Thursday, April 27, 2017

Superhero Media: Miss Marvel - No Normal

I had heard so many good things about this comic that, when I finally picked it up, I wanted it to be good so badly. Sadly, I didn't enjoy it, but not because it wasn't good, it's very good, I'm simply not the target reader. The story of Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American born of immigrant parents, struggling with identity conflicts between nation and family, and a huge fan of superheroes, is aimed very much at an adolescent, female audience, not male nerds in their thirties. Which is a bloody good thing, the industry has been far too focused on the adult, male demographic, so quality work being done for an entirely new market is welcome, if years overdue. 

This is going to be a bit of a brief Superhero Media, as there's not too much I can say about Ms Marvel without getting too in-depth with the plot or starting a rant about the (still shockingly) poor representation of women and people of colour in superhero comics. Frankly, there's enough (entirely valid) rants about the latter around that do it better than I do, what with being a heterosexual, white, cis-male who lives in a developed nation. Also, I'm a pretty damned evangelical Atheist, so the Islam angle means little more to me than Cap struggling with his faith or Thor being the actual Thor from Norse myth. It's a representation thing again; yes, it's nice to have Muslim superhero characters, but I care more about racial diversity, queer and genderqueer representation. Call me when Superman comes out as trans, then I'll be more interested.

If you have a teenage sister or daughter that you want to get into comics, Ms Marvel is a good place to start. It has the same mood and tone as titles like Ultimate Spider-man, Blue Beetle and Invincible, except with a female of colour lead, so I'd say No Normal is destined to be a classic in the same mold. Once I get my hands on a Marvel digital subscription, I may give this another go, but until then, it's back to indy comics and terrible b-grade films for me. Excelsior! 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chapions of the Omniverse - Part 9

Having deactivated the Breeder Bomb in Colorado, or heroes are traveling on the supersonic Blackbird back to Westchester when a psychic contact comes through from Professor X, 
"My X-Men, I have determined the exact location of the Asian bomb. It is in the country of Afghanistan, on the Soviet border. I will give you the coordinates..." 
As the Blackbird soars over the Middle East, a beam of energy strikes the engine and the team start spiraling down into the desert; thankfully, Sonic Tsunami brings them down safely. Before the team can recover, Crimson Dynamo and a team of Soviet Rocket Soldiers land nearby and demand surrender in broken English reminiscent of Boris Badenov. Spiderstrike tries to negotiate, and is blasted by Dynamo for his trouble, left bleeding on the ground whilst the team springs into action. The Rocket Soldiers open fire, wounding Gigawatt and Sonic Tsunami before the latter can raise a water shield and start a snowstorm around one group of attackers with his water-control powers. Manzilla leaps into the air and makes a grab towards Crimson Dynamo, narrowly missing.The team realises that they might be in trouble when the opening round from the Rocket Soldiers takes down the Gregarious Gigawatt!

In desperation, Sonic Tsunami creates a wall of water around the Rocket Soldiers, cutting off their attacks for the time being. His recovery powers having revived him, Spiderstrike dashes over to Gigawatt and staunches his wounds. Koga wakes up in the bathroom of the blackbird and wanders outside, seeing the battle, he immediately identifies the weaknesses of the Soviet armour and leaps into the fray, bending the light of the Rocket Soldier's energy beams back at them, wounding every last one! Enraged, the Rocket Soldiers try and punch their way out of the water shield and realise that physical objects can pass through unobstructed, so they step out and reload. Dynamo grabs Manzilla by the tail and swings him around, loosing the radioactive giant at Sonic Tsunami, the throw goes wide, but Manzilla leaves a deep ditch in the sand when he lands. Having some kind of weird headache with pictures, Manzilla (who would later be informed that he'd had an "idea") takes off, scooping up Spiderstrike and flinging his ally at Crimson Dynamo. Seeing Spiderstrike in danger and Dynamo about to cut loose, Sonic Tsunami unleashes a torrent of water, freezing both friend and foe in a pillar of ice by their feet!

Koga activates his light morpher, generating a team of four light clones as he prepares to take on the Rocket Soliders, who start blasting into the team, thankfully only contacting the light clones. Meanwhile, Manzilla and Spiderstrike have combined forces, battering away at Crimson Dynamo, hoping to penetrate his high-tech armour, but only serving to break open the ice that pins the Soviet Super Solider in place.The Rocket Soldiers close in on Koga and his duplicates, not managing to contact the real Sentai, but figuring out that something funny is going on. Blasting away with water missiles, Sonic Tsunami starts to thin out the numbers of the Soviet Rocket Soldiers. Using the confusion of the enemy to his advantage, Koga rips into a section of Soviet armour and disables the power supply of two. Another attack from Manzilla shatters the ice and Dynamo falls to the ground, only to be pinned in place once again by Sonic Tsunami's freezing powers. Seeing their commander trapped and many of their number unconscious, the remaining Rocket Troopers fly away. The team splits up to complete their mission, Sonic Tsunami deactivates the Breeder Bomb whilst Koga repairs the damaged engines in the Blackbird and steals two suits of Soviet Rocket Armour. Watching the radar, Spiderstrike notices some incoming blips and the team take off just minutes before Soviet reinforcements arrive.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Superhero Media: Batwoman - Elegy

After reading 52, I was keen to see some more Batwoman, and dove straight into Elegy, a truly beautiful, high-concept crime thriller by Greg Rucka and J.H.Williams III; but it wasn't quite what I'd hoped. Yes, the artwork is some of the best I've seen in years, the writing was some of Rucka's best and the characters were compelling, but there were a couple of bows to genre tropes that resulted in unfortunate cliches, tarnishing the brilliance. The first was the villain being a postmodern take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, going so far as to only communicate in quotes from the novel and, of course, Through the Looking Glass, whilst being hyper-sexualised. Thankfully "Alice" is an adult and not the underage would-be rape victim of Lewis Carroll; seriously, if people were actually aware of the biographical details behind the Alice books, they'd stop presenting them to children. Secondly, Alice turns out to be the long-lost twin sister of Batwoman, a cliche so old, it's mummified. 

A friend saw Elegy sitting on a cabinet in my house (that's another thing, can we stop doing Opera tropes for Batman now? Dark Knight Returns was 30 years ago) and had a bit of flip through. She made the comment that the character looked more interesting than the current crop of DC/WB films and asked about the odds of a film. I replied that given the protagonist was queer, dropped out of West Point on a "don't ask, don't tell" complaint and lives with her sexuality in the open for everyone to see. I can't think of a character less likely to get their own film, except maybe Batwoman's on-again-off-again girlfriend, The Question. If it seems like I'm avoiding the story, that's only because it's pretty basic; there's a fight between Alice and Batwoman, Alice escapes and then we flash back for a few issues to get the origins story. It's well-written, but, again, falls into cliche too often.

Batwoman, if treated with the kind of care and attention DC don't seem to bother with too much these days, could be a flagship title for the company. I always enjoy different takes and perspectives on Gotham and the scenes where Batwoman calls Batman on his shit are about 70 years in coming. After rereading Elegy, I'm really keen to do another 52 reading, just to get some more Batwoman action. Brilliant character, good read, but falls far short of where it could have been.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Miniatures Finished: U-Foes

In my continuing attempts to finish more teams of villains, I have finally painted all of my U-Foes! 

 X-Ray, Vector, Ironclad and Vapor. 

I know you've seen a few of these before, but I'm just happy to have a team done. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Superhero Media: Batman RIP

Ever read or watch something that other people have acclaimed as the work of genius and thought to yourself, "Wait, is this actually just a pile of shit?" Batman RIP is an odd beast, it's part soft-reboot, a simultaneous attempt to bot retcon out the Silver Age and celebrate it and it's also trying to tie up a couple of years of Batman continuity. Basically none of these lofty goals really work, as there's too much going on for veteran writer Grant Morrison to really get to grips with any of it in a satisfying way. I wasn't really aware that, after the various Crises that the DCU has been through, Batman's Silver Age adventures were still considered to "have happened" within the broader continuity. I mean, I like the sillier stories of the Silver Age, "A Boner for Batman" and "The Bat-baby" may not fit perfectly with the current conception of what Batman is, but they do represent where the character has been. Erasing these stories with a hand-wave, or worse, implying that they only ever happened in Batman's mind as part of a psychological defense so good even Batman for got that he did it, only serves to diminish, not enhance the character. 

Another pet peeve I have with Batman, which crops up in RIP, is the concept that the conflict between Batman and Joker is somehow inevitable and/or appropriate, like two universal opposites that have always been and must always be. What a load of shit. Batman's opposite number is clearly Bane (or maybe Owlman), so when the Black Glove (more on them in a minute) recruit the Joker to help them kill Batman, their shock at Joker's eventual betrayal just comes across as really dumb. Speaking of dumb, the Black Glove have a convoluted plot to drive Batman insane through a phony romance, the accusation that Alfred is his father and having a team of new costumed villains tearing up Gotham. I'm sure longtime Batman fans will be thrilled to have new foes like the Hunchback, the Swagman and Caligula doing nothing at all interesting to fill in time before Joker turns up. Oh, and Joker is now David Bowie? "The Thin White Duke of Death", no idea what they were getting at there, I guess Morisson is a big Bowie fan and wanted to work it in somewhere.

This "Epic Batman event, decades in the making" is pretty naff, all in. It aims for Operatic, but falls far short and lands somewhere around pastiche. The idea that Batman is so well prepared for various forms of attack that even he doesn't know everything he's put in place sounds like a bad joke at how the character has developed over the past decade. Batman RIP is an interesting and often frustrating read, but probably more worth a borrow than purchase and certainly not an essential part of your Batman collection.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 8

When last we left our heroes, they had departed for Denning Military Reservation in Colorado in the X-Men Blackbird. They touch down outside an old, abandoned military base featuring some moldering barracks, sneaking up through some woods, Koga bends light around the group to reduce visibility and Spiderstrike lowers noise with his powers. The still reverie of the morning is broken by the blast of a shotgun and our heroes freeze where they stand. 
"Y'all git away now, y'hear? This here is my find and no body's gonna tak it from me!" 
It seems that an anachronistic cliche of a grizzled 1890s prospector has taken up residence in the abandoned barracks and is planning to scrap the Breeder Bomb for the metal. Whilst Koga and Spiderstrike try to sneak around to the building, Gigawatt hurls abuse at the man and Manzilla stomps directly towards him.
"I don't want no part of your mutant, gay, liberal, Jew agenda! Stay back!" the cracking voice is punctuated by another shotgun blast. Bursting through the door, Manzilla attempts to grab the gun away from the madman, but is rewarded with a shot of slat and grit directed at him. Seeing that the man is a harmless, Conservative-voting moron, Manzilla explains that they want to take the machine apart for him; he agrees. As soon as Sonic Tsunami begins to deactivate the device, however, an ominous shadow looms in the distance, the Sentinels have arrived! 


Knowing that they're in real danger, the team hatch a plan to gang up on each Sentinel in turn, hoping to survive the onslaught of the others long enough to deactivate the Breeder Bomb. Sonic Tsunami stays in the barracks to work on the device and the team charges the first giant, mutant-killing robot, Gigawatt ripping a door from its hinges as a weapon whilst Firestarter purloins one of the prospector's jugs of moonshine as fuel for his powers. In order to distract the second and third Sentinels whilst the team attacks the first, Koga uses the light-manipulation technology in his costume to create five duplicates, which draw the Sentinel's fire; despite this, Manzilla cops a hefty blow from one of the robots. Thanks to his powers, Firestarter manages to get one of the Sentinels ablaze, but is unable to tell how much he's helping the fight. 

Manzilla makes a charge against the first Sentinel, knocking it over with his atomic bulk and allowing Spiderstrike to run in a blast the monstrous robot apart with his "Spider's Bite" energy blasts! Realigning themselves against the next of the three Sentinels, our heroes do not hesitate; Gigawatt hurls more debris before charging in, striking at the legs of the robot as Manzilla flies at the chest. Unfortunately for our heroes, Sentinels are "learning machines" and have figured out that they have been attacking light duplicates and turn their attentions to other members of the team. Firestarter, Manzilla, Gigawatt and Spiderstrike charge in against the second Sentinel, staggering it and knocking it over, raining blows on its prostrate form. Just when the Champions are feeling confident, Manzilla is brought down by a blast from the third Sentinel. 

Koga makes use of his light-clones, hiding in the group for some cover from the third Sentinel. Continued pummeling from Spiderstrike and Gigawatt renders the second Sentinel into a pile of scrap and the team turns to the last mutant murdering metal monster. Koga uses the corrosives hidden in his gloves to weaken the armour of the last Sentinel and the rest of the team charges in to help. In a combined-attack splash panel, Koga, Spiderstrike and Gigawatt destroy the Sentinel in a single assault! By now, Sonic Tsunami has managed to deactivate the Breeder Bomb and the team convinces the racist, homophobic scrapper to take the wrecked Sentinels instead and they make haste back to the X-Mansion.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Superhero Media: Battle Scars

Now I'm usually the person pointing out that film and television are much bigger markets than comics and that people who complain when either isn't "true to the original" are more than a little petty. It could also be said that I feel that, given the huge disparity in markets between comics and films, drawing the comics closer to the, more popular, films can only really be considered a smart marketing move. All that said, I feel that Battle Scars was a bit of a ham-handed way to get Sam Jackson Nick Fury, Phil Coulson and the Agents of SHIELD into the 616 Marvel Universe. Again, it's not that the idea is bad, but the story seems a bit forced in parts, like when Deadpool shows up for no real reason, other than his being a popular character so his presence on the cover would sell more issues. On the other hand, the inclusion of Taskmaster and the Serpent Squad is pretty cool, as well as references to classic Jim Steranko Nick Fury comics. 

I think part of the problem may stem from having no real interest in the protagonist; I honestly can't even remember his name for most of the comic (he later finds out his real name is Nick Fury Jr). There's a basic set-up involving a history of college football and time in Afghanistan, fighting with the Army Rangers, but before the reader can blink, Fury Jr's mother is dead and he's fighting Russian mercenaries until Cap, Daisy and SHIELD pull his arse out of the fire. From then on, the story lurches from action scene to action scene with no real pause or joining narrative; the whole thing plays like a trashy action film where pace replaces character and motivation.

The end result, however, seems worth the rough road getting there. MCU SHIELD is active in 616 and an adaptation of an adaptation of Ultimate Nick Fury is up and running alongside the classic versions of all your favorite Marvel super heroes. All I'm saying is, maybe skip reading Battle Scars and just read the wiki or digest to get the story. Hey, if you can handle the idea of radiation giving people super-powers and fungus people living in the core of the Earth, then SLJ turning up to be the new Nick Fury isn't too big a deal. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 7

Having traveled to New York City, our heroes and The Fixer begin to investigate the rooftop where "Firenado" killed Mentallo, or at least where that event appears to have happened, if indeed it did happen. With the usual smattering of scientists that every superhero team seems to have, the Champions start to investigate the crime scene. The location of the "murder" and the cameraman are soon uncovered and Spiderstrike elects to open up a skylight and climb down into the abandoned cannery and investigate. Inside, our multi-limbed hero finds Mentallo strapped to a strange computerised device, he calls up for help and Koga, Gigawatt, Firenado, Firestarter and The Fixer come down. An argument erupts between the heroes over what to do about the machine and Mentallo, whilst unobserved, The Fixer walks over and starts to sabotage the machine. Spiderstrike dives to stop Fixer, but it's too late, the machine's defenses activate, with a laser turret popping out on both the north and south walls whilst, on the roof, exact duplicates of Firenado and Mentallo burst out of the water tank

Catching our heroes by surprise, the laser cannons wound Spiderstrike and blast Fixer into unconsciousness. Thinking quickly, Koga uses the light-bending technology in his suit to direct the laser blasts into each other, destroying the guns before they can do any more damage. Up on the roof, Manzilla uses his Ionic Breath to generate a storm-cloud above the cannery, but the reduced visibility doesn't prevent Mentallo from shooting down Sonic Tsunami whilst Firenado blasts fire back at Manzilla. Inside the cannery, Koga and Gigawatt are having a time of it freeing Mentallo from the machine, so Firenado and Spiderstrike head back up to the roof, leaving both Firenado and Manzilla confused at the presence of two Firenados. Enraged at probably finding the true killer, Firenado blasts the Mentallo doppelganger, revealing the imposter to actually be a sophisticated robot! No longer worried about hurting his friend, Manzilla blasts "Firenado" with his ionic breath, freezing him in a block of ice. 

Meanwhile, back at the X-mansion, Professor X has examined the robots, discovering a magnetic memory tape inside one that shows none other than the X-Men's arch-nemesis, Magneto! The vision shows Magneto working on a high-tech device and an electronic map in the background with lights in the USA, Central America, Australia and Northern Asia. An interrogation of Mentallo reveals that he was working with Magneto to create "Breeder Bombs", weapons that would change the levels of radiation in the atmosphere and create more mutants in the next generations. Once Mentallo had used his powers (enhanced by one of Magneto's machines) to help Magneto gather all of the parts necessary for the Breeder Bombs, he was betrayed and left in the machine to rot. Professor X discerns that the first of the bombs is in Colorado and the team prepares to depart. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Superhero Media: Wolverine Origin

I'm not a fan of Wolverine at the best of times, and this comic doesn't really help at all. I know comic fans cry out for expanded continuity like a toothless addict cries for crystal meth, but did this comic ever really need to happen? Personality wise, Logan is dull and only made interesting by the fact that his past is a mystery; as soon as the reader knows that Wolverine was once a sickly, prissy child named James Howlett, there's nothing more to really care about. Therein lays the problem with this story, James is not an interesting character on his own merits, wanting to avoid fighting and pining over a bland, two-dimensional redhead girl who, for some reason, is the actual protagonist of the story. Wait, why is this considered a "classic" in the Marvel canon again? 

I know that when I'm keen for some superhero action, flipping open a comic and finding the story of a love triangle in a rural, colonial Canadian mining camp is exactly the thrill I was looking for! There's the occasional fight, just to keep things interesting, but does anyone really care about the rivalry between James and Cookie? Also James runs with some wolves occasionally, which I'm not sure is meant to be read literally or as symbolism for his awakening animal instincts? He's the Wolverine after all, and characterised as a loner, why is he involved with a pack animal? Hell, wolves don't even hunt in the same ways a Logan, so the metaphor is completely off. I guess it just makes for some good splash panels to use in the advertising so that the comic looks more interesting than it is.

I cannot recommend this comic at all, even for die-hard Wolverine fans. Logan barely does anything and the overall narrative is dull at the best of times. This doesn't explore who Wolverine really is, it just names him as James Howlett, which, as mentioned above, only serves to hurt the mystique of the character. The scene in The Ultimates where Captain America identifies Wolverine as "Lucky Jim Howlett" and talks about what happened in WWII is much better (and quicker) than this entire comic and achieves the same result. Better yet check out the WWII episodes of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series for some fun cameos from "Lucky Jim" fighting alongside Cap, Bucky and the Howling Commandos.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Terrain Finished: Cell Towers

A couple of quick paint jobs and my Knights of Dice Cell Towers are done: 

Copplestone and Reaper minis for scale. 

Just some more roof clutter to make games of Supers more exciting. A nice little kit that came up well with a couple of sprays and a wash. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Superhero Media: Young Justice - Invasion

After watching the second season of Young Justice, I think I finally understand the level of love which people have for this programme. The writing is sharp, the characters are deep and each episode works both as a stand-alone and as part of an ongoing story. Young Justice really is great for what it is, a children's cartoon. Sorry for the big fans out there, but as good as this is (and it's quite good), it's not at the same level as something like Daredevil or The Dark Knight. And that's ok! If you want to really engross yourself in the depth that this programme has to offer, go ahead; I watch a tonne of Dragonball after all. I'm even keen for the third season of Young Justice myself now, to see what happens with Dick, how the world handles two Roys and Superboy's continued search for identity. 

The core narrative of this season is the Reach invading Earth, inspired by the brilliant first run of Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle; Jaime is a new major character, which is great, but the plot can't help but be inferior in comparison to the original comics. As always, the programme is driven by character, and there is a tonne of new characters, including Beast Boy, Impulse, Robin (Tim) and Lagoon Boy (yeah, I don't know either). Mongul makes an appearance, which is pretty cool, especially when he goes toe-to-toe with Black Beetle (not the one from the comics, actually the Reach Warrior beetle with a new name). Also there are plenty of crummy villains, if that's your thing, Sportsmaster is a major player again and Mercy Graves is now a cyborg? I don't read enough DC to know if that was a thing before, I only know her from the DCAU "Timmverse" and when she showed up in Batman: No Man's Land.

This is a pretty strong programme when you get down to it. It suffers from the problems inherent in being children's entertainment, like having to skirt profane language or actually dealing with sexuality in an adult fashion, but that's the price we pay for having superheroes, apparently. Is the new series going to be on Netflix? I have a feeling it is, which may allow the ratings to be pushed up a little, I'm sick of teenagers saying "darn" when they're upset; fucking Seppo prudishness. Still, I'm keen for Season Three when that finally happens.