Nerd Tourism – West Virginia from Fallout 76

On the brow of a hill overlooking West Virginia, some poor sap watches the world end. In the distance, three missiles careen into distant woodland before detonating with a bloom of nuclear fire. The soon-to-be-cooked individual doesn’t turn and run, though. They just take it in. This stuck with me more than anything else in Fallout 76’s E3 trailer. There’s something resigned about it. Something bittersweet. It makes me wonder what they were thinking when they realised they were screwed. Loss? Acceptance? Grief? That would be fitting, I suppose; the next time we see them, they’re half-buried, forgotten, and very, very dead. Their body is then looted by a happy-go-lucky shmuck from Vault 76 without so much as a ‘thank you’.

To be honest, it’s probably for the best that they were roasted alive. If they’d survived the inconvenience of a nuclear apocalypse, West Virginia would almost certainly have dreamed up nastier ways to kill them. 25 years of radiation have transformed anything that moved into a horrific clutch of fangs, rage, and gooey bits. This is a State trying to redefine itself in the wake of annihilation. Unfortunately for those emerging from the eponymous Vault 76, it’s settled on madness.

Not that you’d be able to tell. Not at first, anyway. The countryside surrounding our deceased friend is one of rolling grassland and leafy, autumn-time forest. Even the foliage creeping over their corpse is a eye-catching (but admittedly pallid) green, complete with nearby flowers. It’s almost normal, and the illusion breaks only when you realise what’s lurking beneath this eye-candy. Dragon-like Deathclaws, abandoned military robots, and mutated terrors waste no time in attacking anything that dares to appreciate the scenery. As such, it’s a far cry from the blasted wastelands we’re used to in Fallout’s vision of America.

That’s why this unfortunate chap’s demise is something of a mercy. Civilization as they knew it died with them, replaced by a waking nightmare. Although being incinerated is definitely a bummer, I guess it could have been much worse. Moreover, this person (and others like them) will prove vital for those who are reclaiming West Virginia after decades spent mooching around in Vault 76; their armour and weapons become invaluable to players in this brave new world. However, I wonder how many will stop and think about what the previous owner might have gone through. It certainly takes the shine off finding some cool loot…

For more guff and nonsense from Benjamin, follow him on Twitter @thewordyben.


Monster Hunter: World has One of the Coolest Backstories in Fantasy

Monster Hunter: World is the kind of game you can lose a lot of time and, judging by some fabulously absurd costumes, dignity to. An enticing loop of hunting and loot with which you’ll fight bigger creatures means that it’s often compared to Destiny, and that’s true on many levels. Although they’re poles apart in a superficial sense, they both have a deceptively rich mythology. In particular, there’s a fascinating nugget of lore that marries Monster Hunter gameplay and backstory together in the neatest possible way.

Safety is a luxury few can afford in the world of Monster Hunter (concept art by Mu Yu Jiang)

There’s good reason that the humans of Monster Hunter are obsessed with their prey – more than it making for a fun player experience, anyway. According to in-game lore and fan theories (such as this one by CMDR-Gimo on Reddit), an advanced civilisation from long ago used these creatures as fodder to create devastatingly inhumane tech. It’s real-world animal testing blown up to mad proportions; thousands of monsters were wiped out in pursuit of this goal until the savviest decided to fight back. Called ‘Elder Dragons’, these beasts were phenomenally bad news. In fact, they completely levelled civilisation. We’re descendants of the few humans that managed to survive. Fast-forward a few centuries and it’s an unforgiving life. The land is now overrun with monsters and any settlements we cobble together are in constant danger. Humanity has learned enough not to repeat its mistake, though; our characters are part of a ‘Hunter’s Guild’ that exists to maintain balance between monsters and mankind so that none of this can ever happen again. Monsters are only killed when their population booms or they become a threat to society, and none are exterminated. The goal is equilibrium, not extinction.

This is a logical way of justifying our exploits out in the wild. Rather than being a slaughter of wildlife for fun, we’re trying to encourage stability between us and nature. Furthermore, it leads to a unique setting we rarely see in other fantasy games. While I forget who suggested it on Twitter – I did have a trawl through my timeline, but no luck – it’s been suggested that there’s very little agriculture or farming in the Monster Hunter universe. Firstly, whoever-it-was suggested that there’d be little need for it when every resource we could possibly require (from armour and food to architecture, tools, and clothing) can be gained from the abundance of monsters who roam outside our door. Secondly, the high percentage of violent nasties means that staying in one place and working the earth isn’t viable. We’re outnumbered quite spectacularly, and there’s always a chance some hulking t-rex will stomp all over our crops. Or, you know, eat us. This would lead to entirely different traditions, habits, and culture. I find that really intriguing.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing. We don’t often see such drastic variation in fantasy settings, and that ignites the sense of discovery this genre is known for.

Check back each Friday for more on pop-culture lore, characters, and theories.

Nobody’s Perfect in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and that’s Why it’s Fab

It isn’t often that a film makes you truly stop and think. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is one of those movies. It seizes you by the collar, slaps you about, and then parks up in your brain for days on end (in other words, it’s fantastic). Uncomfortable and surprising in a stubborn, determined sort of way, it’s also earnest in doling out a genuinely crucial lesson: no-one’s perfect.

Awooga, awooga – spoilers for The Last Jedi ahead.

Look there, in the shadows…. it’s Grumpzilla the Hutt (concept art from Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Nowhere is this more obvious than Luke. Now a grumpy, haggard old man, he’s far from the hero we cheered on in the original trilogy. He’s rude. He’s disgusting. He’s selfish. And therein lies the brilliance of it. Basically, he’s human.

Luke’s been trapped in storytelling amber for over 30 years; he ended Return of the Jedi on a triumphant, righteous note, and we took it for granted that his troubles were over. He became idealised and messianic, a standard we could strive toward but never reach. Yet life doesn’t work that way. We don’t ever stop making mistakes, nor do we stop learning. This is why it’s so healthy to see Luke become a miserable git who lives on a diet of fish and space-cow milk. It’s a reminder that we’re all flawed. And you know what? That’s OK. Heroes aren’t people who do no wrong; they screw up, just like us. Anyone can be a hero, an idea reflected in the wonderfully down-to-earth Rose.

Furthermore, the mark of a hero is that they get back up again after being knocked down… even if it’s not right away. Although Luke had a momentary lapse of judgement that cost him everything, he came roaring back in the end to save the day. It doesn’t matter that this took time. What matters is that he eventually did. That’s a powerful message. It’s an inspiration, too. If Luke can overcome such enormous problems, we can as well.

For me, this is why The Last Jedi’s easily the most important chapter of the Star Wars saga. It’s a message of hope for anyone of any age.

Check back each Friday for more on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

This is How the X-Men Should be Brought into the MCU

And lo! The geek-gods finally heard our cry and allowed a Fox/Disney deal to happen. Cue jubilant celebration across the internet.

Although this makes the House of Mouse a multimedia goliath with increasingly little competition, the upside would be fans getting what they’ve wanted for years – X-Men and Fantastic Four in the Avengers universe. It’s just in time, too. Infinity War and its sequel end this chapter of a ten-year long saga, so there’s no better chance to introduce them. How do they pull it off, though?

If you’re not caught up on why this hasn’t happened before, here’s the short version: Marvel sold the film rights to their biggest characters in the 90s so they could avoid financial trouble. Spider-Man was bought by Sony, while Fox snapped up the X-Men and Fantastic Four. This meant that Marvel Studios couldn’t use them when they embarked on their own inter-connected movie series with Iron Man in 2008. Things have changed since then, of course – they cut a deal with Sony to include Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, etc – but mutants were still owned by Fox until very recently. Now everyone’s back under one roof. Well, mostly (here’s to you, Venom).

Perhaps the X-Men have already been and gone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? (Concept art for X-Men: First Class by Matthew Savage)

Anyway, back to the question. How do we introduce X-Men and co.? One method would be to play with parallel dimensions. Doctor Strange has already floated the idea via a ‘multiverse’, so it wouldn’t be all that hard to engineer a threat that requires Professor X, Jean Grey, Magneto, Cyclops et al to hop over and team up with the Avengers. Indeed, the Fantastic Four/X-Men properties are rife with such intergalactic threats. Galactus, a godlike entity that consumes planets, would be a great place to start.

However, I’d prefer a straight reboot like we got with Spider-Man in Civil War. The reasoning is simple. Fox’s XMen movies are great, but their continuity is very tangled after almost 20 years with little oversight. It’d probably be easier to start over, even if this raises the question of where mutants have been for the last few years.

Perhaps the classic lineup of Professor X, Beast, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel all existed in the 50s or 60s. As with Logan, something then curbed mutant birth rates until they were practically non-existent. It’s only now that the mutant gene is starting to manifest again, and this brings the team back together.

Maybe that could lead to a more up-to-date status quo from the comics. In that arc, Wolverine takes over the Xavier School as headmaster while Cyclops, embittered by years of loss and human bigotry, becomes something of a revolutionary. As a result, the old Professor X/Magneto rivalry begins again in the most unlikely of proteges.

This avoids rehashing what’s already been done but still offers a traditional struggle. It also allows Marvel to make a prequel with the old crew should they so wish.

The Fantastic Four reboot also played with the idea of parallel dimensions (concept art by Steve Jung)

The same could be done with Fantastic Four. It’d make sense for their origin to occur sometime during the space race of the 20th century, and any movies set now could utilise the Future Foundation. This is a school for genius-level children who are taught to harness their gifts for the betterment of science and humanity, and they’re overseen by the Fantastic Four or (as in the Matt Fraction and Mike Allred comic) their replacements. It’d be a chance for them to buy Stark Tower as well after it was put up for sale in Spider-Man: Homecoming; this would weave the FF’s iconic ‘Baxter Building’ into continuity.

And finally, what about Deadpool? He breaks the fourth wall anyway, so there’s no reason he can’t be carted over as-is and make a joke about that fact. They even included an Avengers helicarrier in the background of his first movie, so it’s not too much of a stretch.

There are problems to contend with in all the above, sure, but this is too juicy an opportunity to miss. And hey; it’s just awesome to see the X-Men and Fantastic Four come home at last.

Check back each Friday for more on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Am I Crazy for Wanting This in Justice League 2?

Depending on who you ask, last year’s Justice League was either ‘eh, alright’ or ‘unsalvageable garbage’. I’d go for the former, personally; the film had issues, but it was fun enough to compensate nonetheless. It was also an unsubtle course-correction. Where Batman v Superman was dour and cynical, this is a story about believing in others. The journey there may have been bumpy, but the pieces are finally in place for a more hopeful, humorous DC movie-verse. Thank goodness for that.

Not that we should let the past go just yet. Thanks to the grim n’ gritty BvS, there’s a dangling plot thread worth exploring somewhere down the line.

Avast! Spoilers for Justice League and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ahead.

Getting the team together – concept art by Craig Mullins

Namely, that Mad Max-style scene from the future. Despite being a jarring change of pace that was never followed up on, this remains one of the more interesting ideas the film toyed with. Depicting a post-apocalyptic Earth, it’s little more than a fire-blasted hellscape; aliens have invaded, cities were levelled, and Superman’s gone mental at the death of Lois Lane. He’s taken over the world with a totalitarian regime as well, and Batman’s one of the few heroes left to stop him (i.e. with massive guns and a wicked-cool trenchcoat).

Anyway. Following Batman’s capture and death at the hands of Superman, Flash goes back in time to stop this whole mess from ever occurring. Except Batman thinks this is a dream – oops! – and we all move on without ever looking back. Holy wasted opportunity, Batman!

Knightmare scenario – concept art for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Except there’s still time to change that. With Justice League establishing the bug-like Parademons and their master, Darkseid, the sequel is a chance to make good on that flash-forward. I’m spit-balling here, but imagine a movie beginning with the (presumably accidental) death of Lois thanks to Batman. This leaves our world undefended while the Justice League squabble amongst themselves. We then skip ahead to Darkseid turning up, making an alliance with the Big Blue Boy Scout Serial Killer, and razing the globe until it’s a desert with his symbol burned into the dust. Boom – we’ve arrived at the BvS scene detailed above within five or ten minutes. We then follow Flash as he goes back in time to warn the League about what’s coming their way. Cue the Justice League 2 title sequence and a film that bounces between present and future.

If nothing else, it’d certainly grab our attention. A tent-pole blockbuster with post-apocalyptic superheroes? Fab.

It’s basically X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s no bad thing. The latter demonstrated that a high-concept idea like this works. And who’re we kidding? It’s a compelling hook in an era where there are dozens of superhero films competing for our money.

Of course, that’s assuming DC would even want to reference a movie many despised. It’s no bad thing if they don’t; it’s simply a missed opportunity, and one I can understand them wanting to move on from.

Parademons, Darkseid’s flunkies-in-chief – concept art by Patrick Tatopoulos

Regardless of what comes next, I hope this is the end of us wringing our hands over DC. These movies always had loads of potential to spare, so I’d love to see the franchise flying high sooner rather than later.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Now Star Wars: Battlefront II is Over, What Comes Next?

The chance to tell a story in official Star Wars canon is one many would commit bloody, bloody murder for. This is a world we’ve come to know inside and out over 40 years, so fiddling about in such a beloved toybox is one hell of an opportunity. It’s also a setting that can carry a range of narratives without buckling; basically, the sky’s the limit.

Star Wars: Battlefront II made the most of this with a tale from the Empire’s perspective. What should the series do next, though? Although it’s very likely that Battlefront III will follow the adventures of Zay (daughter of Iden Versio, our last playable character), there’s a whole universe of possibility to choose from within that.

AWOOGA! AWOOGA! Spoilers for Star Wars: Battlefront II ahead.

Looks like we’re heading for the Outer Rim next time around – concept art for Star Wars: Battlefront II

The Resurrection DLC sets up a current-trilogy campaign to perfection. After watching her mother die, Zay leaves for the lawless Outer Rim under orders of Leia… moments before The Last Jedi begins. It’s a real statement of intent/flare shot into the sky accompanied by an orchestral band that shrieks, ‘all aboard for Kylo Ren and Porgs in the next game’. This is a fab idea for more than brand synergy. While Battlefront III will probably hit at the same time Episode IX does, it’s an era we know precious little about; what we’ve cobbled together can basically be recounted in an elevator ride. As such, there’s plenty of scope to plug those gaps.

What better subject than the First Order? The Force Awakens waved vaguely in the direction of military loyalists left behind after Return of the Jedi, but we’ve got very little to go on beyond that. Specifically, we’re told that:

  1. They established themselves through the help of sympathisers.
  2. Were seen as a pocket of nutters without any real manpower (whoops).

What does life look like for the average First Order citizen? It makes you wonder if they buy into the bigotry of these Empire-wannabes or if they’re simply brainwashed. The Last Jedi tells us via Rose that they occupy planets and force the inhabitants to work for them, but just that’s the tip of the iceberg; how do they find enough children to abduct for their Stormtrooper program, for instance? Are kids willingly given over by fanatics within First Order space? Let us find out by going behind enemy lines, messing with the bad guys’ s***, and generally throwing a spanner in the works.

Failing that, lifting the curtain on the New Republic (which is now in disarray after Starkiller Base’s attack) would be a good call. After all, we’ve only been to the outskirts of modern galactic society in the last two films. I’d love to see how things have changed since the Empire’s day.

More, please – concept art for Star Wars: Battlefront II

Moreover, it’d be fun to find out whether criminal outfits like Jabba the Hutt’s have been snuffed out after peace was restored by Leia and co. (spoilers – I’m guessing not). This at least is a strong contender; I’d say Zay going to the Outer Rim guarantees bounty hunters, Tattooine, and scruffy lookin’ nerf herders. Which is wonderful, obviously.

Of course, there’s no reason why the developers have to limit themselves to this new era. In fact, I’d almost prefer them to take a leaf out of Battlefield I’s book and give us a range of missions from throughout the series. The latter provided a collection of war stories from various points across WW1, and Battlefront is ideally positioned to do the same. We could have the harrowing story of a clone in the trenches of the Clone War, culminating with that massive space-battle in Revenge of the Sith/Order 66. We might then step into a Rebellion fighter’s boots as they struggle past the biggest conflicts of the original trilogy, leaving us to finish up with Zay’s narrative post-The Last Jedi.

Regardless of where the story goes, it’s wonderful to see the developers given such a position of trust within Star Wars’ story. Lucky sods.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

Thor: Ragnarok Gives Infinity War a Handy Tip – Sod Tradition

According to the trailers, synopsis, production team, and basically everyone who’s ever been involved with Avengers: Infinity War, this is the bone-crunching end to the MCU.

Well, sort of. What they really mean is that this part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come to a close; there are at least half a dozen films still on the docket. However, the old team? Well, they’re probably hanging up their capes for good. In my opinion, that can only be a good thing.

Thor: Ragnarok is a neon-hued case in point. This wickedly humorous end to the trilogy said goodbye to the god of thunder’s seven-year status-quo before offering something entirely different.

Quick, duck! Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok are ahead.

Thor: Ragnarok
Sun’s getting real low, big guy – concept art by Ryan Meinerding

Some may disagree, but I’d argue that the film was better for it: it wasn’t precious about the ‘classic’ elements of his mythos, and there’s a ton more the studio can do with the character now as a result. Asgard’s been razed to the ground. Odin’s dead. The Warriors Three were mercilessly impaled (*sob*). Jane Foster is a distant memory. And Thor himself? He’s king of an entire civilisation with no home to call their own. He’s also responsible for safeguarding their culture and very way of life. This naturally lends itself to a different kind of story, one that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Even those iconic props are gone; Ragnarok washed its hands of them too. His flying hammer’s a pile of rubble, and he lost an eye for his trouble as well. Yes, it’s sad to see all of the above ride into the sunset. Nevertheless, the franchise is free to pursue different avenues in the future rather than being chained to tradition.

This is a character who’s been on a journey of profound change, and I hope the same will be true of the Avengers when Thanos, MCU supervillain extraordinaire, blows their status-quo to kingdom come. Whatever’s left will be altered in a big way, and I hope there’s no going back. You can’t move forward if you’re clinging onto what’s already been done.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been a wonderful journey so far. But we’ll eventually reach a point where there’s nothing left to say, and perhaps the best way to keep things relevant is to throw a spanner in the works and see what happens. Iron Man benefitted from this when he turned over a new leaf at the end of Iron Man 3 and became a mentor to Spider-Man in Civil War/Homecoming. 

I hope Infinity War has the same effect on the likes of Captain America or Hulk. That’s if they survive, anyway…

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

From Colonial India to the Dark Ages: Where Assassin’s Creed Should Go Next

It’s good to see Assassin’s Creed: Origins killing it out there; Bayek’s romp through Ancient Egypt is both a critical and commercial darling. This is quite the comeback for a series that’s stumbled slightly in recent years (I’ll leave a link to some rude Frenchmen here).

Assassin's Creed Origins
Hey, I can see my house from here – concept art for Assassin’s Creed: Origins by Martin Deschambault

However, where do you go from there? Origins gave us the Egyptian backdrop we’ve wanted for ages, while Syndicate offered a Victorian Britain that was equally sought after. Are we running out of crowd-pleasing settings? Of course not. There are a wealth of options to choose from. Here are a few ideas for you to chew over while we finish up those side-quests and/or accidentally setting Nile hippos on fire.

Colonial India

It’d be easy to roll out a list of eras we’ve asked for from the beginning, but – as demonstrated by the excellent Black Flag – an unexpected choice is often the best. With that in mind, colonial India during the 1800s is probably a good place to start.

As a member of the British Empire, the country became a powder-keg of resentment and unrest. Tensions were therefore rife; unpopular social reform, annexation of territory by the East India Company, various injustices, rumours about disrespectful British practices, discrimination, and more exploded into the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Thousands were killed in the process, and the clearly defined battle-lines that started it all would be an easy place to insert the franchise’s classic Assassin/Templar conflict. It almost writes itself, in fact – the plucky, wronged local battling against a corrupt establishment manipulated by Templars… it’d be the ideal starting point for a Creed story.

Secondly, jumping forward in time allows us to revisit the complication of gunpowder and a truly urban sprawl. Oh, and exotic wildlife like elephants or tigers. Ubisoft could even take a leaf from Far Cry’s book and allow players to set them on their enemies.

In other words, ‘yes please’.

The Aztecs

The so-called ‘Age of Discovery’ during the 15th-18th centuries is a bit ironic; it mostly involves European nations nicking land that had already been ‘discovered’ by the inhabitants long ago. This is where the ancient Aztec nation came-a-cropper, and it’s also the perfect place to set the next game.

To begin with, Assassin’s Creed has flirted with the area for quite some time. Black Flag featured a South American branch of the order, and it’s home to many ‘First Civilisation’ structures. In fact, any subplot featuring those humanoid aliens harks back to the Aztec school of visual design. Why not dive in and further explore the First Civilisation’s relationship with humanity?

From a gameplay perspective, dense jungle and mysterious woodland cities offer something we’ve not really seen much of. Your character need never touch the ground as they clamber through the boughs of a tangled forest, stalking prey both human and not; it’s a good excuse to put emphasis on elevation and ambush, not to mention the effect this has on stealth.

Much like Colonial India, it also plays host to a conflict that lends itself to the Assassin’s narrative. Spanish Conquistadors bull their way into the Aztec’s way of life, threatening to usurp their culture forever in a quest for land and loot.

Speaking of which, there are tombs aplenty. Just sayin’.

Samurai Japan

Oh, go on then; this is a setting fans have been desperate to see for years, so who am I to argue?

You can see why it’s such a popular choice. The life of a ninja or samurai blends perfectly with Creed’s emphasis on stealth, parkour, and combat. In addition, its mountainous landscape provides an opportunity for ‘natural’ platforming Origins has only just touched on. Considering how well rock-climbing was handled in that game and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, giving us mountains to clamber over is no bad thing.

There’s equal scope in terms of its plot. Ubisoft could explore a feudal free-for-all that’s been covered in the likes of Shogun: Total War 2, or it could settle for the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 when Japan is suffering a crisis of conscience between modern and traditional approaches.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of room for manoeuvre here.

Dark Ages

Here’s my wildcard answer. While it may not feel like an obvious choice, there’s a lot to commend this murky period of history as seen through the Assassin’s Creed lens. Let’s say we start in Britain sometime around 400 AD. Its Roman legions are on their way home due to barbarians marauding across Italy, and this leaves the UK open to invaders of its own. Picts from Scotland tear through their lands as a result, forcing what was left of the Romano-British to hire Saxon mercenaries. Unfortunately, these sell-swords decide that they rather fancy England for themselves. Go figure.

After turning on their employers, these Saxons begin colonising Blighty and clear the way for even more Germanic tribes (namely the Jutes and Angles) to hop over from Europe as well. Because of this, there’s already a cool narrative to be had with invading armies and beleaguered defenders. You could even wind that into gameplay with an advanced version of Brotherhood’s base mechanics.

But then you get to Arthur.

Yes, old King Artie of knights-and-round-table fame was supposed to exist round about then. This is perfect fodder for Creed’s conspiratorial leanings, not to mention a tale of Assassins who live within a more historically plausible Camelot; quests and derring-do, anyone? Better yet, it allows for the introduction of characters like a pagan Merlin who utilises Apple of Eden tech. It’s the perfect fit for the franchise’s mythos.


What do you think? Any ideas of your own? Shout out in the comments or follow me on Twitter @thewordyben.

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

I Bet Amazon Do THIS for Their Lord of the Rings TV Show

I suppose you’re asking for trouble if you expand on a well-loved franchise like The Lord of the Rings. Fans of such pop-culture icons can be precious (ha) about them, and there’s often a knee-jerk mistrust for any ‘new’ stories set in that world. The instinct is to leave well alone, and it’s an understandable hesitance; what more could possibly be said? There’s always a risk that they’ll somehow cheap the originals, too (here’s to you, Star Wars prequels).

However, I don’t think Amazon’s proposed LotR show is one of those moments. If anything, it’s about bloomin’ time; Tolkien’s fantasy opus is staggering in both size and ambition, and no film trilogy could ever hope to capture everything that makes it so beloved. There’s plenty of room for exploration here; indeed, it’s rare for a fictional world to be this fully and comprehensively realised. Letting it gather dust is a waste of that potential.

A Brooding Stare into the Middle Distance... Perfect
If this image doesn’t sell you on the idea of an Aragorn TV show I haven’t got the foggiest idea what will – art for the Fantasy Flight ‘Lost Realm’ card game

From a pair of wizards who vanished in the south to a robbery of the devil by a werewolf, there are some cracking stories in these books that haven’t come anywhere near an adaptation yet. One particular tale trumps the rest in terms of small screen potential, though – Aragorn’s early years. While some may gag at what sounds dangerously like ‘Middle-Earth: High School’, bear with me. Back in his early twenties, Aragorn served under his father in a band of rangers called the Dunedain. These rugged, brooding, and presumably angsty do-gooders guarded the northern realm from lots of nasties; orcs, wargs, ghosts, and more. They’re also the reason why the Shire remains untouched by war and conflict – not that those furry-footed hobbits are any the wiser, of course.

This tenuous balance doesn’t last, naturally; daddy ranger had the misfortune of being murdered by a dirty great troll. It was a bit of a bummer.

Thrust into command way before his time, Aragorn thus embarked on a mission to hunt down said monster and bring back its head on a platter. Cue an awesome journey of self-discovery and general bad-assery. If Amazon want a contender for Game of Thrones’ viewership, a gritty tale of revenge such as this may be the way to go. It ticks every box, including a character audiences are familiar with.

It makes practical sense as well. Aragorn’s tender age would allow showrunners to recast the role with a new (and presumably less expensive) actor than the albeit-wonderful Viggo Mortensen. Similarly, being set in the wilderness should cut also costs. There are no grand cities to build in the north a la Minas Tirith or King’s Landing, nor are there foes that would require lots of expensive CG. It’s a win-win situation.

This may not be what Amazon have in mind at all, but I’d put my money on it becoming their first story. So, internet – challenge accepted?

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.

The Gifted is a Prequel to X-Men: Days of Future Past, & Here’s Why

Unlike everyone else in movies right now, those at Fox seem a little leery about the idea of a connected universe. There was a lot of speculation that Logan might exist in its own continuity, whilst Legion and The Gifted are keen to go it alone judging by production comments. In fact, it’s been suggested via offhand remarks that the latter is part of its own X-Men universe. Think mutant continuity is complicated enough? Apparently not.

There are advantages to separate continuities (the ability to do whatever you fancy being one of them), but it’s also a missed opportunity. Firstly, it seems like a waste to ignore the world-building Fox’s movies have achieved through much blood, sweat, continuity errors, and tears. Second, there are sneaky ways of slotting it into established canon should they choose to do so. It would appear that Fox have left themselves an escape-hatch into the Singer movie-verse.

This probably isn’t going to end well – concept art for X-Men: Days of Future Past by Goran Bukvic

How? With the right spin, The Gifted could take place a few years before everything hits the fan in Days of Future Past. Quick, to the speculation-mobile!

WARNING – there are spoilers for The Gifted ahead.

In the Days of Future Past timeline, the X-Men are gone and killer robots have wiped out swathes of humanity by the year 2023. A handful of mutants still battle for survival, but defeat is now a foregone conclusion; it’s the end. How does this relate to The Gifted, though? Four years prior to that series, mutant riots caused a disaster known as ‘7/15’. Following this tragedy, the government enacted a crack-down on mutant rights. The X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood have long-since vanished as well, and now those with powers are being rounded up and/or turned into mindless flunkies known as ‘Hounds’ (using similar techniques to the ones in X2, no less).

This tracks with where we left Wolverine and co. in The Last Stand. The X-Men are basically over; Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Professor X are dead, leaving Storm to head up Xavier’s school before it’s shut down by the military a few years later (this is revealed via promotional material for Days of Future Past). Meanwhile, Logan’s bolted for the wilderness in The Wolverine. Even Magneto’s out of the picture; he’s lost his powers, any followers he gained were rounded up, and his right-hand woman Mystique has been stripped of her abilities too.

As such, what’s left of these teams (Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, etc.) are attempting to help mutants on the down-low despite being picked off one by one. The likes of Angel and Beast are killed by ‘human first’ activists, for instance. It’d therefore make sense for The Gifted’s 7/15 disaster to force the team into hiding at last. It’s the straw that breaks the superpowered camel’s back.

There’s plenty more to connect these stories, too. Blink – the teleporting mutant who appears in both – helped a group of mutants escape prison shortly before the present in Days of Future Past. This tallies with The Gifted’s premiere where she’s hiding after breaking out of jail. Similarly, The Gifted includes Thunderbird, the brother of Warpath in Days of Future Past, and Eclipse, a mutant with comparable powers to the movie’s Sunspot. Their presence – not to mention that of Sentinels, inhibitor collars, and Doctor Campbell (a character who goes on to become a renowned mutant-hunter in the comic book version of Days of Future Past) – only strengthens the relationship between the two.

Then we come to Trask Industries, the smoking gun of this whole theory. They’re the company responsible for Sentinels in Days of Future Past, so their role in The Gifted suggests a connection. It may be a coincidence due to the brand’s iconic role in X-Men lore, of course, but their presence sets up a possible crossover should Fox want it. Equally, Reed (one of The Gifted’s protagonists) mentions that Trask was meant to have been shut down in 2006. Funnily enough, this is when The Last Stand’s set and a short-lived renaissance for mutant rights takes place. It feels as if Fox has left themselves room for to two to be married up somewhere down the line.

I’m more than game for this. How cool would it be to end The Gifted on the opening of Days of Future Past, or run concurrently with it? And anyway, isn’t the X-Men timeline confusing enough without another separate continuity/universe to get our heads around?

Check back each Friday for more as I go into the weeds on pop-culture story, lore, and settings.