Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Superhero Media: Miraculous - Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (Season 1)

I first came across this programme a little while ago when it was on ABC Kids here in Australia, I watched a few episodes but really couldn't get into it. When I saw it pop up on Netflix, I decided to give the programme another go. Whilst there's not a lot to Miraculous, what is there is really well done and quite unique, at the least being a particular combination of ideas and tropes that I haven't seen before. Seriously, if you're into superheroes as much as I am, check out Miraculous, just stick with it, because the "origins" episode is about twelve in and it can be confusing before that point. Marinette is a teenage girl chosen by Tikki, an ancient Kwami, to be the latest incarnation of "Ladybug", a champion of justice with a history stretching back to ancient times (at least Egypt?). She teams up with Chat Noir, a similar hero with the power of destruction, to foil the machinations of Hawkmoth, a evildoer powered by his own Kwami. 

What follows is a French twist on the Japanese "Magical Girl" franchise, complete with monster of the week and repeated transformation sequences. Miraculous can get pretty repetitive, but that's a standard issue with these sort of children's programmes, so pretty forgivable. The interesting part comes more in the construction of Miraculous than in the execution. A collaboration between French animation house Zagtoon and the Japanese legend Toei, that theme of cultural mixing continues, with Marinette being the offspring of a French and a Japanese parent (see what they did there?). The whole cast is rather diverse, even if all the teenage girls manage a perfect 36"24"26", but hey, I'll take diversity in superheroes where I can get it. A major recurring theme of the series is teenage romance, with Chat Noir being besotted with Ladybug whilst Marinette falls for Adrien, Noir's alter-ego. 

I actually was pretty much done with Miraculous right up until the last couple of episodes. Sure, I'll forgive a programme being formulaic or repetitive, especially in this genre, but the charm that was there wasn't quite enough to have me coming back for more. However, in the last episode, more truths about the Kwami and the Miraculous come to light, ending on a cliffhanger with Marinette about to discover more about her powers. There's quite a fan following for Miraculous and if you're trying to keep your daughter engaged with Superheroes, I can highly recommend checking it out, though there's probably not enough there to engage the adult audience. I'll be checking out the second season myself when it lands on Netflix, but don't expect to see a Ladybug and Chat Noir on an Ultimate Alliance table anytime soon. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


So Stan "the Man" Lee died yesterday and it hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I'm not typically the kind to get really upset of a celebrity death, though Prince and MCA both threw me at the time, and Lee was 95, so on an intellectual level, I knew he wouldn't be around much longer; but I still found myself close to tears for much of yesterday. It's been a bad year for me, emotionally, I lost my job  around April and didn't bother to watch out for myself afterwards. By September, I was self-harming and even had a close call with suicide. Things are better now, I start a new Student Counselling role in a couple of weeks and have been volunteering to give myself something meaningful to do. Then Stan Lee died and I kind of felt empty for the better part of a day. 

As a mental health worker, I know that everything comes back to grief and/or trauma sooner or later, but knowing that I'm experiencing grief and doing something about it are two different things. Despite my background in English Literature, I can think of few authors who have had as much influence over my life as Stan Lee and his many collaborators. Spider-Man comics where the first things I ever read, and I grew up in the boom period of Marvel Cartoons in the early 1990s. Throughout my entire life, I have read comics, and mostly Marvel Comics, and they have shaped the way I think and act. When I was a child, I wanted to be a superhero, as an adult, I advocate for social justice and try to save lives through my mental health work in suicide prevention. 

If it hadn't been for Stan Lee and the Marvel crew of the 1960s, I don't think superheroes and comics would be around in the form they are now, and certainly wouldn't have been as prevalent in my childhood. Despite taking credit for almost everything Marvel touched in the Silver and Bronze age, Stan was one of a team, but I think it gets forgotten that his being the face of the company in those halcyon days was a decision made by the management so that only Stan had to do the PR stuff that Kirby et al didn't want to do. Over time, Stan became not only the face of Marvel Comics, but the face of the genre. Batman and Superman may be the most recognisable superheroes of all time, but Stan Lee is the best known comic creator by a wide margin. 

Lee spent essentially his entire life in the comics industry, his creative efforts touching from the 1950s through to today. That's a hell of a legacy. Think of how many kids, too young to read, that run around in Spider-Man costumes, or how big the Marvel films are at the moment. It's not hyperbole to assert that without the Lee and Kirby-led boom of the Silver Age, none of this would exist. No MCU, no modern comics, no superhero film industry thanks to the success of Spider-Man, Blade and X-Men. No Lead Capes and my endless superhero miniatures project. 

Thank you, Stan Lee, I will miss you but cherish your continued presence in my life. 


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Superhero Media: Green Lantern (2011)

If you have never actually sat through this film, I kind of have to recommend that you do, if only to see how a film can manage to fail to be good at any stage, on any level. What is so fascinating about this film is that nothing works, at all. Got Geoffery Rush, Clancy Brown, Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi in your film? Doesn't matter, because the costumes, script, cinematography and direction are all pulling in different directions and nothing comes together at any stage. And it's not that the bare bones of the story don't work as an outline; Hal Jordan gets the Green Lantern ring, travels to Oa where he is trained to be a member of the corps, returns to Earth and defeats the villain. That's pretty much all a Green Lantern film really needs to be. That's the real shame here; the utter failure of anyone attached to the project to deliver on the premise. 

I suppose I should talk about the CGI? Because that always seems to come up when talking about Green Lantern. Yes, the costume looks stupid, it's Ryan Reynolds' head floating in a greenscreen, of course it looks stupid. Yes, it would have looked better with practical effects, but no one does practical effects anymore (except maybe Duncan Jones), because of the time and expense. Probably the best compromise would have been CGI powers and "real" costumes, but I can see the reason behind the decision, even if it turned out to be a bad one. Hell, with a decent script, even the CGI costume may have been forgivable. The real problem is the narrative and, especially, the villain; I know Hector Hammond has changed since the Silver Age, but I still think of him menacing GL with his "Future Brain". 

Hammond, Paralax, Sinestro, that's way too many villains for the first film in the series, the audience has no idea who these people are or why they should care. So Paralax is concentrated fear? Does Hal defeat it by being brave? Not really, just whip at it with some CGI boxing gloves and everything will be ok. Uninspired is the word that I associate with Green Lantern, it feels like no one wanted to work on the film and just happened to be under contract. This feels especially disappointing to watch after Iron Man having been out just a few years previous, like an anachronistic '90s superhero film that found its way into the wrong decade. I'm glad this never went anywhere, because Green Lantern actually deserves better than this. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Melee of Champions - Part I

This project was going to be a bit more "background" than most, but given the huge amount of interest I got on the Super Miniatures Gaming Facebook Group, I thought I'd get going on it now. I've had the idea for a while to run supers games at various community festivals and events which my club attends, but I wanted to make the games more engaging and accessible for people unfamiliar with miniature wargames. Though I'm not much of a video gamer, I knew about the Disney Infinity figurines and Nintendo Amiibos and thought there was some potential there, but SuperSystem just seemed a little too complex for what I wanted to do.

Thankfully, Scott P came up with Super Mission Force [SMF], a lighter, and faster-playing version of SuperSystem which would be easier for new players and young people to pick up. Thanks to my chronic under-employment, it took me a lot longer than I would have liked to get this project going, but I finally managed to get my hands on SMF and play a few games to get a feel for it. As I've said before, I'm not so much of a fan of it as a game for me, but the rules work fine and only require a couple of tweaks for the kind of game I want to get people playing at a convention or festival. Specifically, the changes I make are that all attacks do Knockback and there is no Dice Pool Cap for bonus dice, there are a couple of reasons for these changes. With the Knockback, I'm running the game on a smaller area and use "ring-outs" as a second win condition, so characters flying all around the place makes this happen a bit more often. For the Dice Pool Cap, I found with my Ultimate Alliance games, which are aimed at a convention crowd, more dice meant more fun, especially when a player got lucky and could make a huge attack.

So lets talk theme for a minute. With my SuperSystem games, I built my own "Platinum Age" setting, complete with history, teams, aliens and even alternate universes; this gives me a chance to tell my own stories and flex my creativity. For Ultimate Alliance, I wanted a game where I could combine all of the various characters I had from different publishers and continuities and do all the crazy stuff that copyright laws and corporate interests would never allow. When I came to SMF and had bought some Disney Infinity and Amiibos (ok, so I did already have some, I do own a Wii-U, 2DS and Switch), I decided to approach it from another angle. Given I was was aiming at a younger audience, my mind drifted to a favourite of mine, Super Smash Bros. 

It's a tad obvious when you think about it, take a crossover game franchise filled with popular characters and reproduce it in miniature form. Of course, being me, there's more to it than that, there's a healthy dose of Contest of Champions in there as well, which is how I'm thinking of framing it for players; "Choose your champions and battle to decide who is the greater power", kind of deal. Incidentally, if you haven't read the new Contest of Champions, pick up the two trades, they're really good. 

So now I had the rules and some figures, what next? Thankfully, the online community for SMF is pretty awesome. Through the Lead Adventure Forum, I found this site: http://smfcards.000webhostapp.com/ which has a couple of hundred stat cards for heroes already done up, plenty of Marvel and DC, but also some indy stuff and even a few anime characters. That lot only covered five of the Marvel characters I had, so being time-poor in the extreme at the moment (in the middle of an 18-day work week as I write this), I went the easy route and decided to just adapt characters that were already in the huge amount of work done above. I'm not much when it comes to image manipulation, thankfully Marc P from the Super Miniature Gaming group came to my aid and put together some great images at no expense. You can find Marc's work at the end of this article, for the originals, please support the previous link.

Some of my Disney Infinity; Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Iron Man and Hulk. 
At the Whitehorse Community Festival here in Melbourne, Australia, I had my "Melee of Champions" stuff out and ready to go, intending to do my best to sell the hobby of miniatures gaming to the general public, despite the popular image of neckbeards and body odor. Whilst I had a lot of interest and even ran a few turns, what I talked about most that day was my profession, that of being a counsellor, primarily working with youth, especially those with diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder. This kind of work is just something I fell into, finding that I had a talent for it as well as the interest. Some of my best work has involved the use of board and card games to help develop a rapport with clients that may not have a great deal of interest in verbal communication. To help with this, my Counselling kit includes such exotic paraphernalia as copies of Infernal Contraption, Kill Doctor Lucky, Man Bites Dog, One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Rhino Hero.

The Incredibles, courtesy of Disney Infinity 

After this past weekend though, I'm thinking that maybe there's room for wargames in my Counsellors' toolbox. I doubt I'll ever have the audacity to hand out "Getting Started in Age of Sigmar" books at any school were I'm working, but Melee of Champions, as well as games like Tribal, Wars of Insurgency and whatever my kaiju project turns out to be all have potential for being educational and theraputic as well as fun. Games are a great way to get students involved with mathematics, estimation, strategic thinking and, for ASD and other youth that have trouble reading non-verbal ques, learning to gauge the truth of what a person is saying. Not so much teaching people to lie that may otherwise have trouble, but to better pick up on when someone else is being untruthful. Obviously, games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf are better for this than miniatures gaming, but there is an element of bluffing to wargames that I feel many overlook, especially once hidden objectives and unexpected combos come into play. 
Disney Infinity Gamora and Rocket Racoon represent the Guardians of the Galaxy I have so far. 

One of the better aspects of this project is the cost, or lack thereof. I tend to game a bit on the cheap anyway, being chronically underemployed, but I also don't mind spending money on my hobby to get the pieces I want. For example, I have a Flesh Eater Courts army for Age of Sigmar, which I really enjoy playing, but damn if it wasn't one of the more expensive armies I've put together. For the most part, the Disney Infinity figures can be found second-hand for a few dollars each, and I tend to buy the Amiibos on sale for around $9AUD each. As mentioned above, I use the Amiibos for my Nintendo hardware, so the price also includes the added play I get there. SMF is a pretty affordable book and the Stat Cards are printed on photos, around 10c each at the local office supply chain store. 
Some of the Disney Infinity really exaggerate the proportions, I'm not keen on Syndrome, but it looks good on Ahsoka Tano and Rey. 

Part of the appeal of a cheap project also helps with my public displays, where the aim isn't so much to convince people to join my particular wargames club, as it is to raise awareness of the miniature wargames hobby and how people can start playing quickly and easily. Something that's as affordable as SMF and some toys that many parents may already have too many of laying around looks a lot less daunting than Warmachine or Age of Sigmar. I've found that most children over around 10 (depending on developmental skills) can pick up SMF after only a few turns, especially with the nice cards that cover most of the Powers and skills. I struggle sometimes to not use phrases like "D6" and "Alternating Activation", after so many years of playing with wargamers, but practice makes perfect and all that. 

Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa from Disney Infinity and Captain Falcon Amiibo make for a trio of Captains. 

So this is the part where I ask for help. Not so much for anything in particular, but to start working on something we can all use. As mentioned above, the stats I have for The Incredibles, Syndrome, Rocket Racoon, Ahsoka Tano, Captain Falcon, Falco, King Dedede, Meta Knight and Bowser are simply rebranded versions of existing cards taken from the link. Not to mention needing stats for new acquisitions Rey, Barbossa and Captain Jack. Whilst Marc has expressed an interest in making up more cards, I've never actually done up the stats of a SMF character, and do need to learn, but of people out there, in the community are keen to have a go, please do. Perhaps we can build a database or wiki somewhere? I'm not great with computers, so would be willing to hand that idea off to someone. If you want to help out, comment on this post, in the the original link to this I posted in the Super Miniatures Gaming group. 

Falco, King Dedede, Meta Knight and Bowser, the Amiibos are actually really nice for the money, well sculpted and the painting is crisp. 

Thanks for sticking around til the end of this one, I have a couple more ideas for figures for this one, if Disney, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and Nintendo aren't enough for you. First of all DC did a line of "DC Animated Universe" style non-posable heroes called "FIGZ", which look perfect, but I can't find anywhere anymore: 

Seriosuly, if you find any of these, please let me know, I'd like to grab a few. The alternative is the Schleich versions, but at $20+AUD a pop, they're out of my range. Similar designs can be found with various Anime franchises, but I'm, again, waiting to find some in my price range, mostly Dragonball. If video games are more your thing though, you may want to take a look at the Playstation Totaku collectables, but wait until they go half-price at your local EB or Gamestop. 

Personally, I'm waiting for a Ratchet and Clank, but the Tekken stuff is tempting. Hope all of this is helpful or at least interesting for those who got this far. I'm starting a proper counselling job again next year, with a look to do more "games as teaching", so expect something more along these lines in the future. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Superhero Media: Marvel Zombies

KIRKMAN! Marvel Zombies is the kind of thing I feel I should enjoy, but really don't. The basic concept, that silver-age superheroes are turned into flesh-eating monsters, is pretty solid, and I really enjoyed the crossover in Ultimate Fantastic Four, but I'm not sure that the zombies can carry the story by themselves. After catching and devouring Magneto (one of the last survivors on their world), the zombie Avengers set about figuring out how to continue existing now that all of their food is gone. When the Silver Surfer turns up (and is eaten), the heroes have to figure out how to defeat (then eat) Galactus. The story ends with an epilogue of the "Devourer of Worlds" arriving to consume an alien world, only for a team of zombie Avengers to leap out, clad in cosmic armour. It's an ok story all up, and I usually love Robert Kirkman's superhero stuff, but Marvel Zombies falls a little flat for me. 

I think part of the lack of appeal for me is that Marvel Zombies became an entire franchise of its own, the last one I saw was volume five, but I wouldn't be shocked to find more out there. For me, it's just a matter of the joke wearing thin, especially because I first came across the zombies in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four; flogging a dead superhero and all that. What makes me unwilling to completely dismiss the "Zombies" universe, though, is just how many good ideas come out of it. It's like the old What If? series (god, I miss those), it gives the writers to explore odd and interesting ideas that would never fly in the main comics. Howard the Duck leading an elite band of zombie hunters, the robotic heroes and villains of the world teaming up and the "Skrulltastic Four" are all great ideas that I'm glad to have, even if I'm not mad on the comics themselves. 

Much the same can be said for the concept of the zombies themselves; I have a Colonel America and zombie Spider-Man in my Firefight Plague army and plan on adding a few more to the collection at some stage, once the prices drop. And yes, I'm already working on a Skrulltastic Four, duh. The concept of an alternate universe where Earth's Mightiest Heroes have become flesh-eating monsters is too cool to let slip away, even if the stories told with it aren't that good. Hell, the zombies are way better than the "Cancerverse Revengers" from The Thanos Imperative, Thanos battling and trying to recruit a universe of zombie heroes sound like a fun story, maybe there's more blood in this turnip yet...

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Miniatures Finished: Wave 1

Been steadily working on my Annihilation wave so that I can use the collection as a Veer Min army for Firefight. 

 "Nightmares", heavy infantry with a variety of weapons, converted Heroclix Hulks. 

 "Maligni", veteran infantry, Mantic Dreadball teams. 

 Maligni special weapons, converted Mantic. 

 "Night Terrors", giant killer monsters that hide in infantry units, kitbashed from Tyranids and Chaos Spawn. 

I'm hoping to do a few more games in the near future where I use systems like Firefight, Lion Rampant and Black Ops to play Supers games, which is why these bugs got a new coat of paint. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Superhero Media: Iron Fist

So the Netflix Iron Fist is generally regarded (on the internet) as the absolute worst thing to be associated with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Due to having to watch all of the Nextflix Marvel programmes with first my girlfriend, then my mother, I get to see all of them twice before I put them up as "Superhero Media" articles. I feel this gives me a bit of time and perspective to really get to the grips of the intended themes, characters and mood of the works that I watch. So my analysis of Iron Fist? It's pretty good. Not as good as Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but well worth a watch and better than most of Arrow. After supposedly dying in a plane crash fifteen years ago, Danny Rand returns to New York City to seek out his old family friends, the Meachums. To his shock, Danny is not welcomed with open arms, the world having long ago adapted to his absence and moved on. 

Danny has changed also, becoming the Immortal Iron Fist, defender of Kun-Lung and destroyer of the Hand, able to channel his chi into his fist to form a devastating weapon. When Danny, along with new friends Coleen Wing and Claire Temple, discovers that his father's company has been infiltrated by the Hand, his quest begins to discover what kind of Iron Fist he will be. The major focus on the Hand, which is clearly building up for The Defenders, is probably the big misstep that Iron Fist makes; it really feels like we're just waiting on the rest of the team to show up most of the time. I think that, also, the business intrigue is a little overplayed and detracts from the martial arts action, but I warmed up to it the second time due to just how good David Wenham's performance is as Harold Meachum, he really carries the programme at some points. The return of Madame Gau is welcome and whilst the martial arts sequences are too few, the ones that are there are really good. 

If you're having trouble getting into Iron Fist, start with "Immortal Emerges from Cave" (Episode 6), it's directed by the RZA, features a martial arts tournament with interesting opponents and is probably the high point of the series. Episode 8 features another good fight and I have to say that Coleen Wing is probably the strongest supporting character in the Marvel Netflix canon outside of Claire, who is brilliant as always. Iron Fist is probably the weakest of the "pre-Defenders" programmes, but there's still a lot to enjoy if you're willing to give it a go. Yes, it does read as a lead-in to The Defenders more so than a stand-alone programme, but that really hurts it less than most critics seem to think.