Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Champions Online

I have said this before, but the idea of a really good superhero role playing game for the computer is really the perfect thing for me. It's a dream I had long before I realized it. When City of Heroes first came out, it felt like my salvation was at hand. It was exciting and wonderful, and honestly, aside from someone to make babies with (which I surprisingly achieved, no seriously, I am the last person who ever thought that would happen), the only thing I really wanted in life (there may be some hyperbole here). I liked the game, I enjoyed playing it, I found some nice people to play with in game, and had a good time with it before burning out on it. The game wasn't actually perfect, but it did give me a lot of stuff that I really wanted in a game, in a way that other games just hadn't.

I have been a fan and player of Role Playing Games since middle school. I played D&D mostly, but collected and obsessed over a lot of other titles. If I could, I would have a giant wall of role playing games and books and materials. A friend of mine picked up a game called V&V (Villains and Vigilantes) it was a slim volume and had pretty straight forward rules that covered just enough mechanics to let me fill in everything else and make a perfect comic book superhero role playing experience. You have to have a GM(game master) that you trust with your leisure time, but I am a big fan of playing games with good storytelling and plot, regardless of whether everything is really random or not.

That aside, the game I owned, and was most impressed by, but never played, was the game Champions. If you are not familiar with the roleplaying game Champions, it is a level of Math beyond Calculus and Trig. It is a law degree in one book. It is awesome and allows such craxzy customization that there is no way you won't end up with a truly unique and specialized character of your own if you want it. For me, it was also unplayable. I made a lot of characters, but in my gaming group, no-one really ever wanted to spend a whole session just trying to work up a character at the expense of play. It also seemed super bulky and confusing. This is all wrong of course as it is an awesome game that my friends and I are too dumb to play... that's clearly on us.

Champions online has the feeling of customization akin to that of the pen and paper game. Not the same, but there really is a lot of space to create characters in a way that suits you, and to play them however you'd like as well. It doesn't seem perfect, but it's pretty decent. It suffers from some of the same things that City of Heroes did, which is sort of depth of play experience in a superhero setting, and a lot of powers and things seeming very similar, but the customization is strong and the character design options are pretty vast. The play is pretty good, even on my crappy computers, but not perfect. A lot of that is probably due to my hardware, so I am not ragging on them.

Missions seem to be almost interchangeable, and almost none of the story and plot and descriptions need to be read at all. I pretty much just read the mission requirements when they pop up on my screen in shorthand after I accept them. It's a lot of fun, though, and just like Champions back in the day, creating characters may be the most fun for me. I still get a kick out of being a good guy and running around saving people and fighting bad guys. I am not sure that I will decide to keep baying the steep 15 bucks a month subscription cost once it kicks in, but we'll see.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Specials

This movie wasn't based on a comic, I don't think it was even based on a desire to make any money. Ok, I'm kidding there, but it is a strange mix of spoof, homage, super hero deconstruction, and... inaction to be a movie that anyone thought would go anywhere in 2000 in my opinion, plus I have seen more than a few reviews and comments (as I was preparing to write this) that share my experience of never having heard of the movie before seeing it on Netflix. I had seen images of Jamie Kennedy in the blue makeup he wears in this movie, but I never knew what it was from.

The Specials focuses on a slow day in the life of the 6th or 7th best super-hero team. There is no fighting in the movie, no villains, and only really one display of powers for the most part, and it comes at the end, when the group is getting ready to go fight some giant ants (that we only hear about). None of these absences are an issue, because the film isn't about those things. It's about super-heroes and fame and expectations vs reality and about how people interact and regard each other, and about how 'families' are formed and interact, etc. I applaud it for being exactly what it is, and not trying to be more, or even less, in order to be more commercial.

Rob Lowe plays the most popular and charismatic of his group. He is the Weevil, a second generation hero, and a giant douchebag. Rob Lowe's super power is his douchebag ability, so this fits him perfectly. He plays it very well, when his character has sex with a teammate who is married to another teammate, and when he cheers up the 'new girl' only to sell her out and cruelly make fun of her on television. Jamie Kennedy plays the blue skinned Amok, who looks a lot like nightcrawler, and cusses like the reformed bad guy he is. Thomas Haden Church is The Strobe, the teams leader with a highly inflated sense of self, regardless of his good intentions.

I think the casting was done well for this, and everyone plays their roles. The team contains a good mix of types that borrow from comic book standards, and is shown with its strengths and weaknesses right out in the open. This is a comedy, so I am not trying to act like it is too deep, but it isn't the shallowest thing either. There are some neat concepts in it, like a hero called 8 who has 8 bodies but shares one interconnected mind, a being they call Doug, who's official name is Alien Orphan, and acts as a sort of remedial Martian Manhunter. There is a funny and tragic commentary on 'stretchy powers', and a good theme about the toy business being a primary measure of super hero stature.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Map In The Dirt - Jess Smart Smiley

I recently received my second email from Jess Smiley. The first came at the beginning of this month, and included a digital review copy of his 15 page comic: A Map In The Dirt. I read it right away. When I first saw it I wasn't sure what it was, and when I first read it I was no less confused. There were aspects of it that I thought were pretty great, but there were a lot of questions that were generated by it. I have read it again more than once and I have read some other reviews of it, and I have watched a video by the creator that I will talk about later, and I am more comfortable reviewing it now.

The comic is about a group of animals fleeing a common threat. In this regard there is a bit of simplicity and heavy handedness in the use of man as a sort of menacing soulless killer of animals. In this, Man seems to be hunting all of the animals equally. There is a bear and a fox and a bird and a snake and a deer, and the men seem to be doing a sort of Sherman's march to the sea of animal killing. That could be viewed as a major thing, but in this work it is just incidental, and almost excusable.

The style is pretty clean and simple. It is brush and ink on Bristol board and has a sort of 'wilderness' feel to it. The illustration style would be at home in an old scout manual or field guide in my opinion and it is very good, and builds up what is the real strength of this story. There is a real sense of a folk tale in this. It read to me like a sort of Native American myth. I could almost hear Joseph Campbell reciting it. The animals are all a sort of kin to each other. Some, but not all of them are portrayed as human forms wearing animal masks. This made the sense of allegory even stronger to me. The real gem of this story is the theme of the story teller, in the form of the deer that narrates it. The idea is put across that the story teller may die, but the stories are in its body and its body returns to the earth and water and air, and therefore so do the stories.

The ultimate take away from this after my second reading of it is that I really enjoyed it. There are aspects of brilliance in here. It is different enough, and interesting enough, while at the same time feeling timeless and familiar, that I think it works and merits a read.

The other thing of interest to me, and something I think that is worth pointing out, is the use of Kickstarter dot com as a way of raising money to get the story published as a book. The site is an interesting way to go, and allows the creator to set up a place that people can pledge various amounts of money toward the project as sponsors. There is a video there that is pretty funny, and neat. It is like a PBS pledge drive, but it is informative about the project as well as some of the benefits of KickStarter as a way of getting your work out there.

Jess seems to be really putting some effort into getting his project out there, and into getting support and funding for it. DIgital reading copies are definitely a way to go.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Talkin Bout Talkin Bout

Lately I have been extremely motivated to type something here, but sadly not motivated to say anything. Contrary to what this very blog indicates, Axe Cop is not the last comics related thing I have thought about.

Since my last post here I have watched two comics based movie trailers about a dozen times each. The Hit Girl specific trailer for Kick-Ass and the Scott Pilgrim trailer are both amazing looking. I was unsure about Scott Pilgrim to some degree prior to seeing this. I love the series like crazy, but wasn't sure how it would translate. I also love Edgar Wright's work, and am a big fan of Michael Cera. Scott Pilgrim plus those guys should be a guaranteed hit for me, but I hate to get my hopes up too high. Everything that was shown in the trailer looks perfect. Look, feel, characters, settings. It is a little tough when you go from a comic with the style of SP to a movie with real people in it, but I think a good job was done making the characters feel like you expect them too.

The Hit Girl Kick-Ass trailer is fast and awesome and features the Banana Splits theme. Unlike with Scott Pilgrim, you know exactly what everyone is supposed to look like and it is recreated perfectly. I liked Kick-Ass. I especially liked how it ended. If the movie is able to stay true to the comic, I think it will be pretty good. I don't think it counts as literature, or that the movie will be fine cinema, but I think I will like it.

The semi abusive comic store I visit when I am at my parents house does a few things to keep me coming back. One thing is that they stock Chew and Cowboy Ninja Viking, and titles like that to a greater degree than my almost exclusively mainstream only LCS. The other is that their front counter is usually overflowing with Marvel Essentials for 5 bucks each, and sometimes a few graphic novels for the same price. I have picked up a handful of titles that I think will work just fine in that format, and look forward to reading them soon. I am most excited about the Power Man v2 and the Power Man and Iron Fist v1 that I picked up, as well as Marvel Monsters v1. When I was a kid, our library had a big bin of comics that were in various degrees of being shredded, but Power Man and Iron Fist, as well as Dracula, Batman and Daredevel were well represented there. I have a deep seated love for those characters as a result I think.

I have a lot of individual issues that I will work on reading and commenting on soon, but I have also done fairly well recently with my local used book store. I have picked up a number of interesting volumes in the past few weeks, including a SCAD anthology, a book by Rick Geary, and a collection of Fairy Tales. I used inter-Branch loan at my local Library to get a copy of Asterios Polyp, and have just started on that as well.

Recently I made a comment on a post by a big named blogger that writes a sort of biting comedy/stinging satire/amazing comics criticism blog who referred to Atomic Robo as being basically just a ripoff of Mignola. If you have read Robo and BPRD or Hellboy, you will know that Robo only sounds somewhat similar in theory when you are giving a brief synopsis, but in practice is just not even similar. I commented as such and had another commenter look at this site and post that of course I like Robo if I love Tiny Titans... I imagine that was meant as some sort of swipe at me, but my real response is.. of course! They are both awesome! The latest Tiny Titans is no exception to the awesomeness. It isn't mindless pap for small children. It is a very well written and extremely well drawn cute and nice take on a lot of characters that don't get to be cute and nice very often. It is a sincere comic for kids, but there is also satire and sly jokes that be enjoyed by older folks as well. There is nothing wrong with cute and fun and nice.