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...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Superhero Media: Suicide Squad

In my years studying film and the years since graduation, I don't believe I've seen a better example of how the Hollywood System alters cinema better than Suicide Squad. Seriously, if you can see this film for free (it's on Netflix now), it's worth a watch, just to see what the hell is going on; yes, it's bad, but not as bad as you've probably heard. Firstly, this is a really basic pitch, right? It's The Dirty Dozen with supervillains, should be pretty simple to get up and going, but a combination of compressed writing time and a need to build on the extended universe before Justice League kind of killed that. Much of the film seems to be missing, whole scenes and character arcs are glossed over; when does Rick Flagg start trusting the prisoners? One scene he's ready to kill them all and the next he's relying on Deadshot to cover his back. When do Harley and Deadshot become friends? One scene they tolerate each other, the next he refuses to shoot her even though doing so will literally get him everything he wants. Why is Katana not in half the film? And when does she become one of the criminals? She's clearly an independent contractor, but for some reason she goes to drink with the criminals when they wander off. 

I could keep going. Also, there is no damn way Amanda Waller could have planned for everything she claims to have; how did she know that Flagg would fall for the Enchantress? How did she know that The Joker would run amuck in a very specific way in which Batman wouldn't stop him for once? I'm not just nitpicking for the hell of it here, I really feel like there was a lot left on the cutting room floor here and maybe there was a good version of this film that will never see the light of day. Also, as good a character as she is, why the hell is Harley Quinn on the team? Sure, she can fight, but not as well as some other members of the team, and Waller admits that she's a "wildcard", read: liability. From a meta-film standpoint, yes, they needed a major female character in the squad, but were Killer Frost, Plastique, Cheetah and Cheshire all busy on the day? What the hell is Harley supposed to do against Superman, who is the intended target of the Suicide Squad to begin with?

Being the music nerd I am, I would be remiss to not comment on the soundtrack, which hit big. It is also a mess, it sounds like a rebellious 15 year-old's Spotify playlist and lacks any context. Sure there are quite a few great songs on there, but they don't got together. In both Guardians of the Galaxy films, the "Awesome Mix" is precisely a mix tape,  given to Starlord by his mother, so of course it sounds like that. In Suicide Squad, we just have a collection of, mostly pretty good, songs that don't even match the theme of the film. I also look forward to hearing Kanye's "Black Skinhead" every time a black character is kicking arse in a major film for at least the next decade. What else is there to say? Suicide Squad is a mess and I doubt anyone except hardcore DCU fans will be talking about it in a couple of years. Give it a watch if you haven't yet, but not really one for the books.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 16

Having just defeated the Grey Gargoyle, our heroes are about to place the headset given to them by Immortus on his head, when Immortus himself appears before them. Immortus explains that the heroes have actually been working for Kang all along, who disguised himself as Immortus to trick them into doing his bidding. The heroes must listen to Immortus if they wish to prevent Kang from conquering the Earth. The heroes plan to go back in time, meet themselves and get a beer instead of doing missions for Kang, but Immortus explains that this will not work. Instead, they need to go to the Eternal Fortress in the Omega dimension and retrieve the Chronatron so that they can defeat Kang. The heroes ask Immortus a series of questions, like what will The Arsonist's next name be and is he really just an older version of Kang? Immortus replies that The Arsonist will eventually be The Flamer, multiverse theory is a bitch and that Avengers Forever tried to clear it up but it's still kinda confusing. After arguing some more, our heroes decide to go to the Omega Dimension. The Eternal Fortress appears to be of a kind of "Science-Fiction Aztec" design, our heroes enter the first chamber and find themselves confronted with none other than Galactus, devourer of worlds!

"Leave and you shall not be harmed, stay and Galactus shall destroy you!" booms the massive figure. In response, The Arsonist hurls a Molotov at Galactus's foot, the giant does not notice. Gigawatt punches into the throne on which Galactus sits by accident, finding that it is hollow and filled with circuitry.  
"Destory the throne!" shouts Gigawatt. Totally ignoring their comrade, Sonic Tsunami grovels before Galactus and Spiderstrike tries to ask the ancient for help in their quest to stop Kang. Manzilla rushes forward and begins to smash apart the throne just as Gigawatt is flung into a nearby wall with a gesture from Galactus. 

"I told you to leave!" roars Galactus. The Arsonist lights a fire at Galactus' foot cackles in a way that would make most mental health workers nervous. Under continued pummeling from Manzilla, the throne cracks open and what turned out to be a giant projection of Galactus disappears. In the next room, our heroes encounter a trio energy spiders, who, despite growing when they are hit by Spiderstrike's energy touch, turn out to be pretty easy to defeat.

In another chamber, the Champions of the Omniverse encounter four alien ghosts guarding a device sitting on a statue.The heroes ask if the ghosts will fight Kang with them, they receive alien ghost noises in return. As the nominal "science officer", Koga is shoved forwards by the team to scan the ghosts, but is unable to work his own scanner. Arsonist gets sick of waiting and walks to the device, the ghosts suddenly turn and attack, slamming him back. Unbidden, Manzilla picks up Spiderstrike and hurls him at the statue, the latter hitting the statue square-on, face first. Thankfully, Spiderstrike's face is tougher than it is ugly and he survives to pick up the mysterious device, labelled "Forcefield Nullifier". Spiderstrike lobs the device down the room to Manzilla, who hands it off to Koga before wading into the fight. Gigawatt, Manzilla, Spiderstrike and Sonic Tsunami wade in to fight the alien ghosts, and make short work of them with lightning, ice balls and fists. Keen to keep going, Manzilla heads straight to the next room, where he promptly ignores a laser booby trap and grabs a book standing on a pedestal. By the time the rest of the Champions catch up, the next door is opening and they are confronted by three killer robots! 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Superhero Media: Ratchet & Clank (2015)

Longtime readers of Lead Capes will be aware that I'm a pretty big fan of the Ratchet & Clank series of video games. I started playing the games on PS2 and still play them regularly today, though Nexus and Ratchet & Clank (PS4) were disappointments and the series looks set to be mothballed and only appear in side-games from now on. Even given the, typically horrendous, history of video game to film adaptations, I was quietly optimistic that Ratchet & Clank would break the mold and be at least a bit of fun without being teeth-grinding-ly silly or twee. And it mostly gets there. Ratchet & Clank is basically another CGI kids' film that's trying to play in the Disney/Pixar park but doesn't have the chops, despite having Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson and Sylvester Stallone on the acting roster. Although I respect the production decision to keep the game voice actors for the core cast, it may have worked against them in terms of attracting an audience. 

Many reviews of this film make the criticism that it reads like a series of cut scenes from a video game stitched together, but I don't see it. There are plenty of character moments, quiet stretches and world building that the Ratchet & Clank games tend to do in voice-over during gameplay. Being a film aimed squarely at children, there are a couple of recurring jokes that grate, like Blarg playing with phones and Ratchet's boss being unable to operate a cherry picker, but the characters are fun to be around and many of the elements that made the game so good translate across media perfectly well. It's a lot of fun to see the Sheepinator, Buzz Blades and Swingshot on the screen, and whilst the RYNO not being used at all feels like a misstep, its showing up is a fun sequence anyway. 

This is far from perfect, but it's enjoyable enough and worth a watch if you're a fan of the games. It doesn't quite capture the charm and genius of the games, especially the PS2 trilogy (before they got overly pretentious) and the sequel tease will never be realised, but there's enough to enjoy. I picked this up on DVD from a bargain bin, but if you can stream it, that may be the better way to go. What you're probably better off doing is picking up the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy on PS3 or from PSN if you can, they're fun games and the third in the series may well be great. Classic characters, I'm hoping this isn't the last time we'll see them.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Cryptic Conflicts - Part 1

The Scarlet Blade, The Anachronism, Lucky, Mindstorm and Colonel Quantum have found themselves transported to a mysterious patchwork planet by a being calling itself "The Yonder". In a section of familiar-looking city, they come across other teams of superheroes. Are these the foes they have been set to battle? 

 Rival team "The European Union" gather on the roof of a local restaurant. 

 Mindstorm scouts ahead, protected by a mental shield. 

Backbreaker takes umbrage to Mindstorm's constant psychic barrage and returns the favour with a Police Van. 
A massive clash between the Equalsiers and the Omega Squad results in shockingly few casulties. 
The European Union battle strange foes with incredible powers. 

Mindstorm and Lucky provide support for the front-line fighters in the team. 
Somehow, Mindstorm survived this. 
A team-up between Scarlet Blade and Colonel Quantum forces the game to a draw. 

Lampposts make good clubs in a pinch. 

The Anachronism swings his blade with deadly effect. 

"Equalisers engage!" 

Thanks to my fellow NWA members for the pictures of this game. Hopefully, I have the time to make the report a little more narrative-based for the next game.

For an alternate take on the game, check out Ian's Blog: