Friday, March 5, 2021

Thinking Out Loud: The Apotheosis of Rick

Like most underemployed, overeducated and somewhat lazy intellectuals, I'm something of a fan of Rick and Morty. A fan in that I enjoy watching the programme, have sat through it a couple of times and am looking forward to more whenever it comes out. As I tend to cast a broad net over what constitutes "Superhero Media", I have been asked as to when readers of this blog can expect to see Rick and Morty get the same treatment I've given Big Trouble In Little China and Scanners. The answer is; never. Not because I dislike the programme, or that I don't think it qualifies, only because there is nothing there to review. Like anyone with an internet connection, I recognise the not-even-a-little subtle nihilism in the text of Rick and Morty, but here's the rub, I've studied my fair share of philosophy, including Classical and Modern Nihilism, and Rick and Morty isn't really about that; it's about nothing. Rick and Morty isn't Nietzsche, it isn't Epicurus, it's a disaffected teenager scrawling "life is pain" on their textbook.  

And that's not an insult to the programme, that is the main point. Feature, not bug. Rick and Morty is perfectly crafted to draw in an audience of (mostly male) people of moderate intelligence who overestimate their cognitive prowess and assume their superiority to those around them. Now that sounds insulting, but I swear I only know and recognise this because I used to be that twenty-something fuckboy so assured of my own godlike status and profound intelligence that I wonder how anyone tolerated my presence, let alone became romantically interested in me. If you're chuckling over a joke in Rick and Morty that you think only people as clever as you get, please stop for a moment and think about it. Is there actually a deeper meaning behind that joke? Because I'm guessing there's not. The internet is full of fan-theories about minor elements of the programme that apparently have deep significance, but I'm yet to see one pan out, even after the long season 2-3 hiatus. The joke is there is no deeper meaning, it just looks like there might be. Yes, those of you thinking you have it "all figured out", unlike everyone else, you're the butt of the joke, sorry. 

You see, I've seen this before; ever heard of The Venture Bros? It's probably the best Adult Swim Original, mostly a parody of programmes like Johnny Quest, at least for the first few seasons. Sometime around season four, it morphs into a seriously compelling action/comedy/drama. There were fans online looking for deeper meaning in The Venture Bros for years who were never rewarded, and it's pretty obvious that the same thing is going on with Rick and Morty. So now you're a Ricky and Morty fan who just realised they've been laughing at the wrong thing for years, what's next? Keep watching the programme. There is nothing stopping anyone from enjoying media on different levels, so get what you like about it, that's cool. Many people enjoy The Matrix because of the slick action and daring effects, just because I enjoy it as a subversive transgender allegory doesn't make my enjoyment (or me personally) any better or worse than you. Yes, this is the point I've been building to; stop thinking that watching Rick and Morty makes you better or smarter than other people, because, as I've just explained, you've probably been getting it wrong the whole time. Rick isn't a person to be admired or emulated, he's a joke on how intellectual "elitists" see themselves when they are disaffected with their lack of actual intelligence. Grow up and enjoy the funny cartoons because they're funny. 

Also, maybe read some philosophy? Marcus Aurelius is a good place to start.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Superhero Media: Hulk Vs. Thor (2009)

The other short film that came on the same DVD as Hulk Vs Wolverine, Hulk Vs Thor may actually be the better film of the two, even if it is a tad less exciting. Desperate to conquer Asgard during the Odinsleep, Loki summons Bruce Banner from Midguard and, with the help of the Enchantress, separates him from the Hulk, taking control of Jade Jaws to kill Thor. The Loki-controlled Hulk rampage through Asgard involves skirmishes with Balder, Sif, The Warriors Three and two epic showdowns with Thor himself. All of the big Norse hits are there, with Frost Giants and Trolls a-plenty, a visit to Hel's realm and Loki and Thor being forced to fight together to stop a mindless Hulk. 

Again, Hulk Vs Thor is only a little over a half-hour long, but that is really all the story needs, being little more than a series of linked fight-scenes and a little world-building. Given the direction of the MCU and the events of Thor Ragnarok, I doubt that the narrative of Hulk Vs Thor would translate as well as I suggested Hulk Vs Wolverine might, but there are still good ideas to be had here. I think the basic structure of the film would make an excellent scenario or series of games, starting with Hulk battling the Warriros Three and Balder at the gates of Asgard and moving through to a final showdown with Thor, Sif and the Enchantress in Odin's chamber. 

Both Hulk Vs Thor and Hulk Vs Wolverine are the kind of shorts that pop up on YouTube from time to time, and I recommend taking a look if you can find them. I haven't seen too many copies of the DVD around in years and I don't find either particularly necessary re-watching. For the completionist Wolverine and the X-Men/Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes collectors, there's merit in tracking down a copy, but for most, these are disposable fun, which is precisely their intended consumption. As I've written, good inspiration and a lot of fun to be had. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Miniatures Finished: Cats

I like cats. I have one and she's beautiful, if kinda fat. Here she is: 

Naturally, I wanted some cats in 28mm as soon as I saw them and have been amassing a small collection to scatter around my gaming tables for big displays.

 Miniatures from Reaper, Eureka and Black Cat Bases, I used my many cat books for references. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Superhero Media: Ratchet & Clank - Nexus

I was so hyped for this game that I had it pre-ordered and paid off months in advance; the trailer looked amazing, the last two entries had been satisfying and there were promises of an end to the hanging plot threads. What I got instead was half a game that looked more like a demo for the new Insomniac gravity engine and didn't really add to the existing setting in any significant way. I picked up the game a few days before I left for Europe, but ended up returning it before my flight out when I realised it took less than 10 hours to finish. I was mad at this game for years, in frankly, a petty way, I eventually picked it up 2nd hand for a few dollars to play again, but still held a grudge. Playing Nexus again for this review, mostly for the sake of completeness, my stance has softened a little. 

Yes, Nexus is a disappointing half-measure, but there is still a lot to enjoy, and what is in the game is inoffensive, for the most part. The return of dialog trees instead of cut-scenes and an out-of-nowhere romance between Ratchet and Talwyn Apogee are the only truly annoying elements of the game, with holdover annoyances like too much noise, uninspired weapons and repetitive enemies merely being part of the Future trilogy at this point. The parts that work, work really well, and I feel that the actual hard work of the game gets lost in all of the complaints. The opening of Nexus is probably the strongest of the series, especially fleeing incoming enemy ships on fragments of wreckage just before the credits roll. Exploring the swampy planet inhabited by Gargathons with the hoverboots and new jetpack function is wonderfully cathartic, very much the highlight of the game

The problem of Nexus is that individual elements are excellent, like the Museum or Orphanage sequences, but the whole work just feels rushed and incomplete. Of course, it is now pretty clear that Insomniac has lost the passion for the series, but there was certainly potential for Nexus that was never realised. For me, the most disappointing part is that any new fans going back to the old games will be left with a sour taste in their mouths at the end of the Future trilogy and may not want to revisit the Ratchet & Clank universe, letting these great characters fade into obscurity like Bonk, Bubsy and Gex. You know I'll be getting a Ratchet & Clank Totkau figure for "Melee of Champions" as soon as they are released, but I swear I'll have my 28mm version for Ultimate Alliance one day. Until then, the PS2 Trilogy and even the Future games will keep the characters alive for me when I want to see their adventures. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Thinking Out Loud: The Gospel of Frank

Two things of note happened to me recently, one being that I decided to dive back into media of The Punisher, Marvel's murderous vigilante, the other being that I saw a person on the train wearing a "Blue Lives Matter" mask emblazoned with the iconic Punisher skull. Longtime readers of this blog should experience zero shock at the fact that I support defunding the police and find anyone supporting the "Blue Lives Matter" movement to be, at best, misguided, if not outright hostile to my belief system. So then, how does a humanistic Anarchist pacifist find themselves enjoying the Punisher, and what do I think the character represents in a contemporary setting? This one's going to be something of an essay, so settle in for a long one. Frank Castle, as presented in his original role as a Spider-Man antagonist, is something of a "Dirty Harry" figure, intended to contrast Peter Parker's unwillingness to do lethal harm. That comic fans are wont to misunderstand subtlety and take to idolising characters originally intended as parody and pastiche is so much to be taken as read, that, of course, Frank Castle became a cult darling very quickly.

From my understanding, very much that of an outsider, I'll admit, I believe that the element of Frank Castle that attracts the reactionary (and often bigoted) police officer is the perceived lack of accountability. Those few police officers that I am able to be friends with echo this sentiment to a certain degree, at least in that they feel the bureaucratic elements of their work can often hold them back from doing their job better. For my friends, they consider "the job" to be service-based, helping people at risk or in need of aid, with the peacekeeping element as secondary, at best. For those police who believe the, utterly false, narrative of "good guys and bad guys", however, The Punisher represents an efficacy of justice without restriction; for a particularly skewed idea of justice. From my perspective, informed as it is by research and academia, I believe the "best" form of direct justice is rehabilitative, with the aim that any perpetrator receive the support they need to engage properly with society. Critics of this position claim that it doesn't tackle the root cause of criminality, and, actually, I agree. But Frank Castle doesn't engage with those causes of crime either.

Despite what you may have heard or read in popular news press, the cause of most crime is very well known and demonstrated by a preponderance of evidence; the cause of crime is poverty. In my own country of Australia, petty crime has dropped sharply for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our federal government has increased welfare for that same duration to be, for the first time in many years, above the poverty line. So as many found themselves able to afford both food and rent, crime for the sake of subsistence dropped. Funny that. To bring this back to the idea of "dispensing justice", to the person stealing to avoid destitution and/or starvation, incarceration does little to remedy the root cause of the crime, merely delaying an inevitable relapse into the same behaviour. So want to end crime? Don't give more money to the police, give it to the poor instead, the results are certain and well-documented.

So what does all this have to do with Frank Castle and his astounding body-count? Well, believe it or not, Frank doesn't do what he does with the mindset that he is, in any way, helping to end crime, only to end criminals in a very immediate sense. In Contest of Champions, an alternate version of Frank (from a universe where they lost the Superhero Civil War) is challenged by Outlaw (aka the British Punisher) over the politics inherent in murdering criminals, many of whom are people of colour; Frank replies that what he does is "not political", with Outlaw implying that this assertion comes only because he is White. With anything more than a cursory examination, The Punisher, whilst indiscriminate with his killing of anyone he, personally deems to be irredeemable, is seemingly possessed of a supernatural ability to never come close to injuring an innocent person. In this, as such an ability is something only a fictional character can manage, I personally find my ethical balance with Frank Castle. Despite his lifetime of wholesale murder, he cannot, and will, never hurt an innocent person.

So is it this superhuman accuracy which endears Frank to a certain subset of police officers? Because the idea of being The Punisher cannot truly be appealing, with his extreme nihilism in the face of crippling grief abated only momentarily when he gets into a truly great killing streak; it just sounds like a really bad time, right? Or is the appeal Frank's almost total lack of accountability for his actions? The Punisher can murder as many human beings as he wants (and despite your feelings on their crimes, drug dealers, pimps and mafiosi are actually human and have rights) and never suffer any real legal or ethical consequences. That's why Blue Lives Matter is a dangerous ideology, because police officers, be they "good" cops or not, want a version of their career in which they are permitted to commit more murder with less consequence. I don't know about you, but that idea fucking terrifies me. Frank Castle is the protagonist of his stories, not the hero, anyone who wants to be him has no right trying to dispense justice, as that is not what Frank Castle does, on any level.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Superhero Media: Agent Carter - Season 2

Broken record on this one, but why is there only two seasons of Agent Carter? It's a much better programme than Agents of SHIELD and Arrow, both of which have enjoyed much longer runs. Peggy Carter is back, forcibly placed on leave when she doesn't back down from the Dottie Underwood case from season one. Heading out to California, Peggy is reunited with Jarvis and Agent Sousa and quickly drawn in to a conspiracy involving illegal experiments and wealthy political donors. As always, the set design, costumes and music are excellent, with Carter and Jarvis looking perfect for the period, plenty of vintage cars and great old Hollywood locations to shoot in. As well as the snappy 'gal-Friday' dialog, Agent Carter brings in elements of post-war racist backlash and bigotry, with Sousa still being passed over due to his bad leg, despite having been injured at Monte Cassino, and being awarded a Purple Heart and new character Jason Wilkes coming under suspicion merely for being black. 

The villain is once again female, in Whitney Frost (aka Madame Masque), who, sick of being put upon by men who think of her of 'lesser', wants to harness the power of the mysterious dark matter to raise herself up. This version of Whitney was a child genius who worked on the Manhattan Project, but was bounced after the war and forced to take up a career as an actor. The scenes in which Whitney bamboozles the men around her with her scientific acumen are brilliant, with the actors making a real show of things. The tone is a little camp at times, but that has the air of being more around the style[s] of the era in which it is set than a dumbing down of any kind. The second-to-last episode opens with a big, glam musical number reminiscent of Gene Kelly, which I love and wish there could have been more episodes where that device was used. 

Howard Stark returns for a few episodes, and the introduction of Ana Jarvis (Edwin's wife) round out the core cast nicely, allowing the existing members of the team to grow as characters. Agent Carter is probably the second or third best MCU television production, and yes, I'm including Netflix in that one. The cast is excellent, the look is classic, it's basically MCU Mad Men, but no one ever really talks about it, or has really seen it. Two of the writers of this programme went on to work on Thor Ragnarok, which tells you how good they are, I truly am rather upset that this ended after two seasons. Agent Carter is clever, slick and a hell of a lot of fun, but is gone too soon, and we may never see either the programme or titular agent back. That's a damn shame. Get the DVDs and set some time aside and get to grips with this great series. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Miniatures Finished: Public Security Section 9

I was meant to have these all done for Little Wars 2018, but a bit of a mix up at Hasslefree Miniatures (which was quickly resolved by their, extremely courteous, customer service) meant I got them after the event. Still, I had everything but Mokoto done, so I figured I may as well hop to it.

Public Security Section 9 
Tachikoma, repainted Japanese vending machine toys. They're actually a little big, scale-wise, but they work well enough on the table. 
Bateu and his Tachickoma "Think Tank". Bateu is Hasslefree, I've had him for a while, but he was in dire need of some touch-ups. 
 I did have a Major, but when I came into a bit of cash, I decided to splurge on the Clear Resin version and the metal one to match. Beautiful models from Hasslefree and well worth the price. 

If I get a bit more cyberpunk gaming in, Section 9 will be making an appearance. If I can find a Togusa, that would do me nicely for the team. Not that I'd complain if someone made a Paz, Bouma and Saito as well.