Friday, October 23, 2020

Miniatures Finished: Anachronaut Squad 1

Finally got around to painting some of my Anachronauts after the years I've had them. For those who need reminding, the Anachronauts are the elite soldiers of Kang and/or Immortus, depending on which comic you're reading, made up of the greatest soldiers and warriors in human history. 

This first group consists of a Zulu Warrior, WWII British Infantry, WWII Soviet Infantry, WWII Desert Rat, British Zulu Wars Infantry, Dark Age Warrior, Imperial Sandtrooper, Russian Napoleonic Infantry, Fuzzywuzzy and a Spanish War of Succession mercenary. 

My challenge with the Anachronauts was to only use plastic miniatures, which has meant it's taken me a little longer to get them together than I expected. I think the final result was worth it though. 

It's also been a fun challenge to paint more "historical" miniatures than I normally would, though I now know that I NEVER want to paint a Napoleonic army, I don't know how other gamers do it. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Superhero Media: Infestation 2

Hot on the "success" of Infestation, IDW launched the second part, Infestation 2, leaner, meaner and with more than a few changes. Rather than a single entity, like the Undermind, Infestation 2 pits its heroes against the entirety of the Cthulhu mythos, which makes for grander stories, but the overall effect is slightly weakened without a recurring villain like Brit to tie the narrative together. Infestation 2 features the Transformers, Dungeons and Dragons, TMNT, GI Joe and 30 Days of Night, most of which are better than the stories in Infestation, but without the kind of crossover promised, like Snake Eyes meeting Optimus Prime and Leonardo, it's still unfulfilling. Once again, the GI Joe story is the best one, with a cult uprising at a Cobra asylum for insane operatives. Crystal Ball (Cobra Old Ones Expert), Storm Shadow, a Cobra Psychologist and a cadre of lunatics have to survive a wave of hybrids to shut down the ritual and escape. I'd watch that film, even without a GI Joe framework and characters. 

The Transformers story takes place, not "now" or in the near future (like the 1986 film), but in 1887, with most of the Autobots and Decepticons in hiding, until Dunwhich is overrun by Deep Ones and corrupted Decepticons and Nikola Tesla has to awaken Optimus Prime to save the day. It's ridiculous nerd-bait, but the fun concept and diesel-punk transformer designs make it worth a look anyway. Nothing else in the anthology is really worth mentioning, though none of it is strictly bad, if you have the Omnibus Edition like I do, the whole Infestation/Infestation 2 does make for a good read and has plenty of inspiration for supers and horror games of all kinds. For me, the Infestation[s] are a nice additional antagonist for a campaign without having to buy additional miniatures, as I already own more than enough zombies and cultists to combine Infestation with Annihilation or to run it as its own series of games.

I've read almost all of HP Lovecraft's published works, and whilst I'm not a huge fan, his ability to evoke the otherworldly, the uncanny and a sense of unknowable horror is unmatched. It's no wonder that his style and mythos have endured and become a major fixture of popular culture. Of course, having such powerful beings as the great old ones leads some writers to wanting to see this power flexed; hence many derivative stories being more action-focused. As I've mentioned a number of times, a certain subset of supers fans are more interested in seeing the fights than the characters, so that superheroes fighting mythos monsters is a pretty expected result. Sometimes, this works really well, like Hellboy or Atomic Robo, but there are far too many poor attempts that leave me mostly disappointed. For me, the best Old Ones in comics are the ones that were there before we knew what they were, Starro, Galactus and Stardust the Super Wizard, for example. What's the point of a mountain-sized monstrosity when Superman can still throw it into space, after all?

Friday, October 16, 2020

From the Archives - Vol 2

Whilst digging through old photos for images of my Firefight stuff, I came across some pictures of a SuperSystem game I played years ago. I think this may have even been 3rd Edition, given the terrain and figures I was using. I've captioned the pictures as best I can remember, but don't expect great things. 

 Colonel Quantum battles a darkness-wielding foe. 

 The enigmatic villains have captured the VIP! 

 The Anachronism charges headlong into the wave of henchmen. 

 Wildcat moves in on the flank. 

 Particle Man is blasted into unconsciousness by an electrical arc. 

 Foul henchmen move through the graveyard. 

 USAwesome aided by Der Flieger (evidently on layover from WWII), defend the high-tech computer. We must have played two games that day. 

 Looks like Wildcat managed to get the VIP, I remember he worked a lot better in SS3 because the Super Leap power could function off Agility. 

 Wildcat blasts away with his pistol, which is never truly effective in a Superhero setting. 

 The villains close in on the summoning circle. 

 Henchmen patrol the grounds. 

 Golden Girl wades into the fray. 

 The Frontier Spirit braves the vortex of evil energy to fend off the villain. 

 The 2nd Amendment lays down covering fire. 

 Der Flieger puts jackboot to enemy face. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Superhero Media: Sky Captian and The World of Tomorrow

How come no one ever talks about this film? I know maybe a half-dozen people who have even seen it, which is a shockingly small number when you consider that most people I know are some kind of nerd. A spiritual successor to the likes of The Rocketeer and The Mummy (1999), Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is a pulp sci-fi adventure, complete with two-fisted fight scenes, plucky gal-Fridays and ray guns. When scientists start going missing, plucky, no-nonsense female reporter, Polly Perkins starts investigating and is soon caught up in a whirlwind of action and robot attacks, throwing her into the orbit of her ex-boyfriend, the titular Sky Captain. As the pair investigate the machinations of the villainous Doctor Totenkoph, they bicker and go over their former relationship, bouncing around the globe, but never getting past their past. A climatic battle with ray guns, flying machines and a space-ark finishes the film and we're shockingly left without a sequel tease. 

The major novelty of Sky Captain is that almost the entire film was shot on green-screen, with the actors being essentially the only "real" things in the frame. It was a bit of a bold move, but kind of makes sense with the kind of film that Sky Captain is trying to be. The high-concept pulp tone, with flying aircraft carriers, giant robots, ray guns and dinosaurs really only would have worked with an animated or effects-heavy feature, and as a film-making concept, Sky Captain does work, but not quite all of the pieces come together and the final result is disappointing. I think part of the issue was the film being a little too ambitious, calling upon recollections of Indiana Jones and The Mummy films, but not being quite as engaging. The lead actors (Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly and Jude Law as Sky Captain) are not well cast, neither having the kind of style or look that "Sassy Gal-Friday" and "Two-Fisted Adventurer" demand. The concept is a little high-minded for the content of the film, though ideally placed in the Pulp genre, the only films most audience members would be familiar with are more along the "thing good/Nazis bad" kind of line. 

I'm shocked that Sky Captain isn't a bigger cult film, like Flash Gordon or Big Trouble in Little China (though those are both far better), the only spaces I tend to see it mentioned are those that deal with famous flops or big Hollywood failures. As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of Golden Age comics, pulpy tone, unfortunate language choices and lack of continuity included, I wish there were more films that went there and made a real go of it. Yes, I have The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Shadow, The Phantom and Wonder Woman, but I'd like to see more be successful so that maybe one day I can get good versions of The Green Hornet, The Spirit, The Woman in Red and Stardust the Super Wizard on the big screen one day. I feel that if Sky Captain had been a bigger hit or was actively enjoying some favorable attention from the internet, that pipe-dream may be a little closer to reality. If you haven't ever seen Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, check it out, it's at least unique and fun, if not overly compelling. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Miniatures Finished: 12/06/2018

Funny story, I bought 16 miniatures over the weekend, so I set a goal that I'd finish painting at least 16 this week. Last night I completed 10 and it's only Tuesday, so I'd say I'm off to a good start. 

Spider-Man 2099 - I'm pretty sure my motivation behind this one was playing him as a "Lone Vigilante" in Judge Dredd Miniatures Game, but now that I have a sweet Cyberpunk set-up to play on, maybe I should do some "Future" supers games. Heroclix

Metalhead - Need a fifth for your TMNT team? Well, if Casey Jones, Slash or Splinter aren't to your liking, maybe give Metalhead a go. Heroclix 

Mew - He's actually closer to 1/35 scale, but I'm so damn happy with hand-blending the shade of pink on him perfectly that I don't care. I actually have some plans for the Pokemon stuff, but I'll need someone good with image editing to help out. Vending Machine Toy 

Nebula - I was on a deadline to get all of my Guardians finished for Little Wars Melbourne 2018, but it turns out they weren't needed, so Nebula got left a week or two. Big fan of her role in the films, so expect to see her in a few games. Heroclix 

Brothers Grimm - When I opened one of these guys in a booster (I was going thru one of my Clix-playing phases), I knew I had to put two of them on a base and run them as a single character. I'm beginning to focus on villains that have interesting gimmicks so that I can vary play a little. Heroclix  

Granny Goodness - Seriously Warner Bros, do a "Fourth World" film and pay Betty White whatever she asks to play Granny Goodness, what could you lose at this point? I'm not too keen on most of the Female Furies, so how about I run a game where they're other female super-villains? Thinking Titiania, Brit and Ursa? 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Superhero Media: Batman and Harley Quinn

I had heard that Batman and Harley Quinn was one of the better DCAU films, but I tend to not put much stock in what I read online, especially to do with Harley Quinn. As I've mentioned before, I quite like Harley as a character, especially as she is written and presented by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, but the "following" that has grown up around her is, to put it politely, complicated. As a semi-regular convention volunteer, I'm never going to complain about women in Harley Quinn cosplay, but those who idolise her as an example of womanhood and stable relationships are heading down a dangerous path towards abuse. On a lighter note, the cast and crew of Batman: The Animated Series are behind Batman and Harley Quinn, and in terms of continuity, it fits nicely into what fans call the "Timmverse". When a cutting-edge scientist is kidnapped by Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man, Batman and Nightwing have no leads, so they try to track down Ivy's former partner, Harley. 

After fighting and then seducing Nightwing, Harley convinces Batman that she needs to come along with them to stop Ivy and the second act of the film becomes a "road movie" with Batman, Nightwing and Harley in the Batmobile having adventures and little comedic scenes. Getting drive-thru fast food, toilet breaks and arguing over the radio seem more like scenes from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but Kevin Conroy, Melissa Rauch and Loren Lester really make it work with the characters. The scene where Booster Gold (played by Paul Dini) calls from the Watchtower and lists off who in the Justice League can lend a hand, whilst Nightwing mimes reasons they don't want, Black Condor is "meh", Elongated Man "talks too much" and Triumph is a loser; Booster himself offers to come down and both Batman and Nightwing panic and cut off the call. There's a fun karaoke scene, but I wonder why Warner Music couldn't come up with some better songs? The bar in which this happens is frequented by henchmen of major Batman villains from comics film and animation, which is a great moment for longtime fans. 

The ending of Batman and Harley Quinn is a bit poor, Harley's reveal on how she can stop Ivy is underwhelming and a brief appearance from Swamp Thing is fun, but doesn't add to the narrative. If I were to briefly describe Batman and Harley Quinn, it would be as a kind of "Reunion Special" of BTAS. The actors and crew are all there, but the emphasis is on fun and nostalgia rather than a serious story. Also, the rating of this film is rather high, with plenty of adult content, but it's not violence and swearing tirades, it's lewd jokes and adult sexuality, Batman and Harley Quinn aims to have aged with the original BTAS audience and hits it pretty much square-on. I've said it before and I'll say it again, why isn't WB handing over the live-action Batman films to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini? They have the talent, they know the characters well and everything they've produced is at least passably enjoyable. If you're keen for more BTAS action, check out Batman and Harley Quinn, it's a lot of fun and enjoyable enough to forgive its flaws. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Pitch: The Phantoms

This one has taken a while because, although I have a pretty good idea of the overarching shape of this franchise, I only had a good idea of Mandrake to start with and had to do a lot more research to get the next ones done. The Phantom is a tricky character to adapt, despite his long history and massive existing fan base, the 1996 film is actually hugely popular in the Phantom community and it keeps the Golden Age aesthetic and pulpy tone, of which even Captain America - The First Avenger saw fit to jettison a major portion. As strong an adaptation as the film is, it really never hit with a broader market and no one seems to remember it or the Phantom much anymore. 

Modernising the character is also somewhat fraught, especially to those who remember the terrible 2009 mini-series, but somehow he really worked in the classic Defenders of the Earth or The Phantom 2040 cartoons. I personally believe that tone is important, once again, I'd site the MCU Captain America films as examples. The character is the thing, the setting can and should work around them to facilitate the narrative, rather than being drastically reshaped to meet a market. If the Phantom had nothing going for him, he wouldn't have stuck around for over eighty years, trust that there is something there already, rather than reinventing the wheel.

The Phantom 
Having made contact with the crime-fighting Mandrake the Magician in our last film, Kit Walker, aka The Phantom aka the Ghost Who Walks, turns his attentions away from his home in Africa to tackle the global threat of the Singh Brotherhood. Along for the ride is Kit's daughter, Jedda, who is coming into adulthood and expects to take up the mantle of The Phantom in a few years, aiming to be the first female Ghost Who Walks.

Because of the information age we live in, we're going to assume that our audience will be aware of who the Phantom is, his general back-story and modus operandi; that's not to say we won't have a film version of the introductory page that appears in a lot of Phantom comics, but a full-blown origin story is not on the cards.
In this film, the Phantom has just become aware that the Singh Brotherhood, a fraternity of pirates though wiped out by the previous Phantom, has been operating in the business world for decades, becoming a powerful organised crime syndicate. Kit Walker must re-enter the world of high finance to scout out his enemies before he can rush headlong in as The Phantom. Complicating the matter is Jedda, who is keen to become the first female Phantom, and whilst Kit doesn't object on principle to a female Ghost Who Walks, the change to centuries of tradition does weigh on his mind. 

The Walkers soon discover that the Singh Syndicate is so far embedded in the international business community that they risk getting arrested themselves for their efforts. Forced to operate more outside the law than in their home country, Kit and Jedda begin to work their way up the chain of commands in the Singh Syndicate. To their shock and horror, the head of the Singh is a mysterious masked man named Klytus.

As mentioned above, there needs to be some retention of the pulpy nature of the Phantom comics, but given what has come before in Mandrake, a certain amount of sleekness of style is demanded. Something like The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015) is a pretty good yardstick or even Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. The film needs to be fun enough that the audience doesn't stop to question that a man in a purple leotard, his teenage daughter, his pet wolf and her pet panther are having running gunfights and battling gangsters. Also, the reveal that the villain is working for an Evil Space Emperor needs to not be a huge departure from what has come before it.

As with Mandrake before it, The Phantoms is an opportunity for a few actors to get a leg-up into the Blockbuster set, but there needs to be a few big names to pull in the crowd. I had to dig deep for these, thankfully my girlfriend is an actor and has an encyclopedic knowledge of good actors rattling around her head. 

The Phantom (Kit Walker): Like many fans of the Phantom, I like Billy Zane in the role in the 1996 film, but there's no way he could pull it off now. What The Phantoms needs is a strong male lead who can play emotional depth, that's why I'm thinking of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. 

He has the look, the acting chops and is about due for a major film role now that Game of Thrones has finished up. Also, I'm on a big European actor kick at the moment, so there's that too. 
Jedda Walker: Something that I kept going over in my head as I was thinking about this pitch was the fact that the Walker men always find a wife in Europe and how weird that looks in a modern context. So, what if, Jedda's mother was an African woman? That works, right? Plus creating blockbuster roles for minority women is always a good thing. Thanks to how Hollywood is currently set-up, I can't actually think of too many actors that could fill the role, but I'm looking for someone like Zendaya:
Not specifically Zendaya, I'm not sure she could bring the physicality to the part that Jedda needs, but someone with her kind of look and intensity would be perfect. Hell, maybe she could do it, I'm happy to be proven wrong on this one. 
Klytus: Our major villain could do with being played by a bigger name actor to help draw the opening weekend crowds, but we also need him to show up for at least two more films, so he can't be too big to not want the contract. My suggestion is the brilliant Paul McGann: 
Seriously, this guy is amazing. His voice alone makes him an ideal cast for a villain in a mask across several films. If you think I'm only considering McGann because I'm a Classic Who fan, check him out in Alien3, Ripper Street or Luther, he's probably the best actor to ever play the Doctor as well as a brilliant performer in his own right.
As discussed above, the trick here would be to get a director and crew that could deliver the right tone. I don't want to dob in Edgar Wright again, so how about David Leitch? If that name isn't familiar, he's the director of Deadpool 2 and worked on stunt choreography for John Wick 2 and V for Vendetta, which is an impressive resume for any Action Film director. Being able to blend a lighter tone with sleek action scenes is exactly what we're after. 

What Next? 
After the credits, enter interior day, a building like a less goofy version of the "clubhouse" from the old Defenders of the Earth cartoon, with The Phantom, Jedda, Mandrake and Lothar sitting around a table discussing the nature of Klytus. The revelation that aliens are manipulating world events is hard to swallow and even harder to plan against; how can they possibly mount a defense against an attack from space? The door flies open with a bang and standing there is famous footballer "Flash" Gordon, offering to help the heroes, he's just got back from space, you see, and has brought help. Flash steps aside to reveal the hulking form of Prince Vultan, and we cut to black. 

Oh yeah, we're going there.