Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Superhero Media: Doctor Strange (2007)

Did you know that Marvel Studios did a series of direct-to-DVD films about some of their heroes in the early 2000s? In many ways they feel like test runs for the live action films that would follow, especially Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Stephen Strange is a brilliant, but egotistical, surgeon who only cares about his near-perfect record and high-profile cases. Secretly, he is haunted by being unable to save his sister's life and takes out that anger on those around him. When a college shows Strange a series of children in a mysterious coma, the flashbacks to his sister's illness distract him and he runs his car off the road. The rest of the film folds out pretty predictably from there; broken hands, the Ancient One, road of trials, Sorcerer Supreme, showdown with Mordo and Dormamu. 

Frankly, I think the twist reveal is better in this version of Doctor Strange than in the MCU version. Dormamu is attacking the Sanctums as a distraction, his true plan is entering our reality through the dreams of the children in comas all around the world. Mordo advocates killing the children, but Strange and Wong can't conscience that kind of thing and Mordo defects. Also, in this version, Strange becomes the Sorcerer Supreme because of an inherent ability to absorb and redirect his opponents' spells, rather than "destiny". I'm not saying that the animated film is the better version, rather that both have their merits. The animation is not brilliant, the performances passable at best and the plot is pretty predictable, it's obvious why these films never challenged the DCAU's domination of the market. 

That's not to say that Doctor Strange isn't worth a look, it's pretty good in places and at least serves as a concept of where the MCU may have gone in an alternate universe. I'm not sure what an MCU led off by Doctor Strange, Iron Man and Hulk would have looked like, but it is kind of fun to think about; I doubt that we'd be ten years in at this point and looking down the barrel of Captain Marvel. I had this on DVD from years back, but I'm fairly certain it's on Netflix if you feel like checking it out. Not much more to say here, it really feels like this has been superseded and is of no real consequence anymore. Shame, some effort went into it, after all. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Kill Team Aesir - Part I

As many of you will know, I do the best I can to cram superheroes into every miniature war game possible, partly because I never get to play as many Superhero games as I want to, but it's also become something of a joke with my gaming peers. So far, I've worked superheroes into 1949 Secrets of the Third Reich (Captain America, Union Jack, the Howling Commandos and Red Skull), Warpath Firefight (Colonel America), Empire of the Dead (David Lo Pan and the Lords of Death), Frostgrave (Guardians of the Galaxy) and have just finished my Red Ribbon PMC for moderns. I also have my Latverian army (primarily for SotR, but works in other games) and a growing collection of Skrulls. 
The big "setting" that I've never been able to figure out a way to get supers into has been Warhammer 40,000, as the tone just doesn't work. Sure, there are Grimdark superheroes, like The Darkness and Spawn, but they never really did it for me, and other than just making them another interpretation of Chaos worshipers, there's not a lot there to play with. As I've been playing some Kill Team lately (great game), I got thinking on this again and finally came up with a solution; Deathwatch but Asgardian heroes! 

It makes pretty good sense on the surface, powerful Space Gods with magic weapons become powerful Space Marines with a variety of exotic weapons. And the conversions are petty easy, Deathwatch Plastics with the odd Heroclix head and some reworking with parts from my endless box of bits. I started with ideas for Thor, Heimdall and The Warriors Three, but I'm already looking at Sif, Loki, Tyr, have built a Beta-Ray Bill, maybe Odin and Balder down the line. Most of the parts haven't arrived yet, but I have managed to get a couple of games in to see if I like playing the team (which I do). Last Friday night, a friend and I played the Strike at the Heart mission from the Deathwatch Kill Team Box. 

The battlefield for Kill Team is small, (22x30") which makes for fast and bloody games. 

Kill Team Aesir is on the scene, (from the left) Hogun the Grim, Fandral the Dashing, Beta-Ray Bill and Volstagg the Voluminous. 

As we get our teams and terrain better painted, the games will be nicer to look at, I promise. 

I didn't get a good picture of Benny's (really nice) Death-Cult Kill Team, for which he uses the Dark Eldar rules. This Acro-Flagellant (Wytch) did not stand up to the Deathwatch Frag Cannon very long. I'm glad that the weapon I chose because it 'looked cool' was also effective on the table. 

As I went for a more melee-orientated Kill Team (both Beta-Ray Bill and Hogun had no ranged weapons), I had to be careful to avoid the long-ranged shots of the Death Cult. Even Power Armour was not always enough to save the Asgardians. 

Fandral and Beta-Ray Bill held the objective bravely, but weight of fire brought them down in the end. 

Volstagg and his Frag Cannon really saved me in the game, 2D6 automatic Strength 6 hits within 8" is pretty nasty. 

 The game came down to a clash between the Radical Inquistor and Hogun, with his power mace. 

In the end, Hogun won the combat, which forced a draw, but Benny really won the game, he played much better than I did and had me on the ropes from the first turn. 

Hoping to get more Kill Team games in soon, but work isn't helping and it will be a few weeks before the parts I need to finish Kill Team Aesir arrive. Next time, I'll try for a little more narrative as those AARs tend to be better received.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Superhero Media: Gantz:O

Gantz is a sprawling franchise encompassing manga, anime, video games and cinema that I've somehow never come across before I started watching this film. So to any fans, sorry if I get stuff wrong, but I'm coming into this cold and my impressions are based on a total lack of previous exposure. The narrative, though not the film, begins with our protagonist dying in a subway spree killing and waking up in a strange apartment with a black sphere and several strangers in odd outfits. Turns out he has been chosen by Gantz (the sphere) and must fight monsters until he earns enough points to come back to life. The monsters, which attack major cities in Japan, are all traditional monsters from Japanese folklore, such as Kappa, Oni and Trolls. The strength of this film is probably in the representation of the monsters, they all look like traditional prints and woodcuts, but the stark lighting and CGI work makes them frightening. The heroes, on the other hand, are disappointing, as clearly more effort has been put into pleasing boob jiggle than making their faces move when they talk. 

Odd little aside, because I do a lot of research into psychology, philosophy and literary theory in my spare time, I tend to keep "safe search" switched off, otherwise I don't find a lot of the deeper thought stuff out there. When searching for the images for this post, I found a lot of images of the female characters from this film (and the broader franchise) that would be considered pornographic, or at lest erotic, in nature. Sure, I find the same when I search up anything with a broad fanbase, but the ratio here was really high, enough that I'd comment on it. It's a shame that so much focus is on women in black latex, because the bones of the concept are pretty good. Those who die untimely deaths can earn their way back to life by defending the innocent from monsters, the framing device being something akin to a video game. When players accrue enough "points", they are given three options; leave the game and return to their lives, get a more powerful weapon or revive a fallen comrade. 

I may need to hunt down more of the Gantz franchise, as the bare bones mentioned above are a great concept for a role-playing campaign. Ordinary people, forced to fight aliens and monsters in an attempt to find their way back to the world of the living. I wouldn't be shocked if there was something like that out there already. Can I recommend the Gantz franchise on the back of Gantz:O? No, but I will seek out more to take a look at. I probably wouldn't jump onto this film unless you can get by on the concept and visuals alone, it creates more questions than it answers. Fights are still pretty cool though. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Miniatures Finished - 17/11/17

Dipping into the obscura now, character-wise. 

 Atom Eve (clix), Splinter (Clix) and Snoopy (custom job, not my work). 

 The Mandarin, Doombot and Bebop (all clix). 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Superhero Media: Dragonball Evolution

Brace yourselves, because I'm about to say nice things about Dragonball Evolution. Not a lot of nice things mind you, just a couple. The film is terrible, but not because it's a bad adaptation of Dragonball; it's terrible on so many other levels that are, actually, far more important. So before I get into dissecting the flaws in production, tone and development in Dragonball Evolution, I'd like to talk about what actually works, because some of it actually does. Firstly, Justin Chatwin aside, the casting is actually pretty good. Chow Yun-Fat as Master Roshi? Good cast. Emmy Rossum as Bulma? Nicely done. Jamie Chung as Chi-Chi? She was in Big Hero Six, why not? Randall Duk Kim as Grandpa Gohan? Fuck, that's good casting right there. Clearly, some care went into the creation of the film. Also the speech Piccolo gives at the turn of the second act, "Imagine, being shackled so tightly, that every atom in your body stood compacted, that was my hell", is a great moment that no one really seems to remember. 

Just as I'm typing this, I'm recalling other bits I liked about Dragonball Evolution, the fight between Goku and the bullies is a lot of fun, this was probably the best interpretation of Mai until Dragonball Super and the joke with Goku's hair is pretty much lifted whole-cloth from the anime. Where Dragonball Evolution really fails is that the entire production is simply far too lazy. Lazy direction, lazy effects work, lazy adaptation. Sure, there was basically no way this film was ever going to be a direct take on the manga or anime, but it didn't need to be this... bland and generic. A common criticism of Dragonball Evolution is that it "turned Goku into Spider-man", and whilst I can see where that comes from, it's inaccurate; what the film does is take the typical Hollywood template of straight, cis-male, adolescent and give it a handful of DB iconography to wear for the narrative. Sure, that sucks for us fans of the original, but that was all we were ever going to get, and it's not like Fox came around to your house and smashed your DVD collection. 

I'll say it again, Dragonball Evolution is bad, but hey, it pretty much was never going to be anything else but bad. Dragonball just doesn't have that much material that really translates well to live action. Sure, I like fan films like The Fall of Man and Light of Hope, but they're still kind of dumb and crummy, just in a fun way. Remember, I read Fletcher Hanks comics and own almost every Gamera film on DVD, something doesn't need to be "good" to be enjoyable. Dragonball is awesome. Silly, illogical, goofy, self-contradictory and fucking awesome. We don't need a serious, high-minded, dramatic take on Goku and friends, because that would suck. It sucks in Dragonball Evolution, not because the film fails to get there, but because the concept doesn't work from the ground-up. Much as I love the Cell Saga or The World's Strongest or the Tien vs Goku fight, I don't need to see them in live action, it wouldn't make my affection for them any more or less relevant. Give this a watch if you haven't, form your own opinion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Super Mission Force: Savage Land Stouche

I finally got a chance to play a game of Super Mission Force, only more than a year after its having been released. I played at the Axes and Ales Wargames club in Preston, Melbourne, with Viv (of Knights of Dice fame) and Ara (from Mana Press). Yes, the Melbourne wargames scene is so small that I know both those guys. Anyway, I found some nice stat cards for the game here: 

Sorry I can't find the original link right now, so I can't credit the creator, but if they're yours, tell me and I'll correct that here. 
I wanted to play a couple of games before I started creating my own characters, just so I had an idea of how various powers and skills worked. 

 One of the gorgeous tables at Axes and Ales, made for Tribal (from Mana Press), but it works perfectly for the Savage Land as well. 

 The clash was between Team Bat (Batman, Robin [Tim], Nightwing and Batgirl [Babs]) and The Avengers (Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Beast). 

 Hawkeye was easily the most effective model on the table, taking out Nightwing and injuring Batgirl. 

Much as can happen with SuperSystem, the combats became bogged down with little progress. 

Batman made an early move for the objective (the statues in the centre of the table), but ended up stuck nearby. 
Team Bat are surprisingly colourful as a group. 
Another glimpse of the clustercuss that knotted itself near the objective. 
Captain America flings his mighty shield! But neither Batgirl nor Nightwing yield, nor take any damage. 
Batman and The Boy Wonder stalk through the jungle. 
Viv wishes I'd printed the cards a little larger. 
Batman and Black Widow clash. 
  As is appropriate, Hawakeye pulls off a risky shot into combat, taking down Nightwing and winning the game for the Avengers. Boomerang arrow Katie, trust it. 

After my first game, I can't say I'm all that enamored with Super Mission Force. From what I've been reading on various blogs, the Lead Adventure Forum and the Super Miniatures Gaming Facebook group, SMF is possibly the best thing Scott Pyle has ever produced. Sorry, but I'm not seeing it. I will play a few more games before I render any verdicts, but at the moment, SMF seems to have all of the problems that SuperSystem has, but sacrifices the granularity in favour of fast character creation. I like that attack and damage have been reduced to one roll, but that doesn't stop combats from bogging down as they always seem to in Goalsystem games. The good news is, I'm keen to play more rules with Supers in mind, maybe I'll find something that covers the bases I'm looking for other than my own Ultimate Alliance stuff. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Superhero Media: Seige

Annihilation and 52 aside, I'm not the kind of comics fan that really goes in for the big "crossover" events. If I get the chance, I read them, some I like, most I don't, but I'm happy to co-opt ideas from them for supers games. Siege is one of those "events" that copped a lot of flak for being "continuity management" when it was being pushed by Marvel, and whilst I think there's more to it than that, the criticism is not unfair. Norman Osborn, the Iron Patriot and Director of HAMMER is manipulated by Loki into attacking Asgard, which is currently in the American Mid-West and ruled by Balder, who was revealed to be the bastard son of Odin. God, that's a lot to get out of the way for what is, essentially, a big fight comic. By the end of the fight, Steve Rogers is Director of SHIELD, Osborn is in prison and both Sentry and Ares are dead; basically a reset for the new paradigm. 

All of that works against the overall quality of the comics, but there are enough fun moments and not-overdone fan service to make it a fun read. Most of the "world building" happens in the bookends, leaving a fun romp in the middle where a host of classic Avengers battle an army of supervillains. Most of the big names get a fun panel or two, Spider-Man quips, Cap beats face and Iron Man is arrogant, all the hits. Actually, that's a good way to describe Siege, it's a new Avengers "album", but when you start to listen, there's only two new tracks and the rest are reversions of old hits. It's not bad, just not really that good either. One major moment that I have to talk about is the death of Ares at the hands of Sentry. I like the idea, no really, that a superpowered human gone rogue has the power to take down a literal god; there's a nice sense of rationalism versus religious dogma there, that has been explored better elsewhere. The problem is the [splash] panel in which it happens:

Now I'm no prude; I own the entire run of Garth Ennis Punisher MAX, I think A Serbian Film is brilliant and I regularly rewatch both Luther and Wire in the Blood, however... This is too much. For a comic that is meant to be read by a large swathe of Marvel fans, the fact that I can see Ares' spine shatter takes it beyond the acceptable for me. This could have been even more evocative in shadow, or stylised, almost anything but two-page gore porn. It really leaves a sour taste in the reader's mouth and spoils an otherwise fun comic. As an excuse to have dozens of heroes and villains beat on each other, Siege is good enough, but it's not Secret War or even Secret Wars. If you want to see where Marvel NOW! started to spawn from, maybe worth a look, otherwise pretty forgettable.