Tuesday, January 29, 2019

MI-13: Part III

Days and weeks pass after the Dark Elf invasion, and the Arcanist, Purple Shadow, Sandman and Psylocke are introduced to their new HQ in the sub-basement levels of the MI-5 building in London. Pete Wisdom tours the team around their new home (excepting the Arcanist who will continue to live at the Sanctum and Sandman who wants to maintain his pub), showing them the CQMS, barracks, canteen and other staff that make up the ministry. Although trades are still working on the finer details and fittings, the HQ is shaping up to be a major instillation. 

Wisdom takes the team, as well as Union Jack, into a meeting with the National Security Council and Joint Intelligence committee, headed by MP James Jaspers, via telepresence. The team are expected to smile and wave and not say much. Most of the meeting is dull until Wisdom is asked to justify MI-13’s existence. Thankfully, he has a speech prepared:

“We’re fitting out MI-13 as a modern superhero intelligence strike force. That’s a very specific mission. The public wants to see Union Jack, charging into battle; Psylocke and Sandman and other costumed heroes alongside… But they don’t necessarily need or want to know what their heroes will be fighting. That’s why we keep secret. That’s why we’re working within the intelligence community. We’re targeting the aliens that were set loose, and any others that see Britain as an easy mark. Monsters. Not ‘suspected terrorists’, not decadent ‘super villains’ or other heroes. Monsters, right out of myth. Our identities will be kept secret by ‘D’ Notice, technology and magic, we won’t have to bother with masks. Running the team, like this, this very British mix of professional and amateur might be the best, most secure way to run a superhero team. Amateur adventurers, professional resources, intelligence community culture. But, with great freedom within that responsibility, so nobody gets compromised. It’s about time someone tried this. Thank you.” 

The meeting wraps up shortly after that. It seems that things aren't going to wait for MI-13 to be complete, as an alert sets off an alarm and Wisdom has to run off to coordinate a mission, sending Union Jack to Birmingham. The team get some time to adjust to their new surroundings, with Sandman sneaking off to do his own tour. Having been a superhero in the late 1980s, Sandman is shocked and confused to find that the government agency he's working for is not at all shadowy and sinister, but rather is a typically polite and straightforward British Ministry. Before long, another alert comes in, and the team are called into the briefing room. 

There has been a sighting of some kind of alien creature at Gravesend and the team are being sent to investigate. Hopping into a Seahawk, the heroes are quickly whisked down the Thames and soon see a commotion in a small park by the river. Stomping through the trees is a hulking brute with blue skin and an icy demeanor, it can be nothing other than a Frost Giant! It must have come here through the portals during the Dark Elf attack and is looking for food, unfortunately that means any poor soul unlucky enough to get close. 

The Arcanist calls out to the giant, "Is there any way we can resolve this peacefully?" and gets a grunt by way of reply as the giant rips a light pole from the ground, hefting it like a club. Taking that as a indication of future events, the team leap into action; Sandman and Purple Shadow advance into cover and Psylocke lifts a litter basket with her mind at flings it at the giant, it bounces right off. The Arcanist attacks the mind of the Giant, whilst placing a protective dome of mystic energy over Sandman and telling him to move up to cover Purple Shadow. The giant hurls the light pole at his only legitimate target, Psylocke, the mass of metal connects, hurling the young woman backwards and breaking several bones. Using the shield as cover, Sandman and Purple Shadow close with the Giant, but can't seem to hurt its tough hide. 

As the Arcanist weaves a healing spell over Psylocke, the Giant pounds the earth with its mighty fists, bowling over Purple Shadow, but Sandman remains unaffected in his sand-like form. As the pair of heroes dodge blows, Psylocke uses her telekinesis to maneuver the same light pole she was injured with closer to the giant. After repeated battering, the giant breaks through the mystic shield, injuring Purple Shadow, but allowing Sandman to hit back with a spear of solidified sand. Seeing an opening, Psylocke flings the light pole straight at the giant, but the metal shreds against its armour. Wanting to protect his teammates, The Arcanist recasts the 'Stance of Defiant Agamotto', weaving another shield around Purple Shadow once again. 

This new shield lasts only moments however, as the massive strength of the giant batters through once again. Sensing that she's in danger more so than she is helping, Purple Shadow withdraws, allowing Psylocke to charge in with her psychic knife. Sadly, the young hero cannot connect, but thanks to the Arcanist, she is lifted away from the return blow, his own spell staggering the monster. Sandman dodges in, using his solidified sand weapon to batter the giant down and keep it pinned whilst the Arcanist wraps it in nearby chains and bollards until a recovery crew can arrive. As it is not their responsibly, the team is returned to MI-13 to be patched up and debriefed. 

A couple of hours later, the alarm sounds once more; this time Wisdom brings the team into the situation room, as they're the only ones around to deal with the crisis. A fuzzy picture of Union Jack is on the main screen, with audio coming in and out, "I've got proof... the supernatural things you told us to be on the lookout for... They're right here! ...right AH!" his voice is cut out by a scream of pain. Without hesitation, the team is a go, back on the Seahawk and heading to Birmingham. 

Cloverdale Housing Estate, Hodge Hill, Birmingham is on fire. Scarlet flames envelop the building, though nothing and no one seems to be burning. A crowd of civilians are around the building, within the flames, not burning, but stopping emergency service from coming close and shouting that they'll kill anyone who comes near. Not wanting to injure any innocents, Arcanist and Psylocke levitate the team up to a fifth-floor window, entering a corridor inside the tower block. The inside of the building is eerily quiet, suffused with a ruby glow unlike anything even The Arcanist has seen before. Wanting to scout around, Sandman turns into living sand and slips under a nearby door. 

Sandman finds himself in Wembley stadium, on the pitch as England win both the penalty shootout, and World Cup, against Germany, thanks to the efforts of an emaciated, elderly man. Confused, Sandman withdraws and tests out more doors. He is greeted with scenes of fantasy and debauchery, as normal people are treated to lavish and outlandish dreams made reality. A quick conference with the rest of the team has them reach the conclusion that the residents of the tower block are living out their fantasies in their flats somehow. Just how this is happening becomes a question for later, however, when several hulking monstrosities burst from nearby doors, their faces nothing but smoking, glowing pits. 

The first of these brutes smashes into The Arcanist, gravely wounding the frail old man, but the rest are slow and Psylocke manages to get a blow in before they move too far; her psychic blade slides in easily, but hits nothing, as if these hulking brutes are totally mindless. Purple Shadow and Sandman find their attacks similarly brushed aside by indifferent stone. Unable to reach the, now fleeing, heroes, one of the monsters turns its face-hole towards Sandman and a blast of flame erupts, fortunately missing the man of sand. Needing to cover their retreat, the Arcanist rips out a section of floor and pushes it into a makeshift barricade, which the monsters attempt to batter through, but it provides ample time for the team to run to a nearby stairwell and get away.

What strange portents weigh on our heroes? Who will survive and what will remain of them? Find out next ish, True Believers!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Superhero Media: Superman Returns

Even when I saw it at the cinema, I didn't understand why people were so down on this film; I've always found it magnificent. The tone is a near-perfect match to the Richard Donner films, with enough modernisation to make it play in a then-contemporary environment. The casting is really good, even considering the little moral twinge enjoying anything with Kevin Spacey comes with now. I, personally, find it a real shame that Brian Singer didn't get another go at Superman, especially considering that Brainiac was slated to be the next villain; as much as I like the characters, I'm getting a bit sick of Luthor and Zod. Also, because Superman Returns had a disappointing box office return, we ended up with Man of Steel, and we all know how that ended. Personally, I think the much-coveted "teenage boy" audience dollar wasn't there because it was too smart for them, with more of a focus on wonder and nuance than Supes punching anyone. 

The word I would probably use to best describe Superman Returns is "iconic". Not only is Singer attempting to evoke the iconic Donner/Reeve combo of Superman: The Movie, but also to present the character at his most iconic moments. The plane rescue in the first act, with the John Williams music pumping and, somehow, still better than Man of Steel, CGI helping the audience believe a man can fly, may actually be one of the best Superman rescue scenes ever put to film, and using the quote from Superman: The Movie is a nice touch. Luthor's plot, drawing on the mythology of the previous films, is bonkers in the best way, killing millions to sell a lot of Superman-proof real estate, any Bond villain would be proud, and Spacey does a great turn in the role. Yes, it turns out he's a scumbag, but damn, he made good stuff before we all found that out.  

One of my favourite scenes in Superman Returns is when Lois and Richard are discussing Superman and think, just for a moment, that Clark Kent looks like him, until Clark gets his foot stuck in a bin and trips over. Sure, it's not quite as good as the glasses moment in Superman: The Movie, but it's charming nonetheless. Superman Returns is much better than most give it credit for, and is well worth a revisit if you haven't bothered with it in a while. I really hope that when DC and Warner Brothers get around to (yet again) rebooting Superman, they take another look at this film and appreciate just how good it really was, rather than pandering to juvenile demand for violent power fantasies. Or, you know, just make a live-action version of Superman Vs The Elite already, seriously.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

MI-13: Part II

Our heroes are catching their breath after delivering several civilians to the emergency services when a call goes out on both Purple Shadow and Psylocke's radios: 

"This is Special Agent Peter Wisdom of MI-6 calling across all wavelengths. Command structure has been compromised and contact lost with the British Government. As the highest-ranking agent in the field, I am assuming command of all emergency services and agents until further notice. All forces are converge on the Houses of Parliament, that’s where we’ll make our stand."  

Up ahead, the heroes can see more Dark Elves blocking the road. Just beyond them, the way is clear through to Westminster Bridge Road, then through to Westminster. 

Gathering his power to clear the path ahead, the Arcanist fills the street with mystic light, pushing his body and mind to the limit. When the light fades, a couple of Dark Elves have been felled, but the remainder have closed and start to batter through his mystic shields. Using her telekinetic might, Psylocke lifts a vending machine and hurls it at her foes, though it swings wide, scattering cans of Tango around the street. Seeing the Dark Elves batter through the Arcanist's shield and bring the master of the mystic arts down, Purple Shadow charges into the fray to draw attention away from her teammate. Not to be outdone, the Sandman puts his nightstick to good use, felling an entire band of Dark Elves single-handed. 

One of the alien Kursed charges at Purple Shadow, knocking her back several meters, but she struggles to her feet, grumbling "I'll kill this motherfucker," before hurling herself at the monster. Sandman runs into trouble when Dark Elf blaster fire rakes him and his own return blows don't seem to do much. Under the continued battering, Sandman calls out to the rest of the team to get clear and prepares to sell his life for theirs. Seeing that the tide is well and truly turning against them, Psylocke levitates the Arcanist and sprints for the safety of the end of the street. Purple Shadow breaks away from the Kursed and also makes a run for it, but doesn't get far before Dark Elf fire brings her down. Sandman does his best to limp away but is quickly caught by the Kursed and beaten into unconsciousness. Desperate, Psylocke flings the Arcanist down the street and dives for cover herself; her respite is short-lived, as the Kursed sniffs her out and ends her plans of escape.

Thankfully for the Arcanist, part of his usual attire is a Ring of Featherfall and he drifts gracefully to the ground, awaking some time later with a red-white-and-blue-clad form looming over him. One of Britain's greatest heroes, Union Jack, greets Arcanist with an "Al'right cobber?" and gets to explaining that all of the wizard's erstwhile teammates were still alive, captured by the Alien invaders and being held for unknown reasons. Although still injured, the Arcanist agrees to do his best to help Union Jack rescue Sandman, Purple Shadow and Psylocke. The three heroes are caught in a strange, web-like, black crystal, being watched over by a Kursed and what seems to be a Dark Elf "officer", going about strange business. 
Wasting no time, the Arcanist summons his mighty blast of light, desperation pushing his power to new heights and the blast flattening the area and knocking all of the aliens flying. Muttering in an unknown language, the leader of the Dark Elves stands and walks over to the wounded Kursed, applying its hands to the monster. To the Arcanist's dismay, the touch seems to heal the monster, its woulds closing before their eyes. Seizing the opportunity, Sandman transforms into his sand-like form and slips from his bonds, re-solidifying to attempt to batter his friends free; Dark Elves see him and open fire, but shoot wide. Finding herself unable to break free of the crystal bonds on her own, Psylocke instead uses her telekinesis to fling a shopping trolley into a nearby group of Dark Elves, with devastating results. 

Seeing the less experienced heroes doing well, Union Jack charges headlong into the nearest Kursed, but is battered aside like a gnat. The Dark Elf leader is intent on keeping her prey in the trap and weaves a dark spell at Sandman, who buckles under the strain. Lifting a storm drain cover with her mind, Psylocke uses it to knock the Dark Elf leader cold and the crystal bonds melt away, freeing her and Purple Shadow, any relief is short-lived, though, as more Dark Elves come running into the area. Seeing that Union Jack is not having much success against the Kursed, the Arcanist adds his mystical might to the struggle, though the hulking brute shows little sign of slowing.

The newly-arrived Dark Elves start to fire towards Purple Shadow, but she decides she's had enough of being a victim today thank you very much and hurls herself headlong into their ranks, bringing down the entire squad with a combination of her fists and mysterious, deadly aura. Inspired by the heroics of Union Jack, Sandman leaps at the Kursed and swings his nightstick, taking the monster by surprise. The last of the Dark Elves are quickly mopped up when the Arcanist turns his attentions to them, throwing a firetruck with his mystic arts and flattening them. Now on its own, the Kursed turns to flee, Union Jack and Sandman rain blows as it runs, but fail to slow it. Psylocke places herself in the path of the charging Kursed, but is battered aside like a ragdoll. 

Finally, the heroes approach Westminster Bridge; battered, bruised and barely on their feet, even the pathetic sight that greets them comes as a relief. Gathered on the far side of the bridge is a harlequin set of police, military and armed civilians looking out from makeshift barricades. As they approach, a slim, rakish man in a suit walks out to meet Union Jack and shakes his hand warmly. The newcomer introduces himself as Pete Wisdom, an agent of MI-6 and the highest-ranking person present. He reports that the portals seem to be closing and that the Avenger, Thor has been victorious against the alien leader. The remaining alien forces are converging on the Houses of Parliament, hoping to knock out the defenders and seize the seat of Government. If they succeed, London, and the United Kingdom, will be lost. The line is here, the heroes must not let it be crossed. 

The super-powered members of the defending forces line up on the bridge, including Union Jack and Pete Wisdom, awaiting the oncoming charge. Union Jack is the first to break the line, shouting "Watch my six" over his shoulder as he hefts his weapon and runs towards the first wave. Utilising the last of the fading portals, a group of Dark Elves teleport across much of the length on the bridge and ambush Purple Shadow, gravely injuring her before the fight even truly begins. Pete Wisdom runs in to help Purple Shadow, and between his psychic knives and her deadly aura, short work is made of the alien interlopers. Following an idea that has worked previously, the Arcanist hefts a car with his mystical might, hurling it at the nearest Kursed, but he misjudges the distance and creates a nice barrier for the Kursed to weather fire from behind. Psylocke fares a little better, with her mentally-thrown Vespa eliminating an entire team of Dark Elves when it explodes.

In retaliation, the Dark Elf leader slings a spell at Pete Wisdom, stunning him temporarily. Always eager to prove his arcane might, The Arcanist unleashes his powerful blast of mystic light, blowing most of the Dark Elf forces clear of the bridge in one mighty spell. Seeing the Kursed pick up the car in front of him in preparation of throwing it, Psylocke uses her telekinesis to keep it pinned in place, protecting her teammates. Pete Wisdom charges into the next Kursed, sinking his psychic knives deep into the monster's hide. Seeing her most dangerous creation threatened, the Dark Elf Wizard turns her attention to Psylocke. Not wanting to lose any ground, Union Jack charges forward into the embattled Kursed, shouting over his shoulder as he goes for Purple Shadow and Sadnman to back up Wisdom; Purple Shadow complies, but seems less capable of hurting then monster than Widsom is. 

Sandman is unsure as to how helpful his nightstick and gas gun will be, but sprays a bloody melee in the hopes of doing some good, knocking out both the Dark Elf Wizard and Union Jack. The hulking Kursed batters Purple Shadow into unconsciousness, but Pete Wisdom shields her from further injury. Demonstrating why he's Britain's greatest hero, Union Jack defeats the Dark Elf Wizard in single combat, trussing her up for later collection. Lifting a ruined Police Divisional Van floating down the Thames with his magic, The Arcanist swings it like a cricket bat, knocking a Kursed for "6", far downstream. As the last few Dark Elves are mopped up by Union Jack, Sandman and Pete Wisdom team-up and defeat the final Kursed. 

As the fight ends, the true toll that the battle has taken becomes evident, with swathes of London in flames and many injured or dead. The heroes are taken to medical care to have their wounds salved and get the all-clear. After things have died down, Pete Wisdom approaches Arcanist, Sandman, Purple Shadow and Psylocke, offering them a role in the newly-founded MI-13, a branch of the Ministry of Intelligence intended to deal with "Superheroic" Threats, with Wisdom as the intended head. As existing MI Agents, Purple Shadow and Psylocke have little choice in the matter, but Sandman agrees reluctantly, despite confidentially informing Wisdom that he's no longer physically up to the job. The Arcanist states that he'll have to check with The Ancient One to see if he can be released from his duties, and is shocked when Wisdom responds that he will clear it with the Sorcerer Supreme himself. 

What amazing adventures await our heroes in the future? Only time will tell! Join us next time for another tale told in the mighty Marvel manner!