Friday, May 29, 2020

Superhero Media: The Adventures of the American Rabbit

Ever get around to watching a classic cult film and coming out of it having no idea what the appeal is? Welcome to my experience of The Adventures of the American Rabbit, an animated time capsule of Regan era American optimism and hubris that left me cold. I was born in 1986, due to childhood trauma, I don't remember much of anything before 2002, but my leftover childhood toys were a mix of Transformers, TMNT, Inspector Gadget and a few more 1990s things, but the pop-culture legacy of the 1980s toys-as-advertisments boom were present in my childhood. Perhaps it is because I lack that nostalgic connection to childhood, or perhaps it is because Regan era free-market capitalism is anathema to my political alignment, but I just cannot muster up any enthusiasm for this kind of saccharine, flag-waving indoctrination. About the only element of The Adventures of the American Rabbit that I even really care about is that it's an American/Japanese co-production with the legendary Toho studios. 

Rob Rabbit is born in a rural idyll to supportive parents and grows into a well-adjusted, fair and pious youth chosen by some divine force to be "The American Rabbit", a hero for justice and right. The American Rabbit has flight, super speed, super strength, invulnerability and roller-skates on his feet. Why does he have these powers and why is he America-themed? No idea. I wasn't certain that the film was even set in the USA until about halfway through when the characters start naming cities that they're driving to. Rob travels to San Fransisco where he starts to play piano at a bar until a gang of jackals try and enforce a protection racket and the locals decide to march against fear. The jackals keep hassling the "good people" of the city and The American Rabbit saves the day again-and-again as the band travel across the country and the villain, a vulture who repeatedly exclaims how evil he is, enacts his master plan to conquer the country by blowing up the Statue of Liberty. In the end, The American Rabbit uses some new super powers we've never seen before to drain the power from NYC and chase the vulture into the North until his wings freeze up and he dies.

If I had to put down a specific problem that ruined The Adventures of the American Rabbit for me, it would be the complete lack of tension in the plot. The American Rabbit is the only super-powered being in the entire setting, without the presence of a kind of kryptonite, there is no threat any antagonist can bring to him. The villain is a cardboard cut-out with no identifiable character traits other than "being evil". The heroic characters will always triumph because they are good and unselfish, willing to sacrifice their own happiness and/or lives to the benefit of others. This is Reganist propaganda pure and simple. It's willfully misinterpreting the lyrics of "Born in the USA". It's a John Wayne WWII film. It's indoctrinating children with a pledge of allegiance from the very first day of schooling. And at no stage is it a worthwhile piece of entertainment whilst being propaganda. Yes, I'm a Film Studies graduate, so I'll say that Birth of a Nation is important because it created the three act screenplay, or The Searchers introduced a broader audience to deconstructionist narratives, despite the horrific racism that both feature. This film is best forgotten and not worth your time to watch. #anarchy

Friday, May 22, 2020

Miniatures Finished: 24/04/18

Mix of new characters and old ones fixed up. 

Blazing Skull is a quick touch-up on the factory paintjob, another of the great "Avengers" era clix with the mix of translucent and opaque plastic. 

Iron Man, same as above, and has a great sense of movement, really not sure why some gamers are so down on the clix given the cost/quality ratio. 

Kraven was one of my first attempts at wetblending and I'm still really happy with him. An older clix with a great sense of movement and fabulous mustache. 

Shang Chi, master of Kung Fu! Repainted Heroclix. 

Avalance, the last of my classic Brotherhood of Mutants excepting Mystique. Hoping to get him on the table for a Super Mission Force game soon. 

Hitman, one of those characters that people either love or have no idea exists. Also makes a good Cyperpunk runner. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Superhero Media: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

I try not to attack the Hollywood System and the inherit problems it has too much here, even though it is a major issue when it comes to the production of film on a global scale. Hollywood does manage to turn out a great number of high-quality films despite the studio monopoly and corporate oversights that foster money making over creativity. However, sometimes I come across a film that could have been so much more than the studio has permitted it to be, the most recent example being The Legend of Tarzan. I've read a few of the Tarzan books and found them fairly entertaining despite the racism and colonial mindset, there is a genuine charm to the writing and characters that supersedes the uncomfortable tone and implications of the inherit superiority of the white noble savage. The Legend of Tarzan references every single Tarzan book I've read so far, as well as several Buster Crabbe films and a heaping helping of The Phantom and Black Panther. Someone put a great deal of care and attention into the crafting of this film, only to have it buried in a morass of Hollywood bullshit. 

The film begins with Dutch colonial forces colonising the Congo and Lord Greystoke is called back to Africa to stop the exploitation of the natives. Much of the narrative takes the form of a chase, with Tarzan and Nick Fury trying to catch up with Christoph Waltz's overacting because he's kidnapped Jane, who just kind of escapes on her own, which is nice, but undercuts the tension of the film. Tarzan must make contact with the Apes and Native tribes of his youth and band them together to fight the Colonial invaders, who have been taking slaves, apparently illegally? To prevent Waltz from bringing in the Dutch Marines with the Jewels of Opar as payment, Tarzan must unite the tribes of the Congo to fight, which takes most of the second act, but never actually pays off. Even the trailers of this film made a big deal about the "Army of Africa" and the idea of "Tarzan vs Colonialism", but the big fight doesn't involve too much more than Tarzan and a handful of animals. The bits that are done are clever, like stampeding wildebeest through the army camp and filling the river harbor with crocodiles to prevent a brown water landing, but it's not enough.

Despite having got his Ape family and two native tribes with cool designs on side before attacking the Colonial outpost, most of the fighting is done by Tarzan himself, with only a few natives freeing the slaves during the attack montage. Budget was probably a major concern, but screw that, the concept of native African forces repelling colonial invaders is such a good idea that it really should have been the focus of the film. Imagine mobs of apes charging Maxim guns, natives ambushing from cover, lions pouncing on cavalry and Tarzan, in the middle of it all, swinging in to lend a hand wherever he is needed most; that alone could have made this film a success. Instead, what we're left seeing is a pedestrian attempt to cash-in on a recognisable name with the bare minimum of effort to get a film into cinemas for summer. I really hope someone takes another swing at this kind of Tarzan story at some point, it's just too good an idea to let go to waste like this. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Thinking Out Loud: The Big Question

The advent of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen in the 1980s, combined with the human propensity to miss the subtle has led to a tendency towards Objectivist interpretations of superheroes, especially Batman. For those not familiar with the works of Ayn Rand, Bioshock or the current downfall of American democracy, Objectivism is (painting broad strokes for the sake of brevity) a right-wing philosophy that posits that the majority of society should support the "extraordinary" people among them, placing no restrictions upon their unbound genius. If that sounds good to you, please remember that everyone thinks that they are the "extraordinary" one[s], even when they're obviously not. Zach Snyder, director of more than a few superhero films, is an avowed Objectivist, which shows strongly in his films, even to the point of putting such themes into the highly socialist world of Superman. There is another big Objectivist name in superheroes that you may have heard of, Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man. 

Although early Spider-Man comics do have a *slight* bent towards Objectivist thinking, it can be seen far more clearly in another of Ditko's creations, The Question. Before he was a DC character, the Question was published by Charlton Comics, where he was the alter-ego of a crusading journalist who battered his opponents into submission with his unrelenting dedication to the truth. Seriously. If you can dig up some Ditko issues of The Question, give them a read, they're a trip. To say that DC is struggling with some their films is pretty fair, but it's clear that Snyder isn't leaving Warner Bros soon and that the Marvel cash-cow is going to force out a few more DC films in the near future. Given that the "safe bets" like Batman and Superman aren't working right now, why not take a risk? Why not have Zach Snyder take a swing at The Question? I mean, seems pretty obvious right? 

Without getting too much into my personal politics, I'm pretty damn far to the "Left" of Objectivism, but I think even I would get a lot out of a film like this. There is an interesting dialogue to be had about power and politics that not a lot of superhero media really engages with; Civil War, Invincible and Irredeemable are about the only examples I can see with a quick scan of my comic collection. Will audiences root for a hero who thinks he's better than everyone else and goes out of his way to prove it? What kind of news progamme does Vic Sage host in this day and age? Fox News? Fox and Friends? Some kind of "truther" podcast? Can that kind of "alternative" news personality carry a superhero story outside of "Red States" or will the broader world reject it? You have to admit that it would be pretty damn interesting to find out. Don't expect to see this as a "The Pitch" article any time soon, it's more of a concept that an idea I can flesh out fully.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Superhero Media: Kong - Skull Island

After seeing Kong: Skull Island and the 2018 Comicon trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I'm actually really hyped for this Legendary Pictures Kaiju expanded universe. By the time you're reading this, King of the Monsters has probably already been in cinemas, but I'm calling it now, in August 2018, that Monarch has to go get Kong because Godzilla can't defeat either King Ghidorah or Mothra and the two team-up in the big act-three finale. By Thor, that sounds great! The only thing that could make it better is the end of the film spoiling Gamera, as Legendary has the rights to that master Kaiju as well. If I'm still dreaming, try and rent the rights to Doctor Demonicus from Marvel and cram all the other Toho Kaiju into the franchise. Kong: Skull Island sees the Monarch group finally able to convince the US government to fund an expedition to Skull Island after pulling out of the Vietnam war. As well as a team of scientists, there is an entire wing of Aircav to explore this lost island, looking for something, but few know exactly what. 

I've read in a few reviews of Skull Island that people consider the plot a little light and nonsensical. I'm just wondering what the hell people were expecting from a film in which a giant ape fights US Aircav and snake monsters? Is this a grimdark/hardcore thing again? Please tell me there's not a huge demand for an R18+, gore-fest, fucking King Kong film. If you're nitpicking plot elements of Kaiju films, it's probably not the genre for you, just saying. Bitter after the defeat in Vietnam, Colonel Packard sees killing Kong as a way to redeem himself for the lives of his men, not knowing that Kong is keeping the other Kaiju, the "Skullcrawlers" in check. Loki and Captain Marvel have to stop Nick Fury before Kong is killed and the Skullcrawlers escape to the outside world somehow. Who really cares why the humans are doing what they're doing anyway? The big fight in the final act is something to behold; well worth the price of admission. 

If you're looking for an interesting convention game to play with your 10-15mm Vietnam miniatures, Skull Island is worth taking a look at, I'm tempted to show it to my 20mm 'Nam gaming peers and see what they think. There's a nice Heroclix Titano that's pretty cheap and would make a good Kong for a variety of scales, though I'm not sure how to make the Skullcrawlers, maybe some kind of Reaper or Privateer Press mini or conversion? I've actually started a Kaiju project, for which I'll get the Titano for Kong at some stage, but who knows how long until it actually shows up here, probably years. As I said above, I'm actually really keen to see where this series goes, with King of the Monsters coming out May 2019 and Godzilla vs Kong slated for 2020, it's a good time to be a Kaiju fan. Once I finish a couple of series I'm watching, I'll be jumping back into the classic Gamera films, so stay tuned for that. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Miniatures Finished: Bad meets Evil

I've been teaching someone to paint, as she likes superheroes, so my progress has been assisted a little. I don't consider it cheating. 

Batman (John-Paul Valley) - From the "Knightquest" event, I'm actually a bit of a fan of the character, despite the OTT '90s style. 

Captain Fate (Reaper Miniatures) - A conversion to get one of the more obscure Marvel characters I want to game with. 

Black Adam (Heroclix) - I was never a fan of the character until I read 52, now I want to get him into more games. 

Radioactive Man (Heroclix) - Touch-up of one of my first clix repaints. 

Lilith (Privateer Press) - As I continue to collect and paint superhero miniatures, the clix offerings are no longer enough and I'm having to hunt down unexpected miniature ranges for some characters. In this instance, Lilith from Marvel horror comics. 

Scorpion (Heroclix) - Same as Radioactive Man, this one was done years ago and was just a bit worn out. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Superhero Media: Batman - Knightfall

For the pedants among you, for this review, I read from the "Omnibus Edition" of Knightfall, which includes many of the side-stories and tangentially-related non-Batman comics; if you're planning on checking out Knightfall, I'd highly recommend going with the Omnibus, even though it's almost twice as much to read, because it fills out the narrative better and some of the best writing is in the side-stories. In the continuing "fanboy" discussion of what are the 'classic' Batman stories, there tends to be three names that constantly come up; The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and The Killing Joke. After that, there's a few on the next tier down, like Batman RIP and Arkham Asylum, then those that are maligned despite having a major impact on the Batman mythos, as it sits, like No Man's Land and, finally, Knightfall. If you saw The Dark Knight Rises, you know some of the salient points of Knightfall, namely Bane breaking Batman's spine, but what never really gets to be translated properly is the significance of Bane and the overall themes of the story. 

Bane is actually one of my favorite Batman villains and is far more than the muscle-bound thug that he often gets reduced to, being the true opposite of Bruce Wayne in all of the ways the writers try to keep insisting that the Joker is. Bane was born in the worst prison on the planet, condemned for his father's sins, he worked his way up the hierarchy, training his body and mind until he took revenge on the warden and escaped. How can you not make a good film out of this guy? Bane hatches a brilliant plan, releasing all of the inmates of Arkham Asylum and letting Batman run himself ragged until Bane can "break" him and usurp his place at the pinnacle of Gotham City. In order to give himself time to recover, Bruce Wayne hands over the cowl to John Paul Valley, formerly the assassin, Azrael, who wants to forge his own identity with the help of the Batman Legacy. This new Batman for the 1990s is more brutal, less forgiving and slowly replaces his costume with blades and weapons. 

Most criticisms that I've seen of Knightfall harp on the "over-the-top" 1990s elements, which results in my asking the question; "you realise it's parody, right?". The literal text of the story is that violent, 90s, edgelord Batman is bad and only the classic, blue-and-grey, 60s Batman is the superior article. How do people not get that? Is the real reason the 'hardcore' Batman fanbase hates Knightfall that it gives Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson interesting character development? Once Bruce ousts Jean-Paul, he hands the cowl over to Dick so that he can spend time reflecting on his future as the Dark Knight. Although Dick doesn't want to be the inheritor of the cowl, he takes up the mantle as a challenge to himself to find an identity that isn't defined by others; not Batman's sidekick, the Titan's leader or Kory's boyfriend. At the end of the story, Dick is comfortable with who he is outside of the Batman/Robin/Nightwing dynamic and ready to move on with his life. Knightfall, despite flaws like poor '90s artwork and uninteresting villains, is one of the more engrossing Batman reads that never seems to get it's due. If you can find the full run, trades or omnibus, Knightfall is well worth your time to read.