Thursday, December 30, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
This is the scariest place I know:
Ever read one of those comic book stories where the villain holes out in some semi-abandoned area, using a run-down store as a front? The dilapidated seafood store along the docks, the unloved curio shop, the forgotten magic emporium? Behind such facades lurk the likes of Captain Squid, Hugo Strange, and Eivol Ekdal. There seem to be an endless supply of such places in Gotham City. They reek of evildoing; they obviously do no real business and couldn't possibly remain open if they were legitimate.
One wonders, in fact, why, whenever some malefactor threatens the city, the GCPD doesn't simply go out shopping until they inevitably arrive at the appropriate storefront. The dusty merchandise, the ex-con at the register, the red light bulb that starts flashing above the door to the backroom as soon as the cops enter: it would all be so obvious to spot!
Of course, that's just the comic books, we say to ourselves. Such places are merely convenient plot devices; there aren't such places in the real world.
Oh; but that's what they (the villains) want you to think. Because there are. And Monarch Novelties is the king of them all.
Monarch Novelties is, improbably, smack-dab in the middle of downtown DC. It should have folded, or its building been sold out from under it years ago. DECADES ago. And yet it remains, purporting to purvey "rain bonnets", "glasses drinking" and "reunion favors".
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Warm, living, innocent civilian bodies (or at least tiny cold plastic representations thereof). In a “real” comic book battle, one of the most common issues is the welfare of the innocent bystanders. How often the hero has to “take the fight away from this populated area”. How often the weaker but more mobile team-members are assigned crowd control and evacuation. How often an evildoer takes a hostage to proof himself against batarangs, plastic-cat arrows, and ill-defined energy blasts. Without such opportunities, how’s a villain supposed to do his job?
Yet Heroclix battles seem to take place in an unpeopled social vacuum, an oddly tidy post-apocalyptic wasteland where no signs of life remain other than abandoned hot-carts and bubblegum machines. There are no elders, no adults, no children, no pets, no birds, no bugs, and no airborne viruses. Nothing but capes and criminals. And Lois Lane.
And that’s just not how the real (?) comic book world is. So I’ve begun incorporating bystanders into my Heroclix games.
Heroclix did originally began with Bystanders as part of the game. They were tokens—pogs, as it were—of either stock characters (e.g., “The Politician” or “The Paper Boy”) or of well-known supporting characters (e.g. “Alfred Pennyworth” or “Linda Park”). Wizkids (makers of Heroclix) clearly had a sense that such characters needed to be included in the game, but they gave insufficient thought to making an appropriate role for them in the game’s mechanics. As a result, the on-line forums for Heroclix players blossomed with strategies like Superman using baby Lian Harper as a ‘meat shield’ to protect himself, Alfred’s enduring partnership with the Legion of Super-Heroes as their camouflage expert, and how Galactus can conquer the universe aided only by an army of clones of Aunt May.
Over time, Wizkids realized that Heroclix’s ability to represent comic book characters accurately is one of its competitive advantages, and one that distinguishes it from a host of other table-top games. Heroclix is at least as much about its four-color atmosphere as it is game mechanics. Within that in mind, they’ve discontinued “pogs” (along with the out-of-character strategies they fostered) and have made some of the more important supporting characters into regular figures (e.g. Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Lois Lane).
But my nature abhors a social vacuum, so recently I’ve been adding bystanders back into the mix as part of my house rules for the game. And you can, too!
You could use pennies or beads to represent bystanders but it ruins the flavor of the game. It would be like playing Heroclix with no sculpts on the dials and with only terrain markers on the maps. Just do what I did, go to the dollar store and buy some toy soldiers or firefighters or such. They are recognizable as people, similar to Heroclix in size, stand up on their own, and easily distinguished from the “real” figures in the game. You’ll need about 40.
Extras Find their Marks
After the real game pieces have been set up in their starting areas, place the bystanders as follows.
· Do not put any in the starting area rows or the row adjacent.
· For each other row, roll a pair of dice of two different colors (let’s say, one red and one blue). The red die tells you where to place figures to the right of the spine of the map (the line between Columns H & I) and the blue one is for the left. For example, if for Row 4 you roll a Red 1 and a Blue 6, you would place a bystander at I4 (one space to the right of the spine) and at C4 (six spaces to the left of the spine). If you want bystanders to be sparser, roll two dice for each side rather than one. Treat a roll of nine as if it were a one, and if you roll 10-12, omit placing the figure.
· If a square is blocked, just skip putting a bystander there.
· Repeat the process for Rows 4 through 21, and you’ll have bystanders randomly distributed throughout the map.
“Get out of my way, inferior beings!”
Bystanders block lines of sight. Non-flying figures (including bystanders) cannot move through a square occupied by a bystander. Bystanders are neutral figures with regard to breakaway. Bystanders are affected by hindering terrain and blocking terrain as normal.
Bystanders have only one goal: run away from the fighting. Because when a guy with a bow and arrow starts shooting at a talking gorilla in your airport terminal, you change your travel plans mighty fast. None of this “Gosh, the Spoiler needs our help!” or “If you want to hurt Halo you’ll have to get through me!” nonsense for our bystanders; they are practical people, with other, non-combat places to be Besides, since they live in the DCU, they’ve see all this already. So at the end of each round of turns, they try to run away. But how? And whither?
Bystanders head for the closest exits, of course. You need to decide in advance where those are. What makes sense as an exit depends on what map you’re playing on, of course, but a good ‘default exit’ is the starting areas. That way, both teams are sure to have panicked citizens pouring toward them as they wade their way into battle.
At the end of each round of turns, one die is rolled to determine movement for all the bystanders. Each bystander moves toward the closet exit, as many squares as the die roll (and other obstacles) permit. They should always move, if possible, away from regular figures, as well. For example, if a regular figure is directly between a bystander and an exit, the bystander will, obstacles permitting, move diagonally so that he’s both moving both toward the exit and away from the figure. Although all bystanders get a move after each round, they don’t exactly move simultaneously; ones on outer rows move first, followed by the inner rows. So, first the ones in Rows 4 and 21 are moved, followed by those in Row 5 and 20, etc.
With the right terrain, the bystander will create unpredictable logjams that regular figures will have to work around until the citizens clear out. After a few rounds, almost all the bystanders will have escaped, except for those who have become …
I love this part. Bystanders aren’t just ‘moving terrain’; they’re ‘special objects’, too. Villains can, if you wish, land on the same square as a bystander and take it hostage. Hostages function sort of like objects, except a figure doesn’t need superstrength to “carry” one.
Villains with a hostage:
· Move at half their speed
· Cannot be the target of a ranged attack
· Get plus one to their Defense against close combat attack
· Can, if they have superstrength, throw the hostage at an opponent up to six squares away to whom he has line of fire; this action incapacitates the opponent automatically (because they have to ‘catch’ the hostage). The hostage is then placed adjacent to the hero, but not in between the hero and the hostage-taker.
Naturally, the main advantage to hostage-taking is immunity from ranged attack. Sick of getting bopped by batarangs from the shadows? Grab a hostage! Oh, and no sneaky rules-lawyering to get around the direct attack thing. No fair trying to zap the hostage-taker with Pulse Wave or splash damage or Force Blast; don’t want to hurt an innocent hostage!
Now, if you’re automatically thinking, “Well, how can I tell the difference between a villain and a hero? How do I make such an arbitrary distinction not covered by the keywords in the game? And what if I’m playing two teams of heroes against each other?” Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, then I can’t help you and you’re probably playing Marvel Heroclix anyway.
Hostages can escape from villains:
· If a hero does damage to the hostage-taker, or
· If a player uses an action to give him a chance to breakaway (which requires a roll of six), or
· If the hostage-taker makes a critical miss or
· If the hostage-taker has two action tokens on him, and adjacent hero breaks away, the hero can carry the hostage off with him, releasing it in a square adjacent to wherever he stops.
In these cases the hostage is ‘released’ into an adjacent square, then to run away to be interviewed by Clark Kent, looking for a human interest angle to the latest super-donnybrook.
Is this a foolproof, watertight addition to the regular rules of the game without any unforeseen issues for game mechanics? HECK, NO!
But it is fun, gives the villains a fighting chance, and feels a lot more like a comic book than a battle in an utterly barren landscape.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
- Kate Kane's Christmas
- Clark Kent's upbringing in the tough streets of Suicide Slum
- How Bruce Wayne started penniless and earned his millions
- and the Martian Manhunter's early life on Jupiter.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
The Hangman -- who doesn't look anything like Batman -- is where he belongs: in the background, sequestered from the rest of the scene by the boundary created by the cannon. At first I thought the Hangman was going to take that Nazi and do a Bane-style backbreaking maneuver. But then I realized he's in the middle of enacting a much more horrible punishment: he's forcing the Nazi to stare up at the ineffable horror of the name of ARCHIE, the Fuhrer of Riverdale. You think that Nazi's wearing jodhpurs? Think again; just like his soul, his body has evacuated itself when faced with the existential terror of the Andrews Abyss. Shame on you, Hangman (who is not designed to make you think of Batman at all)-- that's a fate too cruel to impose even on a Nazi.
Dusty's having a high old time, having switched out his starched cape for a parachute, as he plummets down to --
And the Shield? The Shield is no-nonsense this month! He has ZERO tolerance for Nazis who dare to steal American culture by doing the Lady Gaga Bad Romance Dance at their National Socialist Rallies. "You'll not be filming THIS choreography, Leni Riefensthal!" he shouts.
Usually I make fun of the Shield's apparent fondness for golden showers as a form of punishment, as this month's yellow cover reminds us. But, gosh, he's got other tricks up his sleeve-- specifically, his FIST! Watch him shove his fist in that aperture, causing the cannon to explode back on to its owner...! "And THIS one's for the Future Farmers of America!" he cracks.
Wow, is it warm on this cover, or is it just me...?
Friday, December 10, 2010
And I mean that both figuratively and literally.
Like most Aqua-philes, I am all a-twitter about the (supposed) revelation that Geoff Johns will be writing Aquaman next year, and writing him as the head of the Justice League.
Is this truth? Does it mean GJ will be writing the "Justice League" and it'll have Aquaman return to whip the current cast of also-rans into shape? Or will his Superfriends rejoin? Or does it mean that there will be a new Aquaman title, GJ's writing it, and Aquaman's role as JLA leader will be explored there? Or is all this just something that will be noted in passing as GJ writes Aquaman in some other book, like Brightest Day?
I don't know exactly what is The Truth; but I know that GJ writing Aquaman is The Good, and that's close enough for me.
As I've written before, seriously and not so seriously, Aquaman is a leader, a commander. Other heroes, in their private lives, have substantial but typical roles: reporters, policeman, military, scientists, engineers, architects, billionaire playboys. You know, the regular kind of people who show up at your high school reunion.
But in his private life, Aquaman rules an undersea continent. Or, every living thing in the sea. Or both. Aquaman is not just powerful as an individual, but as someone who directs the collective power of others. As powerful and interesting as his colleagues are, they are, for the most part, solo acts. As such, they are not as well suited to lead the JLA as someone who is all about command.
Ever watch the Filmation Aquaman series? Do you remember the one thing Aquaman said in almost every episode? It was...
To the naive, that may seem like weakness: Poor "lame Aquaman" can't handle anything by himself and needs fish to save him. To the experienced, that shows that Aquaman is a leader who realizes he can accomplish more and do it more effectively with the help of others. And, isn't that the concept at the very core of the Justice League? Or any team?
Alex Ross recognized this when he made Aquaman the tacit leader-among-equals in Justice. Geoff Johns recognizes this, too. Even the Silver Age writers of the Justice League had a sense of Aquaman's unique role , as you can see by The Time Aquaman Defeated Felix Faust When Everyone Else Was Helpless, or the time when the JLA were each pitted in individual death contests on alien worlds, and it was Aquaman who coached every single one of them to victory.
Even the Batman: Brave & the Bold series version of Aquaman, who is known mostly for his boisteriousness, is portrayed as someone who intentionally inspires others to heroism and who coordinates other in heroic escapades (as in the episode on planet Rann).
To those who say Aquaman cannot be saved, here's a reminder. Not that long ago, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were dead characters, both in and out of story. All it took was someone to identify their characters' essential features and build around them to bring them back better than ever. That someone was Geoff Johns, and I'm hoping that his perceptiveness in that regard will help make Aquaman the Sensational Character Find of 2011.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
But some points bear repeating (as the apparent memorability of that post has proven). And the point that Iris West is meaner than most DC supervillains is one of them.
And what better way to make this point memorable than by setting it to song, as we did, say, with the Central City Song? I know it's bit early for a Christmas song, but I want you to have time to teach this to children before the holiday season begins..
Open this karaoke link in another window and sing along, won't you?
You're a mean one, Iris West;
you really are a shrew
You're as cuddly as the Axis,
you're as welcome as the flu.
You're a monster, Iris West;
your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of caffeine,
you have coffee in your soul.
Iris We-est! I wouldn't touch you with a stolen character from Jack Cole.
You're a vile one, Iris West.
You have daggers in your eyes.
You have all the tender sweetness of Gorilla Grodd in disguise.
Iris We-est! Give the choice between the two of you, I'd take...
Gorilla Grodd in disguise!
You're a plot-bore, Iris West.
You're the queen of awful plots.
Your timeline's a McGuffin tied in Silver Age-y knots.
During this time, the couple discovered that Iris was born in the 30th Century (c 2945 AD), and had been sent back to the present shortly before "Earth-East" attacked "Earth-West," when Central City was a self-contained city. After years as a prominent presence in the Flash's life and Central City, she was killed by Professor Zoom during a costume party. Zoom vibrates his hand into her head, solidifying it just enough to kill her. Enraged by his wife's death, Barry, as the Flash, killed Zoom by breaking his neck.
Iris did not stay dead for long. As Iris's biological parents, the Russells (with the help of a future Flash, John Fox), sent the then-infant Iris to the past, where she was adopted by Ira West, her "death" caused a paradox that was resolved after the Russells placed her consciousness into a new body. Barry was reunited with Iris in her time, and were able to spend a month together. However, the couple knew if Barry returned to the past, he would die in the catalytic Crisis on Infinite Earths. During their time together, they conceived the Tornado Twins, Don and Dawn. Don married the descendant of Professor Zoom, Meloni Thawne, hoping to end the feud between the two families. They had a son, Bart, whose powers manifested at an early age and caused him to age at an accelerated rate. Don and Dawn died saving 30th Century Earth from an invasion by the Dominators. Iris took Bart to the past to enlist the aid of her nephew (by then, Wally had taken the mantle of the Flash) in saving her grandson. After Bart's accelerated aging slowed down, he went by the name of Impulse. Not much is known about her after that, but Iris volunteered to take care of the Weather Wizard's orphaned son. Wally West later named his daughter Iris in honor of his aunt.
Iris We-est! You're a multiverse time-travel old-school sandwich
with gender-bent sauce!
You irritate me, Iris West.
With your henpecked super-spouse.
You're a red-haired vicious fishwife who treats Barry like a louse.
Iris We-est! Your role is an appalling parody overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of sexist imaginings, with your hair in
tangled up knots.
You're a foul one, Iris West.
You're a torrid, horrid, skunk.
You're heart is made of solid rock,
your role is full of bunk.
Iris We-est! The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote:
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Is this my typical anti-Marvel schadenfreude? Hm; perhaps. But not entirely.
As a comic book True Believer, I cringe that the show's producers felt the need to create a new villain. Sigh. "Yes, this intellectual property is so valuable and rich and culturally resonant with so many people that we MUST make it a musical and then pervert or ignore the source material." Sure, Green Goblin is there. But I mean... Swiss Miss? Really? A... a female villain, themed on a Swiss Army Knife? And I bet her background includes being a cocoa addict. If I were Switzerland I'd sue (although I'm sure they're just remaining carefull neutral). Even Marvel shouldn't have to put up with the likes of "Swiss Miss". It's an embarrasment to the company, even the one that produced U.S. 1.
Do I dislike the concept of the show because it's, well, tacky? Yes. Despite being a performer myself, I'm no fan of modern Broadway musicals. For my tastes, they are usually too serious, or, if not, too tasteless in their humor. Besides, their music is often, well... not-musical. Or at least, it's tune-less. I can't say I've heard the music to this show, but I'm presuming people like Bono and, ahem, "The Edge" didn't exactly load it with toe-tappers you can't stop humming as you leave the theater. Just a guess.
As I have mentioned before, DC is Greek theater and Marvel is opera. Wagnerian opera, in fact. So perhaps it's only fitting that it's getting the Serious Rock Opera treatment. But "fitting" doesn't necessarily mean good or artistic. Obviously, one of the reasons I want the show to fail is to prevent DC characters from being Broadawayized as Spider-Man has been. The very idea of Batman: The Musical was the height of humor achieved by the otherwise depressing Batman Beyond series.
But the most powerful reason that I want the Spider-Man musical to fail, badly, is also the simplest one:
I want us to remember that the comic book itself is still the ideal medium for superhero stories.
Comic books can and have been used to tell all stories of all types and genres. But there is a reason that the superhero story became its native genre. Long before there were the kind of cinematic and stage wizardy for special effects that audience take for granted today, the comic book page was the only place where you could depict such fantastic people and adventures. For the longest time, it was accepted wisdom that there would never be a Green Lantern movie because what the character does could never be represented well enough on screen. That's no longer the case, and we can all look forward to GL's first big screen adventure soon. I personally am praying for a scene where Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan slips and hits his head in the shower. Sexy, hilarious, and What Green Lantern Does Best all at the same time!
But now we think we can do anything on stage and screen, including tell the stories of superheroes. To some degree, we can... .
But it's not the same. Never will be. And that's important to remember.