera into some people's knowledge and that I've represented her work well. Anya's Ghost was an absolute joy to read, and I'm so glad it did so well in the Goodreads Awards. I'm really looking forward to whatever she releases next, because I know it'll be great.

Links of note:
Vera Brosgol's Website, Verabee
Vera's Twitter Account
Draw This Dress

Note: All images and so forth are the copyright and properties of Vera Brosgol. The holder is aware of their use and has approved it, and I have credited the sources as best as I can.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Five More Comic Reviews

Got even more comics lately, but I've not really reviewed them. The issues in question are X-23 #18 thru #20, Supergirl #1 and Demon Knights #1.

X-23 #18
Story: Marjorie Liu
Art: Sana Takeda
Cover: Kalman Andrasofszky
This is the second part of the Adventures in Babysitting arc, in which Laura is asked to babysit for Sue Storm and Reed Richards. Franklin and Valeria, their children, quickly proceed to cause havoc and summon a dragon into New York. With the help of Hellion, the dragon is quickly subdued, but their problem just gets worse.

First of all, I've got to say I love Takeda's art. Laura looks amazing. She can still look mean, and angry, but there's a hint of innocence and sadness about her, which I think works really well with her character. It's also quite unique in my limited experience, and even the busiest scenes tend to be fairly clear. My only issue with the art is Laura's expression sometimes doesn't change as often as I feel it should, leaving some scenes to look a little as if the art was recycled. However, it doesn't really take away from the story.

The writing continues to be good, too, with each character feeling distinct. It does seem a little bit of a bizarre story, but then again we have a genetically engineered killing machine babysitting two child geniuses, so I suppose it's not all that odd after all.

X-23 #19
Story: Marjorie Liu
Art: Sana Takeda
Cover: Kalman Andrasofszky
The conclusion to the Adventures in Babysitting arc. I'll not say more, as it'll spoil #18 too.

In terms of art, Takeda is again on top form, and I absolutely adored it. That brings me to my next point. I absolutely hate Andrasofszky's covers. They are terrible. The faces are wrong (see #20 for a good example), Laura is continually shown in her X-Force gear (which she doesn't wear in this part of the series - although there may be some reason behind that), and if you look at the cover for this issue, it looks like some Mills & Boon novel. Ugh. Right, back to the comic.

Liu continues to write Laura really well, and I like how the character dealt with the events around her, but also the moments of light-heartedness. Laura is a fairly serious character with a somewhat horrific past, and I like how Liu breaks that up with moments that show Laura is human, like the rest of us.

I would have liked maybe another issue for this arc, just to explain one or two more things, but that may also have spoiled it a little. Either way, this arc was a pleasure to read and I really enjoyed it.

X-23 #20
Story: Marjorie Liu
Art: Phil Noto
Cover: Kalman Andrasofszky
Ugh. Look at that cover art...

This is sadly the penultimate issue of X-23's now cancelled ongoing, and this two-part story serves to set up Laura's appearances elsewhere, as well as bring the ever-popular Jubilee back into the narrative. At the end of the previous issue, Gambit dropped Laura off with Jubilee. Laura hasn't yet decided whose side she's on, and in this issue we get one step closer to her decision.

Let me say this straight away. I. Love. Phil. Noto's. Artwork. He's not the strongest artist, but I love how he draws characters. They look well-proportioned and their expressions are human, although I must confess I sometimes find the emotions hard to judge as the faces tend to be fairly similar between characters, and at times (I noticed this in Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom) they don't quite match the text.

Liu definitely hits a home run with this issue, though. Laura is accidentally dragged into her past, and some of the scenes are quite shocking and sombre, yet she never feels the need to elaborate on that. We know what's going on is wrong, and we know Laura's motives are right. It doesn't need to be remarked upon any more than it is.

This issue saddens me, though. Liu and Noto make a great team, and this is the last issue they work together on this series, as I believe #21 is drawn by Takeda. I'm also sad because this is the next to last issue of a series I came to late and haven't fully appreciated yet (though I will be buying the HCs in the near future), and in terms of what I've read from Marvel this is by far the best I've encountered. So, thank you to Marjorie Liu, Phil Noto and Sana Takeda for writing and drawing five of the best comics I've read in the past two or so months.

Supergirl #1 (Second Printing)
Story: Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art: Mahmud Asrar (Pencils); Dan Green & Mahmud Asrar (Inks), Dave McCaig (Colours)
Cover: Mahmud Asrar & Dave McCaig
Supergirl is a character I've really only gotten into thanks to Miller's writing in the pre-Flashpoint Batgirl series, in which she was shown as a funny (and cute) character who worked brilliantly alongside Stephanie Brown. I completely forgot to order Supergirl when I did my reboot order last year, and I've only just gotten around to buying it.

This is a new origin for her, I believe, and as such she's perhaps not the character we once knew. In this issue, she has none of the attitude she had in Maelstrom, nor none of the humour of her Batgirl appearances, but instead we're shown her landing on Earth some time after Superman. I felt the writing was fair, but I wasn't exactly sure what to think. I assumed that it was a new origin for her, but I'm curious as to how that would work in the scheme of the reboot.

The art was pretty good, and bar a number of moments of questionable posing, I liked it. Kara's new costume is a little problematic for me (why the exposed legs and knees?), but it's certainly better than a lot of the costumes that saw a debut in the reboot. I like how it's almost a cross between Wonder Woman and Superman, but without the potential for cleavage shots or - as her old costumes often caused - panty flashes from her short skirt. It's almost as if her change in costume has turned her from a cheerleader-esque girl to a young woman.

I was definitely impressed by this issue, though, and I'll certainly be picking up the trades as they come. I want to see how she develops and learns to cope with her powers.

Demon Knights #1 (Second Printing)
Story: Paul Cornell
Art: Diógenes Neves (Pencils), Oclair Albert (Inks), Marcelo Maiolo (Colours)
Cover: Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey
(This is the cover for the first printing)

Demon Knights is a new series, but one based on existing DC characters. I've heard of some of the characters (Madame Xanadu), but largely this is an unknown for me.

I liked the writing, and its light-hearted nature, but I was a little confused for most of it as I felt as if I was missing something. That said, I was glad to see a female warrior (in the form of Sir Ystina), and I did enjoy the jokes and funnier moments, but that feeling of uncertainty did nag me a little.

The art was perhaps a little busy for me, too, but I did enjoy how varied the characters were in terms of style, and the art did work for it.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this series, and the chances are I'll pick up the trade to hopefully get a bit more context for it, but also just to enjoy it for its sense of humour.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Anticipated 2012 Titles

A lot of bloggers have recently been talking about titles they're looking forward to in this coming year, and I've decided to follow suit, as I'm sure my list will be a little different to that of others. I've also added a small list of a few graphic novels I'm looking forward to do. Not all of these releases have finalised cover art listed, so I've either not included any or used a placeholder picture with a similar theme.

1. Thief's Covenant - Ari Marmell
I don't know a lot about this. I know Marmell is a very witty and intelligent guy, and on SFFWorld I saw a lot of good feedback for his The Goblin Corps (which I still need to read), and ever since I saw Jason Chan's cover I was hooked. It's one of Pyr's first handful YA titles, and with its female protagonist it looks sure to be a series that I'll very much enjoy. The second book has already been titled, and the cover released, and I'm champing at the bit to get started.

2. Shadow's Master - Jon Sprunk

No (Finalised) Cover Art

Well, what can I say? Sprunk's debut series was something I took a gamble on after waiting month after month for the MMPB release from Gollancz, and ever since I've wanted the Pyr trade edition. It's an assassin-themed series but it's not all darkness and hoods, it's a really compelling set of books with a brilliant set up between Caim and his companion Kit, a ghost of sorts who is much Caim's guardian as she is his friend. Oh, yeah. #TeamKit Representing!

3. Forged in Fire - J.A. Pitts
Sarah Beauhall. Yum. I'm eagerly awaiting the third entry in Pitts' stellar Sarah Beauhall/Black Blade series, and it's really the only urban fantasy I read. I'm not sure what the plot will be for Forged in Fire, but I know it'll be an enjoyable read with some great characters and hopefully another fight with a dragon. One of the main reasons I absolutely love this series is the way Pitts deals with Sarah. She's one of the few lesbian protagonists in any current series from a major genre publisher, and whereas it could easily be done wrong or descend into sheer exploitative ridiculousness, I've felt from the very start that Pitts has done nothing but try and treat her sexuality both not as an issue but also as sensitively as he could do without being patronising. Yes, the first book has her wrestling with her sexuality (amongst other things), and it realistically carries over to the second book, but the series never becomes solely about that aspect of her. It's there, it's a big part of her, but it's not her defining feature.

4. Legends of the Red Sun #4 - Mark Charan Newton

No (Finalised) Cover Art
Sadly I don't know the title for this book, but it's not stopping me looking forward to it. Newton's work has been... relatively good, I won't deny the third book - with a rare appearance from a transgendered character, even rarer still as it was incredibly tasteful - was a little disappointing for me, but I still remember how much I enjoyed City of Ruin in particular. I'm hoping for a sense of closure with this volume, as well as answers to many questions about the characters and the world. This is another series with some LGBT-themes, as well as commentaries on racism and other social issues of our time. Definitely one to look out for.

5. The Wind Through The Keyhole - Stephen King 

No (Finalised) Cover Art
Perhaps a little unnecessary now that Marvel is coming up to its eighth and ninth The Dark Tower graphic novels, but still something I'm anxious to get started with. The Dark Tower and its mythos is some of the best stuff I've read, and forms most of my experience with King, and I'm eager to see how this book - numbered 4.5 - fits between Wizard & Glass as well as Wolves of the Calla. Part of me hopes this is the final novel that King writes as a direct part of The Dark Tower series, as it was wrapped up both so neatly yet left so open.

Graphic Novels
1. B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs Omnibus #3 - Mike Mignola & Others (Dark Horse)
Placeholder; No Finalised Cover

I started on B.P.R.D. last year once they'd started to release the omnibus editions of the Plague of Frogs arc, a story that spanned something like 12 trade paperbacks (I think it works out as perhaps 60-70 issues of material) and this year brings the third and hopefully fourth volumes. I'm really excited to get back into Mignolaverse. I'll definitely have to re-read the first two omnibus editions though, just to get refresh my memory.

2. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism - Mike Mignola & Cameron Stewart (Dark Horse)
Placeholder; No Finalised Cover
I'm not sure this will be out in trade by the end of 2012, and I'm not sure it'll be standalone, but I'm still anticipating it. One character from Plague of Frogs, B.P.R.D. Agent Ashley Strode, will be playing the major role in this small arc, and I wanted to know more about her from the first time I encountered her (not just because she was a super cute redhead, by the way). Cameron Stewart released some teaser art not long ago including a sketch page of Ashley, and I was smitten. I really can't wait to start this. Actually, not even sure if it's a single issue or a small series...

3. Batwoman: Hydrology - J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC Comics)
 Placeholder; No Finalised Cover (but come on, Hadley is AWESOME at drawing Batsy)

Batwoman! Batwoman! Yes! I love Batwoman, and I cannot wait to get this. Containing, according to Amazon, issues #0 to 5, it's got enough Batsy to keep me up at night. I'm really looking forward to reading this, as Batwoman as one of my favourite series that I've not read enough of. I've wanted more ever since I finished Elegy, and after reading Batwoman #1 (a not entirely flawless experience, however) I've been really excited about getting this.