Sunday, April 13, 2014

Alternate Supers: The Z Fighters

I'm a bit of a fan of Akira Toriyama's Dragonball Universe/Anime/Manga, despite, and in some cases, because of, the flaws and over-the-top feel of the stories. What I think turns many people off the franchise is both the serial nature (it needs to suck you in to the next episode) and also a misunderstanding of just how "Pulpy" it is intended to be. 
There is also a problem that the programme evolves over time; Dragonball is an adventure story, rife with mysticism, super-science and magic. DBZ is a Superhero show, plain and simple, with "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" battling Aliens and Robots. DBGT is, primarily a space adventure, with some epic-level hero action at the end. 
Although I'm not a huge fan of Superhero teams that all share the same origin (Fantastic 4 being the exception), I keep coming back to the idea of the Martial Arts Super Team and just how much variation that can be worked into that concept. 

The DBZ Saga that I keep coming back to is the Garlic Jr Saga, probably one of the least favoured by the fanbase, but one of my personal picks. The Saga is short, at only 9 episodes and features primarily the "B-team", as Goku and Vegeta are absent. An ancient evil, Garlic Jr, has harnessed the power of an evil moon that returns every thousand years to break out of a pocket universe where he was imprisoned. Garlic Jr and his henchmen (the Spice Boys) overthrow the Guardian of the planet and turn the entire population evil with a magical mist, leaving only 5 warriors to fight back. 

Now, I still think that's a pretty cool setup, not impossible to see happening in some Silver Age Dr Strange or even (with some names tweaked) in Hellboy. But in a show where everyone screams and hurls balls of light, just how different can this fateful five really be? 

Gohan - The Chosen One 

Gohan may just be Jesus. The kid has shown potential in previous sagas, but in Garlic Jr Saga (GJS) he is literally the only person that can defeat the bad guy; his spirit being anathema to Garlic Jr's. I get the feeling that DBZ was more intended to be about Gohan than Goku, as Goku is often absent and the programme takes a definite turn in tone after the Cell Games Saga (in which Gohan surpasses his father to become the new champion of Earth). That said, I enjoy the Great Sayiaman stuff for its goofy charm. In GJS, Gohan is forced to step into his father's shoes and become a hero, with the fate of the world on his shoulders. In this adventure, Gohan is being groomed to be a great hero and it pays off down the track with Cell and the Androids. 

Piccolo - The Redeemed

It is made abundantly clear in GJS that Piccolo and Kami are two halves of the same soul; when one is hurt, the other suffers and when one is weakening, the other falters. The question becomes apparent then, what happens when the evil half (Piccolo) starts to fight for what's good and right? For longtime fans, it's also good to see Piccolo break out some of his old moves, stretching his arms and increasing in size. There's even one of fiction's finest fake-outs, with Piccolo pretending to be overtaken by the evil Blackwater Mist (to the point of beating Gohan to a pulp) just to get close enough to Garlic Jr to set Kami and Popo free. Be it an attempt at redemption or perhaps self-flagellation, Piccolo puts his life on the line constantly in GJS, pushing Gohan to take the lead. 

Krillin - The Friend 

Krillin is often seen as the "weak sister" of the Z Fighters, which is a shame really. No one seems to remember that he was instrumental in defeating Vegeta, or kept the Ginu Force at bay for weeks. In GJS, he's just a lonely guy trying to make some time with a hot girl, and the Earth is in peril. Again? I feel like we just did this last week. Despite being in over his head, Krillin is always there, giving it his all, trying to be like Goku but just never measuring up. I'm particularly fond of Krillin's matching suit and hat in GJS, which just gets wrecked in the fight, reminds me of Luke Cage or Matt Murdock, going in swinging even if the costume isn't at hand. 

Kami - The Angry God 

Kami never quite gets back the prestige he had in Dragonball; when everyone was in awe of him and only Piccolo Jr had a chance of defeating him. For a figure that represents absolute authority, in GJS, Kami is willing to break every rule he's spent his life enforcing in order to save the planet. Not having the raw power of Gohan, Piccolo or Krillin, Kami puts his very existence on the line to break the Curse of the Blackwater Mist, even challenging his predecessors to interfere when they would remain silent and let the world crumble to evil. 

Mr Popo - The... what the fuck is Popo anyway? 

Seriously, what is this guy, aside from possibly racist? We know from Dragonball that he can fight a little, though is more reliant on his speed, moving so fast that he can't be seen. In GJS, Popo demonstrates an encyclopaedic knowledge of magical artifacts, uses a magic carpet to fly and can cast some rudimentary spells. Popo seems to be immortal, an eternal indentured servant to the Guardians of Earth who is so dedicated to Kami, he willing goes along with his suicidal plan to save the planet. Another character who never gets explored enough, Popo is mysterious and clever in GJS, helping in ways that don't involve direct fighting. 

Maybe not a traditional hero team, the Z Fighters run through a fair few incarnations and members, there's plenty of variety to be had. Trunks, Tien, Pan and Dende are all worth checking out as well if you get curious. 

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