Monday, June 27, 2016

Thinking Out Loud: I'm Batman

As I've been working on assignments recently, the back of my mind has been turning something over, and I believe that I've hit on a pretty contentious theory. I believe that Batman may not actually be a great superhero, in fact, Batman may actually suck out loud. Now, I know I've probably lost readers and earned myself some nasty comments with that last sentence, but I'd like a chance to explain this line of reasoning. Batman has been around for over 75 years now, changing with the times and going from a vintage pulp to a pop-culture icon. He's changed with the times, despite being laughable now, the Adam West television programme is pretty accurate to the comics of the era and since the Nolan/Arkham Bats was popularised, Batman has become some form of ultimate ninja, genius, zillionaire, messianic figure. What is most irritating about that change is that it is, frankly, unnecessary for the character. Batman is, at his best, part Zorro, part Sherlock Holmes, part Lone Ranger. 

Not that I'm, for a minute, suggesting that stagnation an cliche are the best resorts for any character. Golden Age Batman was a gun-toting thug and Pre-Crisis Batman fought alien cactus-men and avoided the Joker's big boner. Growth and change is good, but with Batman, it's come full-circle back to Golden Age silliness, dressed up as grimdark, ultra-serious, neo-noir. If New 52 Batman grits his teeth any harder, he'll need one hell of a dentist. One of the things I like about Marvel Comics is that they, typically, celebrate their gawky Silver Age; Hawkeye cops flak for having worn a skirt and Iron Man marvels that he once fit the entire armour in a suitcase. In Batman RIP, Grant Morrison decided to retcon Batman's entire silver age into a series of hallucinations and mental defences that the Dark Knight put into place over the years. Honestly, that seems like a real waste to me. Superheroes are inherently ridiculous, and Batman especially so; are we seriously meant to believe that years of training are all someone needs to dodge bullets and fight off a dozen ninja and memorize a face in a microsecond and drive a unique, experimental vehicle down crowded streets at high speeds and decipher the absurd logic of a madman and countless other feats? Batman is at his best when he uses skill, strategy and guile to stand alongside gods on his own merits.

To put it in plain English, Batman is strongest when he's attainable. Not everyone can be Superman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern, but with enough determination, we could be Batman. I think that's why the Batman sidekicks have such an endurance as well; Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Spoiler and the rest can't match Batman, but they can keep up and Batman needs them around to stay in touch with reality. That's why I love the Batman Incorporated concept so much, after some major soul-searching, Bruce decides that the best legacy he can leave the world isn't punching the Joker, but teaching others how to follow in his footsteps, to take on their own mantle and keep up the fight. I think that's way cooler than Batman being "totally awesome at everything" and I hope to see more drift away from the pandering to the pop-culture trends that has been a fixture of the comics and cartoons for the past few years. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Supehero Media: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Yes! I've been waiting for this one. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy is perhaps the most important literary work in the establishment of superheroes as a genre. A great many of the tropes that we associate with characters like Batman, the Phantom, Green Hornet and Blue Beetle, if they did not start with Orczy, certainly were first codified in this way with her seminal work. With close examination, tropes from The Scarlet Pimpernel can be seen in media as far-reaching as Dragonball Z and the inFamous video games. We'll get to all that shortly, but for now... It is the height of the Terror in 1792, Mob rule in Paris is leading to the execution of all French nobility and one brave hero heads a network to rescue the innocent; the Scarlet Pimpernel! Lady Marguerite is married to notorious fop and dandy, Sir Percy Blakeney but dreams of the heroic Pimpernel as well of a life full of adventure and excitement. 

Given the age of the book, you probably know the story, Sir Percy is the Pimpernel and he and Marguerite are embroiled in a plot by the French Committee. The novel is told from Marguerite's perspective and features a lot less "action" than any television or film adaptation. The important part here is not how the story is told, but the ways in which it is told. Marguerite is married to Sir Percy, but loves the Scarlet Pimpernel, sound familiar? Jane Foster wants to make time with Thor but ignores Donald Blake? Diane Meade is fascinated by The Martian Manhunter, but doesn't care for Detective John Jones? Videl is obsessed with uncovering the true identity of the Great Saiyaman but finds Gohan forgettable? Shove that in your pipe and smoke it misogynist idiots who say women have no place writing superheroes, a woman invented one of the major tropes that can be found in just about every comic, film or television programme in the genre! Also, No one suspects that Sir Percy could possibly be the brave, intelligent and resourceful Pimpernel, because he's clearly a useless dandy. I mean, there's no way the party-boy Bruce Wayne could be Batman right? 

So yeah, the book is a pretty fantastic meta-text. It's not a great read to be honest, the language is repetitive and the narrative is predictable, but that's not what makes it such a classic. The Pimpernel is the precursor of Zorro, the Spirit, Batman, Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, Blue Beetle, the Great Saiyaman, Martain Manhunter, Superman and countless others. If you're serious about seeing where everything from Golden Age Batman to Captain America: Civil War evolved from, you need to start here. Perhaps not the best work in the genre, but certainly one of the most important. "They seek him here, they seek him there..." 

Team Ideas: Victorian Avengers

Well, after playing a fair amount of Empire of the Dead at club, the question of Victorian Superheroes reared its ugly head again. Just to reiterate, I'm not against the concept of Superheroes in a Victorian/Gothic Horror/VSF setting, but I do, however, have several issues with the execution: 
1. I am an avid reader of both Victorian Literature and (surprise surprise) Superhero Comics, so when I see them combined, I like it to be with sensitivity for the tropes and traditions of each. 
2. Most people get lazy with the idea. "Wouldn't it be cool to have Steampunk Batman?" Yeah? But all you did was put Batman on your Victorian table, nothing really changed, he's still the same character playing in the same way. We may as well have kept playing normal Batman games. If you're going to do it, go the whole way. 
3. How is this different to what we normally do? If we're playing SuperSystem, how is the game changed by being in Victorian London? The terrain has changed, but do we really need a new set of minis to use it? Supers gaming can happen anywhere; time travel is just as good an excuse as a new era to break out the cobblestones. 
4. I have to make a new era's worth of heroes? I already have Modern Age, Silver Age and French Revolution Supers under development (plus plans for Future/Cyberpunk), now I have to do Victorian age as well? Ok, maybe, I'm a bit tempted... very tempted... 

The Avenging Sons 
Unlike the League of Justice, not every extraordinary individual in the world is looked kindly upon. Often ostracised from civilised society, these "freaks and monsters" have nonetheless taken it upon themselves to use their extraordinary abilities to defend the innocent and battle evil. Though they began individually, a team formed on a day unlike any other and they battled a threat over which no hero could triumph alone. That day were born The Avenging Sons!

Son of Frankenstein's Monster (The Vision) 
The living-dead abomination created by Victor Frankenstein escaped into the Arctic after its creator's death, spawning speculation and myth about a "Reanimated Empire" poised to invade Europe from the North. These fears are well-founded, as The Monster has been busy trying to replicate its "father's" work. The greatest success, so far, is The Monster's "Son", his "Vision of the Future". Sent to spy on humanity, this Vision has instead embraced it, becoming one of its most stalwart defenders.
Miniature: Rebel Minis have a couple of "Franken Gangers" that would make an ideal "perfected" Frankenstien's Monster.

The Elephant Man (Beast)
Many who have met the unfortunate fellow known as "The Elephant Man" make the assumption that he is naught but a simpleton, taken in as they are by his grotesque visage; how mistaken a person can be. The Elephant man is not only possessed of a fine intelligence, a gregarious and loquacious manner, but is also an accomplished scholar, athlete and combatant. To feed his growing thirst for adventure, The Elephant Man has taken to disguising his face and abounding at night, aiding those he can and punishing the evildoers he encounters. If the public knew the truth behind this nocturnal "Beast", many a monocle would be lost due to shocked dismay.
Miniature: West Wind do a slightly comical "Freak" with a hidden face that is currently the best approximation out there. 
Richard Sharpe (Captain America) 
Once thought lost overboard and drowned during the battle of Trafalgar, the great British Hero, Richard Sharpe, was, in fact, preserved by the ice-cold water and lost for decades. Close to the dawn of the new century, a whaling ship recovered the legend and, once he was thawed, the Ministry of Intelligence put him to work fighting enemies of the empire. Sharpe has taken to the "world of the future" (as he calls it) with trepidation, but has proven repeatedly that there is no task he cannot accomplish or inspire those he leads to accomplish, in the Queen's name! 
Miniature: Any era-appropriate British Rifleman will do, but there are plenty of "Sharpe" figures available. 

Lady Hyde (She-Hulk) 
Not all of Doctor Henry Jekyll's ill-fated chemical formula was destroyed when he burned down his laboratory, unbeknown to the good doctor, his cleaning lady, the mousey and overlooked Jennifer, had taken a bottle for herself, dreaming of revenge against a world that had slighted her. The formula had an unexpected affect on the female form, granting Jennifer increased size, power and confidence. In her transformed state, Jennifer had lost her desire for revenge, but not her taste for adventure; deciding to live the kind of life she had only dreamed of when reading stolen "Boys' Own"
Miniature: Plenty of scope for cool ideas here, but I'd consider one of the Warmachine "Staxis" character minis for the right combination of flesh, monstrosity and size, just paint her green. 

Clint "Hawkeye" Bumppo (Hawkeye) 
Orphaned of a Mohawk mother and white trapper father, Clint Bumppo, called "Hawkeye" by his mother's family, led a nomadic existence growing up, honing his skills as an archer and tracker. Feeling out of place among the full-blooded Mohawk, Clint left to find his fortune, eventually joining Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and traveling to Europe. 
Miniature: Any late-period "Old West" Native would suit with a blonde head of hair and portable arsenel. These Black Scorpion ones have the right look. 

Well, there you go. Now get out there and start saving London!  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Superhero Media: Monsters Vs Aliens

Well, I said I'd do this one, so here it is. It's ok. A bit short. The concept could have been explored better. I wrote about it a bit in the last "Alternate Supers", so I won't explore it too much more here, but Monsters Vs Aliens is about a super-team of classic American movie monsters fighting an alien supervillain whose plans are vague and involve some kind of alien mineral thing. There are some half-decent laughs and the cast is pretty impressive when compared to the overall quality of the production. Susan's motivation, wanting her jerk husband back, and her character resolution, "just be yourself" are pretty trite and really drag the film down. Given the actors involved and the cartoonish nature of the plot, a character-based comedy may have worked a lot better than what they came up with, but I have a feeling that originality was not a rallying cry for the production. 

So is Monsters Vs Aliens a bad film then? Not really. I've watched it twice now and enjoyed both viewings; but I won't be wanting to see it again any time soon. It's quite short and has a few laughs, so it really could be worse, a decent film to paint to, if you haven't seen it. The scenes with Stephen Colbert playing the American President are probably the best moments in the film, but can be easily found on YouTube if you want to check them out. Not much more I can say here, other than there's a good joke about Dr Cockroach's Phd in the finale. 

Probably not my best review here, but there's not much I have to work with here. It's not bad, that's all I got. You want to see how it can work for gaming, check out the Monsters Versus Aliens Alternate Supers entry from April 19. Hopefully something a bit better or much worse next time, so I can get a bit more down about it. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Miniatures Finished - Heroes unite!

Feels like ages since I got a superhero off the painting desk, and in the past week there's been a few! 

 Spitfire, Drax Restored, Invincible, Adam Warlock and Invisible Woman. 

 Drax and Adam will serve duty in a club Frostgrave campaign as well was as supers gaming, I just couldn't be bothered starting yet another project. 

 Invincible and Spitfire. Lady Falsworth will also be pulling double-duty, being my stand-in "Maxwell" for Secrets of the Third Reich, what with being a throroughly British Vampire and all... 

 New Sue Richards in matching visible and invisible forms, for the pedant in me. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Superhero Media: Batman Beyond

Further proof, if any was needed, that the DCU is in far better hands with Bruce Timm that any editor DC Comics has ever had. As if Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited were not enough, Timm gives us Batman Beyond (for some reason, called Batman of the Future in some markets), a cyberpunk Batman re-imagining that sits in the same universe as the other DCAU programmes of the era, but remains a unique entity all the same. Decades after Bruce Wayne was forced to give up the mantle of the bat, teenager Terry McGinnis stumbles into the Batcave and appropriates a costume to seek revenge for his father's murder. Bruce sees the same fire in Terry that got him started as Batman so many years ago, and becomes the mentor of the next generation of Dark Knight. 

Like Timm's Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond is a tad more "lighthearted" than the comics tend to be, in that Terry cracks jokes, has to make excuses for his absence to his girlfriend and most of his enemies are other teenagers or somehow linked to his school. On the subject, Terry's girlfriend is a bit of a waste of a character, not really doing anything for the programme other than assuring us that Terry is totally straight guys. Few of the villains reach the level of "Iconic" of The Joker, Two-Face or The Riddler, but Inque, The [new] Royal Flush Gang and Shriek give the programme its own feel that matches the cyberpunk misc-en-scene. The two-part episode in Series Two that features Superman and the Justice League continue this feel outwards towards a broader "DCAU Beyond" that was sadly never explored terribly far. There's also some unfortunate retconning in Justice League Unlimited that changes Terry's heritage and essentially makes his origin story defunct, but, by and large, Batman Beyond delivers a compelling setting and characters. 

I am aware that there exists a certain subset of comics fans who dread animated adaptions for a number of reasons, but I can genuinely recommend Batman Beyond as a worthwhile endeavor. Timm having the freedom to explore a new version of Gotham really pays off, as well as having conclusive "endings" for several Batman characters, being, as I am, a fan of narratives with decent conclusions; Victor Friez's climax is pretty brilliant and a great bookend to the "Heart of Ice" BTAS episodes that redefined Mister Freeze across all media. I've read a couple of the comics that continue to story, but I simply do not rate them as highly as I do this series. I'm hoping for another series with a decent ending through Netflix one day, assuming Young Justice is a continued success as a streamed series. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Little Wars 2016 - First Round of Pictures

A big thanks to the talented people with cameras that snapped shots of my table at Little Wars Melbourne a couple of weeks back. Thought you'd enjoy seeing what it looked like on the day. 

I really like some of the "street-level" shots that some people got! I've purchased a Knights of Dice building to replace the wonky CP Models bank and will get started on fixing up the tenements when spring hits. One game got played on the day, but the networking was worth the trip. Will hopefully have some more pictures as the weeks go on. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Supehero Media: Daredevil - Season 2

So, a criticism that gets leveled at the MCU is that it isn't "real" enough. Basically, that Marvel didn't decide to go down the DC/WB Dark Knight route of making everything super gritty and grim. Never-minding that this argument can be refuted with Winter Solider, Age of Ultron, and Civil War, the simple fact is that the MCU outings manage to be both entertaining and engaging without resorting to darkness, constant rain and grunting. That said, if it's street-level supers action you're after, you really can't go past the Netflix Daredevil series. After defeating Wilson Fisk at the close of the last series, ol' Horn-head has become the controversial savior of Hell's Kitchen, inspiring debate in the media and folk-hero status. Then mobsters start turning up dead, shot down with military precision. You don't need me to tell you that Frank Castle has started up his one-man war on the mob. 

The twin trailers for Season two made it look like it was split in half between The Punisher and Elektra/The Hand as the antagonists, but the story is more organic than that, with both arcs intertwining around Matt's struggle to maintain both halves of his life. I am a big fan of Thomas Jane as The Punisher, despite the flaws of the film, but I have to say that Jon Bernthal does just as good a job conveying Castle's determination, drive and deep-seated sorrow. The interplay between Daredevil and The Punisher makes for great drama, with both parties given legitimate reasoning behind their motivations and time to work towards their goals. The idea of just what vigilantism means in a world populated by gods, super soldiers and hulks is explored in detail, with input from the citizens on the streets of New York. Juxtapose this with the reveal of the mystical Hand and their techniques to stave off death and season two of Daredevil becomes a gem in the MCU crown. 

So where are we left when the credits roll on the season finale? Both Daredevil and The Punisher are set in motion to be the crimefighters the comics show them as, the Hand are a credible threat and I can see Cap coming calling soon to recruit old horn head for the Secret Avengers. I would have liked a bit more crossover with the films and/or Jessica Jones, but money and time are always factors and Daredevil still leaves CW and ABC efforts in the dust in terms of writing, production and character. There are rumours that Marvel is having Netflix bring more things in-house and I can't wait to see what's still to come.