Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Terrain Finished: Vibranium Mounds

In a bizarre side-project that gets a look-in every now and again, I'm using my role as the "Island Chieftain" in NWA's annual "Pirates in September" Megagame to complete an ever-expanding army of Wakandans in 28mm for Lion Rampant. This entry sees some Battlefield in a Box "Energon Crystals" which served the purpose of "Spawn Points" for the defenders of Wakanda on the big day. 

 Wakandan Warriors (Eureka 28mm Maori) for scale. 

 A little bit of the non-slip matting I glued to the bottom of the crystals (which are resin) to prevent chipping shows through, but during play it is harder to spot than in the still image. 

 I also gave them a good coat of gloss clear spray to keep them looking nice. We had some of the crystals at Good Games Blackburn/Box Hill and they wore pretty quickly with regular handling. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Superhero Media: Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles (1990)

This film is fucking awesome. Seriously, have you watched it recently? Even the puppetry hasn't dated that badly, thanks to the miraculous work of the Jim Henson Creature Shoppe, and Elias Koteas is still the definitive Casey Jones by a country mile. Judith Hoag shines as April O'Neil, Mako is brilliant as Splinter, hell, everyone is good, even a young Sam Rockwell who has all of two lines as "Young Thug #2". The martial arts looks good, the comedy works and the turtles aren't taller than everyone else. When I picture Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello in my mind, it is the versions from this film that I see. I feel not so much as a shred of shame when I shout "I just love being a turtle!" along with Mikey. Ok, so the lip-sync on the costumes is far from perfect, Shredder gets defeated far too easily and the plot is pretty basic, but there's still so damn much to love about this film. 

April O'Neil is rescued from the Foot Clan by the quartet of reptilian heroes during the height of a "ninja" crime-wave and our adventure begins. The Foot Clan are recruiting disaffected youth in New York, with the temptations of cigarettes, video games and martial arts training, turning them into a shockingly effective army of criminals. Man, when was the last time you saw a kids' film where twelve-year-olds smoke on screen? A point that will become relevant when I get to the sequels, the turtles are revealed to be fourteen years of age in this film, whilst Splinter seems to be in excess of a century old. Yeah, Splinter is ancient, given that Hamato Yoshi could not possibly have been doing his thing much after 1868 CE with that being the agreed academic consensus for the end of Daimyo period and that the third film actually sets up a cyclical legacy around the character. Neat, huh?

The entrance of Casey Jones, a former hockey player whose career ended with injury before it even got started and decided he wasn't going to take the moral decay of his city lying down anymore, still stands, in my mind, as one of the best in the Superhero Film library; right up there with Spider-man swinging in to save the day in 2002, Superman catching Lois Lane in 1978 or the Mark I armour stomping out of a cave in 2008. It is that element, that four teenagers or a fit guy with a golf bag full of sports equipment can take on and defeat an ancient Ninja clan, that keeps this series so enduring more than two decades after it started as an indy comic. If this film seems more than a little silly, just remember that the original comics were themselves a pastiche of the grim and gritty Frank Miller Daredevil run, complete with ancient Ninja clans, costumed vigilantes and a decaying New York City. Well worth another look.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Chalk-white and rock hard

It seems to me that a great number of people spend a great deal of time thinking about the Joker's penis. I don't just mean semi-anonymous writers of bad fanfiction, but major Hollywood writers and producers are putting a great deal of effort into making the nature of Joker's love life very explicit. For me, most of this goes back to two seminal moments in Batman history; The Dark Knight Returns and the appearance of Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated Series. In a weird upshot of Frank Miller's juvenile homophobia, the version of Joker presented in DKR is heavily queer-coded with a very homoerotic fixation on Batman. That's homoEROTIC, not homoSEXUAL, an important distinction, as the Joker's obsession with Bats never seems to focus on sexuality, but rather shared history and the emotional intensity that it brings. Joker is so fixated on his old foe that he is functionally catatonic for the years in which Batman is retired. A lot of "hard-core" Batman fans aren't keen on this interpretation of the Joker, despite their love for DKR and the years overly serious Batman media that it continues to spawn. 

Bruce Timm wanted Joker to have a sidekick in BTAS, a counter-point to Robin as well as someone to talk to, so Harley Quinn was born. Harley is a great character, not only in BTAS, but in the comics that followed and whilst I hate the oversexualisation of her costume, that groundwork was laid in BTAS and I can live with it. There's one episode of BTAS in particular, where Harley, wearing her makeup and hood with a silk slip, asks Joker if he wants to "rev up your Harley". Now, I'm willing to consider the idea that Harley is sexually attracted to the Joker, but I'm more inclined to believe that her Western, hetero-normative, patriarchal upbringing has created for her the expectation that she'll fall in love, get married and have babies; then she fell in love with a psychotic clown. The fantasy scene in Suicide Squad is a good example of this conditioning and resulting fixation. What gets me confused and a bit riled is the idea that Joker is sexually motivated and has a "normal" physical realtionship with his girlfriend. 

That the Joker is Harley's abuser is rarely argued by anyone with two brain cells to rub together, but I wonder if that's strictly true. Harley is certainly Joker's VICTIM, both physically and psychologically, but family violence is complicated and the Joker/Harley dynamic doesn't quite ring true in that sense. Joker most often treats Harley as a tool for his own amusement (yes, it depends on the writer, but I'm generalising), which is his default reaction to most people (Batman being the primary exclusion); she is his beaten dog or doll with the twisted arm and burnt hair. Despite what you may have learned from Dexter or Criminal Minds, most serial killers don't use murder as a substitute for sexuality, the BTK killer had girlfriends and a wife and kids and Manson operated a harem in his compound. Joker's focus on his continued "jokes" is, and has pretty much always been (even since the '60 TV programme), for Batman. Joker is fixated on Batman in a truly unhealthy manner, but, as discussed above, that fixation is not sexual in nature. In turn, Joker holds no sexual interest in Harley because she is not Batman and, therefore, not worthy of that level of emotional intensity. In Under the Red Hood, Joker isn't even really interested in Jason Todd or the fact that he's being tortured until Batman shows up to the fight. 

What I'm getting towards is an understanding that the Joker does not function sexually at all; nothing arouses him physically, even those things that arouse him mentally or psychically. In the No Man's Land novelisation (a really good read, BTW), there is a scene where Harley inspires Joker and he kisses her as thanks, putting his tongue in her nose and licking her eyes, because he is aware of physical affection, but does not understand how it works. This is how I perceive the Joker making the most sense, not truly an "inhuman" monster, but instead a human broken almost beyond comprehension; the sexual drive being so close to universal to human experience. For me, the Joker being a human being so far gone as to perform the kinds of atrocities he has makes him a far more interesting and unnerving character than the "Avatar of Anarchy" interpretation that sees a great deal of print. At the end of the day, I don't really need to know what Joker and Harley do in private, but I sincerely doubt that it resembles any kind of romantic relationship that most will be familiar with; something more like a hostage situation or the extreme levels of family violence are far more likely than what is becoming the typical presentation in film and comics. Please stop glorifying abuse through the lens of this relationship, we're not meant to be thinking this deeply about it, just let the comics be.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Superhero Media: Batman - Gotham Knight

Billed as "Animatrix" for Batman, Gotham Knight is a series of short, animated films, that fill in the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Some are pretty decent, others aren't really worth talking about, but the truly interesting part is in how it all goes together, or rather, doesn't. The Nolan Batman trilogy has a definite tone, true it may waver in Dark Knight Rises, but it is there and forms a major structural element of the series. Due to the nature of the shorts in Gotham Knight, in they are all essentially independently produced, there doesn't manage to be a consistent tone across any of them, let alone with the entire film series. The problem is that, as a different animation team handles each chapter, the look of Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham change drastically between the shorts and it never quite feels like watching a consistent film. 

Despite the flaws, Gotham Knight is worth a run through, as there are some truly great Batman moments to be had. In the "Deadshot" short, Bruce Wayne can be seen training with firearms, when questioned by Alfred, he makes a speech about needing to understand guns to fight effectively and respecting their power, even if he'll never use one. Across two stories, Batman defuses a mob war by negotiating a division of territory; what fucking genius. Rather than getting himself killed taking on two factions of local organised crime, Batman forces them to accept an agreement to stay out of each others' way to save lives in the short-term until he and the GCPD are better equipped to deal with the problem. In the comics, I'm pretty sure Batman would just run in and beat all of the mobsters down in a couple of minutes whilst ranting about his dead parents. God I'm sick of Batman. 

By far the best short in the anthology is "Let me tell you a story...", in which a group of Gotham children tell each other of their encounters with Batman. One child describes Batman as a living shadow, one as a vampire and one as a robot, with each description showcasing one of Bats' major skills (stealth, agility and combat prowess). In a setting where Batman is a new phenomenon, this kind of storytelling makes a lot of sense and creates a good mystique for the character without resorting to elevating his skills to mythical levels. Despite the references to the Nolan trilogy, I'm more inclined to think of Gotham Knight being linked to Batman the Animated Series, not just because of the animation but Kevin Conroy voices the Dark Knight in several shorts and the more "realistic" take on the character works for that continuity.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Miniatures Finished: Over 9000!

Being free of any major upcoming events with Supers in mind, the painting progress is nice and varied. 

 Stan Lee, Dragon/Alien Egg objective (Both Clix) and Super Saiyan Goku (3D Print) 

 Gorilla Grodd, The Wizard and Apocalypse (all clix). 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Superhero Media: Cleverman - Season 2

I really want Cleverman to be as good as it wants to be, but its obvious that marketing pressure, budget and exceeding their own grasp is crippling the potential of the production. The first half of this six-episode season is more of the same meandering that fans have seen before, made worse by the fact that the climatic battle Season 1 closed on is never shown on screen! Even in flashback! What the hell ABC? I know big, set-piece, fight scenes are expensive to produce, but you couldn't do a few shots to tempt us in for the next couple of episodes? That first major misstep almost killed my desire to keep watching, but I'm glad I stuck it out, because things really pick up after Episode 3. It seems like someone finally cracked open "The Big Book of Superhero Tropes" and pulled out a few things to make the progamme actually resemble something that may be found in a comic. 

That's right, Koen gets a costume! And it's pretty cool too, with the integral scarf, funky jacket, face paint and courier tube for the Nulla Nulla, it looks like he scavenged it together, which he probably did; well thought out design department. Waruu gets hopped up on Hairy DNA (sciencey but stupid, like all good Silver Age origins), gaining strength, speed and endurance to challenge Koen, culminating in a decent showdown in the last episode. A new Hairy character, Jarli, is introduced as a renegade waging a guerilla war against the human government from an untouched hairy settlement in the "wilderness" 40 minutes out of Sydney. Jarli looks to be a possible antagonist or ally in the future, but his willingness to kill every guard he runs past will likely cause friction; I am keen to see a "Clevermen" team develop over the next season though. The more interesting part is that the version of Australia being presented is made up of cities surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness, making the whole "Hairies coming out of nowhere" thing a bit better. I wonder if they just left it out of Season 1 or retconned it in after reading the reviews.

As said above, Cleverman is getting better, Season 3 could be really good if the production team keep up the superhero tropes rather than trying to be "groundbreaking" constantly. The "too many plot lines" problem is resolved thanks to some characters dying and others meeting in the middle and it's great to have the setting fleshed out more, but the old habit of dragging out episodes with characters that don't drive the plot or build the world still makes some parts extremely dull. In researching for this entry, I found that Cleverman is indeed well received outside of Australia, mostly for representation, rather than writing, but it's good that Aboriginal Australian content is getting international exposure. I'm really hoping that Season 3 builds on the strengths of Season 2, rather than fall into the trap of trying to make every little thing a big deal. There's a lot here to like, I just wish it could settle for being a pretty-decent superhero progamme rather than trying to be the next Breaking Bad.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: The Prince and the Threapist

Is Vegeta Autistic? Yes, I am well aware that the preferred terminology is currently Autism Spectrum Disorder (I'm a therapist after all), but I needed that evocative opening sentence. Before we get too much further, I need to highlight that I'm not fond of the idea that people "on the spectrum" have anything wrong with them, a "disorder", from my work with clients, ASD people simply possess a different, yet equally valid, way on seeing and interacting with the world. Anyway, I've been watching Dragonball Super lately (it's pretty good, actually) and Vegeta features pretty heavily, which I also like, because I find Goku tedious at the best of times. Vegeta has undergone character developments and changes in his personality even since the end of Dragonball Z, finally admitting his own heroic side and even "settling down" to a certain extent. An interesting element comes in when Vegeta refuses to attend a martial arts tournament in order to stay for the birth of his second child with Bulma, Bra. 

It makes sense from a narrative standpoint, Vegeta has settled down and acclimatised to life on Earth, so of course he's not the same guy who tried to blow it up way back when. But I wonder if it's not also a function of the underlying patterns of his thoughts. Vegeta, much like Goku, has difficulty "fitting in", or rather, finding a way in which he can function comfortably in the society in which he finds himself living; if you are at all familiar with ASD, either as a worker or person on the spectrum, that sounds pretty damn close to home. Vegeta doesn't work. What even would he do? He can't work, not because he isn't capable in an intellectual or physical sense, but because the workplace is such an alien environment that he would be both unable to function and have little desire to do so. Vegeta is driven, not by pride, as he so often claims, but by self-actualisation; he has to get better than what he is now in order to be comfortable with himself. Not wants to, but has to. That is a very specific focus on a vary specific goal and/or idea. A possible factor of ASD so well known as to have become narrative shorthand for "intelligent and antisocial, but well-meaning". You know, the sidekick to the bland protagonist. (Oh, snap!)

Just for fun, I did a "12 Personalities" (Myers-Briggs) test answering the questions with a view to how Vegeta would answer and got the following result. I'm not going to discuss the problems with MB tests here and it doesn't necessarily fit with what I've been talking about, but it is somewhat interesting to take a look at.
ISTP-T "Virtuoso" 
Virtuosos love to explore with their hands and their eyes, touching and examining the world around them with cool rationalism and spirited curiosity. People with this personality type are natural Makers, moving from project to project, building the useful and the superfluous for the fun of it, and learning from their environment as they go. Often mechanics and engineers, Virtuosos find no greater joy than in getting their hands dirty pulling things apart and putting them back together, just a little bit better than they were before. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Superhero Media: Ratchet & Clank 2 - Going Commando

Interesting note, this game is subtitled "Locked and Loaded" in Australia; interesting because of the amount of adult-pitched humour in this game and only title ends up changed. Perhaps there is an assumption that in a less sexually-restricted culture (such as Australia in comparison to the USA) that a child is more likely to get the joke? I'm not sure, but I think about it when Clank's, unnamed, girlfriend repeatedly propositions him or when the "Hatchet and Spank" line crops up mid-game. Another point of note for this game is that it tends to get glossed-over in any retrospective of the series, possibly because it takes place in a different galaxy and none of the supporting cast (except Captain Quark) appears again. That's a shame because it is in Going Commando where Ratchet and Clank go from being a couple of friends that managed to save the galaxy to a force to be reckoned with. A couple of upgrades sees Clank be more than a glorified backpack, but Ratchet really comes into his own after he receives training in martial arts, heavy weaponry, survival skills, stealth, ballroom dancing and origami. 

Called to the "Bogon" galaxy, Ratchet and Clank are recruited by Megacorp to recover a stolen genetic experiment, only to discover that the thief was the creature's creator and the "Protopet" was a danger to all life! The second game in the series sees the introduction of elements that would become core features, such as buying armour, weapons and health upgrading with experience and gladiator-style arena battles. Two of the best weapons in the franchise, the Miniturret Glove and the Sheepanator make their debut and Captain Quark returns like he does in every damn game, because to get rid of him would be a risk for a franchise that revolves around the friendship between a gun-toting cat creature and a killbot/time lord hybrid? I know I always bitch about Quark when it comes to R&C, but by the time we get to Nexus, I just tune out his dialogue like he's an adult in the old Snoopy cartoons. Having just played this game through again a few times (challenge mode), probably the most interesting element of Going Commando is the economic structure of the Bogon Galaxy. Megacorp seems to be the only operating company (other than the pesudo-criminal "Thugs 4 Less"), with a galaxy-wide monopoly. 

Although it may be reading a little too much into the game, on most of the "civilised" planets (read: those run by Megacorp), the population is entirely robots, these robots are called, in a text description in a sub-menu, "consumerbots", and are produced by Megacorp. So the primary population of the galaxy are manufactured by the Corporatocracy for which they are also the main source of income. Where does the wealth generation come from? Is it some economic "water cycle" of transferring wealth between the ruling class and their consumer base to create the illusion of a functioning society whilst all industry and production slowly rots away? Planets the heroes visit like Tabora (a strip-mined wasteland), Grelbin (an icy dumping-ground for failed genetic experiments) and Oozla (an outlet slowly sinking into a mire) support this theory and those who work for the system could just be "happy slaves", unaware that there is another way to exist. This is a much better game than the first, though there are some elements that are annoying in retrospect once the later games have been played. Still, well worth a go and far from the worst game in the franchise. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

5 characters I want in the next Smash Bros game

The Nintendo Switch is here and games not featuring Zelda or new characters we don't care about are on their way. We haven't quite hit the point yet where every video game YouTube idiot is "speculating" on the roster of the next Smash Bros game, because we all know that there's one in the pipeline. That enables me to do the honest thing and just writing fucking a wish-list with no pretension to having any inkling as to what Nintendo may be thinking at any given time. These are characters that I, personally, would like to see in the next Smash Bros game and are, for the most part, pretty damn possible. (Seriously, who keeps demanding Goku in Smash?) 

Something of a case of a character that should have been in Smash already, Ubisoft and Nintendo have been close collaborators since the Wii, and Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends were great games. Rayman may have had a poor start in gaming, but he has endured to headline some great games and has the perfect cartoon look and move set to fit in the Smash franchise. Also Globox as a clone character would be nice. 

Simon (or any) Belmont
I never really got into the Castlevania series, but I have been enjoying the Netflix anime and recognise the importance of the franchise in gaming history. I imagine that a Belmont would be a heavier character with a diverse set of moves befitting the array of weapons that can be found and equipped in the games. God forbid they do another "Shadow Emissary", it would be cool to introduce Belmont tripping over Link as they both raid Ganon's Fortress. Belmont also opens up the option of an overpowered Dracula joining the roster at some stage. 

Banjo Kazooie

For the N64 generation (like me) Rare's endless parade of 3D Platformers were a vital part of our childhoods and their departure from the scene is a little bit tragic. The return of Dixie Kong to the Donkey Kong franchise does bode well however, and if Nintendo and Rare can get their shit together, Banjo and Kazooie are much-needed on the Smash roster. Transforming Banjo, grenade eggs and golden feathers give the character (yes, they're one character, not two, in Smash terms) plenty of move options and maybe Grunty can join them down the track. Just please, don't put in Mambo, he reads as pretty damn racist, even with the pink, fuzzy feet. 

Yeah, fucking Ridley, I'm sick of the stupid justifications for keeping him out of Smash, except as a level hazard. "He's too big!" cry the idiots. Well Kirby is only 8" tall and Ganondorf around 7', so clearly they don't stick to any damn scale. Ridley is an iconic villain and with all the damn Mario franchise characters clogging up Smash, we need another Metroid representative. Sure, he'd be big, but think like, King Dedede size, but lighter and quicker. Something like a less controllable Greninja. What you want Baby Mario or something else instead? Get real, nothing would be as cool as a giant, dinosaur, space pirate, cyborg. 

Dixie Kong 
Smash needs more girls and few Nintendo girls kick butt as hard as Dixie Kong. She rescued both Donkey and Diddy with help from a toddler and can fly with a flick of her pony tail, sounds like real Smash potential to me. As with Banjo and Kazooie above, she's made a comeback and should get the recognition she's long overdue. There's always room for more monkeys running around, jumping and flinging fruit-based weaponry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Supehero Media: Arrow - Season 4

A friend told me that she had taken to "hate-watching" Arrow so that she could be up-to-date with any The Flash crossovers. I was, honestly, feeling a bit that way myself, viewing Arrow as painting time only; right up until the last few episodes put everything into focus. As well as featuring a surprisingly big battle, the finale also sets themes of self-actualisation and Oliver coming to accept who he is and the role he plays in defending the city. The sleek look of the programme, especially during the (increasingly tedious and unnecessary) island flashback sequences, continues to grate, I'm not sure why the style has persisted for so long, a more "Daredevil" look would suit the idea of a decaying city that is a continuing theme. That brings us nicely to the antagonist of the Season, Damien Dark, played brilliantly by Neal McDonough. 

As good as Dark is, he does tend to dominate a bit, McDonough being a better actor than pretty much anyone else on the show except for John Barrowman, with the scenes between the two being some of the best in Arrow's history. Dark is also introduced a bit early, hurting the idea that he's the head of a massive organisation, what with his having to get his hands dirty all the time. There's also a buildup to a death of a member of "Team Arrow" that is foreshadowed far too long, almost as if the producers and showrunners were afraid that people wouldn't keep watching the programme without some kind of continuous "teaser" to bring them back each week. With a bit more faith in the material and a producer willing to take a small risk here and there, Season 4 of Arrow could have been the height of the programme before it really started to drag in Season 5.

I haven't really touched on Oliver's run for Mayor or the Legends of Tomorrow crossover, but they play as filler more than anything, with no real resolution for either; yes, Oliver becomes Mayor, but only because of the death of his opponent. Oliver's relationship with Felicity becomes more of an irritation than anything, with her dumping Oliver every few episodes because he lies to her. Even ranting about honesty and betrayal when Oliver has only obfuscated the truth temporarily to save lives. Anarky is a recurring character, with a pretty cool look, actually, and more than the typical "bad guy" motivation, pity he's killed off and won't be returning. Season 4 is worth a look, sticking out until the final half-dozen episodes does pay off, even if it's not perfect. This marks the end of "Team Arrow" and would have been a good place to end the saga of Oliver Queen, but looks like CW want to milk this turnip a little more yet.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Miniatures Finished: 20mm Wakandans

At NWA this year, a 1970s African Bush Wars imagi-nation campaign has started up, and whilst most of it consists of posturing and name-calling in our Facebook group, some games are happening. Naturally, I couldn't resist getting in on the action with a perennial favourite, Wakanda. Having gone out and spent a massive $25, I present my 20mm "Weird Bush Wars" Wakandans. 

 The military might of Wakanda on the march. 

 The Black Panther leads warriors of the Panther Tribe into battle. 

 Sharpshooters use gauss rifles to eliminate enemy armour. 

 Heavy Weapon Teams utilise technology most consider science-fiction. 

 Wakandan vehicle support. 

 Scout bikes provide reconnaissance. 

 Sentry guns protect the border of Wakanda from incursion. 

Yeah, "Weird Bush Wars" was not a project I was expecting to do, but painting and collecting the army was fun and pretty cheap. Hopefully I can get some games in at some point and see how they go. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: The Strongest Humans

So I'm currently watching through Season 9 of Dragonball Z again for my "Superhero Media", and I came across a really interesting part that I had forgotten. During the fight between Vegito and Evil Buu, there is a cut-away to the planet of the Grand Kai that shows King Kai watching the fight; he is relieved that the fusion is working and tells Krillin to stop training. Krillin makes an offhand comment about not being much use in the fight anyway, and King Kai shoots him a look and grin that speak volumes. Yamcha is there training too, and is beating Olibu without powering up. So the question becomes, could Yamcha and Krillin have defeated Evil Buu? 

Now I know that most DBZ fans will be snorting and saying "of course not", because Krillin and Yamcha are two of the biggest punchlines in the programme, but bear with me on this one. Way back in the Sayian Saga, Yamcha and co are killed off pretty quickly, but a matter of weeks[?] later in the Frieza Saga, they have been trained by King Kai and are able to defeat the Ginyu force without much trouble; the same Ginyu force that nearly killed Vegeta, who had enjoyed a couple of Zenkai boosts since fighting Goku. King Kai must be one hell of a training coach to see that much improvement in such a short period of time, and keep in mind that Yamcha and Tien have no innate abilities like the Sayians and Nameks. So when the whole damn universe is on the line against Majin Buu and King Kai has all the warriors of history to call upon, who does he decide to train? Krillin and Yamcha. Two fighters most fans of the programme consider to be nothing more than comic relief. 

Admittedly, I'm drawing something of a long bow with this one; I only have a couple of scenes to back up my contention and I'm up against the weight of Krillin and Yamcha's history of defeat. Also, later on in the saga, the pair can't hold a candle to Kid Buu, but that doesn't necessarily invalidate this idea. I like when stories take unexpected turns, and this would have been a hell of a twist. The Sayians and their fusions have been defeated, so King Kai sends in the two most human members of the Z-Fighters to get the job done against an ancient evil that can kill gods? That would have been pretty spectacular. Maybe there's a fan manga or something that explores this possibility, or maybe I'll have to write it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Superhero Media: Dragonball Z - Season 9

Well, here we are, at the very end of the journey. It's taken 291 episodes to get here and I'll admit I'm a little tired; I have the DBZ Movie Collection sitting by the TV and I have no desire to remove the plastic wrap. I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of the Buu, Fusion and Kid Buu Sagas, mostly because the end of the Cell Saga was so damn good and would have been a great conclusion for the programme. The story padding that is the hallmark of DBZ reaches saturation point in these final seasons, with Buu constantly changing form and odd cuts away to characters not doing much. However, this is juxtaposed with some great twists in the plot, like Tien dropping out of nowhere to save Goku from Buu, the Vegito Fusion and Ultimate Gohan. Overall, I feel that DBZ still goes out on a high, despite the last two episodes, but we'll get to that in a minute, the Earth Spirit Bomb and Mr Satan helping the Z Fighters out and being welcomed to the team give a sense of triumph. 

Ok, so, the elephant in the room. At the end of the series, Goku, having spent the last few years (there is a jump forward after the defeat of Buu) training and raising his granddaughter Pan, Goku decides to abandon his family to train Uub, the reincarnated Kid Buu. Now, despite the English translation, Goku has never been the best guy in the world, caring more about pushing his own boundaries than the safety and wellbeing of friends and family; but leaving his family to train a random stranger for years is a dick move by any standards. It's interesting that Dragonball Super is being written as taking place between the defeat of Buu and the start of the tournament in the last few episodes of DBZ, Uub has been mentioned and Pan and Bra have been born in DBS, so just how "canon" the final episodes of DBZ remain is a topic of discussion among fans. I, for one, hope that DBS continues on past the end of DBZ and we have a more satisfying conclusion for the saga. 

It will likely be a very long time before I brave another full rewatch of DBZ. Going over the Sagas I like best? Sure, will probably happen sooner or later, but with Dragonball Super, Dragonball GT and the DBZ movies to work through, I can get my fix many times over before then. Still, DBZ is a solid programme and well worth checking out if you've never given it a go; yes, 291 episodes is a big ask and not all of them are winners, but Dragonball has become such a huge cultural tent-pole that it's still worth your time. Much like Doctor Who or Star Trek, Dragonball has been running for so long some basic understanding of it is almost necessary to function in "nerd culture". If you've never seen Goku's first Super Saiyan transformation, Trunks fight Frieza, Gohan punch Cell so hard that Android 18 pops out or Majin Vegeta bitch-slap Goku, you're missing out on a lot of fun and should give it a try. Animelab has it all for free, so check it out!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Terrain Finished: Debris (Improvised Weapons)

Not so much "Terrain Finished" as "Old Terrain made better". I made this debris way back when I got started in supers gaming, but now I've finally weathered it. 

 Eureka 28s for scale. 

 Much of this was pieces left over from my days playing Necromunda. 

 Expect to see more of my old terrain get spruced up shortly; I'm going through my collection and improving the table by stages. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Superhero Media: Kick-Ass (2009)

I understand why this film gets the praise it does. I understand why some people are big fans, even calling it their favourite superhero film. There are some great fight scenes, memorable characters and one of the best performances Nic Cage has ever delivered, but, and I'm sorry to say this, the film just isn't that good. As was already covered in my Kick-Ass 2 "Superhero Media", the problem primarily stems from the insistence that Dave Lizewski, aka "Kick-Ass" is the protagonist of the film, which really shouldn't be the case. Big Daddy has the more interesting arc, with a decent motivation, more agency and better dialogue, the film really should be his story, expanding on the flashback/comic narrative that appears in act two. Yes, I am aware that the narrative is roughly following that of the graphic novel of the same name, but with the raft of changes made already, one more, to make the film stronger, would hardly have gone astray. 

Actually, the film is already stronger, in narrative terms, than the graphic novel, because it gives Big Daddy more agency and better motivation; working towards revenge rather than simply wanting to play superheroes. I really like that Kick-Ass' own motivation is, primarily, altruism (after a fashion), he doesn't want to hurt anyone if he doesn't have to, even being reluctant to fight Red Mist in the climax, because he knows that Mist is not directly responsible for the death of Big Daddy. I wonder though, would that reluctance to do harm have been more impact, more memorable if it was shown in juxtaposition to Big Daddy's monomaniacal path of violence? The violence in the film is extreme for the genre, but for some reason, it is mostly played straight, not over-emphasized for effect like in the graphic novel (and quite a bit of Millar's work). I mostly put this down to an attempt to win more teenage audience members, which also explains the "underage" partial-nudity scenes (thankfully, the actor in question was actually 22 at the time of filming).

If you love this film, that's ok. As I've said time and again, there is nothing wrong with liking something that's imperfect, not literate or even just plain bad. But. Kick-Ass is not a great film. It is not, as is often espoused, the "Gen-Y Watchmen". It's fun. Even I get a kick out of Hit-Girl swearing her head off, despite the Australian tendency to use c*nt as a term of endearment rather than an insult. In retrospect, having seen this again, I'd have to say that Kick-Ass 2 is probably the better film, though I'm still not keen on the idea of Kick-Ass 3. After watching this once more (probably for the last time), I want to put Big Daddy and Hit-Girl in more of my Ultimate Alliance games moving forward; possibly even giving Big Daddy a starring role in the Civil War campaign I'm sketching out for next year. Time will tell. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 18

Returning, once more to Avengers Mansion, suspended in Limbo, The Champions of the Omniverse come face-to-face with Immortus (really Kang in disguise) who insists that they depart for their next (and final) mission as soon as they are able. The team spread out to look for Kang's time machine, excepting Spiderstrike, who heads to the kitchen to make sandwiches, and Koga, who uses the Avengers computer to scan for alien tech in the building. After a quick search, our heroes discover a large machine in the foyer of the mansion and reach the conclusion that it's Kang's time machine. As they near it, Kang himself steps forward,
"So, Avengers you figured out my scheme," laughs Kang, "it will do you no good, I have already won!" 
The Champions point out that they are neither the Avengers nor the ones that figured Kang out; they take the opportunity to ask if he actually is a younger version of Immortus or not. Kang tries to relate the plot of Avengers Forever, but it doesn't help much, so both sides decide just to start fighting. 

With a snap of his fingers, Kang summons weapons to his hands and a crowd of Anachronauts, his chosen warriors from history. Spiderstike mocks Kang for bringing men with muskets and swords to fight them, so Kang snaps his fingers again and Deathstroke the Terminator and Dragon Man appear at his side. Firenado charges Dragon Man, but the robotic beast swipes his arm and knocks the hero flying. The Anachronauts open fire, lead balls proving surprisingly effective against the spandex worn by most superheroes; Spiderstike returns fire with a tray of sandwiches. Firenado blasts away at Dragon Man, but it is difficult to tell if it has any effect. Deathstroke runs at Sonic Tsunami and the pair clash blade to water blade, Sonic Tsunami lucks out and manages to freeze Deathstroke in a block of ice. Meanwhile, in the Control Room of the mansion, Koga activates the security system, adamantium doors slam shut around the foyer and the lights go out. Grabbing the Chronotron from the fallen Arsonist, Spiderstrike fires at Kang's time machine, hoping to send it back to the 26th Century, but the beam deflects off an invisible force field.

Protecting their master, the Anachronauts open fire and bring down Spiderstike, Kang's fire takes out Sonic Tsunami an instant later. Firenado absorbs the incoming fire of the Anachronauts to try and heal himself as he and Dragon Man flit around the foyer, trying to get the best of each other. By now, Koga has exited the Mansion and wandered around to the front entrance, using his light control powers to turn invisible. Dragon Man catches up with Firenado and crushes the life out of him, leaving Kang to backhand Gigawatt out of the fight. Thinking he has won, Kang begins to gloat about his conquest of the 20th Century, allowing the invisible Koga to enter the foyer, scoop up the Chronotron, activate his Force-field De-activator and blast Kang back where he came from. Immortus returns, healing the Champions back to normal and thanking them for their help in defeating Kang and saving the Omniverse. Our heroes are not happy at almost dying repeatedly for Immortus' labyrinthine schemes, and tell him where to stick his thanks, also deciding not to return the goodies they stole from the Eternal Fortress. Immortus returns the heroes to Eon and our campaign concludes. 

This is not the end for the Champions, they shall return in adventures sometime in the future, stay tuned! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Superhero Media: Batman Year One (2011)

Good to know that Warner Premiere's inability to adapt the best Batman comics of all time into anything watchable didn't start with The Killing Joke. Batman Year One manages to lose all of the charm of the original graphic novel, focusing on Batman rather than Gordon and dropping the beautiful neo-noir art aesthetic for a bland palate and stilted animation. And I know that Kevin Conroy can't always play Batman and someone else needs to be found at some point, but Ben McKenzie does not do a good job here, sounding about fifteen at the best of times. Yes, Batman is meant to be younger and I regularly complain about grunting Batman sounding like he's passing a kidney stone, but McKenzie's voice still grates. Brian Cranston is a decent cast as Jim Gordon, but his reading is flat and uninteresting for the person meant to be the protagonist. 

Yes, Jim Gordon is the actual protagonist of this Batman story, even Frank Miller admits so in notes for the special edition of the graphic novel, but the production crew of the film seem to have forgotten it along the way. Gordon has the arc, the main struggles and even the best fight scene (see below). Cutting down on the Gordon story really doesn't make much sense, even to make room for more Batman and Catwoman, who, again, don't really have major character arcs in this story. Speaking of Catwoman, I would have hoped that one change that would have been made would be her underage prostitute friend; but no, apparently that was an important element of the original vision to keep. Yes, Gotham is painted as a city of the worst sins, but maybe just shift her age up a little to mitigate the creep factor? I think the drugs, corruption, pimps and prostitutes over the age of consent convey the message just fine. 

The lack of quality in Batman Year One is a real shame, the Warner Premiere Under the Red Hood and All Star Superman are amazing adaptations, keeping the charm of the source material and making the narrative work in a different visual medium. Given the patchy nature of film adaptations of DC works, I increasingly find myself puzzling over the ones that "work" and the ones that don't. Quality of and adherence to original source material are seemingly not factors, there is no continuity of character, writing and theme. What works for DC adaptations is a nebulous thing that no one, least of all Warner Brothers, seems to be able to get a handle on.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Terrain Finished: Roof Access

Knights of Dice rooftop access finished for the tops of my city buildings: 

 Eureka 28s for scale. 

 As you can see, the scale of the doors is ridiculous, clearly intended for Knight Models miniatures. Aside from that, I can''t argue with the quality for the price, they'll get their first game shortly. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Superhero Media: Fearless Defenders - Doom Maidens

Man, but Marvel Comics seems to be going after a diverse market these days. Fearless Defenders is aimed not only a a predominantly female readership, but also a queer one. It doesn't quite get to the lofty heights at which it aims, but takes a decent swing at it. Rather than being about the classic (all-male) Defenders, Doom Maidens focuses on Valkyrie and her quest to stop the destruction of the world at the hands of her titular foes, the previous versions of her that went rogue and evil. On this quest, Valkyrie takes Misty Knight, Power Princess and Annabelle Riggs, a queer archeologist. Why is Annabelle's sexuality important to note? Because she fits the "damsel" role in the story, yet is constantly being rescued by female superheroes, yet the sexual tension is retained. This is not done for male titillation, but is consciously subversive and intended to provide a broad spectrum of women, including the queer ones. 

In aiming for third-wave feminist empowerment, Fearless Defenders doesn't quite get there, with plenty of the T&A shots common in comics and some lazy, stereotype-reinforcing jokes. That said, this comic was a massive hit with young adult women, with it's all-female hero team, well-rounded characters and competent, older female villain with disposable, gorgeous male sidekick. Naturally, this meant that Fearless Defenders was relentlessly attacked by whinging man-babies on the internet who believe that comics should only be for their tiny demographic. In response to a barrage of negative and sexist reviews and complaints, Marvel canceled the series. A couple of months later, Marvel released a new series, featuring an even bigger all-female team of Avengers. Well done, Marvel, well done.

This, like Miss Marvel, is another one of those comics that is really good, but I didn't get a lot out of it. But, hey, it's not for me, so why should I give a shit? When I've shown Fearless Defenders to female friends who are interested in comics, but wary of how their gender is represented, the response has been strong and, more often than not, led to the acceptance of more recommendations and an appetite for more comics. Now that's what I want; more people reading comics and loving superheroes. That's why we need more comics headlined by women, queer people, people of colour, transgender people and everybody else in the world who doesn't get enough representation. Yes, the classic heroes are great and need to stick around, but there's room enough for a bunch of white guys and a posse of kick-arse girls like the Fearless Defenders, rock on.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 17

Battling their way through the Eternal Fortress in the Omega Dimension, our heroes have just defeated a trio of alien ghosts and Manzilla had just picked up a book only to be ambushed by robots. Coming to their friend's aid, the Champions rush into the room, Gigawatt punching a robot in the face and Firenado activates his powers. Not wanting to be left out, Manzilla hands over the book to Koga and starts to blast away with his atomic breath. The robots manage to return a few blows, pummeling Firenado and Spiderstrike, but the team soon demolish them. Sonic Tsunami crashes waves over the robots whilst Gigawatt and Spiderstrike punch them so hard that words spontaneously appear out of thin air. In the next room, Manzilla is mildly annoyed by robotic tentacles until he rips them out of the walls, whilst Sonic Tsunami refreshes his snowy armour. 

In the next room, there is a mysterious floor, a roof covered in "monkey bars" and five robot bugs awaiting our heroes. Spiderstike tests the floor, placing a single foot upon the surface and slipping over for his trouble. Seeing that the bugs can move freely on the floor, our heroes use their ranged attacks to steadily blast away.The Bugs return fire, hitting Firenado and Arsonist, the latter falling unconscious. Sonic Tsunami, Manzilla, Firenado and Gigawatt provide covering fire for Spiderstrike as he swings out on the bars to get to grips with the bugs. A couple of bugs drop before Spiderstrike leaps from the roof onto one, beating at it with his free hands. Unable to finish off the last bug as it bucks Spiderstrike around like a mechanical bull, the rest of the team wait patiently for him to finish it off, Koga tending to the wounded Arsonist.

The next room is featureless except for a single pedestal, on which a metal box has been placed. Entering the room, our heroes feel strange for a moment and, suddenly, Gigawatt goes berserk, throwing a wide punch at Firenado! Thankfully, the fit passes and our heroes continue of their way, Manzilla taking the empty metal box. The door to the final chamber is blocked by a force field, thankfully, Koga has the anti-force field from a previous room and walks straight in. On a pedestal sits the Chronotron, conveniently labeled with a handwritten sign. Guarding the device is a massive, reptilian alien in ornate armour. It speaks;
"I am the champion of the Eternal Fortress, none may claim the Chronotron without first defeating me." The champion moves up and punches Koga, doing nothing, and Koga's return strike goes wide. As Gigawatt runs in to help, he finds himself fighting a second champion, who has materialised out of thin air. Surprisingly, (especially to the GM), the Champion is not particularly tough, so Koga and Gigawatt take their opponent[s] out in short order. Once the Chronotron has been retrieved, our heroes are returned to Immortus who reminds them that Kang is devious and must be taken by surprise. The Champions of the Omniverse return to Limbo once more...