Thursday, February 17, 2011

Man of Steel, Friends of Plastic

Wizkids, makers of the superhero table-top game “Heroclix”, has just announced that their next full DC expansion set will be Superman-themed.

Wizkids had great success recently with two Marvel sets focused around one main character (the “Web of Spider-Man” and “Hammer of Thor” sets). This “Cape of Superman” set will be the first DC set focusing on one character. While the “Arkham Asylum” set had a healthy representation of Batman and villains it was more of a potpourri than its name suggests. After all, it included figures like Human Bomb, Ghost Fox Killer, Lightning Lord, Amon Sur, and Metron.

The potpourri strategy was a sensible one. Seldom was any one customer overjoyed at the list of characters in any one set, but each set had enough variety to entice almost everyone to get it for the characters they did like.

But the evolution of the game gave this strategy unfortunate side effects. Characters you really wanted to play together were spread out across many sets. For example, after ten years, you still can’t field a Detroit League Team because they’ve never made Steel (*ugh*) or Vibe (*popping hearts around head*). Also, early characters were often hopelessly outclassed by later figures they should have been compatible with, simply because the game mechanics had been improved. There hasn’t been a solo figure of the comic book Catwoman since the first DC set ten years ago, and it’s nearly unplayable in today’s game.

As a character represented in Heroclix, Superman has suffered from these side effects. I can easily put together plenty of Heroclix teams (good and evil) to play around Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and (with a bit of customizing) even Aquaman. But a Superman teams still remain a challenge to compose. The sets always have a Superman—there are plenty of great versions of him—but his allies and enemies have been wanting.

With the advent of individualized “special powers”, rather than dials composed entirely out from a group of generic “standard powers”, Heroclix has made great strides in playability and comic book accuracy of its figures, including recent additions to the Metropolis Heroclix rolls like the Kryptonite Man figure. But this new Superman-centric set provides a fresh opportunity to bring Metropolis alive on the Heroclix maps.

Which leads to my actual point: Wizkids, don’t give short shrift to the supporting cast. Superman’s supporting cast is much more important than almost any other character’s, and a more central part of his mythos. Jimmy Olsen’s public profile is enormous; people who can’t name three Superman villains can all name Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy Olsen’s comic book ran for 20 years, for pity’s sake. Yet, after ten years, there’s still no Jimmy Olsen figure in Heroclix, though Wizkids has managed to emplasticify such mayflies and lowlights as Forerunner, Aztek, Shimmer, the Holiday Killer, and the Human Defense Corps. Julius H. Schwartz, you could make an entire sixty-figure set (plus addition LEs) of nothing BUT Jimmy Olsen figures, each one a different one of his bizarre transformations or alter-identities.

Wizkids has gotten much wiser in including “regular people” characters as supporting figures in their newer sets (such as Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah Jameson, Alfred Pennyworth, and Amanda Waller). They used to just represent them as one-click deep pogs! But I want to encourage them to go even further in that direction: I shouldn’t have to have ordered customs made just to have important characters like Iris West, Jean Loring, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and
Jimmy Olsen on the board.

In short… if Jimmy Olsen and Perry White are not represented in this “Cape of Superman” set, I am going to be really ticked off.

P.S. It's hard to be too critical of Wizkids in this respect, since DC itself seems to have half-forgotten the importance of a recognizable, long-term supporting cast to a successful superhero mythos. Only Geoff Johns seems to get it. Fortunately for the fate of supporting characters, his influence is powerful and wide, so maybe others will start to catch on.


K. Starks said...

Jimmy Olson is a clix piece I've been wanting for a long time. If they did something similar as what they did with Beast Boy I would lose my shit. Having him change from Turtle Boy to Elongated Lad to Mr. Action, etc. That would be awesome.

I'd love to here what a Perry White dial might look like...what does HE do in an in-game context?

I'm pretty excited about this set, no doubt. But, you have to admit, that even for a storied comic book fan it's tough to list many really exciting Supes villains that have a non-Supes-centric appeal outside of handful of guys and most of those have been remade recently (Doomsday, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Metallo). Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see Bippo and Composite Superman, but I'm in the deep minority I imagine.

But, I'd like to see: Manhattan Guardian, Eradicator, new Mon-El, new Mr. Mxyzptlk (PLEASE!), new Parasite (Please, again), Toy-Man, perhaps Titano and Imperiex some how? A new Steel, new Krypt0 - I suspect there will be a lot of Manchester Black requests.

That being said, I think you're not giving adequate appreciation to Aztek (a grant morrison creation, a great series, and JLA member) and Shimmer (come on, the Fearsome Five are probably the most notably Teen Titans villains after Deathstroke). But i definitely agree that the JLD not being finished yet seems criminal - once you make Gypsy you gotta just finish it up.

Scipio said...

They already did the Guardian and Toyman! And "Most Notable Teen Titans villains' seems more like a minus than a plus ;-).

Your idea about the "Beast Boy" type clix for him is ingenious, that had never occurred to me! From your mouth to Wizkids' ears!

And EVERYONE loves the Composite Superman. Everyone who matters, any way!

Scipio said...

What would Perry and JImmy do?

Jimmy, with his signal watch, might have a 'summoning' power like the Captain Gordon figure's "BatSignal' power. And some form of Perplex, because, well... he's Jimmy Olsen.

Perry White could be a Stealth-killer (not that Superman needs one), a Defender ("Protecting Sources") or augment the stats of teammates with certain keywords (like Metropolis or Reporter).

Wizkids has gotten quite clever at this special power trick and they could surely make Perry a useful support piece without making him Masterman.

Randy Jackson said...

Perry had his share of transformations too, although mostly not so bizarre as Jimmy's. So did Lois, for that matter of fact.

TotalToyz said...

HeroClix's new owner, NECA, seems a bit more predisposed to make the supporting cast. The Web of Spider-Man set did include Mary Jane Watson and J. Jonah Jameson, as well as "alter ego" versions of Peter Parker and Norman Osborn. Clark/Superman was already done as an "alter ego" in the Brave and the Bold set, but maybe Linda Danvers/Supergirl? Jimmy Olsen/Elastic Lad? Lucy Lane/Superwoman?

Anonymous said...

Perry White would have the ability to confuse educated opponents by telling them how passive voice works.

TotalToyz said...

Oh, and thanks much, Scipio, for the link to the custom Jimmy Olsen I made for you oh so long ago!

Jeff R. said...

Perry Would have the Super-Cigars, of course.

TotalToyz said...

I am hoping for at least one or two pieces that acknowledge the fact that Superman has been around longer than the last ten years. Red-haired, first-nameless Luthor; maybe even the Lightning Master.
NECA is so fond of doing slight repaints and calling them different characters; if they do Perry White, maybe they'll repaint it with black hair and call it George Taylor.