Thursday, February 16, 2017

Superhero Media: The Darkness - Origins

Sadly, The Darkness is not a graphic novel about a comedic British rock band, but is instead a quintessentially '90s indy comic with a ridiculous protagonist and sub-par artwork. Jackie Estacado is a handsome, sophisticated, sociopathic mob enforcer with a heart of gold and a thing for beautiful and stupid women. On the night of his 21st Birthday, Jackie is awakened to the power of The Darkness; a primordial force of power and destruction that turns the wielder into a living God on Earth. Soon, Jackie is caught between the armies of Heaven and the machinations of a sinister cult that wish to use The Darkness for their own ends. What is the power that Jackie wields? He can do anything he can imagine, so long as that imagining involves daemons, devils and Bacon-esque horror

Yeah, this comic isn't great, by any measure. The artwork is busy, the characters are shallow and the story is bland. Nothing really comes of the character being powered by "evil" except for his enemies being lesbian bondage angels (no, really), and ineffectual cultists hounding him for a little while. I was shocked when I saw that Garth Ennis had written The Darkness, as it had none of his characteristic "social commentary", though I saw he had the space for a castration joke, which is typical for his under-edited work. The closest moment that Darkness comes to character is when he learns that he can't have sex (the powers are passed down at the moment of conception and the current wielder dies), the narrative makes a big deal of this because of a childhood flame and it seems that the powers finally come with a cost. However, this only lasts one comic before it is discovered that the powers can be used to make impossibly-hot daemon slave whores.

Although I'm something of an apologist for '90s comics, I really can't get anything other than ire up for The Darkness. It focuses on the worst trends of the decade to create a forgettable character that doesn't go anywhere new. The character design is busy, but at least it uses a decent colour palate, I actually had a Darkness Indy Clix, but I turned him into an Archo-Flagellant for Inq28. Not much more to say on this one, a bad comic typical of an era thought to be the worst for the medium. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 1

Started a TSR Marvel Superheroes RPG campaign with my regular Tuesday tonight gaming group. I'm just running the old modules from the game with a narrative overlay and generated characters. I'll do some posting about it here, hopefully some AARs, hero profiles and tips on running the old system. 

To begin with, our heroes (Manzilla, The Gregarious Gigawatt, Sonic Tsunami, Spiderstrike, Koga and two others yet to join in) are pulled from their home realities, in the middle of superheroics, by none other than Eon, guardian of the time-stream. 

The Omniverse is under attack! Strange forces are marshaling to unwind not just one, but all realities and only a chosen team of heroes, each individually unremarkable, can prevent the destruction of absolutely everything that ever was or will be. Using his immense power, Eon will "insert" the heroes into the place of existing individuals native to the vulnerable realities, making sure that history unfolds along its predetermined course. The missions shall not always be easy, but the risks must be confronted for the Omniverse to survive. 

Session 1 
After meeting with Eon, the heroes find themselves transported to the streets of Manhattan, in and around the famous Bronson Park, slotted into the lives of the heroes that had fought this struggle before them. Gigawatt, Spiderstrike and Koga were walking in the park with friends, whilst at the Avengers Mansion on Park Avenue, Sonic Tsunami and Manzilla were directed by Thor to go check out a bilp of Gamma Radiation near the Krupp Building. 

Spiderstrike was out for a walk with his dear old Aunt Petunia when the old dear's purse was snatched by a fiendish mugger! Gigawatt was walking past an unfortunate racist stereotype of a New York street vendor when he saw him come under attack by a gang of youths! Koga saw Manzilla and Sonic Tsunami land on a roof nearby before all of the three heroes see a couple of local ner'do wells steal into the Krupp building. 
Spiderstrike chased the mugger halfway across the park before finally landing a hit and bringing the scum down. Koga ran towards the gang of thugs threatening the pretzel vendor, but the Gregarious Gigawatt got there first and made short work of the rowdy juveniles. Inside the Krupp building however, two well-known thugs are found by Manzilla and Sonic Tsunami to be attempting to loot a suit of SHIELD Mandroid armour! 
Manzilla, never the sharpest crayon in the box, charges the suit of armour, thinking it a new supervillain and ending up sprawled on the floor in a pool of broken glass. Shots ring out and Manzilla takes minor injuries as Sonic Tsunami swings a hammer composed of water into the first thug, cracking his skull. As soon as Manzilla recovers, his magnetic control powers rip the gun from the thug's hand, along with most of his hand. 
With the battle over, the police soon arrive and all is well... or is it? 

Tune in next time True Believers!  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Superhero Media: Captain America - The Chosen

The Chosen is one in a semi-official series of limited series in which iconic Marvel characters face their final challenge; a theoretical "final adventure". Many of these are subtitled "The End", though several, including The Chosen, morphed into stories that were more than a hypothetical bookend for the character. Some of these stories are truly great, like Old Man Logan, and some, like The Chosen are a little odd or lacking in some way. When I eventually get around to Captain America: The New Deal, I'll probably have a long-winded discussion on Cap's relationship with the 9/11 terror attacks and how the character was changed dramatically over the decade following the attacks. For now, understand that The Chosen exists in a "post-9/11" creative space and Cap is, himself, symbolic of America's greatest achievements; being a veteran of WWII, having survived the Great Depression and being a member of the armed forces. 

In The Chosen, the narrative follows Jimmy, a soldier in Afghanistan fighting the War on Terror, his struggle to stay alive for his wife and child, to protect the men around him and to battle the fear that constantly grips him. Jimmy begins to undertake acts of great heroism as he sees Captain America fighting alongside him and is forced to demand more and more of himself as his unit becomes trapped in a cave. This sacrifice culminates with a superhuman effort against fear and pain, guided by Cap, who himself lays dying, astral-projecting with his new psychic powers to find a "replacement". Both Cap and Jimmy put such inhuman demands on themselves, one would expect that Mel Gibson were directing the action; pain, sacrifice and patriotism are presented, not as ideals, but as functions of the American in service of their country. This may have resonated well with an American audience, but for an outsider like myself, it's jarring and does not connect with my experience.

Much like Fantastic Four: The End, The Chosen isn't a bad story, it simply suffers when not being read by the, very specific, audience for which it is intended. The fetishistic portrayal of patriotic sacrifice is typically found in extreme examples of government, Nazi German, Stalinist Russian and American cinema are all rife with examples of this kind of artistic expression, but here in Australia, Gallipoli and Beneath Hill 60 are about the closest we get, though they fall short of glorifying war to the extent that the horror is almost wholly mitigated. I like Captain America, when the character is written as a human being who struggles with the huge burden he carries and the grief that has built on him over decades. What I do not enjoy is Cap written as the personification of the American ideal, as is presented here; not a bad comic by any measure, just not for me. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Miniatures Finished: The Sounds of Violence

Pulled out and painted my Klaw the other day: 

And it got me thinking. Klaw has a pretty unique power set that would be hard to make work on a table with only one miniature. One of those powers is creating "Sound Shadows" of himself: 

Also, Klaw creates Solid Sound creatures to do his dirty work for him, so I threw these together: 
 (No Red Sonic Elephants yet sorry). 

If I can find more of the clix used for the Solid Sound Creatures, or more Klaws, I'll add to this lot, but for the moment, I'm happy. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Superhero Media: Avengers Icons - The Vision

I cannot honestly say that The Vision is one of my favorite Avengers. Yes, his initial story as a minion of Ultron is classic, he is a valued part of The Avengers and is always a great part of the team. However, the character has a convoluted backstory that would make Donna Troi jealous, his lack of personality renders him unable to lead a story and he gets killed and brought back a heck of a lot. Essentially, The Vision is a great supporting character, but never really a lead. Perhaps it's just a matter of finding the right team to put the comics together, like the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye being by far the best Clint Barton solo series to ever be put into print? Time may tell, but for the moment, this series fails to excite in any real manner. 

The narrative focuses on The Vision's struggle to find and destroy "The Gremlin", a Nazi copy of a proto-human torch design from Dr Phineas Horton programmed to seek out and destroy American aircraft. As far a framing narratives go, it's better than Vision having to face off against Ultron, Wonder Man or Alkemeha again, but is it just me, or have we done Vision searching for his identity enough times already? There are a couple of human characters that aren't that interesting tagging along for the adventure to give Vision someone to talk to, but they're bland and I can't even remember their names or any defining personality traits. Again, it seems like there could have been better choices made; yes, I just complained about Vision stories almost always involving Ultron, but if The Vision is struggling with his identity, doesn't that make more sense than two random humans we'll never see again? The Vision dragging Jostaca, Simon Williams and the Human Torch around to learn more about his bizarre "family" fits a bit better than a pair of randoms.

What else can I say about this one? The villain, Gremlin, would be more interesting if it had more time to develop, but it's origin retcons Dr Horton into a gullible idiot and the Human Torch into C-3PO. The art is solid and the covers are imaginative, if that's your kind of thing. If The Vision is, somehow, your favorite Avenger, then this one may be worth tracking down; for the rest of us, not essential Avengers ephemera. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: ...for we are many.

So that Fox X-Men television series is almost here... and it's Legion of all things. For those only passingly familiar with the nebulous X-Men canon, Legion is the son of Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert and has the power to alter reality at a whim. Now, I'm not saying that the programme cannot or will not be worthwhile and worth watching, but I'm stuck with the question 'why Legion?' Longtime readers of Lead Capes will be aware that I'm not a huge fan of X-Men, but it seems to me that Legion is an odd choice; all but the most hardcore of Marvel devotees will likely only remember Legion from "The Muir Island Saga" or the Ultimate equivalent. Also, for most of his history, Legion was, pretty much, a villain, trying to kill his father and mother and all the X-Men, not a great candidate for headlining a major prime-time network action series. 

You know what this reminds me of? Gotham. A Batman television series about the GCPD? Sounds awesome! Did you read Gotham Central? Great series. Gotham police have to work in the city of Batman and all of his villains and all of the associated fallout, brilliant concept for a comic and a television series. But what do they do instead? Baby Batman and Gordon in Gotham nearly twenty years before he should be. Also, Gotham is just poorly written and not that great overall so that doesn't help. So now, on the back of a disappointing X-men film based on a ridiculous 90s character, we have a television series based on a disappointing 80s character with ridiculous powers. The trailer makes it look like a cross between The Prisoner and Heroes, which is an interesting combination, but at this stage I guess I don't trust Fox to do it justice.

Know what I find the most confusing about this development? There are plenty of other X-Men spin-offs that probably would have worked better for television and been easier to realise from a production standpoint. X-Factor Investigations springs to mind as the obvious choice, but Excalibur, Freedom Force and Academy X also have a lot of potential. A programme about an overpowered, mentally unstable, antihero just feels too much like a 90s Image comic come to life. Deadpool was as good as it was because it used updated beyond the problematic beginnings of the character. Legion, as a character, isn't that interesting, which gives the writers plenty of scope to create something new, but is that really necessary when there are so many X-Men with "better" (read: more interesting) powers and origins that could find new fans in a television audience. Will I watch Legion? Of course, I'll watch anything with superheroes in it, but I'm far from keen for it. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Superhero Media: The List

From the few online comics resources that I read, I've gleaned that Dark Reign was not particularly popular with the majority of fans. I admit that when Norman Osborn became director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Secret Invasion, it was a bit strange, but the following change of status quo made for some interesting reading. Dark Reign gave us the Dark Avengers, Secret Warriors and solid Thunderbolts content, so I'd say it was worthwhile having a read. The List is a compilation of eight comics from different series, all covering Osborn's "Iron Patriot Acts", a madman's plan of revenge on the heroes that have harried him in his storied career. The hit list; Clint Barton, Daredevil, Namor, Nick Fury, Bruce Banner, Frank Castle, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Like most compilations, The List suffers from shifting tones and art styles as it jumps from series to series; some are better than others and some don't quite look right

To break it down quickly, the Barton story is great, with Clint taking out all of the Dark Avengers until Ares beats him down and there's a brilliant scene where the Avengers argue about weather or not they have the right to take a life. Daredevil becoming the leader of The Hand isn't overly interesting, but works well as a lead-in to Shadowland. The X-Men are never truly interesting to me, but Namor getting to kick arse is the focus of the story and always fun. The included issue of Secret Warriors is actually one of the best in the series, but fits better in it's own continuity than it does here (see below for a great joke from this comic). I'm so unfamiliar with Hulk continuity that I honestly can't form much of an opinion here, but I didn't enjoy it all that much. Frank gets killed of in a disappointing, extended snuff-sequence by Draken of all people, which is about as dull as it sounds. Wolverine is boring, as usual. Finally, Spider-Man is solid, as his comics typically are, thanks to Marvel funneling good writers and artists onto the book. 

So, is it any good? Well, it's ok. Some of the individual comics are awesome, but they don't really "flow" in the collection. My main takeaway is that I'd have been better off reading more Avengers: Dark Reign and rereading Secret Warriors, it would have been more entertaining. I believe that this is, in part, the core reason many event comics don't find an audience outsider of hardcore fans, the narrative and tone never really transfer across all of the issues and the whole thing feels disjointed. Still worth a read, but not the best collection I've seen from Marvel.