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.