Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Terrain Finished: Vibranium Mounds

In a bizarre side-project that gets a look-in every now and again, I'm using my role as the "Island Chieftain" in NWA's annual "Pirates in September" Megagame to complete an ever-expanding army of Wakandans in 28mm for Lion Rampant. This entry sees some Battlefield in a Box "Energon Crystals" which served the purpose of "Spawn Points" for the defenders of Wakanda on the big day. 

 Wakandan Warriors (Eureka 28mm Maori) for scale. 

 A little bit of the non-slip matting I glued to the bottom of the crystals (which are resin) to prevent chipping shows through, but during play it is harder to spot than in the still image. 

 I also gave them a good coat of gloss clear spray to keep them looking nice. We had some of the crystals at Good Games Blackburn/Box Hill and they wore pretty quickly with regular handling. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Superhero Media: Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles (1990)

This film is fucking awesome. Seriously, have you watched it recently? Even the puppetry hasn't dated that badly, thanks to the miraculous work of the Jim Henson Creature Shoppe, and Elias Koteas is still the definitive Casey Jones by a country mile. Judith Hoag shines as April O'Neil, Mako is brilliant as Splinter, hell, everyone is good, even a young Sam Rockwell who has all of two lines as "Young Thug #2". The martial arts looks good, the comedy works and the turtles aren't taller than everyone else. When I picture Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello in my mind, it is the versions from this film that I see. I feel not so much as a shred of shame when I shout "I just love being a turtle!" along with Mikey. Ok, so the lip-sync on the costumes is far from perfect, Shredder gets defeated far too easily and the plot is pretty basic, but there's still so damn much to love about this film. 

April O'Neil is rescued from the Foot Clan by the quartet of reptilian heroes during the height of a "ninja" crime-wave and our adventure begins. The Foot Clan are recruiting disaffected youth in New York, with the temptations of cigarettes, video games and martial arts training, turning them into a shockingly effective army of criminals. Man, when was the last time you saw a kids' film where twelve-year-olds smoke on screen? A point that will become relevant when I get to the sequels, the turtles are revealed to be fourteen years of age in this film, whilst Splinter seems to be in excess of a century old. Yeah, Splinter is ancient, given that Hamato Yoshi could not possibly have been doing his thing much after 1868 CE with that being the agreed academic consensus for the end of Daimyo period and that the third film actually sets up a cyclical legacy around the character. Neat, huh?

The entrance of Casey Jones, a former hockey player whose career ended with injury before it even got started and decided he wasn't going to take the moral decay of his city lying down anymore, still stands, in my mind, as one of the best in the Superhero Film library; right up there with Spider-man swinging in to save the day in 2002, Superman catching Lois Lane in 1978 or the Mark I armour stomping out of a cave in 2008. It is that element, that four teenagers or a fit guy with a golf bag full of sports equipment can take on and defeat an ancient Ninja clan, that keeps this series so enduring more than two decades after it started as an indy comic. If this film seems more than a little silly, just remember that the original comics were themselves a pastiche of the grim and gritty Frank Miller Daredevil run, complete with ancient Ninja clans, costumed vigilantes and a decaying New York City. Well worth another look.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Chalk-white and rock hard

It seems to me that a great number of people spend a great deal of time thinking about the Joker's penis. I don't just mean semi-anonymous writers of bad fanfiction, but major Hollywood writers and producers are putting a great deal of effort into making the nature of Joker's love life very explicit. For me, most of this goes back to two seminal moments in Batman history; The Dark Knight Returns and the appearance of Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated Series. In a weird upshot of Frank Miller's juvenile homophobia, the version of Joker presented in DKR is heavily queer-coded with a very homoerotic fixation on Batman. That's homoEROTIC, not homoSEXUAL, an important distinction, as the Joker's obsession with Bats never seems to focus on sexuality, but rather shared history and the emotional intensity that it brings. Joker is so fixated on his old foe that he is functionally catatonic for the years in which Batman is retired. A lot of "hard-core" Batman fans aren't keen on this interpretation of the Joker, despite their love for DKR and the years overly serious Batman media that it continues to spawn. 

Bruce Timm wanted Joker to have a sidekick in BTAS, a counter-point to Robin as well as someone to talk to, so Harley Quinn was born. Harley is a great character, not only in BTAS, but in the comics that followed and whilst I hate the oversexualisation of her costume, that groundwork was laid in BTAS and I can live with it. There's one episode of BTAS in particular, where Harley, wearing her makeup and hood with a silk slip, asks Joker if he wants to "rev up your Harley". Now, I'm willing to consider the idea that Harley is sexually attracted to the Joker, but I'm more inclined to believe that her Western, hetero-normative, patriarchal upbringing has created for her the expectation that she'll fall in love, get married and have babies; then she fell in love with a psychotic clown. The fantasy scene in Suicide Squad is a good example of this conditioning and resulting fixation. What gets me confused and a bit riled is the idea that Joker is sexually motivated and has a "normal" physical realtionship with his girlfriend. 

That the Joker is Harley's abuser is rarely argued by anyone with two brain cells to rub together, but I wonder if that's strictly true. Harley is certainly Joker's VICTIM, both physically and psychologically, but family violence is complicated and the Joker/Harley dynamic doesn't quite ring true in that sense. Joker most often treats Harley as a tool for his own amusement (yes, it depends on the writer, but I'm generalising), which is his default reaction to most people (Batman being the primary exclusion); she is his beaten dog or doll with the twisted arm and burnt hair. Despite what you may have learned from Dexter or Criminal Minds, most serial killers don't use murder as a substitute for sexuality, the BTK killer had girlfriends and a wife and kids and Manson operated a harem in his compound. Joker's focus on his continued "jokes" is, and has pretty much always been (even since the '60 TV programme), for Batman. Joker is fixated on Batman in a truly unhealthy manner, but, as discussed above, that fixation is not sexual in nature. In turn, Joker holds no sexual interest in Harley because she is not Batman and, therefore, not worthy of that level of emotional intensity. In Under the Red Hood, Joker isn't even really interested in Jason Todd or the fact that he's being tortured until Batman shows up to the fight. 

What I'm getting towards is an understanding that the Joker does not function sexually at all; nothing arouses him physically, even those things that arouse him mentally or psychically. In the No Man's Land novelisation (a really good read, BTW), there is a scene where Harley inspires Joker and he kisses her as thanks, putting his tongue in her nose and licking her eyes, because he is aware of physical affection, but does not understand how it works. This is how I perceive the Joker making the most sense, not truly an "inhuman" monster, but instead a human broken almost beyond comprehension; the sexual drive being so close to universal to human experience. For me, the Joker being a human being so far gone as to perform the kinds of atrocities he has makes him a far more interesting and unnerving character than the "Avatar of Anarchy" interpretation that sees a great deal of print. At the end of the day, I don't really need to know what Joker and Harley do in private, but I sincerely doubt that it resembles any kind of romantic relationship that most will be familiar with; something more like a hostage situation or the extreme levels of family violence are far more likely than what is becoming the typical presentation in film and comics. Please stop glorifying abuse through the lens of this relationship, we're not meant to be thinking this deeply about it, just let the comics be.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Superhero Media: Batman - Gotham Knight

Billed as "Animatrix" for Batman, Gotham Knight is a series of short, animated films, that fill in the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Some are pretty decent, others aren't really worth talking about, but the truly interesting part is in how it all goes together, or rather, doesn't. The Nolan Batman trilogy has a definite tone, true it may waver in Dark Knight Rises, but it is there and forms a major structural element of the series. Due to the nature of the shorts in Gotham Knight, in they are all essentially independently produced, there doesn't manage to be a consistent tone across any of them, let alone with the entire film series. The problem is that, as a different animation team handles each chapter, the look of Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham change drastically between the shorts and it never quite feels like watching a consistent film. 

Despite the flaws, Gotham Knight is worth a run through, as there are some truly great Batman moments to be had. In the "Deadshot" short, Bruce Wayne can be seen training with firearms, when questioned by Alfred, he makes a speech about needing to understand guns to fight effectively and respecting their power, even if he'll never use one. Across two stories, Batman defuses a mob war by negotiating a division of territory; what fucking genius. Rather than getting himself killed taking on two factions of local organised crime, Batman forces them to accept an agreement to stay out of each others' way to save lives in the short-term until he and the GCPD are better equipped to deal with the problem. In the comics, I'm pretty sure Batman would just run in and beat all of the mobsters down in a couple of minutes whilst ranting about his dead parents. God I'm sick of Batman. 

By far the best short in the anthology is "Let me tell you a story...", in which a group of Gotham children tell each other of their encounters with Batman. One child describes Batman as a living shadow, one as a vampire and one as a robot, with each description showcasing one of Bats' major skills (stealth, agility and combat prowess). In a setting where Batman is a new phenomenon, this kind of storytelling makes a lot of sense and creates a good mystique for the character without resorting to elevating his skills to mythical levels. Despite the references to the Nolan trilogy, I'm more inclined to think of Gotham Knight being linked to Batman the Animated Series, not just because of the animation but Kevin Conroy voices the Dark Knight in several shorts and the more "realistic" take on the character works for that continuity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Miniatures Finished: Over 9000!

Being free of any major upcoming events with Supers in mind, the painting progress is nice and varied. 

 Stan Lee, Dragon/Alien Egg objective (Both Clix) and Super Saiyan Goku (3D Print) 

 Gorilla Grodd, The Wizard and Apocalypse (all clix). 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Superhero Media: Cleverman - Season 2

I really want Cleverman to be as good as it wants to be, but its obvious that marketing pressure, budget and exceeding their own grasp is crippling the potential of the production. The first half of this six-episode season is more of the same meandering that fans have seen before, made worse by the fact that the climatic battle Season 1 closed on is never shown on screen! Even in flashback! What the hell ABC? I know big, set-piece, fight scenes are expensive to produce, but you couldn't do a few shots to tempt us in for the next couple of episodes? That first major misstep almost killed my desire to keep watching, but I'm glad I stuck it out, because things really pick up after Episode 3. It seems like someone finally cracked open "The Big Book of Superhero Tropes" and pulled out a few things to make the progamme actually resemble something that may be found in a comic. 

That's right, Koen gets a costume! And it's pretty cool too, with the integral scarf, funky jacket, face paint and courier tube for the Nulla Nulla, it looks like he scavenged it together, which he probably did; well thought out design department. Waruu gets hopped up on Hairy DNA (sciencey but stupid, like all good Silver Age origins), gaining strength, speed and endurance to challenge Koen, culminating in a decent showdown in the last episode. A new Hairy character, Jarli, is introduced as a renegade waging a guerilla war against the human government from an untouched hairy settlement in the "wilderness" 40 minutes out of Sydney. Jarli looks to be a possible antagonist or ally in the future, but his willingness to kill every guard he runs past will likely cause friction; I am keen to see a "Clevermen" team develop over the next season though. The more interesting part is that the version of Australia being presented is made up of cities surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness, making the whole "Hairies coming out of nowhere" thing a bit better. I wonder if they just left it out of Season 1 or retconned it in after reading the reviews.

As said above, Cleverman is getting better, Season 3 could be really good if the production team keep up the superhero tropes rather than trying to be "groundbreaking" constantly. The "too many plot lines" problem is resolved thanks to some characters dying and others meeting in the middle and it's great to have the setting fleshed out more, but the old habit of dragging out episodes with characters that don't drive the plot or build the world still makes some parts extremely dull. In researching for this entry, I found that Cleverman is indeed well received outside of Australia, mostly for representation, rather than writing, but it's good that Aboriginal Australian content is getting international exposure. I'm really hoping that Season 3 builds on the strengths of Season 2, rather than fall into the trap of trying to make every little thing a big deal. There's a lot here to like, I just wish it could settle for being a pretty-decent superhero progamme rather than trying to be the next Breaking Bad.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: The Prince and the Threapist

Is Vegeta Autistic? Yes, I am well aware that the preferred terminology is currently Autism Spectrum Disorder (I'm a therapist after all), but I needed that evocative opening sentence. Before we get too much further, I need to highlight that I'm not fond of the idea that people "on the spectrum" have anything wrong with them, a "disorder", from my work with clients, ASD people simply possess a different, yet equally valid, way on seeing and interacting with the world. Anyway, I've been watching Dragonball Super lately (it's pretty good, actually) and Vegeta features pretty heavily, which I also like, because I find Goku tedious at the best of times. Vegeta has undergone character developments and changes in his personality even since the end of Dragonball Z, finally admitting his own heroic side and even "settling down" to a certain extent. An interesting element comes in when Vegeta refuses to attend a martial arts tournament in order to stay for the birth of his second child with Bulma, Bra. 

It makes sense from a narrative standpoint, Vegeta has settled down and acclimatised to life on Earth, so of course he's not the same guy who tried to blow it up way back when. But I wonder if it's not also a function of the underlying patterns of his thoughts. Vegeta, much like Goku, has difficulty "fitting in", or rather, finding a way in which he can function comfortably in the society in which he finds himself living; if you are at all familiar with ASD, either as a worker or person on the spectrum, that sounds pretty damn close to home. Vegeta doesn't work. What even would he do? He can't work, not because he isn't capable in an intellectual or physical sense, but because the workplace is such an alien environment that he would be both unable to function and have little desire to do so. Vegeta is driven, not by pride, as he so often claims, but by self-actualisation; he has to get better than what he is now in order to be comfortable with himself. Not wants to, but has to. That is a very specific focus on a vary specific goal and/or idea. A possible factor of ASD so well known as to have become narrative shorthand for "intelligent and antisocial, but well-meaning". You know, the sidekick to the bland protagonist. (Oh, snap!)

Just for fun, I did a "12 Personalities" (Myers-Briggs) test answering the questions with a view to how Vegeta would answer and got the following result. I'm not going to discuss the problems with MB tests here and it doesn't necessarily fit with what I've been talking about, but it is somewhat interesting to take a look at.
ISTP-T "Virtuoso" 
Virtuosos love to explore with their hands and their eyes, touching and examining the world around them with cool rationalism and spirited curiosity. People with this personality type are natural Makers, moving from project to project, building the useful and the superfluous for the fun of it, and learning from their environment as they go. Often mechanics and engineers, Virtuosos find no greater joy than in getting their hands dirty pulling things apart and putting them back together, just a little bit better than they were before.