Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Superhero Media: Supergirl (1984)

Think sprawling cinematic "universes" are a new thing? Try this on for size; between 1978 and 2006, Warner Bros released six films in a continuing series about Superman, not all in order, but together they create a fleshed-out world inhabited by multiple super-humans. If you're interested, you can watch Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Supergirl, Superman Returns, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to see the entire epic, though be warned, half the films are pretty bad. Supergirl is pretty bad. Interestingly, although Supergirl owes a great deal to Superman: The Movie, the film in the "saga" that it most resembles is Superman III, which makes sense, at they came out concurrently. Were I to highlight the Superman film that best resembles the comics of the era in which it was made, I'd have to give it to Superman III, a weird mash-up of concepts with a dose of pulp sci-fi that makes odd use of Superman's powers. Sure, it's not good film, but Bronze Age Superman comics were nothing to write home about either. 



In much the same way, Supergirl reflects the majority of the comics from which she spawned; not well thought-out, poorly written with a forgettable villain. There's a reason the Supergirl television programme mines the history of Superman rather than its titular character, Supergirl as a comic character has never really hit in a big way. Her canon is nebulous in the extreme, she has no iconic villains and her character changes drastically version to version. With all that in mind, I do think that this Supergirl film is about the best version that could have been made in the climate in which it emerged. The reference to Superman being in "deep space" at the time of the events in Supergirl curtails questions about Kara's cousin and, retroactively, fits in nicely with the plot of Superman Returns. Although Selena is a crummy villain, Supergirl having to take on Magic (another major Kryptonian vulnerability) rather than Kryptonite creates a nice point of difference to the Superman films, and the fact that Ethan is a gender-flipped version of the typical film "trophy" female is still really clever and doesn't get enough credit.



Peter O'Toole is utterly wasted here, and clearly drunk in every scene he's in, which is funny, but hurts the film a great deal; Brando was amazing in Superman: The Movie despite not learning his lines ahead of time. Helen Slater isn't at all interesting in her title role, I'm not sure if it's down to direction or the desire to paint Kara as a "Magic Pixie Dreamgirl", which just kind of irks me to see, even forgiving the thirty year's distance. Unless you're watching the entire six-film Superman "series" or, like me, am a completionist for the genre, Supergirl is probably best skipped. There's not really enough to hold the interest and the parts that may be useful in planning supers games are covered here and in other reviews. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cyberpunk In Drublic

Did a second playtest for the Little Wars Melbourne Cyberpunk game, just myself, Brendan and Jason. Public Security Section 9 went up against two Corp Raider teams in a quick game of Cyber Alley (Pulp Alley variant). We didn't finish the game, but it did highlight a few things we need to get onto in the next few weeks before the game. The terrain looked great though, so we're well on-track. 


 This was a 4x4' set-up, but the finished table will be 6x4' 

 My urban mat for Superheroes came in handy. 


 Table-level views show off the detail of the terrain.

 Section 9 deployed near the chemical plant. 

 Corporate Raiders move through the processing plant. 

 Network 21 Litigation Team agents appear behind a local Hab. 


 Bateu moves for the first Plot Point while the Major provides cover. 

 An Enforcer moves up to a Plot Point. 


 A well-timed Challenge takes the Corp Stooge out of the game. 

 The Cyborg leading the second Corp team takes a plot point. 

 Minions move over the roof of a local business. 

 The Major opens fire at the Corp Raiders. 

 Bateu moves up to provide support. 

 Combat Drones move forward. 

 A minion attempts a plot point... 

 ...but things do not go well. 

 Media drone and Corp Enforcer exchange fire. 

 Network 21 is not going well on the roof of the Hab. 

 Corporate soldiers aren't happy about potential arrest. 

 The Major is wounded. 

 Drones scan the alley. 

 Network 21 Hardsuit books for the Plot Point. 

Bateu blasts away at the Drones, to little effect. 

After that, the game kind of petered out as we started discussing the little things we needed to get done. But, there were a few more pictures taken by other club members, so enjoy those: 













Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Superhero Media: Manborg

In a dystopian future where the Earth has been conquered by the armies of Hell, only one thing can free the human race, Manborg! A deliberately "B-movie" release, Manborg is shot, edited and even filtered to look like a cheap 1980s' "Video Nasty", but unlike several other productions along these lines, I really enjoyed Manborg. The trick that Manborg pulls off is that it is impossible to take seriously, but all of the characters within the film take everything perfectly seriously; Nazi, Demon Vampires, Justice's illiteracy, stop-motion monsters and all. The Baron's problematic love-life and crush on Mina are simultaneously endearing and hilarious, but no character in the film points that out, like one may see in a lesser piece of schlok or later Troma films. 



The lord of Hell and the new ruler of Earth is Lord Draculon, a combination of Hitler, Dracula and Lucifer whose armies are shown in the opening to have practically walked over the combined armed forces of the entire world. A superhuman hero is needed to defeat Draculon, so Doctor Scorpius risks his own life to revive the one soldier who ever fought the monster hand-to-hand, creating Manborg. Lost on the street, Manborg is captured by Nazi/Demon/Vampires and forced into arena combat for his life, where he meets a rag-tag team of human survivors; Justice, Mina and #1 Man. After a couple of arena bouts, the team escapes and prepares to go straight back to defeat Draculon and free the world. There's a side-plot with Mina trying to save/rescue/kill her former friend/sister/lover Shadow Mega (played by, the very sexy, Andrea Karr), which results in a pretty cool fight


Manborg is pretty damn watchable if you're into that sort of thing. It's fun, goofy, not too long and also makes a bit more sense than Kung Fury because it sticks to one concept rather than trying to mesh everything mimetic together into an extended mash-up trailer. The Nazi/Vampire/Demon army has a really cool look and would make a great "insurmountable" antagonist for a Superhero RPG campaign, even if they're rather generic when you get right down to it. As always, I like the idea of a world dying because of the acts of an antagonistic force, rather than natural disaster (see: "Villain Apocalypse") and Manborg delivers. Is this a great film? No. Is this a good film? No. Is it a fun ride that I'll probably watch again? Hell yeah. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

EotD: Villain Mission Force

My club-mate Brendan and I decided to try out the "Botanical Gardens" for Empire of the Dead (skirmish game by West Wind Productions) with a couple of scenarios, "Lost Artifact" and "Entrapment". The Botanical gardens include a variety of dangerous, and occasionally deadly, plants that add an extra element of danger to the fight. Quite by coincidence, I fielded my Tong faction, the Wing-Kong Exchange and Brendan took his Gentlemen's club, led by Harvard "Ha'penny" Dent. In the end, the mystic might of David Lo Pan was too much for Dent in both games, but here are a couple of pictures anyway.  

 The Tong are poorly armed, but throwing weapons help even the score up close. 

 The blunderbuss can be deadly, but the range is short. 

 Lo Pan and his minion manage to hold off the enemy to take the artifact in the first game. 

 The "New Zealand Razor Fern" (played here by a mushroom) is unlikely to do too much harm, but in the heat of battle, both sides stayed clear. 

 Lo Pan and "Ha'Penny" Dent come to blows whilst the Tesla Projector charges up. 

 Dent and his "Deputies" are here to lay down the law. 

A couple of fun games, even if luck was more with me than my opponent, the plants worked well adding a little more danger to the game. This is a great example of how simply choosing the right miniatures can add that Supers element to any game. By replacing the "Fu Manchu" character in Empire of the Dead with David Lo Pan, "Big Trouble in Limehouse" is a pretty easy concept to play out. Once I get the Wing Kong Exchange and my VSF MI-13 painted up, expect to see them here. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Superhero Media: K-20 - Legend of the Mask

Diesel-punk, Japanese V for Vendetta! Need I say more? Well, yes, I do need to. The film is also called K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces or K-20: Legend of the Black Mask in some markets, just in case you decide to go looking for it, which you should do, because it's awesome. In an alternate 1949 where Japan never entered WWII, the Empire is technologically and economically powerful, but socially backward with massive poverty and repression of the masses. Children train for a career before puberty and can never alter their vocation. The public worship two public figures, Inspector Akechi, the greatest detective in the country, and K-20, a masked thief, master of disguise and kind of a "Robin Hood" figure, insofar as he works outside of a rigid system more so than benefiting the oppressed in any way. Heikichi Endo is a talented escape artist and tumbler who is tricked by K-20 and soon finds himself on the run, trying to prove his innocence and keep K-20 away from the beautiful Yoko, an heiress and Akechi's fiance. 



K-20 steals an experimental Teslacoil and is chasing a Pieter Bruegel reproduction because it will lead him to a way to use Tesla's technology to destroy the industrialised world. I'm going to leave the plot there in case you want to check it out, which you really should. K-20 himself is framed as a full-on, V for Vendetta graphic novel anarchist, wanting to destroy the established order and create a populist utopia in its place. Much like Moore's England, the alternate Japan presented in K-20 does not want an anarchist uprising, just a more equitable society and the elimination of of poverty, so Heikichi, Akechi and Yoko have to team up and race K-20 to find the secret Tesla device and save the world. Throughout the film, Heikichi trains himself in parkour, martial arts, disguise and security, picking up gadgets from a former circus friend and developing something of a costume. By the close of the film, Heikichi is a full-fledged costumed adventurer, ready for everything the traditional Japanese hegemony can throw at him.



I've got an article brewing about how Japanese writers use typically Western (especially American) genres to explore anti-Japanese ideas, with superheroes repeatedly coming up in this literary resistance. K-20 (the film) rallies strongly against the kind of WWII-era Japanese values of society above self or happiness that films like Space Battleship Yamato or Godzilla: Final Wars (both genre cinema in their own rights) glorify as the pinnacle of citizenship. The key to Heikichi's eventual victory over K-20 isn't sacrifice, but making decisions that benefit himself at the cost of society. We're pretty used to that concept here in the West, especially when it applies to a white, cis-male, heterosexual protagonist, but in Japan, it's still something of a revolutionary concept. K-20 is a hell of a good watch; fun, fast-paced and funny when it needs to be. Check it out if you can while I look for a suitable miniature to get him on the table.