Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: ...for we are many.

So that Fox X-Men television series is almost here... and it's Legion of all things. For those only passingly familiar with the nebulous X-Men canon, Legion is the son of Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert and has the power to alter reality at a whim. Now, I'm not saying that the programme cannot or will not be worthwhile and worth watching, but I'm stuck with the question 'why Legion?' Longtime readers of Lead Capes will be aware that I'm not a huge fan of X-Men, but it seems to me that Legion is an odd choice; all but the most hardcore of Marvel devotees will likely only remember Legion from "The Muir Island Saga" or the Ultimate equivalent. Also, for most of his history, Legion was, pretty much, a villain, trying to kill his father and mother and all the X-Men, not a great candidate for headlining a major prime-time network action series. 

You know what this reminds me of? Gotham. A Batman television series about the GCPD? Sounds awesome! Did you read Gotham Central? Great series. Gotham police have to work in the city of Batman and all of his villains and all of the associated fallout, brilliant concept for a comic and a television series. But what do they do instead? Baby Batman and Gordon in Gotham nearly twenty years before he should be. Also, Gotham is just poorly written and not that great overall so that doesn't help. So now, on the back of a disappointing X-men film based on a ridiculous 90s character, we have a television series based on a disappointing 80s character with ridiculous powers. The trailer makes it look like a cross between The Prisoner and Heroes, which is an interesting combination, but at this stage I guess I don't trust Fox to do it justice.

Know what I find the most confusing about this development? There are plenty of other X-Men spin-offs that probably would have worked better for television and been easier to realise from a production standpoint. X-Factor Investigations springs to mind as the obvious choice, but Excalibur, Freedom Force and Academy X also have a lot of potential. A programme about an overpowered, mentally unstable, antihero just feels too much like a 90s Image comic come to life. Deadpool was as good as it was because it used updated beyond the problematic beginnings of the character. Legion, as a character, isn't that interesting, which gives the writers plenty of scope to create something new, but is that really necessary when there are so many X-Men with "better" (read: more interesting) powers and origins that could find new fans in a television audience. Will I watch Legion? Of course, I'll watch anything with superheroes in it, but I'm far from keen for it. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Superhero Media: The List

From the few online comics resources that I read, I've gleaned that Dark Reign was not particularly popular with the majority of fans. I admit that when Norman Osborn became director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Secret Invasion, it was a bit strange, but the following change of status quo made for some interesting reading. Dark Reign gave us the Dark Avengers, Secret Warriors and solid Thunderbolts content, so I'd say it was worthwhile having a read. The List is a compilation of eight comics from different series, all covering Osborn's "Iron Patriot Acts", a madman's plan of revenge on the heroes that have harried him in his storied career. The hit list; Clint Barton, Daredevil, Namor, Nick Fury, Bruce Banner, Frank Castle, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Like most compilations, The List suffers from shifting tones and art styles as it jumps from series to series; some are better than others and some don't quite look right

To break it down quickly, the Barton story is great, with Clint taking out all of the Dark Avengers until Ares beats him down and there's a brilliant scene where the Avengers argue about weather or not they have the right to take a life. Daredevil becoming the leader of The Hand isn't overly interesting, but works well as a lead-in to Shadowland. The X-Men are never truly interesting to me, but Namor getting to kick arse is the focus of the story and always fun. The included issue of Secret Warriors is actually one of the best in the series, but fits better in it's own continuity than it does here (see below for a great joke from this comic). I'm so unfamiliar with Hulk continuity that I honestly can't form much of an opinion here, but I didn't enjoy it all that much. Frank gets killed of in a disappointing, extended snuff-sequence by Draken of all people, which is about as dull as it sounds. Wolverine is boring, as usual. Finally, Spider-Man is solid, as his comics typically are, thanks to Marvel funneling good writers and artists onto the book. 

So, is it any good? Well, it's ok. Some of the individual comics are awesome, but they don't really "flow" in the collection. My main takeaway is that I'd have been better off reading more Avengers: Dark Reign and rereading Secret Warriors, it would have been more entertaining. I believe that this is, in part, the core reason many event comics don't find an audience outsider of hardcore fans, the narrative and tone never really transfer across all of the issues and the whole thing feels disjointed. Still worth a read, but not the best collection I've seen from Marvel. 

The Pitch: Atomic Robo

The Pitch is a new series of blog entries that will talk about speculative superhero films, a very much "what if" concept. This is not, however, an exercise in whislisting or fanboyism; I have an Undergraduate Degree Major in Film and Television Studies and follow the film making process closely to this day. I have a reasonable understanding of the "Hollywood System" and am not interested in much more than a through thought experiment as to how some comics could make their way to the big screen, as such, we'll be looking mostly at indy comics characters and those not currently in production. That said, I may dabble with the MCU and DCEU at some stage, if the mood hits. 

Atomic Robo 
An indy comics franchise that seems poised for a major film release is Atomic Robo. The series is clever, has iconic characters, dabbles in historical fiction and never takes itself too seriously, in other words, it's perfect for mainstream cinema. As opposed to some comics, the issue with Atomic Robo isn't finding a story suitable to adapt into film, but rather, choosing one of the several excellent examples that already exist. For my money, "Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time" would be a great place to start; the story is self-contained, with no recurring villain, features some awesome guest-stars and showcases the propensity of the character to have adventures in different periods of time. 

Atomic Robo and the Fighting Scientists of Tesladyne repeatedly battle a horror from beyond our reality over decades, culminating with four versions of Robo from different times battling the creature in a place outside of space and time! 

Think Ant-Man; action comedy with superheroes. Personally, I think it's the only way to film this and get the kind of audience that will appreciate it. The story is goofy, Robo cracks jokes but there's still plenty of action, so keeping it light is essential. Atomic Robo borrows a lot from pulps, so that's the "vibe" we're looking for. Keep in mind that Robo's nemesis is an insane Raptor genius before complaining that it doesn't sound "serious". 


Atomic Robo:
I'm honestly not trying to go into fan-wankery here, but I think Robo needs to be played by a talented voice actor and a sophisticated puppet. Robo needs to do some crazy stunts, but also has no mouth and only limited facial expressions, so a Weta Workshop or Jim Henson Creature Workshop creation would fit perfectly and have the added bonus of being easy to recast for future films if acting contracts fall through. My suggestions are Billy West or Maurice LaMarche becuase of their adaptability; Robo needs to affect accents, slang and verbal tics from 1926, 1957, 1971 and 2009 and both of these actors have demonstrated the kind of talent to pull that off. Also, hiring one of these guys would be far cheaper than an a-list actor to mope about in a weird suit for two hours. 

Charles Fort: Where I think that Atomic Robo can get some mass-appeal as a film is with some big comedy names in supporting roles. Most of these roles are only going to have, at most, a half-hour of screen time, so even some more expensive actors could be brought in for not a huge amount of money. What am I getting at? I want Nick Frost to play Charles Fort, giving someone for Robo and Lovecraft to bounce off in a couple of fun scenes.

H.P. Lovecraft: He's only in the story briefly, but Lovecraft has some of the best lines and needs to be played by someone who can pull off "entertainingly nuts"; my pick would be Andy Samberg. If you don't get it, go watch the Lonely Island film or some Brooklyn 99

Carl Sagan: One of the larger roles in the film, with easily the best line in "When you return to your unobservable but empirically determined dimension of origin... tell them Carl Sagan sent you". I believe that Jason Schwartzman has the chops for this role and could fill out Sagan with ease. 

Director is a little tricky, but I can see Edgar Wright making a good go of it; he has a good grip on the kind of tone that is necessary and has shown that he can shoot action in the past. At this stage, I don't trust Warner Brothers with any comic property, but Village Roadshow have done their fair share of high-concept comedies and this is the kind of property that could get them cashing in on the superhero boom. 

Well that's the first one in the can, what do we think? Worth reading or am I just another fanboy pissing in the wind?  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Superhero Media: Superman Vs The Elite

Man fuck Dawn of Justice, this is easily the best Superman film with a "Vs" in the title and almost certainly the best Superman film in general since Superman II. How Warner Premiere manages to turn out better animated films than the main studio does live action simply boggles the mind. Like Man of Steel fails to do, Superman Vs The Elite succeeds in answering that eternal question; "What would make Superman kill?" More specifically, how can Superman, who has remained resolutely Silver Age in his attitudes towards violence (for the most par) still be relevant as a force for good in a postmodern world plagued by visceral terror and asymmetrical warfare? I mean, the obvious answer to me is, "Of course he fucking can, he's Superman, The Man of Tomorrow, he represents our potential, not our reality", but, for some reason, most people don't seem to pick up on that too well. Superman Vs The Elite gives us Superman confronting The Elite, a quartet of "Edgy" superheroes with less concern for collateral damage led by Manchester Black, an anachronistic Punk Cliche with major-league psychic powers. 

Those last few sentences sound a little sarcastic, but damn this film is good. Sure, The Elite aren't legends for the ages, but they serve their function well, being a Platinum Age, Post-The Boys, violent and sexualised superheroes in exactly all the ways Superman is not. Aside from a couple of, really great, action set-pieces, the main conflict of the film is ideological; can Superman's unwillingness to take a life, even to save lives, really have any impact on the level of criminality overall as opposed to killing off those people who "deserve it"? These issues are handled with no small amount of reasoned debate and discussion; who gets to decide who should be killed and who shouldn't? Should people with power be trusted merely because they have power? Is a militia state guaranteed to become a violent and anarchic dictatorship given the impossibility of absolute human benevolence? That's right, Superman Vs The Elite is the though-provoking, high-concept Superman film with awesome action sequences that Hollywood and Warner Brothers seems incapable of making.

Buy this film. Buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD (after buying Agent Carter) so that the sales figures skyrocket and Warner realises that people want intelligent superhero cinema that tackles philosophical issues. There are enough cool action sequences to be entertaining and the finale with an "unleashed" Superman is brilliant, way better than any shaky-cam CGI sequence from Man of Steel. Superman is an icon, and it's good to see him truly tested on occasion, and no, I don't mean having him killed off by Doomsday to boost sales. Superman Vs The Elite, get on it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

WIP: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Finally got around to assembling my Knights of Dice "Golden Dragon Inn": 

 May wait a bit to paint it, I'm thinking about adding roof access and aircon vents. 

 Nightcrawler wonders if preventing The Shredder from entering the restaurant is somewhat racist. 

 Plenty of roof space for flyers and leapers. 

 "Fools! They won't keep me from my Peking Duck!" 

As much as I love this, I am tempted to wait until the Interior Kit is done before I go to town on it. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Superhero Media: Agent Carter - Season 1

I try to keep things pretty classy up in here, but damn does Hayley Atwell do it for me in this series. Yes, I feel pretty bad point this out before I discuss how good an actor she is in this and her other MCU appearances (and everything else I've seen her in), how she is accomplished academically and also a highly respected theatrical actor, but hey, I'm only human. Agent Carter takes place in 1945 New York and plays like a cross between Mad Men and Mission Impossible (the original television series, not the films). Our titular agent must work within and against her own agency (the SSR) to clear the name of her erstwhile friend and college, Howard Stark, of treason after his vault of superweapons has been looted. Thus begins a gorgeous, period Spy-Fi romp with cool gadgets and fun little references to the broader Marvel universe.  

Agent Carter is a damn-near perfect version of exactly what it's trying to be; a character-driven, prime time television tie-in to the MCU juggernaut. If I have one complaint about Agent Carter it's actually that it's too good. No, seriously, after watching the first season, I've just about lost all enthusiasm for The Flash, Arrow or even that X-Men show that never seems to materialise, I just want more Carter kicking arse to watch. And don't get me started on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., did they just send all the good writers over to Agent Carter? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has it's good episodes, sure, but when contrasted with Agent Carter, well, I honestly can't think of a single bad episode of Agent Carter, or even one that didn't entertain me as much as the others. The characters are well written and interesting, the design looks great and the story is engaging, how did this not get a third season?

If you're the kind of person that's been holding off on biting the MCU bullet because of a lack of strong female protagonists, or a general disinterest in the hyper-masculine (bordering on homoerotic) world of superheroes, Agent Carter is a great place to start. It would be a damn interesting programme without the constant nods to Captain America - The First Avenger, but, even then, maybe it'll make you want to check out the strongest series in the MCU canon. Maybe if Agent Carter gets a big second life on DVD, we'll see it come back for Netflix or even give Peggy her own film at some stage, maybe even with some other Marvel Golden Age heroes. How good would it be to see Peggy leading a team including The Angel, The Vision, The Human Torch, Namor, Phantom Bullet, The Ferret and Blue Diamond? Hell, I'd watch the shit out of that. Do yourself a favour, get on Agent Carter.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Supers and Systems

What's this? What madness has been wrought? A combination of two of my ongoing article series in the one place? Well, yes. I realise I've been neglecting Supers and Systems a bit; it was meant to be a series of articles on playing Superheroes with games other than my usual SuperSystem and Ultimate Alliance, basically "sneaking in" Superheroes where someone wouldn't expect them to get your fix. Personally, I do this fairly often, using the Guardians of the Galaxy in Frostgrave or having MI-13 and David Lo Pan based factions for Empire of the Dead or having a Latverian army for Secrets of the Third Reich. Despite having been a member of my wargames club for around twenty years, I still have trouble getting too many people interested in a game of SuperSustem, but facing my Supers-based teams in a game of Frostgrave or EotD? Much easier. As well as gaming supers as much as I can, I like to watch as much supers television and film as i can; essentially I live steeped in superheroes where I can, it's my favorite genre. In order to not create a massive backlog of "Superhero Media" posts, I've had to cut back and expand my horizons a little, though you'd be surprised what Superheroes can find their way into; Kaiju, Wuxia and even Spy-Fi can spawn ideas for those men and women in tights I admire so much. 

So what, if anything, is my, belabored, point in all this? Well, I take my supers where I can get them. If I can get the Guardians of the Galaxy on the table in the frozen city, then that's better than the minis collecting dust in a box under the bed, plus I can post about it here, which is always fun. As 2017 goes on, I'm hoping to play more games of SuperSystem, but also get in some games of Super Mission Force, the TSR Marvel Superheroes RPG, Batman Miniatures Game and Judge Dredd Miniatures Game; that's a lot of capes to pull on in a single year. Way back when, I started to work out a custom scenario for EotD based on the included stat lines for characters like Alan Quartermain and Jack the Ripper, I'll hopefully go back to it at some stage, but for now JDMG and This is Not a Test have caught my attention for the moment. Sure, JDMG already has "Supers" like Dredd, Hershey and the Dark Judges, but why stick to just that? Why not run the Royal Flush Gang and Batman Beyond through a few heists

But what does this all boil down to? Yes, if I could play more SuperSystem, I would, but with all the armies in my collection and other games (Firefight, Frostgrave, TNT, EotD, SoTR, Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, JDMG, BMG, Spearhead and Black Ops) I'd never get to play anything else. So if sneaking the Guardians into Frostgrave or Doom into SoTR or maybe Wakanda into Lion Rampant down the line enables me to play games with a nod to the characters I like, all the better. I know a few people, though this blog, the Lead Adventure Forum and at various events that just can't seem to get a game of supers in their local groups, but maybe they can get a game of something else right? Maybe the people resistant to SuperSystem would be more comfortable with JDMG and maybe they get curios when you decide to run Spiderman 2099 or Batman Beyond and soon they're reading comics and wanting to play some supers. Who knows, anything could happen, right?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Superhero Media: Deadpool - Wade Wilson's War

Just when Deadpool started to get big, I started to be asked by people which comics were the best reading for the character. Thing is, I've never really cared for Deadpool, as I came across him through 1990s X-Men comics and he was just some gag character that distracted from the plot. I was raised on Leslie Nielsen and Mel Brooks films, so the fourth-wall brakes weren't new and shocking for me, just pale imitations of what I already knew. I finally began to like the character when I was loaned some Deadpool & Cable comics; Wade was finally balanced against the seriousness of Nate and both were made better for it. To this day I maintain that Deadpool comics are, at best, 60% worth reading; Wade Wilson's War is not in that percentage. It's not that funny, makes little sense and doesn't add to the characters in any significant way. 

The framing is one of those of the "story within a story within a story" type that rarely turns out as clever as the artist is going for, plus an unreliable narrator means that the narrative may or may not have happened. So it's a book where we're not sure who is telling the story and the story may just be all made up anyway; it's not a bad idea, just probably not ideal for established characters in the Marvel Universe. Yes, part of Deadpool's strength as a character stems from his flexibility, but add in Domino, Silver Sable and Bullseye and the whole thing gets shot to pieces rather quickly. Did Sable really need to be part of Weapon X for this? She's a Spider-man ally/antagonist with an already interesting backstory, seems like there could have been several, much better, choices. I don't like it when writers try to give Bullseye a "real name", Logan got ruined that way, let's not let it happen to too many more comic badarses, ok?

Want to read good Deadpool? Get Deadpool & Cable or Marvel NOW! Deadpool, don't go to this, or start mining Essentials for his first few appearances. I rarely say this, but the pop culture exposure for the character has been a boon; Ryan Reynolds has been good for Deadpool and Marvel and I hope the influence continues for a while. After all, even if I'm not that keen on the character, I'd rather good Deadpool to read than a dull mess like Wade Wilson's War. One for the obsessives and no one else, give it a miss.