Friday, July 31, 2020

From the Archives - Vol 1

Been doing a big catalogue of my Supers stuff and realised just how little of it is on this blog. To remedy that, I'll be running the occasional entry showcasing my older efforts. 

First up, here is my old "Trailer" for my Little Wars Melbourne 2015 game, now on YouTube: 

Enjoy! Next time, some miniatures and maybe terrain. Actually, I'd like to do some more video stuff, but it's very time-consuming, so probably not any time soon. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Superhero Media: Black Lightning - Season 1

Despite my near-constant insistence that more "obscure" DC characters like Bootser Gold and Batwoman are the more entertaining, I've never gotten around to reading any Black Lightning, so I was kind of excited to see what Warner Bros and Netflix put together. For the most part, Black Lightning is rather good, with a solid core cast, strong social conscience and a banging soundtrack, but being both a WB television series and a Netflix production, Black Lightning gets to enjoy the failings of both. Like most of the Marvel Netflix efforts (the exceptions are Jessica Jones S1 and Daredevil S2), Black Lightning is around twice as long as it needs to be, with too many villains and conflicts to really hold much interest. Seriously, the villains for this single series include Tobias Whale, Syonide, Kahlil Payne, Lala, Lady Eve, the 100, corrupt cops and a secret government department; that really feels like several seasons worth of antagonists to work through. I really still have no idea what Lady Eve's deal was and where the hell the 100 (a street gang) went after the fifth episode. 

Like, Lady Eve can raise the dead and none of the other villains seems to think that it's worth talking about, like it's a pretty normal thing in their world. On the villains, Tobias is played by Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III, who is really unsettling in the role, but I just kind of find him unsettling in general, in a way I can't put my finger on, I actually tended to skip his sequences. Just a weird personal thing I guess. Lady Eve keeps threatening to kill Tobias and grind him into powder for magic (she's magic, which fits perfectly in the science-heavy setting), but that never really gets addressed either, because she is killed off about halfway through. In this version of Black Lightning, the titular character, Jefferson Pierce, has given up his heroic identity to be principal of a local high school and raise his daughters, when gang violence and drug crime drag him back into the costume. Complicating matters is a new drug "Green Light", political pressure on the police to bring in Black Lightning and Pierce's daughters both demonstrating powers. There's just so much constantly going on, but still not a lot, it's a weird mix that never quite comes together.

Much of the plot of Black Lightning could be cut without losing most of the good character moments, as points are repeated and similar scenes play out again and again. Remember me complaining about the arguments between characters in Arrow being repetitive? Same deal here. The music, mostly funk and soul, is great, even if it feels like a lesser imitation of Luke Cage. What really makes Black Lightning shine is the action sequences, effects-wise it's a bit patchy, but it's television, so hey, but I don't recall having seen powers like this used on screen in such an engaging way. None of the fights get boring or repetitive, like in early seasons of Arrow, and the flash of lightning in dimly-lit alleys makes for stark contrasts. I think Black Lighting could have been made better with a few more edits, as it seems like there's too much going on in almost every respect. Too many characters, too much exposition, way too much repetition of ideas and themes and too many villains. Hopefully a second season will see some improvements and Black Lighting can become a cultural touchstone like Luke Cage and Black Panther before him. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Miniatures Finished - 30/05/18

Man, does work get slow during the winter. The only thing stopping me from painting more are hand cramps, so the Massage Therapist girlfriend is getting called a bit, as well as plenty of Smash Bros to keep my wrist loose. 

Omni-Man - Are you reading Invincible yet? Because you really should be reading Invincible. Omni-Man has a great arc in the comics and really nails the "alien on Earth" feel for a take on Superman. Heroclix

Korg - Hey, bro, I'm made of rocks! As there wasn't a set of Thor Ragnarok Heroclix, I had to take a comic Korg and paint him like the film. I like to think he sounds like Taika Waititi. Heroclix 

Kate Bishop - AKA Hawkeye, AKA "the girl one", AKA my future wife. Yeah, you should also be reading Hawkeye - Kate Bishop, it's pretty great, and so is she, I love her.

Alucard - Not my favourite character, but when I saw him, I thought he'd be cool to have, especially if I ever want to do some "Haloween" games with the Midnight Sons, Croatoans or movie monsters. Etsy  

Mk 1 Iron Man - I promised myself I wasn't going to get all these different versions of the Iron Man armour, but when I opened this one in a booster, I decided to keep it. Heroclix 

Japanese Spider-Man - Again if you've never seen Japanese Spider-Man, open up a YouTube tab and check it out. Naturally I had to make myself one. Converted Heroclix 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Superhero Media: Elektra (2005)

As much as I enjoy Daredevil, I really can't say too much in the defense of Elektra. Following on from the events of Daredevil, a resurrected Elektra is now working as an assassin and, unbeknownst to her, being chased by the Hand. The film opens with Elektra hunting down and killing a man while he extols her virtues and legendary status as an assassin to his bodyguard. After telling her handler she needs a break, Elektra agrees to take a job during her lakeside vacation, meeting Mark Miller (see what they did there?) and his daughter, Abby. In a shock that everyone was expecting, the target is Abby and soon Elektra finds herself defending the Millers from the Hand, with plenty of Ninjas, martial arts and Marvel characters so obscure that even I had to look up which were from the comics and which were original to the film. Probably the highlight of the secondary cast is Terrance Stamp as Stick, who is more well known through Scott Glenn's depiction in the Marvel Netflix series. 

With it's unique (for the period) blend of Wuxia, Comic Books and American Action Cinema, Elektra has pretty lofty and laudable ambitions, much like Daredevil before it, feeling like an early attempt at an MCU film in retrospect. Characters like Typhoid Mary, Stick and Tattoo are really only known to more avid comic readers, plus having the Hand Ninjas explode when killed, something from the comics, is being perhaps a little too faithful and looks crummy on the screen. Speaking of looking crummy, in the finale, in which Elektra battles Kirigi (Will Yun Lee, who would later play the Silver Samurai in The Wolverine), Jennifer Garner is put in an approximation of the classic Elektra costume, which just does not translate well to film. I see a lot of criticism about the Elektra/Kirigi fight, which I put down to lack of familiarity with Wuxia, which the entire film is dripping in. 

Sadly, nothing about Elektra really comes together; the cast is good, but the script is terrible and no amount of good acting can save it. Some brave choices are made, like including Typhoid Mary and the Hand, but an audience craving more of Sam Rami's Spider-Man and Bryan Singer's X-Men just wasn't ready for the broader strokes of the Hand/Chaste conflict and superheroes returning from the dead. In an alternate reality the 20th Century Fox Marvel franchises (X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic 4) may have been the first "Cinematic Universe", though probably not as good a one as the MCU turned out to be. Unlike Daredevil, I won't be revisiting Elektra all that often, there's just not that much to it. If you haven't seen Elektra, it's worth a look, just to see where things like the Marvel Netflix programmes and the MCU may have ended up in different hands. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Pitch: Inspector Gadget Returns

Depending on how the backlog of posts work themselves out, this piece may actually come as soon as a fortnight after a "Thinking Out Loud" decrying the demand for "dark and gritty" superhero films, which will result in me looking like a bit of a hypocrite. Now, I do actually think that the "dark and gritty" hero stuff can work on occasion, such as Logan or even Dredd, just that it shouldn't be the default for any character with a strong history at least back to the 1980s. I've hedged about it, but I really think the Question (Sage or Montoya, take your pick) would work well as a more grim and grounded film, if only so the character could tackle broader issues of social justice as well as supervillains and Intergang. 

Even so, this one is a little different, this idea is about taking a character that really only has resonance with Gen-Xers and updating it to keep with the themes that that audience are living with. More than just being a "grim and gritty reboot" of a beloved childhood icon, this is a deconstruction, taking apart something to not only see how it works, but also to discuss some new ideas through the same lens. Get ready for some heavy themes in this one, we're going full postmodern. 

Inspector Gadget Returns 
Thirty years ago, Inspector Gadget was a hero, repeatedly foiling the schemes of terrorist organisation MAD despite an appearance of near-compete incompetence. All that ended when Gadget's niece, Penny, was revealed to be the real hero, working behind the scenes to cover for her bumbling uncle, with the aid of her dog, no less. In the ensuing scandal, Gadget was "shelved" and the Police got on with business. Flash forward to now and the situation is dire, MAD are running around essentially unchecked, crime is rampant in the city and the Police department is falling apart. Desperate, the mayor turns to an outsider advisor, a woman named Penny, who recommends reactivating Inspector Gadget. 

A man out of time still haunted by his disgrace, Inspector Gadget is overwhelmed by the new world in which he finds himself and the awesome responsibility with which he's been saddled. Rather than bumbling goons, Gadget is sent up against heavily armed gang members, into fortified neighborhoods and hostage situations, bullets bouncing off his cyborg body, murdering criminals with his extending arms and rotating blades. Through all this, Gadget is disconnected, seeing what he is doing, but not feeling it as he does it. Penny is unwilling to rebuild her relationship with Gadget, as he reminders her of her failure to keep him safe in the past. 
As Gadget is put through increasingly violent encounters, he begins the see the consequence of his actions, that the poor and disenfranchised are kept in their situation by inter-generational wealth disparity and that crime is a social response rather than a preferred choice. With his superiors unwilling to listen and the government unable to tackle the root causes of poverty and urban decay, Gadget goes rogue, attacking corrupt politicians and white collar criminal executives. 
With no choice, the police send in SWAT to take out Gadget when he holds a senator hostage, demanding the redistribution of wealth to the slum areas of the city. Gadget picks off the SWAT members one by one, but each fight damages him more. In the finale, Gadget faces down the last SWAT member whilst leaving a recorded message for Penny. 

Dark, but with some balance to it, think Robocop or Pan's Labyrinth. Sure there will be some violent scenes, but they need to be dialed up to comical levels, like Robocop or Starship Troopers, not played straight. There are a lot of political and social justice themes, which need to be done well so as to not turn off an audience to whom such ideas aren't engaging. 

This is the kind of film that lives and dies around a single actor, so that's all I'm really focused on. Hence, my choice for Gadget, Tom Jane: 

Now, did I pick Jane because of how much I liked him in The Punisher? Partly, but I want through a big list of 'older' male actors and Jane hit the sweet spot between acting ability, fame and history of playing similar characters. In both The Punisher and Hung, Jane has played men with nothing less to lose, capable of extreme acts with a straight face whilst clearly struggling underneath the surface. Also Jane is a way better actor than people give him credit for.

I hate when I can't think of a really "cool" or "outsider idea for Director of these things, but I really can't go past either Paul Verhoeven or the RZA. Both have a good track record with both filming violence and presenting social issues in an engaging way. Each would turn out a vastly different film, however, so I couldn't pick between them. Hey, this is a fantasy pitch, I don't need to have everything set in stone. 

Alright, come at me Inspector Gadget fans. Sure, maybe I'm breaking down a childhood icon into something I'd normally poke fun at, but is it really a worse idea than the Disney live-action versions? Next time, something different again.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Superhero Media: Superman the Animated Series

Out of the main Bruce Timm DC animated programmes (Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), Superman the Animated Series [STAS] tends to be considered the weakest of the set. I can't fairly disagree with that sentiment, but to think that such a rating makes STAS "bad" in any form is doing it a disservice. Produced by much the same team as BTAS, STAS begins with a three-part origin of Superman, featuring Krypton, Smallville, Lois and Lex, all presented in a very Silver Age, Fleischer-inspired style which really works for the character. From there, the DCAU formula of mostly stand-alone episodes with a few multi-parters follows, with classic villains like Parasite and Metallo and new foes like Livewire. Whilst STAS never reaches the heady heights for BTAS, I'd have to say that the overall quality is better, as the team has had more practice putting the programme together. 

The brilliance of STAS is in just how compelling characters as silly as Toyman and Mr Mxyzptlk are made, and without turning either into a serial killer (more on that in a future review). A great guest cast helps, with Malcolm McDowell as Metallo, Lori Petty as Livewire and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr Mxyzptlk, but the writing is sharp and more compelling than most reviews seem to give it credit for. The crossover three-part episode with Batman, "World's Finest" was good enough to be repackaged and sold on DVD as The Batman/Superman Movie; Bruce and Clark have to put aside their differences to defeat a team-up of Luthor and the Joker, made more complex by Lois' new romance with Bruce Wayne. By the end of the crossover, Bruce and Clark agree to work together when they need to do so in future and we've enjoyed the antics of Harley and Mercy Graves constantly infighting. The episodes really demonstrate the scope for a Batman/Superman crossover that really puts Dawn of Justice to shame. 

Much like BTAS, STAS is filled with episodes, enemies and concepts that really could translate well to a film, if only someone at Warner Bros would take a look. Bizarro as a failed Luthor clone of Superman? Great idea. Introducing Aquaman with Superman having to broker peace with the surface world? Brilliant. Batman goes missing and Superman has to don the Cowl to uncover what happened to the Masked Manhunter? Freaking amazing! Seriously, how is that not a film? Hell, I'd love to see Gottfried in a purple suit and derby menacing whoever is going to play Superman next, just go nuts with it. STAS is a decent watch if you can commit to all 106 episodes, the retro-futuristic look of Metropolis, increased depth of some characters and genuine affection for the history of the character are perfect examples of everything wrong with most current interpretations of the character. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Miniatures Finished - 25/05/18

Back at the liquor store for a little while, so more time to paint whilst I can't afford new minis. 

Doombot - Actually should be the last one I need, as I use them for a unit of German "Dhrones" in my Secrets of the 3rd Reich Latverian army, which I'm finishing on the side. Heroclix

Juggernaut - A touch-up of an old paint job, I'm honestly thinking I need a bigger mini after seeing Deadpool 2, maybe sculpt some prison fatigues on him. Heroclix

Mole Man - Well, now I'm committed to buying a bunch of Moleoids and giant monsters and painting them, what a shame. Heroclix

Rom the Spaceknight - Had to have a Rom, such a major character in Bronze Age Marvel Comics and another "Space Hero" to add to the eventual Annihilation campaign. 3D Print 

Yondu - Not many more Guardins of the Galaxy to go for me, at least until they release more characters in the Heroclix. Went for the film version of the character because he's more recognisable and more fun. Heroclix  

Madame Masque - I've got my girlfriend reading the Hawkeye Kate Bishop comics, so she asked if I had the characters in miniature. Found Masque in my box of spares and painted her up. Heroclix.