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. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Superhero Media: Dragonball GT

The entire time I've been a Dragonball fan, I've never understood the hatred that exists for Dragonball GT. Certainly, out of the big four (Dragonball, DBZ and DB Super), GT is the weakest, but doesn't make it truly bad by any measure. I actually enjoy most of GT more than I do the Majin Buu, Dark Buu and Kid Buu sagas of DBZ, but I know I'm in the minority there. I honestly struggle to understand why GT is so maligned, especially before Super was created, when there was no "alternative" time-line (except for Zero Universe which we'll come to in the fullness of time); the 'best' explanation I can come up with is misogyny, which I haven't found to be a major issue in the Dragonball fanbase, at least compared to other geek communities. Most of the character designs are from Toriama, the plot is never any more ridiculous than any of the other Dragonball stuff. Whilst training with Uub, Goku is accidentally wished back to being a child by Emperor Pilaf using the "Dark Dragon Balls". The balls scatter throughout the universe and Goku, Trunks and Pan have to go get them. 

Finding the balls runs a lot like classic Dragonball in space, which works for me, but it would have been nice if a couple of the characters from that era could have shown up as well. From fighting Kid Buu, the power level is actually scaled back and Goku is forced to fight enemies that have interesting powers beyond punching and energy blasts; hypnotism, body-snatching and just fucking gigantic (as in, planet-sized) villains give Goku a run for his money without needing to find a new form of Super Saiyan. Eventually, the artificial life form, Baby, is unleashed and makes its way to Earth, corrupting the entire population and Goku must discover the power of Super Saiyan 4 to save his friends and family. I actually like SS4 more than I do SS3 because of the link back to the Oozaru powers from the Saiyan Saga, and the fact that the power is so great, even Goku can't control himself and almost causes colossal amounts of collateral damage. Yes, it's disappointing that Pan never goes Super Saiyan herself and the banter between her and Giru gets grating, but the Z Fighters losing because they're unwilling to hurt their teammates makes for interesting storytelling.

Dragonball GT gets really good once Baby is defeated and, literally, all hell breaks loose. As two versions of Android 17 race towards each other, every dead villain from the franchise comes back and the heroes have to fight them again. This may sound like a retread, but the fights are fun and there are a few references that mark Fusion Reborn as being canonical, so it makes me really happy. The Shadow Dragons are mostly pretty interesting, excepting Omega Shenron/Sin, but I really think making there be negative consequences for overusing the Dragon Balls was a stroke of genius. At the end of the series, Goku basically ascends to a higher plane of being with the Earth Dragon in what is the best ending any of the Dragonball animes have. Don't listen to the angry fanboys online, check out Dragonball GT for yourself, there's a lot to enjoy there. Also, I really like the theme song, but apparently everyone else hates it?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Alternate Supers - Babidi's Minions

As much as I prefer the Cell Saga, I do enjoy essentially all of Dragonball Z up to when Buu splits into two beings and everything starts to feel a bit padded. Something I've always really liked is Babidi and his team of villains, it's a fun collection of characters with a unique look and a nice bit of diversity. I'd actually like to see more of them, maybe in a spin-off and/or fan manga, I think they're that much fun. You can bet I'll be gathering a team as soon as Jasco get their DBZ minis game out and having them fight the Avengers, JLA or BPRD. Good inspiration for a team of villains if you're in the market, too. 

The Minions of Babidi 

The great wizard Bibidi challenged the gods themselves in his lifetime with his living weapon, Majin Buu. When he was finally defeated, it fell to his clone, Babidi to finish his revenge. Babidi spent years gathering a team of warriors, monsters and killers to hunt down the dormant Majin Buu, becoming a feared force in his own right before finding his quarry on the backwater planet of Earth. 

Babidi - The Great and Powerful

A powerful wizard, Babidi can scry, teleport and entrance people, but perhaps his greatest power is to draw out the evil in people and corrupt them to his side. Physically weak, Babidi relies upon others to do his dirty work, often disposing of his minions when they're no longer of use to him. A classic "evil mastermind", Babidi works well from the safety of his command room, sending out his warriors to do the actual fighting, maybe even finding a convenient "anti-hero" in the opposing team to bring over to his side. Great narrative potential there, think along the lines of "Majin Winter Soldier" or "Majin Hellboy". 
Majin Dabura - The Devil King 

I always have a soft spot for genuinely bad villains with a strong moral code, in D&D terms, the "Lawful Evil" kind of bad guys that will let the hero live if the fight isn't fair and care about their own ethics more than the victory itself. Majin Dabura is essentially the Lucifer/Satan figure of the DB universe, possibly literally, he is a fighter born, having led his armies to victory countless times before being brought under Babidi's sway. In the programme, Dabura is all on board for killing the gods, but once he sees the unchecked destruction that Majin Buu is about to begin, Dabura turns against his master; he simply cannot conscience the acts that will follow. Really wish this guy would come back. 

Majin Yakon - The Monster

Not enough supervillain teams have a straight-out monster in them. Yakon is a monster from the dark reaches of the cosmos which feeds on light itself. Sure, he's dispatched pretty quick by the sayians, but imagine the amount of less powerful foes that he's devoured in the darkness. I'm starting to come around to the idea of having "Horror Movie" monsters as superhero antagonists, not just Predators, Aliens, Jason and Freddy, but some more generic monsters as well. Why not have a salivating, inhuman beast get released on the heroes by the mastermind? If it lives in the dark and preys on the weakest first, why not? 

Pui Pui - The Warrior 

He's a bit of a joke in the series, but Pui Pui probably didn't get as confident as he was without winning a few fights. Every team needs a brawler, and Pui Pui is Babidi's, at least until Vegeta shows up. An alien from a higher-gravity planet, Pui Pui has the usual DB traits of super-strength, endurance, energy projection and flight. Not the most memorable character in the history of the programme, but there's a reason he's on the team and not everyone gets to be the protagonist. 

Majin Spopovich - Unstoppable

Another character I wish we'd seen more of, Spopovich was a washed-up professional martial artist who sold his soul to Babidi for power. In the World Martial Arts Tournament he is shown to be a formidable fighter, regenerating damage and seemingly impervious to pain. He would basically be the "brick" in any super team, soaking up damage and being able to dish it out when he has to. The scene where Videl has broken Spopovich's neck and he just picks up his head and puts it back is perfectly creepy and a great villain moment; exactly what I want when I need to demonstrate how tough the bad guys are.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Superhero Media: Batman Vs. Two-Face

I'd be hard pressed to find an actor whose legacy really compares to Adam West, at least outside of Doctor Who alumni, so in a perfect world, his final performance would have been something a bit better than Batman Vs. Two-Face. That's not to say that Batman Vs. Two-Face isn't good, but it never manages the heights of Return of the Caped Crusaders and just comes across a little more flat and not quite as fun. The draw for this animated outing is the casting of William Shatner as a '66 version of both Harvey Dent and Two-Face, which is, of course, absolutely brilliant. Have you seen those images and lists that work around social media with things like "Casting the Avengers in the '90s" or "If Doctor Who was American"? You may have noticed that these images have no real basis in reality, but are just exercises in fan-casting; who is and was cast in various roles is more complex than someone having been around at the time. This isn't the case with Shatner as Two-Face, as during 1966-7, he was using the fame he had garnered from Star Trek to work across television, trying out new roles and shaking the legacy of Kirk. Batman may just have been a good fit. 

The, delightfully bonkers, premise of Batman Vs. Two-Face is that Hugo Strange has invented a device to extract all of the evil from some of Gotham's greatest criminals, something goes awry and District Attorney Harvey Dent is horribly scarred, turning him into Two-Face, the duplicitous duelist! The majority of Two-Face's crime spree plays out in the opening credits, with Harvey Dent's face eventually restored and the plot settling in to a mystery about a series of crimes. Yes, Batman Vs. Two-Face borrows heavily from both The Dark Knight Returns and Hush, but it's such a fun mash-up with the '66 Batman style that any comparison kind of glosses by without mention. I get the feeling that many of the ideas for fun references were used in Return of the Caped Crusaders and not a lot was left for the follow-up. In fact, I get the feeling that there wasn't really an initial intention to make Batman Vs. Two-Face, that, perhaps, Return of the Caped Crusaders was a surprising success and a quick sequel was stamped out to cash in on the wave of empathy resulting from Adam West's death. 

The, kind of, sad thing is, that even though Batman Vs. Two-Face isn't great, it still rates more highly than any live-action Batman film since The Dark Knight. I think, outside of the death of the second greatest Batman we've ever had, that's the tragedy of this film and the current state of the DC films. A blatant, nostalgia-baiting, tie-in to a television programme that went off the air before the 1970s started is a better film than almost every big-budget, Hollywood-produced, live-action DC superhero epic that has come out since a wannabe auteur take on urban blight and objectivism through the lens of Batman. No, I'm not letting that go. But doesn't that sound completely insane to you? I'll admit that I have more Marvel comics on my shelf, but I so have All Star Superman, The Dark Knight Returns, 52, Blue Beetle, Knightfall and countless other DC trades and graphic novels on my shelf, so I was really hoping that I'd have seen Animal Man, Nightwing and/or The Question in a live-action film before I'd seen Scott Lang or Man-Ape. At least I have Warner Premiere putting out entertaining films like this one.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Miniatures Finished: Polished Turds

Needed some MCU Dark Elves for my SS4RPG campaign but I didn't like the Heroclix offerings. With a bit of scrounging, I came up with some 3rd Ed 40K Dark Eldar and went about making them less terrible. I now have a decent "force" for SS4 or maybe some smaller Sci-Fi games. 

 The full force, seven "characters" for SS4. 

 The Dark Elf Sorcerer is flanked by two Kursed. The Sorcerer is converted Reaper Bones with a spare GW Squig as her familiar, Kursed are Heroclix.

 Dark Elf squads are supported by heavy weapons. 

 In the tradition of all great (and not so great) Science Fantasy, NCOs are armed with melee weapons. 

 The new heads look a lot better than the ones in the kit, mostly GW Dark Elves and Eldar. 

 Far from my best work, but good enough to have hordes of minions for the heroes to defeat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Superhero Media: Judge Dredd - America

I think a great many fans tend to forget that 2000AD comics and Judge Dredd in particular are intended as satire, or at least parody in the case of the less cleverly-written stories. At it's best, parody is intended not only to amuse, but to communicate a contention, usually negative, about the thing being parodied. The America of 2000AD is a radioactive wasteland punctuated by "Megacities" where crime, unemployment and violence are rampant. For those too young to remember the crime-ridden New York and LA of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, this critique may be lost. I'll put in in simple terms; in the world of 2000AD, when faced with the collapse of capitalism and nation-wide social unrest, the USA resorts to creating a police state where law enforcement has not only the right, but the duty to execute people in the street for minor infractions. Get it yet? Sure, you can say I'm just "another loony leftie" (Anarcho-Communalist and Anti-capitalist) reading too much into media, or you can just read the comics and see what I mean. 

The America story centres around three characters (four if you count Dredd); America Jara, Benny Beeny and America Beeny, their lives and how they intertwine with the story of Megacity 1. The daughter of an immigrant family, America Jara grows up jaded with the oppression of the Judges and the lack of individual freedom in her new home and falls in with the dangerous "Democratic" terror movement; hey, just because the satire is obvious doesn't mean it's not clever. America's childhood friend Benny finds success as a musical comedian, able to insulate himself against the suffering of others with his wealth, though America is never far from his thoughts. When their worlds collide again, America is trapped in plan to destroy the Statue of Liberty and Benny desperately makes a deal with the Judges to try and save her. Things go south, America is killed and then the story takes an odd turn. Because Science Fiction lacks many of the logical constraints of other literature, narratives can take truly interesting turns and end up somewhere unexpected. Benny has his brain transplanted into America's body after impregnating her so that he can give birth to their child.

On the surface, there is more than the suggestion of rape about that move, but the continuing narrative is so damn good, I tend to let it slide. After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, Benny is embroiled in a Democrat plot to stage a mass-murder at an awards ceremony and turns to the Judges for help. Things go awry and America is orphaned, Benny is forced to place her into the Judicial Academy to prevent reprisals from the Democratic Terrorists. As she grows into a Judge, America investigates the people responsible for her mother's death and gains a reputation for leniency. America has inherited the Democratic ideals of her mother, but seeks to change the system by example, from the inside, which brings her into conflict with other Judges. Despite their ideological differences, Dredd defends and respects America, because her beliefs are honestly held and informed by first-hand knowledge, rather than idealism. America is a great Judge Dredd story, clever, poignant and subtle in ways many other aren't. If the overt silliness of the Dredd comics has you hesitating about getting into them, this is a great place to start. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

400 Posts - A Visual Celebration

A big thanks to all my followers and readers for keeping me going this far. I have to apologise for the (new) presence of ads on the site, but I'm not doing great financially right now and am working every hustle I can. Without further delay, let's take a look back. 

Plus a bit of fun: 

Thanks again for the continued support, I hope you stick around and keep reading in the future.