athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Your Obedient Serpent quite enjoyed Ant-Man, particularly since it suggests that the hot mess that was Avengers: Age of Ultron is an outlier and not a harbinger that the grand experiment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally followed Mr. Fonzarelli's motorcycle over the infamous elasmobranch. However, I must agree with Mr. Taylor's assessement that the core conceit that the Ant-Man technology changes SIZE but not MASS was handled with a distracting inconsistency.

I will note, for the moment, that said inconsistency was handled pretty much exactly as it is in the comic books.

DC's Alternate Company Equivalent, The Atom, possesses full control over both his size AND his density -- and, of course, this was spelled out in dialogue, editorial footnotes, or both, in every single one of Dr. Palmer's Silver Age adventures. However, Dr. Pym, Ms. Van Dyne, and their assorted successors have never explicitly been granted anything but size control -- and usually, they are portrayed as no stronger than their insect associates at those scales.

A possible explanation of the Tiny/Heavy Paradox that plagues the movie occurred to me this morning. It's nonsense sci-fi technobabble, but no more than any other instance of Comic Book Physics, but it's sci-fi technobabble of impeccable pedigree.

Edward Elmer Smith, PhD, known to fans and friends alike as "Doc", was the author of the seminal Lensman saga, scribed back in the 1930s and 1940s. Lensman was the trope codifier for pretty much the entire genre of Space Opera, including Star Trek, Star Wars, and everything else of that nature, and had no small impact on another comic book franchise that didn't involve tiny people at all other than the occasional superintelligent alien virus.

A key piece of fictional science and technology in the Lensman saga is the conceit that later developments of relativistic theory divorced inertial mass from gravitational mass; in the epic, of course, this allowed for the faster-than-light velocities needed for star-spanning adventure.

I find myself wondering if this might prove the key to bringing some level of consistency to what the movie portrays: when Ant-Man is just standing, gravity only affects him as if he were the size and mass of an ant. When he falls, or hurtles into something, or socks someone in the jaw like a proper superhero, he has the momentum and kinetic energy of an 80-kilogram man, concentrated in the volume and surface area of one a mere centimeter tall.

(This works better if we discard the movie's explanation that the Pym Particle "reduces the distance between atoms" and return to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe's assertion that the mass of the shrunken person or object is "shunted into another dimension".)

It suggests that subtle variations in angle and trajectory could produce a wide range of "effective" mass and momentum. As just one example, he can match velocities with his formic steed because the ratio of his surface area to his gravitational mass allows him to control his descent, but if he jumps off, tucks in, and minimizes his surface area, he can hit that hapless mook with all the force of a full-grown man dropping a meter onto his back. (Ow.)

It's no less nonsense, but it might be the hand-wave that "fixes" the movie; I would have to watch it again with Bergenholm Physics in mind to see if it really does mesh with all the delightful, preposterous things we see on the screen except for that damned keychain.


athelind: (RPG: grognard)

WARNING:
This post links to
TVTROPES.ORG!




Yesterday, I found myself reading http://mythcreants.com/blog/blog-series/mastering-the-creeps/, and it reminded me of one of my quirks as a Game Master: as I've mentioned before, when I GM tabletop, it doesn't matter what genre the game is supposed to be ... there's about a 60% chance that it'll turn into a horror game.

It's not that I'm particularly fond of horror as an RPG genre. I just have a knack for it. When I'm GMing, at some point, I'll look at the players, smile wickedly behind my GM screen, and think, "oh, I just had an idea that might really wig them out."

You see, if you want to run a really effective horror game ... don't tell your players.

Over the span of three decades and change, I've done this in classic first edition AD&D, in a space opera game, and in two superhero games. Not a lot, I suppose ... until one notes that my stints behind the screen are rare and years apart.

The campaign that dove the most deeply into the horror rabbit hole was SUPPOSED to be a superhero game. I've alluded to this one before: the players were playing game versions of their real-life selves, and got super-powers when a UFO exploded near them.

I really intended -- I wanted -- to run a Fantastic Four-style campaign, using weird and amazing powers to explore bizarre phenomena and deal with off-beat threats.

However ...

The players were not primarily comic book fans.

What's more, this was the 1990s ... at the height of popularity of the X-Files.

Exacerbating matters, one of the players was, in real life, a Marine MP who had worked with FEMA at some point. I said, "UFO Crash", and he replied, "I'm not allowed to say whether or not FEMA has a plan to deal with this situation, but if they did* ..."

This was the metaphorical equivalent of reaching over, jerking the wheel, and sending the car into a spin. The whole party immediately slipped into Aaiiee Conspiracy Paranoia the Government Will Vivisect Us Mode, and I realized I had just lost control of the campaign.

So I did what my race car driver father taught me to do in a literal spin:

I turned in the direction of the spin and stepped on the gas.**

So, they all had Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men ... and they all wanted to lie low, go back to their lives, pretend it never happened, and try to keep the Gummint from ever finding out who was there at the crash site.

I could have doubled down on superhero tropes, and set up a big, public situation where Only They Could Save The Day ... but I had a sneaking suspicion, somehow, that this wouldn't goad them into action. I realized that, despite everyone signing on to play a superhero game, they didn't want to be superheroes.

They wanted a Paranoid Conspiracy with the Government Out To Get Them.

So I gave it to them.

I took the exact same power set that one of the PCs had: Teleportation, and a global scale ESP that manifested as erratic visions, a "teleport destination sense", and the ability to pinpoint technobabble "anomalies" that included other people sharing their power source ... and I gave that template to an implacable sociopath that the Shadowy Government Conspiracy had kept under lock, key, and power damper until they needed him to find the PCs.

([livejournal.com profile] kolchis gave me the invaluable suggestion of looking to Dean R. Koontz's gallery of empowered sociopaths for inspiration.)

He slipped his leash almost immediately, and started stalking them.

I gave them a few initial hints ... and then, when they'd all gathered at a restaurant to talk about the weird shit that had been happening to them individually, the Marine MP didn't show up ...

... and as they were sitting there, right outside the window where they're sitting, a body slammed into a car from a significant height, shattering the windows, denting the hood, and making the alarms go off.

The body looked just like the missing party member.

The PARTY'S clairvoyant was able to tell that, even though there wasn't a mark on the corpse ... the heart was missing.

I then shifted to where the missing party member actually was ... in an alley, with the water from a recent rain dripping off a fire escape ... drip ... drip ... drip ...

And he wasn't alone.

I shifted back to the alley, where the party realized that the body before them wasn't really their associate -- the build was wrong, the height was wrong -- but someone else whose face had been ... sculpted, somehow.

Back in the alley ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

There was a figure who was always JUST out of our missing party member's line of sight. Any time he'd turn, there'd be a voice behind him, or off to one side, or above him, patiently explaining that, after his "translation", nobody else was really visible to his new senses. He came to understand that he was the only real thing in a world of shadows; he could see souls, you see, and nobody else had one ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

... until he sensed the PCs ... being born.

After two decades, I don't remember all the details of the encounter, or why, but it was something along the lines of, "go back to your friends ... and let them know ... I am a jealous god. And I am coming for them."

And then, as the session ended, I queued up Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."


*They did. It is no longer classified. Fnord.
**This works. It's saved my life twice, once in a '71 Chevy van, once in a '97 Ford Aspire.
athelind: (Beware My Power)
I am home sick today, my third round with a stomach bug in a four-week span, so let's talk Superhero Movies.

Recently, Time Warner announced that they were ramping up their slate of DC Comics-based movies in a desperate attempt to play catch-up to Disney’s unprecedented success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Justice League Part One (2017)
  • The Flash (2018)
  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Justice League Part Two (2019)
  • Cyborg (2020)
  • Green Lantern (2020)


Needless to say, this prompted some discussion ‘mongst my social circle … and some eye-rolling that followed the last entry on that four-year, ten-movie extravaganza: Green Lantern.

Long-time readers will recall that GL was once Your Obedient Serpent’s very favorite superhero, but even he will admit that the last attempt at translating the Emerald Gladiator to the big screen was, to be generous ... unimpressive. Nevertheless, while its descent into mediocrity was the end result of bad creative choices, one should not fall into the trap of assuming that the first of those bad choices was "let's make a Green Lantern movie!"

The first and biggest Bad Choice was to cram far too many elements into the first movie, all from different periods of the comic, without really giving any of it a proper build-up.

The second Bad Choice was Hal Jordan.

Okay, let me rephrase that. No, I am not Happy Hal's biggest fan; of all the different characters who've worn the ring and claimed the title, I'd have to say that there were three or four ... thousand ... I like more than Hal Jordan. And if the movie had actually given us Hal Jordan instead of Stock Character #438, I'd have been middlin' pleased.

Look, here's the Secret Magic Ingredient that Marvel Studios stumbled across that turned their movies into both critical and box-office successes: superhero movies need distinctive characters and strong character arcs.

The character arc in the Green Lantern movie? "Look, the slacker screwing up his life gets a magic ring, straightens out, and turns his life around, proving that he's not such a screw-up after all." No surprises there: that's about as trite and unimaginative as Hollywood gets these days.

It's also not Hal Jordan.1

Please note that I am not saying "oh, they aren't faithful to the character, so this movie sucks." I'm also aware that they've been trying to shoehorn "reckless maverick who's always in trouble" into Hal's backstory since they did Emerald Dawn back in '89, but that's never really clicked.

I AM saying that Hal Jordan's character arc in the comics is a lot more compelling and unusual than the story of Yet Another Man-Child Growing Up.

When we first meet Hal in 1959, he's got it all. He's a test-pilot, competent, confident and successful in a career that demands highly-honed skills and steady nerves. He's fearless, not reckless: having him on the Ferris Aircraft payroll is an asset. He's a jet-setting ladies' man who has his sights set on the woman who runs the company, and lives a life of martinis and tuxedos that James Bond would envy.

The magic ring that falls from the sky doesn't straighten out his screwed-up life; quite the contrary. It gives him amazing power and opens the entire Cosmos up to him ... but little by little, it sends his personal and professional lives into a tailspin. The responsibilities of protecting Sector 2814 as a member of both the Corps and the Justice League take more and more of his time from his life on Earth. By the mid-'70s, he's gone from a high-prestige test pilot to someone who can't hold a steady job, his resume including such gems as travelling salesman for a toy company.

He spent a good chunk of the mid-'80s having resigned from the Corps, trying to figure out what had happened to his life, wandering around as a drifter trying to figure out just who Hal Jordan was apart from being Green Lantern.

And yet he keeps going back.2

Now, that's a character arc that we haven't really seen on the big screen. In the Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker can't hold a steady job because because of his extracurricular activities, but it hasn't really dragged him down -- at worst, it's held him back. In the Iron Man series, we watched Tony Stark go from a reckless genius billionaire playboy asshole who didn't give a damn about anything to ... um ... a reckless genius billionaire playboy asshole who really does want to do the right thing, mostly. By the end of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce Wayne is a battered, broken semi-invalid, but really, he was always a broken man: his body just caught up with his soul.

So far, we haven't had a superhero movie where the "Guy Who Has It All" finds his true calling ... and loses "it all" because of it.

As much as I can see the potential of a good Hal Jordon movie, though, I think they could get a lot more mileage out of John Stewart. Really, as much as it pains the Silver Age Stagnation Squad to see it, John is familiar to a lot more people than Hal, thanks to his headlining role in three brilliant seasons of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

I would love to see a movie that really took advantage of John's two primary background elements: he's a Marine Sniper who became an Architect. Seems like writers who eagerly adopt the Marine backstory (first introduced in the above-mentioned animated series) completely ignore the Architect (the vocation he's pursued in the comics almost since the beginning), but that dissonance between Warrior and Builder has a LOT of untapped potential.

John was the protagonist of Green Lantern: MOSAIC, a brilliant, surreal early '90s series by Gerard Jones that DC shows no interest in reprinting or even acknowledging. At one point, Jones scripts him a scene -- almost a soliloquy -- that manages to reconcile Warrior and Builder as two aspects of the same principle:

"What I do," John says, "is redistribute violence."

After this this startling proclamation, he clarifies: the job of an architect is to balance all the forces acting on a structure, and redirect them to make it stronger instead of tearing it apart.

That's John Stewart, particularly when Jones writes him: he's intelligent. He's erudite. He's philosophical.

John Stewart is the Warrior Poet.

We've had a lot of "smart" superheroes on the big screen ... we haven't really had an intellectual up there.

I will also note that John has another quality that is important for entirely different reasons: he's African-American.

And yes, dammit, that's important. Ask my friend [livejournal.com profile] kolchis, a school teacher who does a lot of substitute work in a lot of different areas, about the black kids who immediately zero in on the Green Lantern keychain the middle-aged white guy carries.

Rest assured it's not because they're Ryan Reynolds fans.

No matter how hard they try to push him as one of their Iconic Characters, Cyborg is the odd man out in that slate of movies. Sure, he's been around for more than thirty years now, but when push comes to shove, he's a Teen Titan. When they try to shoehorn him into the Justice League, it feels like they're desperate to dig up just one character in their roster who isn't Upper/Middle Class White Guy Man.

Do I think they should leave him out? Hell, no! I want to see Victor Stone up there on the screen with John Stewart. I want to see Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson playing Captain Marvel Shazam instead of Black Adam, and Billy Batson played by a kid with an equally-diverse heritage.

Representation and diversity is not tokenism.


1 "It's Kyle Rayner." "YOU SHUT UP. JUST SHUT UP."
2 This is directly related to why I am one of the few people who thought that Emerald Twilight was perfectly in character and was the logical culmination of three decades of storytelling ... but that is a story for another time.
athelind: (hoard potato)
This morning, [livejournal.com profile] leonard_arlotte said:

So I've seen commercials for Tomorrow People, but ain't watched it. I am left with a nagging question.

What's the difference between this show and Alphas?

I did see the commercial and think, "Oh look, another show about pretty people with super powers" ...



That's a pretty glib dismissal ... but it's not wrong.

I watched the first episode, and really, the big difference between the two shows is that I didn't want to immediately smack everybody in Alphas, protagonist and antagonist alike.

The big conflict in this show is "OH NOES NORMALS HATE US BECAUSE WE'RE BEAUTIFUL WE HAVE POWERS!!1!"

... just like every other Pretty People With Powers series in the last decade. Heroes, the 4400, Alphas ... even the X-Movies. Show after show after show, and it's all Maintaining the Masquerade so the Mundanes don't Molest the Metahumans. The protagonists only deal with two kinds of adversaries: Dark Conspiracies Who Want To Herd Them All Into Labs and/or "Cure" Them, and Bad People With Powers That Have The Exact Same Origin As Ours.

Assuming you can tell the protagonists from the antagonists, of course.

Moreover ... every single one of these shows characterizes the Pretty People With Powers as "The Next Evolutionary Step" that will "Drive Humanity To Extinction". It's not always just the paranoid norms who think so, either.*

I, for one, am bored with this. It's ... metahuman masturbation, is what it is. All the conflict centers around The Powers, and if you take The Powers away (as several interchangeable adversaries want to do), all the conflict vanishes.

It's like they think viewers aren't smart enough to handle a world that has more than one crazy thing going on at a time.

The sad part is that The Tomorrow People is a remake of a classic BBC series from the 1970s, the era that gave us Blake's 7, and Pertwee and Baker as Doctor Who.**

By contrast, take a look at what they threw at the original 1970s version of Tomorrow People. Aliens! Robots! Alien Robots!

Think the new series is going to touch that subplot where the Tomorrow People are in touch with the "Galactic Federation", who shepherd developing telepathic races as they "break out"?

I don't.

And that's a pity.


* To give Alphas its due, Professor X Dr. Rosen at least paid lip service to the idea that the Alphas were just exceptional humans at the skinny end of the bell curve ... but he was about the only person in the show who did, and even he didn't seem to buy it completely.
** Don't get pedantic with me. That's how they're listed in the credits.
athelind: (Sci Fi)
The Threepenny Space Opera: An Introduction

WARNING! TV TROPES!

This is the first in a series of posts under the head of The Threepenny Space Opera, in which Your Obedient Serpent bandies about ideas and concepts for science fiction RPG settings. These are primarily Notes To Myself, and the different concepts may or may not be compatible with each other in a single milieu.

I have been in a Star Wars Saga Edition game for the last four years, and, while I enjoy it a great deal, I confess that I enjoy it in spite of the setting, not because of it. It is hardly an original insight to assert that the Lucasian setting isn't "really" science fiction, but rather, fantasy with a thin veneer of technology; it has some truth to it, but that doesn't curtail my ability to enjoy a rip-roaring laser-adorned Hero's Journey.

If forced to pick a side when the line is drawn between Romanticism and Enlightenment, however, Your Obedient Serpent falls squarely in the latter camp.1 There are elements of Classic Space Opera that are Very Important To Your Obedient Serpent, and they can only be shoehorned into the Galaxy Far Far Away with great effort -- and are entirely absent from, say, Dark Heresy and many of the other starfaring settings offered to the RPG community.

I am rambling, which is nothing new. Let me therefore invoke that tool of PowerPoint abusers worldwide, and proffer a Bullet List:

  • I want a vision of a hopeful, optimistic future. Cautionary tales are an important part of the science fiction estate, but they aren't, contrary to Post-Modern thought, more "mature" or "sophisticated" or "valid". When all the visions of the future are dystopian, when the only message from tomorrow is "Beware", then where will we find the hope and inspiration to drive us forward?

  • I want to Explore Strange New Worlds. Even Star Trek: the Next Generation fell short on this one, keeping NCC-1701-D largely within the borders of the Federation, boldly staying where everyone had gone before; the movies, of course, abandon the notion of "exploration" entirely.

  • I want to Save the Day with SCIENCE!! I want a setting and a system where the Vulcan manning the sensors contributes as much to the adventure as the Dashing Space Pilot.

  • And on that note, I want a game that doesn't shy away from starships and space combat, while making sure that ALL the player characters can take active roles when the Space Pirates drop out of Netherspace, or the Negative Space Wedgie looms on the main screen. I want a game that's not afraid of starmaps, and where travel between the worlds is an opportunity, not an obstacle (or a quick screen-wipe).


There will be more forthcoming.


1 In the topsy-turvy backwards world of Literary Jargon, I am an unrealistic dreamer because I reject Romanticism.

athelind: (Eye in the Pyramid)
In a superhero world, EVERY government organization has a clever acronym. The tax bureau, for example, is the Internal Revenue Investigation Service, or IRIS, and their logo is the All-Seeing Eye on the Great Seal.


athelind: (hoard potato)

One:

I've finally figured out my utter dis1 for DC's recent business model of resurrecting Silver Age characters who got killed off in the '80s and '90s because they couldn't sustain their own titles.

As I mentioned the other day, I don't like zombies.2

Certainly, remembering, as one example, the long, dragged, out "Trial of the Flash" that closed out Barry Allen's run months before he met his end in Crisis on Infinite Earths is not that far removed from having the fragrance of three-month-old sea lion carcasses waft unbidden through one's amygdala.3

At least when Marvel turns its colorfully-costumed characters into shambling undead mockeries, they're occasionally honest about it.


Two:

DC is releasing a series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic graphic novel, Watchmen.

I reserve judgment on whether or not this is a bad move; really, I'm finding myself far too tickled by the outrage of the fandom (and Alan Moore) to really have many objections myself (and besides, one of them will have Darwyn Cooke art).

However, something occurred to me the other day:

Watchmen is older than most of the "old comics" it was based on were when it was published.



1disinterest/disappointment/distaste/disdain/disregard/dyspepsia ...
2I wanna shoo-oo-oo-oot the whole trend down!
3I have a dread suspicion that that storyline, which seemed to take forever at the time, might seem a masterpiece of snappy pacing compared to the "decompressed" storytelling of today's "decompressed".

athelind: (hoard potato)
[Error: unknown template qotd]


Unbreakable.

One: It was early enough in M. Night Shyamalan's career that his name wasn't yet synonymous with "twist ending".

Two: The best twist endings recast everything you've just seen in a different light, and ideally, it should make even more sense in the light of the twist. Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense did that, but Unbreakable did it even better -- when it hits, both viewer and protagonist are overwhelmed by the horrific implications of the revelation.

Three: The twist -- and I won't spoil it here, on the off chance that a reader of my journal hasn't seen it -- relies heavily on the tropes of the comic-book superhero genre. I am intimately familiar with those tropes; superhero comics are My Thing. Despite that, I did not see it coming. I was utterly gobsmacked.


athelind: (hoard potato)
It's Saturday morning.

I am sitting in front of the television with a big bowl of cereal, watching cartoons.

It's not all that different from a Saturday morning 40 years ago, except ...

  • Coffee!
  • Laptop computer. I mean, seriously. This thing wasn't even a concept in 1972.
  • Coffee.
  • Vastly superior cartoons. Avatar: the Legend of Korra, the Thundercats reboot, Green Lantern and Young Justice vs. ... well, this.


All in all ... Yeah, to heck with nostalgia this morning. More like relaxed contentment.


Did I mention coffee?
athelind: (Eye - VK)
Songs and song titles make great adventure seeds. In the past, I've had GMs who constructed entire campaigns around albums by Jethro Tull or King Crimson.

It's especially appropriate for comic book games -- Stan Lee loved to play on pop music for his story titles. The right combination of words and the songs they describe can suggest entire, baroque scenarios. It's kind of like the way Silver Age DC (and Golden Age Pulp SF) editors would commission a cover, hand it to a writer, and say, "I need a story to go with this."

The questions to ask when you try this:

  • What kind of scenario does the title suggest?
  • Does it describe an event? An adversary? An ally or a victim? Just a general mood or theme?
  • How much of the song itself can I lift to help flesh out the adventure?


So, LiveJournal HiveMind, Your Obedient Serpent has the request lines open: give me song titles that you think would make good adventures, particularly superhero adventures.

Don't feel like you have to be obvious, but don't feel like you have to be obscure, either. "Eve of Destruction" is obvious; "Winds of Change", a bit less; "I Don't Like Mondays" sounds like a Garfield punchline unless you know the song and the story behind it.

Give me titles; if you feel like it, give me the scenarios that come to mind when YOU hear them -- or just toss them down as a challenge.

My players all read this, so I'm screening replies!


*"But that trick never works!"
athelind: (defiance)
I've added the following to the top of that post, and reprinted it here because it shouldn't just get lost in everyone's already-read backlog:

I am, in fact, keenly aware of the miscarriage of justice visited upon the creator of the Ghost Rider by the courts. In short: they've bankrupted a sick old man by ordering him to pay damages to Marvel/Disney, one of the largest multinational combines in the world.

I thought long and hard about seeing the movie after hearing about this, but finally came to a compromise:

I donated several times more than the ticket price directly to Mr. Friedrich.

That's a whole hell of a lot more effective than a boycott, by my assessment.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

athelind: (hoard potato)
I am, in fact, keenly aware of the miscarriage of justice visited upon the creator of the Ghost Rider by the courts. In short: they've bankrupted a sick old man by ordering him to pay damages to Marvel/Disney, one of the largest multinational combines in the world.

I thought long and hard about seeing the movie after hearing about this, but finally came to a compromise:

I donated several times more than the ticket price directly to Mr. Friedrich.

That's a whole hell of a lot more effective than a boycott, by my assessment.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Well ... I'm very glad I watched Ghost Rider on FX last night before seeing Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance [SoV] today. It makes for good compare-and-contrast.

I liked SoV, but stylistically, it's a very different movie, and seeing the first one the night before really underscored that. It's filmed and set in Eastern Europe, and ... well, you know how SF/horror/Action films from Eastern Europe are frequently a little ... off-kilter?

It's like that.

The directors also gave us Crank, with Jason Statham, so if you cross that frenetic energy with Eastern European surrealism and just a touch of the framed, compositional, comic-panel style of the first movie, that should give you some idea of the style

It kinda works.

Nicholas Cage was also a lot more ... NICHOLAS CAGE in this one. As in, the directors showed him the Nick Cage Losing His Shit video on YouTube, and said, "THIS. We want to see THIS!" The Johnny Blaze of Ghost Rider was far more sedate and underplayed than this Johnny.

That's right. You heard me.

The set-up opens the movie, so it won't be much of a spoiler: Johnny's bravado at the end of the first movie hasn't worn well after five years of playing host to the Rider. He's pretty close to the edge through the whole movie, and you know how much Cage loves stepping over that edge.

The effects and camera work are excellent. The Rider looks far more dangerous than he did in the first movie, and far more like a burning, smoldering ghost than clean white bones wreathed in cozy fireplace flames.

The plot's a bit pro forma, but sometimes, all a movie needs is a thread to hang the eye candy together and an enthusiastic performance or two.

Summary:
If you liked Ghost Rider, you may or may not like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. if you liked Ghost Rider, and also liked movies like the Resident Evil series and Priest, you're more likely to like this.

This is probably a Wait For DVD movie for most of Your Obedient Serpent's audience, unless you genuinely enjoy Nicholas Cage having the time of his life playing his favorite character and living up to all his stereotypes.


athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)

The "World of Cardboard" Speech:


"That man won't quit as long as he can still draw a breath. None of my teammates will. Me? I've got a different problem. I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can't you, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am."



For those interested, I've expanded and annotated The Top Five Superman Stories list.


athelind: (hoard potato)
In the comments to my last entry, I opined that Superman vs. Muhammad Ali was "one of the top five Superman stories ever".

[livejournal.com profile] hitchkitty then decided to put me on the spot for specifics.

My current list, in chronological order:



I reserve the right to revise the list as my whims might demand.

Feel free to discuss this list and/or your own lists in the comments.

Edited to provide links to Amazon links for those stories in print, and online versions of those that aren't. Some additional notes:
  • Jerry and Joe wrote "K-Metal" in 1940, but the Powers That Be at DC shot it down in favor of indefinitely maintaining the status quo. It was never published, but over the years, the script and various pages of mostly-finished artwork made it to the collector's market. The link leads to a project to reconstruct the story, and if I'm interpreting recent court decisions correctly, this material would definitely fall under the auspices of the Siegel and Shuster heirs, rather than DC-AOL-Time-Warner-Mega-Huge-Conglomco.
  • Neal Adams has repeatedly referenced Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as his favorite comic book work. It really is Adams at his best; he goes all-out on the art, and it is epic.
  • Maggin's novel has been out of print for years, and DC shows no inclination to remedy that. The link leads to the entirety of the novel, online; Maggin himself has given his blessing to the web site, and has in fact contributed additional stories (an unusual instance of a former professional writing fanfic about the character he used to be paid to write).
  • The link for the Alan Moore story goes to the recent trade compilation of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? -- which includes "For The Man Who Has Everything" and another Superman story by Moore. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow almost made this list, but as excellent as it is, I don't think it holds up as well as a stand-alone story.
  • "For The Man Who Has Everything" was also adapted as an episode of Justice League Unlimited. All-Star Superman was recently adapted as one of the DC Universe direct-to-video animated movies. It's quite good, but has a slightly different tone than the graphic novel.




Comments to the effect that Superman is "too powerful" to write interesting stories about will simply be deleted. Don't be a troll.



athelind: (clobberin' time)
One of the comic-related blogs that I peruse regularly is also art-related: Superhero of the Month. They have a pretty straightforward shtick: each month, they pick a superhero, and invite the art community to reinterpret that character with new costume designs and, occasionally, revamped backgrounds. The contest is usually sponsored by some comic book shop, and the prizes tend to be graphic novels featuring the character in question.

It's a concept that's produced some really impressive and thoughtful looks at iconic characters, and it's one that depends heavily on fair use, remix culture, and the principles of the transformative works movement.

So what in the world possessed them to shill for a copyright-maximalist marketeer and his hollow, vapid t-shirt logo "superhero"?

Here's the guy who's the subject of the December 2011 contest: NOTES (or possibly N.O.T.E.S.), flagshill for the innovatively-named Superhero EnterprisesTM.

"NOTES" is our most powerful science fiction superhero and a highly-skilled leader in music technology, whose mission is to enhance and transform the experience of making and editing electronic music.

"N.O.T.E.S." distinctively offers solution(s) to the global fight against illicit downloading and counterfeiting, as the consequences of digital piracy online and in the streets....have continued to threaten the U.S. economy, jeopardize public safety, and undermine the livelihood of our domestic entertainment industries.

Comic book superheroes are supposed to provide role models that are potentially used by children in developing self images. N.O.T.E.S. symbolizes these qualities of high moral character, courage, generosity, and honor of a noble spirit.


That's right, kids: he fights those eeeeeeeevil downloaders! He's a valiant defender of the profit margin and traditional distribution models!

The blog also offers a link to the eventless "origin story" for NOTES, in which Our Hero defeats a couple of shoplifters with ... um ... look, all snarkiness aside, but it really reads like his music is so crappy that they go into convulsions. There may be more pages that haven't been posted yet; it certainly reads that way, and the "origin" offers no explanation as to how he got these powers of amazing musical dysentery.

I've perused the rest of the site, and it just gets worse. The fake street 'tide, the obvious memetic targeting toward the metaculturally naive—he's like Joe Camel for anti-downloading. There's nothing about actual story here; he's Pure Product, No By-Product. Sure, Marvel-Disney and DC-Warner exploit their properties mercilessly these days, and yes, Joe and Jerry's concept sketches included sketches of product labels adorned with their mythical muscleman, but NOTES is designed to be merchandised first and foremost. They come right out and say it: he was the logo for their music production company first, then they decided to spin him off into a "superhero". He got t-shirts and sneakers (and an art contest!) before his first comic was ever released. They describe him themselves as "the trendiest superhero in the universe."

Higher praise no mutant could ask.

And what fabulous prizes await the artists who can best capture this Champion of Commercialism?

1st Place: Opportunity to write/illustrate a two-page short story featuring NOTES to be featured on Superhero Enterprises' Tumblr and DeviantArt pages, and a NOTES T-shirt.


Semantic Analysis: Draw us free art to make our IP look cool and popular, and we'll let you do more free art to promote our brand!

Your Obedient Serpent was sore tempted to post a comment along these lines on the SotM blog announcement, but honestly, that's flat-out trolling—especially since the comment list on every SotM entry is headed with a "don't be rude" disclaimer.

I should note, however, that the contest parameters themselves state: "What we'll be looking for is an illustration that best exemplifies what you believe NOTES stands for."

Oh my. Do be careful what you wish for.

My medium of choice, alas, is prose, and thus not appropriate for the contest.

I think it would be a fine thing, however, if the more artistically-inclined provided the blog with entries that showed exactly what they believe NOTES stands for.

As Uncle Howard used to say ... Do Not Call Up What You Cannot Put Down.


athelind: (RPG: Setting the Stage)
After months of delay, I'm finally about to fire up my DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds 3 campaign, a.k.a. DC Legacies: Gateway Bay.

Unfortunately, due to the departure of [livejournal.com profile] tealfox's departure for greener (or at least more humid) pastures, and [livejournal.com profile] gatewalker's transportation issues, our group is down to three players: [livejournal.com profile] kohai_tiger, [livejournal.com profile] kymri, and [livejournal.com profile] rikoshi.

By the traditional criteria of both RPG parties and superhero teams, the number three is a little shy of Fantastic.

So ... it's time to beat the bushes lookin' for qualified nerds.

To summarize the setting:

In 1938, Superman started his public career as a costumed adventurer.

Within two years, costumed adventurers weilding amazing powers, super-science, ancient magics and just plain mettle were crawling out of the woodwork.

Unlike most comic book settings, these adventurers ... the "Mystery Men", the "Super-Heroes" ... age and grow. They have families. They train new generations to Fight the Good Fight. They pass on their mantles and retire.

And they make a difference.

Lost civilizations stay found. Amazing scientific discoveries are written up in journals; fantastic inventions are patented. First contact is made, and interplanetary policy becomes as important to politics as foreign policy.

Cities are destroyed, and some of them remain in ruins.

It is now 2011, and the world has seen seven decades of change.

The game has three core themes: Legacy, Consequences, and Building a New World. This will be far, far more than just "crimefighting". This will be about making a difference.


I can't emphasize this enough: this is not the DCU you know. This is not Earth-1, Earth-2, Post-Crisis Earth, New Earth, the DCAU, or (most esepcially not) the New 52. This is an Alternate DC Universe. Very, very alternate. Don't think in terms of the characters you see in comics today; think about when they were introduced, and how their lives would have gone if they'd aged naturally and lived full lives. Think of their children, their grandchildren, the heroes they mentored. Think of the logical consequences of their inventions and discoveries.

And then, if you live in the South Bay (or reasonable driving distance), and want to join in, let me know.


athelind: (RPG: Setting the Stage)
Another song popped into my head as I was perusing responses to the last post.

It's "defiant and heroic", but in a very different sense than the rest of my examples.

... and definitely not "Wrong Publisher".






Superman never made any money ... )

And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

athelind: (grognard)
I'm kicking around a playlist for the DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds game I'm going to be running Real Soon Now, and I'm looking for for songs with heroic, defiant themes.

This is what I've got so far:
  • Pat Benatar - Invincible
  • Muse - Victorious
  • Bonnie Tyler - Holding Out for a Hero
  • Queen - We Are The Champions
  • Remy Zero - Save Me (Smallville Theme)
  • Five for Fighting - Superman
  • Rush - New World Man



Maybes:
  • Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
  • Blue Oyster Cult - Veteran of the Psychic Wars



Rejected suggestions:
  • Ozzy Ozbourne - Iron Man (Sorry, wrong publisher!)
  • The Beatles - The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  • They Might Be Giants - Particle Man
  • Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick


Does anyone have any other suggestions?

This is just ONE playlist, mind. Another (which will get more use) will be purely instrumental, and there may be adventure-specific lists.


athelind: (Beware My Power)
You know, folks, everything I said the other day the roots of my excitement for this movie also means that you don't have to apologize to me if you aren't excited, if you think it's going to be lousy, or if you don't want to tag along when I hit the theater tonight.

It's okay, really. I am an unapologetic Green Lantern fan, and believe me, over the years, there are a lot of things us GL fans should probably apologize for.

You certainly don't have to explain, above and beyond "I'm just not that into GL"; I have a long-standing principle of Not Listening To Negative Reviews before I go see a movie that I really want to see, because when I do, I keep looking for all the negative things the reviewers pointed out rather than just enjoying or critiquing the movie based on my own, unvarnished reactions.

For the record, I don't think that Green Lantern is going to come anywhere near the high-water mark of superhero movies (which is, IMNSHO, somewhere between Iron Man and The Dark Knight).

If it's just a bad movie, I'm fine with that. I'm an aficionado of bad movies.

I'm pretty sure of two things:

  • This is not going to be as bad as the Worst Superhero Movie I've Ever Seen.
  • This is not going to even come close to being the worst Green Lantern Story I've Ever Seen.


So, all in all, I'm probably going to be a pretty happy nerdboy this e'en.

In part because I've set my sights low. La la laaaaa.


athelind: (facepalm)
athelind: (Warning: Memetic Hazard)


From the Glossary of A Miracle of Science:

Science Related Memetic Disorder:
Science Related Memetic Disorder (SRMD) is a memetic disease which susceptible persons can both catch and transmit. SRMD appears to be a naturally-occurring memetic disorder which spreads via fringe science books and half-baked online rantings. A susceptible person - usually an engineer or scientist whose theories have been snubbed by his professional peers - who reads one of these rants can catch SRMD. Once a person has been infected with the SRMD meme complex, he or she will begin to constuct a scientific theory and will go to any length to prove it and to show everyone who disregarded his work that his theory is correct. Persons infected with SRMD, who are colloquially called "mad scientists," will often engage in illegal or hazardous actions to further their goals.

Signs that your loved one has an SRMD infection are: manic laughter, a desire to build a secret lab, hoarding of radioactive materials, sleep deprivation, building armies of oozing zombies in the bathroom, and dry mouth.



athelind: (facepalm)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

If you could either have the powers of Spider-man or the Green Lantern, which would you choose, and why?

... somebody's not really trying.

The answers I could read seem to fall into two categories: "Green Lantern, obviously", and "Spider-Man, because I don't know anything about Green Lantern."

Let's assume that "the powers" don't include the quirks of the particular secret identity: if I get Spidey's powers, I don't get Peter Parker's constant parade of personal catastrophes. If a little blue guy hands me a green ring, I don't suddenly become prone to recurrent head injuries or finding loved ones stuffed into household appliances.

It's still no contest.

On the one hand, we have The Proportional Strength of a Spider.

On the other, we have The Most Powerful Weapon Tool In the Universe.

It's a starship on your finger, complete with tractor beams and replicators.

No. Contest.

Addendum:

Yes, since the '90s, the writers keep calling the ring "the most powerful weapon in the universe", but to me, the question isn't "how many asses can I kick with these abilities?"

It's "how many lives will these abilities let me save?"


athelind: (Default)

The Line Is Drawn #30



That first one, with Steel and Hardware (who were introduced in the same year), really underscores how visually interesting and distinctive Hardware's armor is ... and Steel's, alas, isn't.

(I hate linking to forum-y sites like this one. I hope this link is still good in five years.)


(I need an icon of Icon, just to be recursive.)
athelind: (Parallel Worlds)

Requiem In Pace: Dwayne McDuffie, Comics Creator, Animation Editor, Scribe Extraordinaire.



February 20, 1962 – February 22, 2011. He died two days after his 49th birthday, and less than a week before my 47th.

Creator of Static, Icon, Hardware, and the Blood Syndicate, driving force behind Milestone Comics, scribe of too many comic books to mention, story editor on Justice League Unlimited ...


Truly, you were an Icon in your own right.




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