Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Superhero Media: Thor - The Dark World

When I discuss the MCU films with people I meet, Thor - The Dark World is most often singled out as the "worst" one. Now, as I've mentioned before, I don't honestly believe that there are any "bad" MCU films; the scripts, acting, directing and props all make sense and look good, even if they're not "great" or not up to one's expectations. I'll stick by that assessment for The Dark World, which, whilst failing to be really engaging, is well-made and still has the strong cast of the previous film. There are a couple of elements that really could have been better, like Malakith and the Dark Elves, who look great, but spend most of the film being translated through subtitles, which makes them hard to grasp and identify with. Also, although the Warriors Three have more rounded personalities, they get even less screen time and don't contribute a great deal. Those nit-picks aside, however, I find The Dark World to be an enjoyable watch, with decent pacing and plenty of enjoyable moments throughout, even if the whole is a tad lacklustre.

Though there is plenty in Captain America - The First Avenger and The Avengers, The Dark World is the first MCU film with sequences noticeably dedicated to world-building, with the first real explanation of the Infinity Stones, flashbacks to Bor and a brief tour of the Nine Realms, not to mention the post-credits scene with The Collector. These sequences tend to get negative feedback, be they in the MCU or other films, but I love them; maybe I'm just that big a nerd? Like the battle scene at the start of the film, were Thor defeats a Kronan, years before Korg arrived on the scene, or Jane Foster slapping Loki for the attack on New York depicted in The Avengers, these things make the world more coherent and real when they're done well. The secondary cast, Erik and Darcy especially, continue to be great, with Stellan Skarsgard getting to bring more of his range to bear this time out. And then there's Loki, still very much the star of this outing, with moments of pathos, grief and impersonating Captain America to keep us enthralled. 

As much as I enjoy it and find it unfairly maligned, I don't believe time will be kind to Thor - The Dark World. I have a feeling this film will be quickly forgotten in the wake of Ragnarok and Love and Thunder, not only because of it's flaws, but because the tone is so different from what Thor films have become in the popular culture. Longtime readers will know that I started my MI-13 SuperSystem RPG campaign set in the MCU during the events of The Dark World, because I felt it was a good "in" for new characters. The action is confined to London and Thor himself is in the one location during the fighting. Also, despite two films having action in London (as of time of writing), there are no British heroes to speak of; which is, of course, a shame. I know people tend to skip The Dark World in any MCU "re-watch" they do, but I have to recommend taking another look at it as a piece of film, not just the one you find most disappointing in the series.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Supa Dupa Supa Sayains - 4

Last time I gave a brief run-through of the FuZion format of the Dragon Ball Z Card Game, how decks go together and that kind of thing. This time, I'm going to steer away from the technical aspects of the game and talk more about what it's like to play. I play several card games here and there, probably the one I play the most is Magic the Gathering, in the multiplayer "Commander" format, which I do with a select group of friends who are fun to play with. If I had my choice of what to play, however, it would certainly be FuZion, as I prefer the mechanics and am more interested in Dragon Ball than what passes for the metaplot of Magic. I mean, sure it's kind of funny when I beat down a giant dragon wizard with a Mob of Squirrels, but playing a FuZion game where Future Gohan fights Janemba tickles my nerdy fancy a little more. 

Currently, I have two "complete" decks for FuZion, Garlic Jr and Gohan, and they're complete in that they don't require too much more modification right now. Garlic Jr is Black Styled, able to access the Most Powerful Personality, Dragon Ball and Beats win conditions, hence my referring to it as a "Triple Threat" deck, or, when I'm feeling cheeky; 'Garlic Jr Beats Salty Balls'. My Gohan deck works pretty differently, in that it can only win through Beats, as several cards, namely Goku Sensei, my Sayian Mastery and Transformation advance Gohan's level quickly, but prevent a MPPV. This is done so that I can get to my Level 5 card, Gohan Earth's Protector, as quickly as possible and do more damage to my opponent. Although my Gohan deck is more straightforward, it is actually less consistent, because it really only has one trick and is therefore easy to circumvent. 

When I play card games, I tend to enjoy playing "toolbox" decks; decks that enable me to find the cards I need when I need them. One of my DBZ decks from the previous format, Trunks Freestyle Sword, was a good example of this, and I loved playing it, so much so that I still haven't started dismantling it and rebuilding it for FuZion. Same goes for my Goku Freestyle Dragon Balls deck (Goku Freeballin'), but for both I'm just having trouble making them work with the limits on deck building imposed by the FuZion rules. That's part of the challenge of a new game or updated rules set that I'm pretty familiar with as a wargamer and recovering 40k player, however. What I'm really struggling for right now is a reason to build more decks, as I only have the one regular opponent. There's something about wargamers that many seem put off by the idea of card games, so growing the community is tricky. 

As many of the Dragon Ball cards are out of print, and some only exist digitally, the appeal is limited to card gamers, who typically like to own the cards, especially the foiled versions, which is all but impossible for many FuZion deck builds. As mentioned above, tabletop wargamers aren't as into cards, typically, I think it's because of the cost; not that it's any more expensive than miniatures, but the value "feels" lower because the money is going on a slip of cardboard rather than something more tangible. I know people tend to be more impressed when I show them a $50 miniature rather than a $50 card, not that I have many cards worth that much. Years ago, I wrote my first article on this blog about playing card games, and I mentioned that the depth of strategy is a good learning experience for other games, and that is still something I believe, and why I'm willing to keep playing new a different card games, even if they're not what I really want to be doing. 

Hopefully, the wargamers reading these articles will take some inspiration and maybe give something different a go, even if it's not miniatures based. The Chrono Clash Godzilla Card Game looks pretty interesting, and it's not collectable, so there's that?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Superhero Media: The Venture Bros. - Season 1

This is such a great programme, which, really, if you look at it in isolation, it shouldn't be. Ostensibly a parody of "Saturday Morning" cartoons of the Johnny Quest vintage, The Venture Bros. eventually becomes a sprawling narrative of humanity, trauma and the journey to adulthood. In this first season, however, the themes are more obtuse, and the programme is clearly made quickly and cheaply by a small team. Well, I say quickly, but The Venture Bros. only manages to get a season out every few years, producing only seven seasons of around 13 episodes between 2003 and 2020; it can be a frustrating wait for more sometimes. The series introduces Doc Venture, a middle-aged super-scientist with a drug problem, his two teenaged sons Hank and Dean, both as naive as they are optimistic, and Brock Sampson, bodyguard and murderist extraordinaire. Menacing this atypical family is the Mighty Monarch, a butterfly-themed supervillain prone to ranting speeches and misunderstanding just how butterflies actually work, with his army of henchmen and sexy number two, Doctor Girlfriend. 

The "twist" of The Venture Bros. is that in a world of super-science and super-villainy, life is still pretty banal most of the time. There is an entire episode dedicated to Doc trying to get laid to stave off a feeling of getting older and less relevant, for which an attack on Marakesh by mutant lizard-people is forgotten. Yes, the story ends with Doc transmuting into a giant caterpillar, but even this is brushed off with "I'm in the super-science racket, this kind of thing tends to happen". Not to, for an instant, suggest that The Venture Bros. is anything short of thoroughly entertaining and utterly hilarious through and through; it is precisely the juxtaposition of the banal and the sublime that drives the humor of the programme. Early on, just seeing parody takes on characters like Baron Underbite (Doctor Doom), Richard Impossible (Mister Fantastic) and Doctor Orpheus (Doctor Strange) makes for an entertaining watch, but when these jokes become rounded individuals with compelling motivations, you know you're hooked on The Venture Bros. 

Despite it being brilliant, I tend to not recommend Season 1 of The Venture Bros. as the best starting point; it's fucking weird. To see if you can tolerate moments like Henchmen 21 and 24 arguing over Smurf taxonomy and any of Hank's dialogue, check out the season 2 episode "Escape to the House of Mummies - Part 2" and if you can stand that, go back to season 1 and start your binge. And yes, there is no "Part 1" to that episode. I've mentioned this before, but I could totally write a miniatures wargames rulebook for The Venture Bros., I already have notes and ideas and can think of a decent digital sculptor. On the off-chance anyone reading this knows Doc Hammer, Jackson Publik or someone in marketing at Adult Swim, please pass this on, I'll work for scale. If you can't tell, I love The Venture Bros. I really hope that there is another season or two for me to watch by the time this article works its way out of the backlog. Go team Venture!

Friday, September 16, 2022

Miniatures Finished - 01/01/2020

I rushed through some miniatures at the end of 2019 to make sure I didn't finish in the black. I even managed a few superheroes in that lot, which was a nice change from the 40K and Seven Years War Commissions.

Frobisher: Whilst my need to get more Doctors and Companions tends to fall on the back-burner rather quickly, this shape-shifting alien from Doctor Who Comics with a habit of looking like a penguin was too hard to resist getting done. Eureka Miniatures. 

Psi-Judge Anderson: Found Anderson in the bottom of a box of loose miniatures and decided she was worth a coat of paint after watching Dredd again. Having her stepping over the Aquilla was just my fun nod to the shared iconography of British science fiction. Heroclix. 

Fire: When working on another project, I found a couple of spare Fire figures and wanted to try some wet-blending for something else I was working on. Now I need to get an Ice, I guess. Heroclix.

Spiders-Man: Been working on some "Spider-Verse" stuff when I have the chance, and just couldn't pass up a superhero composed of spiders. Pity the miniature isn't all that nice for such an interesting character. Heroclix. 

Annihilation Bug: You can tell how many loose minis I have kicking around the place when I mention that this one was another random find. Almost got a game in with the Annihilation Wave last year, but had to switch up last minute. Dungeons and Dragons Miniature. 

Trickster: I must have painted several Tricksters over the years, but never had one I was happy with. This time, I finally managed to get the yellow down and not have the blue bleed. Heroclix.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Supehero Media: Flash Gordon (1980)

Stone cold camp classic. Seriously, how can you not love this film? It's a big-budget remake of classic Golden Age serials, with the added artifice and sexuality that the 1980s could allow, with several great actors, and Sam Jones, who is... fine, really. I mean, it's Flash Gordon, you're not meant to take it seriously, you know? Just have fun with it. The story starts simply enough, with the Earth being threatened by Ming and Zarkov, Dale Arden and Flash blasting off in an experimental rocket to confront the problem; finding themselves in the uncanny world of Mongo, our heroes struggle to survive and get back in time to save their home. Again, "deep" is not a word I'd use to describe Flash Gordon, it's unashamedly pulp and revels in it, with plenty of declarative dialogue, pantomime acting and a blasting Queen soundtrack. I defy even the most jaded, edgelord, grim-and-gritty fanboy not to get excited when the score blasts back in with the line "king of the impossible" as Flash steers War Rocket Ajax into a death-dive on Ming's citadel. 

I think coming out after Star Wars really hurt Flash Gordon, as no one was looking for pulp any more in their sci-fi, though the Ted films have brought back the idea of it being a cult classic. On that note, if you're put off Ted by the usual Seth MacFarlane business, at least watch the sequence where Sam Jones does cocaine on YouTube, it's a blast. I love the design work of Flash Gordon, every costume, weapon and spaceship looks amazing, even if it is clearly a part of a costume or set. Some do look silly, like the Lizard-men, but the overall effect creates a cohesive world, with well-defined groups that can be identified with a glance. It's a great example of how to build a setting and is worth a look if you're one of those wargamers who wants to build a whole setting for their games. I don't necessarily recommend everything red and gold like Ming and associates, but strong colour schemes can be great. 

And the actors! Yes, Sam Jones is a bit rubbish, but Topol, Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton and Max Von Syndow deliver gravitas mixed with high camp that Flash Gordon demands. Sure, having a white actor play an Asian-coded villain, as well as the Inscruitble Mastermind trope itself, are a bit racist for a film even of this era, but I just can't fully shake the brilliance of Syndow's performance, and tend to forgive it more than I probably should. Brian Blessed is one of the best parts of Flash Gordon, chewing scenery and relishing the absurdity of his dialogue with proper Shakespearean projection. Flash Gordon is pretty much a must-see for me, especially as there are so few really good non Marvel or DC superhero films out there, and this is just a fun 90 minute romp that manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. Forget the camp, forget the over-the-top and the glam, Flash Gordon is a joy to watch and well worth your time.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Thinking Out Loud: Skimpy Costumes

I must have started and discarded this article at least a dozen times. I think that representation of women in comics is a big issue, especially if it's putting women and girls off the medium, and I think the physicality of how female heroes and villains are drawn is a big part of that. However, I also believe that the issue is a lot bigger than just skimpy costumes, and laying the problem at the feet of a single problematic trope is not only a bad approach, but only makes the problem worse. Before we get too much into it, we need to discuss two things that the internet hates, Privilege and Feminism, as I believe it's a misunderstanding of both of these which can cause issues for many. First up, let's check my own privilage and credentials on this one; I am a heterosexual, white, cis-male who grew up middle class in Australia and went to private schools. Being Poly, I "technically" come under the Queer banner, but I almost never experience any detriments from this, so it's not really part of my identity. I don't know what it's like to grow up as a women and experience the constant barrage of bullshit about appearance and beauty standards and I never truly can understand, but I can do what I can to bridge that gap of understanding with learning, which I do through my profession as a Mental Health Youth Worker. 

Also, I love superhero comics, and I want them to continue, but also continue to get better. Sadly, Power Girl's boob window and Carol Danvers' Warbird costume are part of the history of comics, and I don't want to erase that, but creating an environment where readers and creators understand that sort of thing isn't good enough anymore should be a priority for the industry. The flip side of all this, which is something that does tend to bug me, is that any comic with a female character in a state of undress is quickly held up as being "part of the problem" and the entire comic is disregarded. Probably what bugs me the most about this is the (often literal) judging of [comic] books by their covers; but also, any subtlety is lost and the debate quickly becomes binary, which is never a good thing. One comic often held up for ridicule is She Hulk, especially the brilliant Dan Slott run, which had cheesecake covers of the titular heroine, much as previous incarnations had, though this time, the intention is clearly ironic. A friend of mine once posted one of these parody "He-Hulk" images on Facebook and when I pointed out that the comics in question were quite feminist internally and well worth a read, I was told, in response, that if the covers were like that, why bother to read them? 

Was that an extreme response? Certainly. An irrational one? Not really. The medium of comics (especially Superhero comics) is less than a century old, but the only real efforts to produce gender diverse comics in the mainstream started in the late 1990s, change has been slow. At least things are changing, like Janet Van Dyne starting out as an airhead fashionista and now being a powerful fashion-mogul and occasional leader of the Avengers. She-Hulk has gone from a jokey pin-up to a competent lawyer and beloved celebrity. Gwen Stacey has gone from a fetishised corpse to probably the best version of Siper-Woman. The industry is getting better, and the popularity of the television and film adaptations of characters is helping, with Supergirl demonstrating a college-age heroine with a job and complex issues instead of a midriff-baring teenage cheerleader. I mean, I will defend the miniskirt and crop-top version of the costume for teenage Supergirl, but only because I've worked with enough teenage women to be all to aware of the pressures and issues that encourage that kind of behavior in some. Things will keep getting better, hopefully, until then, encourage the women in your life to get to know Spider-Gwen, Atom Eve, Kate Bishop, Kate Kane and all of the other great women of comics past and present, even if the art is a little off-putting at times.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Superhero Media: Iron Man 3

I've mentioned previously, but once again, I honestly find Iron Man 2 a better film than Iron Man 3. This is for a number of reasons, but a big part is the shift in tone that the change in director brings, as well as a general fatigue I have with Tony Stark at this point. RDJ's Tony Stark is one of the major cornerstones of the MCU and I love the character, but I just couldn't help but find him exhausting during Iron Man 3, without the presence of other Avengers to balance out the ego and sass. Tony is a lot, is what I'm saying. He's a bit much at times, and as much of the second act involves Tony talking to himself, I just got a bit tired of it all this time around. In the first act, where Tony is dealing poorly with his trauma and not sleeping, he's a really engaging character, who is utterly unable to cope with the unfathomable thing that happened to him and isn't equipped to ask for help. Any vulnerability that Tony experiences is quickly sidelined, however, as the world is under attack by the sinister Mandarin! 

Checkmating Ben Kingsley's historic casting in non-white roles by having him play a more washed-up version of himself was a moment of genius and I still love it to this day. The scene where Tony figures out what's going on is a lot of fun and contrasts nicely with Kingsley's "Mandarin" sequences, also displaying the range that Kingsley can reach. More than once, I've heard people refer to Guy Pearce's Killian as "The Mandarin", purportedly because of the line where he says as much; have we really forgotten how hyperbole works? Also, the idea that Killian is behind the entire trilogy's worth of Tony's suffering is baffling and a disappointing resolution to the series. Guy Pearce is freaking amazing, as usual, I really wanted him to be cast as Doctor Strange and am still miffed that he's done his MCU dash after a single film that I didn't really care for all that much. Killian being the actual villain, rather than Maya Hansen as in the comic "In Extremis" storyline, feels like a misstep, especially as she really has nothing else to do in the film other than gush over how smart Tony is. 

It's great having Rhodey back, though it's odd he doesn't get to do more in the finale, with all of the empty Iron Man suits flying around and dying in a pointless and not well choreographed battle. I rarely say that any of the MCU movies are "bad", because they're not, the acting, scripts and film work is at least reasonable in all of them, but I honestly don't care much for Iron Man 3. I really do prefer both Iron Man 2 and Thor - The Dark World when it gets down to it. There's still plenty to enjoy and I'm, again, not saying that it is, by any measure, a bad film, just not one I like to watch all that often. With the distance of time and the resolution[s] of Avengers Endgame, I can safely say that I honestly prefer Tony Stark when he's part of an ensemble, rather than the focus of the entire film, and whilst I'll miss having more Captain America outings, it just won't be the same for Iron Man. That said, I have been thinking about some "Armour Wars" inspired antics of late, perhaps I can scoop up some cheap Heroclix suits to play that out.