Thursday, January 16, 2020

Alternate Supers: The Revengers

Well, Thor Ragnarok was pretty fucking awesome, right? I mean, I like Thor and Thor Dark World more than most people, but Ragnarok was much better than even I was expecting, even given the current trend of Marvel Studio films somehow getting better and better. Did you see Black Panther? Holy crap! And I'm writing this before Infinity War, which I suspect may actually be so good that I may die of sheer joy watching it. Where was I? Oh yeah, The Revengers. 
So one of the questions I get asked by, typically younger, gamers about SuperSystem and Ultimate Alliance games is "who is the most powerful character?". Now, I'm actually far more interested in playing games with a strong narrative than playing the "who is strongest" game, but I wouldn't be a card-carrying nerd (I keep my Avengers membership card on me at all times... just in case) if I couldn't explain in excruciating detail why Daredevil would beat Batman in a fight. He totally would, by the way. 
All that said, the idea of playing a miniatures game with superheroes at the higher power-levels is something I've dabbled in, fraught as it is. Having a contest between characters where every single one of them is capable of destroying everything on the table can be difficult to manage, but I think I've struck on a way to do it, and it's all thanks to Thor Ragnarok. The final battle in the film between "The Revengers" and Hella's forces actually gets there pretty well; you have a team of powerful heroes versus an even more powerful villain, her army of disposable goons and a couple of tough-but-beatable "mini-bosses" in Fenris and Scourge. In fact, the heroes can't even beat Hella in a straight-up fight, they have to play the objective to win. That's a masterful scenario right there, as the players get to have the big fight and roll all the dice but still have to be clever to win. 
But who are these heroes and how do you build a team that powerful and still keep a feeling of difference between the characters? 

The Revengers

Gods, warriors, monsters and a fun rock guy; The Revengers are the best the universe has to offer. Even their might, however may not be enough to stop Hella, Godess of Death from conquering the universe, but each and every Revenger is prepared to make that sacrifice. Ok, maybe not *all* of them, certainly not Loki. I'm not entirely sure that Hulk gets it either. Probably not Korg, I'm not sure he even knows the full story? Definitely Thor, Valkyrie and Heimdal though. At least they're all up for a big fight, because that's what's coming!

Thor - Lord of Thunder 
Having lost his father, discovered that his erstwhile brother is still alive, discovered a long lost sister, been jerked around by Doctor Strange, losing his hammer and being made a slave all in the one day, Thor's more than a little pissed. His time on Earth has made him more humble and responsible, so Thor's ready to sell his life dearly for the people of Asgard if need be. Also, he's been manifesting some new powers lately, so that may come in handy.
Loki - Our Lord and Savior 
Loki's the bad boy, the black sheep, the one you don't bring home to mother; also, really just a selfish jerk a lot of the time, seeking after some form of power over others. Still, the God of Lies can be counted on in a pinch to fight the good fight. Well, sometimes. Maybe just this once because Hella's such a big threat. I mean, he's going to cosy up to Thanos to take a shot at the Infinity Gauntlet right? Well, for now he gets a cool entrance and can show off his stylish fighting moves. He kills a guy with his horned crown thing! How cool is that!
Valkyrie - Not going to stop drinking
For thousands of years, she hid away, but now she's back to stick her sword up Hella's arse, or die trying. But she's not going to quit drinking, what, are you going to argue? She can pin the Hulk and beat the crap out of Loki! Actually, she gets a great fight entrance too, with the Commodore and fireworks on the rainbow bridge before she wades through waves of undead Asgardian warriors. Valkyrie is the kick-butt warrior woman you want on your side in a tough spot, like Ragnarok itself.
Heimdal - Defender of Asgard
Even without his fancy golden helmet, Heimdal is a bad-arse Asgardian that you don't want to mess with. Sure, other Revengers have more raw power, but Heimdal protected hundreds of civilians for weeks with nothing but his wits and a magic sword. Yes, being able to see the future probably helped as well, but we can see that Heimdal still has the chops in a fight, even when outnumbered and overpowered. I'm guessing that, if we get more Thor films, we'll see Heimdal come into something of a Major Domo role for the new king of Asgard, which would suit him well. 
Hulk - Strongest Avenger 
Hulk like fire, raging fire. How are the Revengers going to win the day? They have a Hulk. Hulk has come a long was since we last saw him fighting Ultron, having been living on Sakaar as a celebrity gladiator, with access to all the depths of sleaze that allows. Seriously, he has a rack of booze and a giant hot tub in his apartment, is the Grandmaster sending the Hulk women? I hope Sakaar has consent laws... and lube. Anyway, Thor needs Hulk's muscle to even up the fight with Hella's forces, so he needs to coax "jolly green" out of his successful career to get the band back together.
Korg - Hey bro! 
The most marketable revolutionary since Che Guevara, Korg is made of rocks, perishable rocks, but still. He's not that tough, just does the warm-up fights, but has great timing with spaceships to rescue people and may be the most pragmatic character in the MCU. As a member of the Revengers, Korg no longer has to worry about publishing too few pamphlets, because he has a walking revolution alongside him, in the form of his new allies. Korg can always bring Meik too, his bug-person friend with knives for hands. 

I hope that there's enough inspiration in the above for you to build a "high-powered" team and run a big game for your local group or club. If you haven't seen Thor Ragnarok, which I assume came out like, two years ago by the time this entry gets published, check it out, it's a hell of a fun ride.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Superhero Media: Dragonball GT - A Hero's Legacy

This one's going to be a bit short, as most of the Dragonball "movies" come in at under an hour's run-time, tending to focus on a single fight, enemy or concept. Were I to boil down A Hero's Legacy to its base components, it would come out as "Dragonball Stand By Me", which, as far as I'm concerned, is high praise indeed. Decades after Goku departed for a higher existence, Goku Junior, grandson of Pan, is struggling through both training and primary school. Yes, Goku Jr is actually bullied, unwilling to use his immense power to help anyone, even himself. This view gets challenged when Pan gets ill and Goku Jr starts out on a journey to find the Dragonballs, which haven't been seen since Pan was a girl. 

Quite by accident, Goku Jr's bully ends up coming along for the journey and that's where Stand By Me gets evoked pretty strongly, which I do feel is probably deliberate, given the amount of Western pop culture that Toriama is prone to referencing. Did you know that Yajirobe is a take on John Belushi's samurai from Saturday Night Live? You do now. You're welcome. The pair overcome their differences to become friends and work together to outsmart a trio of monsters set on eating children. Goku Jr finally comes to Grandpa Gohan's house, from the first episode of Dragonball, where he finds the Four-Star ball and is greeted by Goku himself. Goku and Goku Jr have a talk about power and responsibility and the duty of the strong to protect those weaker than them; it's a good scene and probably is the closest to anything like a philosophy for Goku across the franchise.

All in all, A Hero's Legacy is somewhat unnesescary, not really adding a great deal to the saga of Goku and not giving an ending any more satisfying than what was in Dragonball GT. What A Hero's Legacy does is give a sense that, no matter what, the Dragonball story will never end, it has become a legend that will keep going, like Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes or Superman. Part of me is actually interested to see what happens to Goku and friends once Toriama either dies or abandons the franchise entirely; once other creators get to tell their own stories with the characters without oversight from their creator. Already, the 'conflict' between the GT and Super stories makes for interesting possibilities, an exploration of the alternate time-lines could make for some interesting adventures for Goku and pals, but time will tell.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Miniatures Finished: Children of the Revolution

Finally finished the last of my French Revolution civilians/mob, now I just need to finish three teams of supers and maybe I can run that damn campaign at some point. 

 Really nice minis from Eureka, even with a quick paint job. 

Work is progressing on the campaign, honestly, but not being able to find the miniatures I want for a particular faction is really making things drag. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Superhero Media: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

I stand by my (more-or-less) positive review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), whilst it doesn't reach the heights of the 1990 film or even Turtles Forever, it manages to be fun and there are a lot of good scenes and some great visual elements. Out of the Shadows is not even as good as the 2014 film, though I believe it is precisely the TMNT film I wanted when I was eight years old. Yes it's dumb, but it's a story about four mutant turtles fighting a ninja master and inter-dimensional aliens, how serious did you expect it to be? If you can't enjoy the Turtle-Van chase sequence or Bebop and Rocksteady riding a tank down a river, what the hell are you doing calling yourself a TMNT fan? Yes, Out of the Shadows isn't really that good a film, but it's so fun and so quickly paced that watching it, I really didn't care. 

Sadly, there is no backpedal on the terrible Shredder, but once he accidentally ends up in Dimension X and makes a deal with Krang to open a portal in return for the death of the Turtles, he fades into the background. In order to facilitate this, Krang hands over a container of Ooze so that Shredder can make his own mutants. Baxter Stockman, of TGRI, uses the ooze on a couple of street thugs, and Bebop and Rocksteady are born. Holy hell, how is Out of the Shadows the most faithful TMNT adaptation? Sure, it's not all good news, Tyler Perry is terrible as Baxter Stockman, which is no surprise, and the sub-plot of the ooze turning the turtles human both makes no sense and goes nowhere. Purists may complain about the turtles getting a public debut, but I like the new spin on the story and would be interested to see where it went in any following films.

Stephen Amell is not a good Casey Jones, not holding a candle to Elias Koteas, but the script gives him little to do and fighting off ninjas with a hockey stick and puck makes for a fun scene. The climatic battle on top of the slowly-forming Technodrome with Krang looks like it would make an awesome SuperSystem game, and that Mikey saves the day with a skateboard is pure Turtles gold. Internet nerd culture have panned this because of what Bay did to the Transformers franchise, give it a fair go and you may just find a lot to enjoy. There's also a brilliant version of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song over the credits that's really hard to find, but is on Google Play and can be found here: Hey, I said this was the version I would have wanted as a child, embrace it! Turtle power!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thinking Out Loud: In the grim darkness of the present, there is only fanboys...

A revelation that should shock no one; I talk about superheroes a lot with my friends. These days, the topic of superhero film and television comes up a lot, especially speculation about which hero[es] are ripe for adaptation. What does shock me is just how many people like the idea of an "adult", "gritty" or "R rated" take on a particular hero or team. Seriously? Are we still doing this? The Iron Age ended about twenty years ago guys. I can't believe that I have to keep to breaking this to "grown men", but comic book superheroes were made for kids and they're best when the writers and creators keep that in mind when working. We've had, what, two good R-rated superhero films and pretty must just the Netflix stuff for television, right? Compare that to the other "adult" entries in the genre to Spawn, Kick-Ass, Faust: Love of the Damned, Blade Trinity, Punisher War Zone, Batman v Superman and countless of others that may be fun, but don't really hit a level of quality like Deadpool or Logan

I'm guessing this all comes back to The Dark Knight Returns and the misunderstanding that most people have about it. It's actually a parody of the very style that it presents, quite deliberately pointing out how ridiculous the overwrought, musclebound, superhero as corrupted masculine ideal is and how characters going down that path is dull and uninspired. Yes, certain characters work better with a more visceral violence and a grounded world, like the Punisher, Daredevil, the Question and Invincible, but how seriously did you really take the Blade films? Do you want a Blade series where everyone is treating the existence of vampires as a serious issue that needs to be dealt with, or one where people make Buffy jokes? I thought so. Just look at the current states of the Marvel and DC film "universes"; Marvel is fun, light and serious only when it serves the story, DC treats everything as being SO IMPORTANT YOU GUYS, PAY ATTENTION TO HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS! Was there really anything worth getting invested in in any of the DC films other than Wonder Woman and SHAZAM!?

Look, I get it, we want the media and characters we love to grow up with us, but there are more and better ways to do that than to resort to swearing, blood and sex. Just look at Civil War or Black Panther, two thought-provoking films with complex ideas and emotional themes that still kept things fun, and neither is R-rated. I'd go so far as to argue that the best superhero films are actually the ones that embrace the fun and delight of the comics, rather than going for an "adult" tone; Superman: The Movie, The Incredibles, Black Panther, The Avengers, the list goes on. The only real exceptions would be Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, neither of which actually leans too heavily on the violence and sex, but focus on character and philosophy. I'd argue that The Dark Knight isn't even really a superhero film, but that's a whole other thing I'll get to later. To sum up, can we (and by "we" I mean adult, male, comic fans) please stop pretending that every adaptation of the comics we love would be "better" if it pandered to our basest wants? We know better than that. Now, I'm going to go watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 again.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Superhero Media: Transformers Prime

Like everyone of a certain generation, I grew up watching Transformers and playing with the toys. Like many favourites of childhood, when I want back to try and watch the classic series, I was disappointed with the reality of 25-minute toy commercials that were more interested in merchandise than telling good stories. I've also been watching the recent series of Transformers films, which are not good, so I wanted to try and find some kind of Transformers media that was worth watching. I reached out to a fiend who is a big fan of Transformers and he recommended Transformers Prime, saying it was probably the best version of the programme out there. I was still wary, but gave it a go anyway; Transformers Prime is pretty damn amazing, with a strong story, well-written characters and the main drive of the narrative changes each season to keep things fresh. Peter Cullen and Frank Welker return to their iconic roles and the whole series is simply engaging in the way a lot of children's television fails to be for adults. 

The set-up is essentally the same as it always is, the Autobots and Decepitcons come to Earth after Cybertron was destroyed in their war and hostilities renew. Where Transformers Prime differentiates itself is in the smaller cast than normal, the main Autobots for the first half of the series are Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet and Arcee. Along with the Autobots, there are three teenagers, Jack, Miko and Raf, who provide the human element for the series. As much as the humans are typically the least engaging part of any Transformers series, Jack, Miko and Raf are really interesting in their own rights, help out more than they hinder the Autobots and each have a special relationship with a particular Autobot that really drives character development. There's something about Transformers Prime that makes it come across, to me, at least, as an adaptation of someone's, really awesome, Transformers role playing campaign. Each player gets an Autobot and a human and occasionally an NPC does something awesome, mostly Optimus Prime.

There's more than just Autobots and Decepticons at war in Transformers Prime, the FBI are involved, as well as a few independent Cybertronians and a clandestine cult of Xenophobes. Much of the second season is taken up with a quest for several Cybertronian artifacts that could change the course of the war, culminating in Optimus Prime finding the Autobot equivalent of Excalibur and cutting through a goddamned mountain. To add more believable conflict to the war, there are disposable Decpticon minions and the Autobots suffer losses and reversals, rather than just winning all of the time. Characters grow, change and suffer in a way that most children's television doesn't bother to do, Transformers Prime really does reach higher than the rest of the franchise and is well worth your time. I never thought I would really care about these characters, but that's all changed and now I'm browsing eBay for toys to convert into wargames miniatures.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Miniatures Finished: Hell Duke and Friends

Finding it more fun to work on "teams" of villains rather than individuals of late, so here is Doctor Plokta and his Mindless Ones. 

 There wasn't a Heroclix take on Plokta, so I had to come up with something. 

 Was very happy when the Mindless Ones came together in a single painting session.

 Plotka is a Reaper Bones Water Elemental with added "head" and a heavy wash. The effect looks better in person.