Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Superhero Media: I, Frankenstein

Every review and opinion I've managed to find on this film does not have nice things to say, which is actually a bit of a shame as there are some things to recommend it. Sure, I, Frankenstein is not a good film, but it's a fun popcorn, supernatural, action film in the vein of Blade or Underworld and that was enough for me. Also the writers of the film seem to have had a genuine respect for Mary Shelly's seminal novel, with the film taking off from the last chapter of the novel, the monster having the name "Adam" and even a mention of the eels used to generate the electricity (the lightning is a Hollywood addition). The problems really are the poor dialogue and lackluster CGI, more so than the concept. Even talented actors like Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy struggle to make the "grandiose" lines sound like anything other than a teenager's fan fiction. 

The story follows the titular monster as he discovers the existence of demons and their divine opponents, the gargoyles (earthbound guardian angles), the demons want the monster because, without a soul of his own, he's the prefect vessel for a higher-level demon. The Demons plan to capture the monster, figure out how he works and make enough to win their war with the gargoyles; not a brilliant plot, but about on par with similar horror/action/superhero films. There's a copy of Victor Frankenstein's diary rolling around for the sides to fight over and a bunch of disposable characters to provide the monster with some pathos. Probably the most fun I had watching was spotting all of the places they'd filmed in Melbourne, my home town; there is, of course, the Melbourne Uni car park that was featured in Mad Max, several famous laneways and the National Gallery of Victoria masquerading as "Central Station". I actually kind of like the "Central Station" as our main train station (Flinder's Street) is rather iconic and would have planted the film too much in Australia. 

I, Frankenstein features a cameo from Australia's greatest living actor, Bruce Spence, but blink and you'll miss him. In researching this article, I discovered that I, Frankenstein is based on an indy graphic novel which I have never read but would be interested to see if it's better, or at least better written. As DC comics have shown for decades, the idea of the Monster walking around today and being heroic has some potential, it's almost a shame that Universal Studio's "Dark Universe" won't come to pass, I would have liked to see something like that tackle the Modern Prometheus. Not an essential watch, but fun enough whilst painting or whatever.

Friday, November 23, 2018

MI-13: Campaign Primer

Welcome to my "MI-13" SuperSystem 4 RPG Campaign! Before we get started, I'd like to go over a few things in terms of background and theme, just so we're all on the same page. Roleplaying is a collaborative story telling experience, and as a GM, I tend to focus on the narrative and characters of the game rather than hard and fast numbers. Characters grow and change in response to what they experience, not numbers or dots on a character sheet. Good roleplaying will be rewarded and story always triumphs rules.

Now on to theme and setting: 

This is England. The thing about England in comics is that it's always a bit more... English. Everyone eats tea and crumpets, there is no BBC 3 and Doctor Who is still worth watching. Keep in mind when creating your character that they come from and/or live in the UK and how this may affect their personality and outlook. You don't, however, have to play a character like Beefeater, Captain Midlands or Robin Hood to fit the theme. 

This is also the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU], not Logan or Batman V Superman or 90s Image comics; keep it light. Yes, none of the Avengers seem adverse to killing in the MCU, but none really slaughter enemies wholesale for the fun of it or get their kicks from hurting people. Yes, characters have trauma and emotional baggage, but no one locks themselves in a room and cranks The Cure. Aim for the game to be more like Ant-Man rather than Spawn

As SuperSystem has no inherent morality mechanic, we'll be using a variation on the "Fate Dice" system in the rulebook. Fate Dice form a party pool that can be used to boost rolls, gain an advantage in battle, temporarily buff a power or get a re-roll. You do heroic things, work well as a team or roleplay well, the team gets more dice to use. You act like jerks, fight all the time or keep quoting Abridged series instead of thinking up something to say, I take the dice away. If you don't get the reference, watch more films. 

It would be a big lie to say that all powers are equal in SuperSystem. Yes, Burrowing is cool, but you're always going to get more use out of Super Toughness. You need to be aware that some characters are simply going to have more utility than others and that's ok. Trust me, I've run a perfectly balanced Superhero RPG, it sucked and everyone got bored quickly. If a power isn't really working for you in combat, think about how it works and what you can do with it; there may be something your character can do to help other than punch things.  

Conflict is good, it drives story, but do try and have the team get along for the most part, ok? Remember how much fun the party scene was in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Or how cool the teamwork moments of the big fights are? I will reward cool little team-up moments and characters developing genuine rapport, they make for a good game.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Superhero Media: Miraculous - Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (Season 1)

I first came across this programme a little while ago when it was on ABC Kids here in Australia, I watched a few episodes but really couldn't get into it. When I saw it pop up on Netflix, I decided to give the programme another go. Whilst there's not a lot to Miraculous, what is there is really well done and quite unique, at the least being a particular combination of ideas and tropes that I haven't seen before. Seriously, if you're into superheroes as much as I am, check out Miraculous, just stick with it, because the "origins" episode is about twelve in and it can be confusing before that point. Marinette is a teenage girl chosen by Tikki, an ancient Kwami, to be the latest incarnation of "Ladybug", a champion of justice with a history stretching back to ancient times (at least Egypt?). She teams up with Chat Noir, a similar hero with the power of destruction, to foil the machinations of Hawkmoth, a evildoer powered by his own Kwami. 

What follows is a French twist on the Japanese "Magical Girl" franchise, complete with monster of the week and repeated transformation sequences. Miraculous can get pretty repetitive, but that's a standard issue with these sort of children's programmes, so pretty forgivable. The interesting part comes more in the construction of Miraculous than in the execution. A collaboration between French animation house Zagtoon and the Japanese legend Toei, that theme of cultural mixing continues, with Marinette being the offspring of a French and a Japanese parent (see what they did there?). The whole cast is rather diverse, even if all the teenage girls manage a perfect 36"24"26", but hey, I'll take diversity in superheroes where I can get it. A major recurring theme of the series is teenage romance, with Chat Noir being besotted with Ladybug whilst Marinette falls for Adrien, Noir's alter-ego. 

I actually was pretty much done with Miraculous right up until the last couple of episodes. Sure, I'll forgive a programme being formulaic or repetitive, especially in this genre, but the charm that was there wasn't quite enough to have me coming back for more. However, in the last episode, more truths about the Kwami and the Miraculous come to light, ending on a cliffhanger with Marinette about to discover more about her powers. There's quite a fan following for Miraculous and if you're trying to keep your daughter engaged with Superheroes, I can highly recommend checking it out, though there's probably not enough there to engage the adult audience. I'll be checking out the second season myself when it lands on Netflix, but don't expect to see a Ladybug and Chat Noir on an Ultimate Alliance table anytime soon. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


So Stan "the Man" Lee died yesterday and it hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I'm not typically the kind to get really upset of a celebrity death, though Prince and MCA both threw me at the time, and Lee was 95, so on an intellectual level, I knew he wouldn't be around much longer; but I still found myself close to tears for much of yesterday. It's been a bad year for me, emotionally, I lost my job  around April and didn't bother to watch out for myself afterwards. By September, I was self-harming and even had a close call with suicide. Things are better now, I start a new Student Counselling role in a couple of weeks and have been volunteering to give myself something meaningful to do. Then Stan Lee died and I kind of felt empty for the better part of a day. 

As a mental health worker, I know that everything comes back to grief and/or trauma sooner or later, but knowing that I'm experiencing grief and doing something about it are two different things. Despite my background in English Literature, I can think of few authors who have had as much influence over my life as Stan Lee and his many collaborators. Spider-Man comics where the first things I ever read, and I grew up in the boom period of Marvel Cartoons in the early 1990s. Throughout my entire life, I have read comics, and mostly Marvel Comics, and they have shaped the way I think and act. When I was a child, I wanted to be a superhero, as an adult, I advocate for social justice and try to save lives through my mental health work in suicide prevention. 

If it hadn't been for Stan Lee and the Marvel crew of the 1960s, I don't think superheroes and comics would be around in the form they are now, and certainly wouldn't have been as prevalent in my childhood. Despite taking credit for almost everything Marvel touched in the Silver and Bronze age, Stan was one of a team, but I think it gets forgotten that his being the face of the company in those halcyon days was a decision made by the management so that only Stan had to do the PR stuff that Kirby et al didn't want to do. Over time, Stan became not only the face of Marvel Comics, but the face of the genre. Batman and Superman may be the most recognisable superheroes of all time, but Stan Lee is the best known comic creator by a wide margin. 

Lee spent essentially his entire life in the comics industry, his creative efforts touching from the 1950s through to today. That's a hell of a legacy. Think of how many kids, too young to read, that run around in Spider-Man costumes, or how big the Marvel films are at the moment. It's not hyperbole to assert that without the Lee and Kirby-led boom of the Silver Age, none of this would exist. No MCU, no modern comics, no superhero film industry thanks to the success of Spider-Man, Blade and X-Men. No Lead Capes and my endless superhero miniatures project. 

Thank you, Stan Lee, I will miss you but cherish your continued presence in my life. 


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Superhero Media: Green Lantern (2011)

If you have never actually sat through this film, I kind of have to recommend that you do, if only to see how a film can manage to fail to be good at any stage, on any level. What is so fascinating about this film is that nothing works, at all. Got Geoffery Rush, Clancy Brown, Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi in your film? Doesn't matter, because the costumes, script, cinematography and direction are all pulling in different directions and nothing comes together at any stage. And it's not that the bare bones of the story don't work as an outline; Hal Jordan gets the Green Lantern ring, travels to Oa where he is trained to be a member of the corps, returns to Earth and defeats the villain. That's pretty much all a Green Lantern film really needs to be. That's the real shame here; the utter failure of anyone attached to the project to deliver on the premise. 

I suppose I should talk about the CGI? Because that always seems to come up when talking about Green Lantern. Yes, the costume looks stupid, it's Ryan Reynolds' head floating in a greenscreen, of course it looks stupid. Yes, it would have looked better with practical effects, but no one does practical effects anymore (except maybe Duncan Jones), because of the time and expense. Probably the best compromise would have been CGI powers and "real" costumes, but I can see the reason behind the decision, even if it turned out to be a bad one. Hell, with a decent script, even the CGI costume may have been forgivable. The real problem is the narrative and, especially, the villain; I know Hector Hammond has changed since the Silver Age, but I still think of him menacing GL with his "Future Brain". 

Hammond, Paralax, Sinestro, that's way too many villains for the first film in the series, the audience has no idea who these people are or why they should care. So Paralax is concentrated fear? Does Hal defeat it by being brave? Not really, just whip at it with some CGI boxing gloves and everything will be ok. Uninspired is the word that I associate with Green Lantern, it feels like no one wanted to work on the film and just happened to be under contract. This feels especially disappointing to watch after Iron Man having been out just a few years previous, like an anachronistic '90s superhero film that found its way into the wrong decade. I'm glad this never went anywhere, because Green Lantern actually deserves better than this.