Monday, February 27, 2012

Song of the week

Mentioning Elphaba in the White Queen post reminded me of how much I love the music of Wicked.  So for today's edition of SOTW I give you two for one, my favorite pair of songs from Wicked: Defying Gravity, which is a song about Elphaba's decision to defy convention and strike out on her own, and No Good Deed, which is where Elphaba has discovered the consequences of her actions and how she seems to continue to make things worse.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Study In Evil, Part VI

This will be the last Study In Evil article for a while.  There are two other characters I want to tackle but before I do I want to do some more research on them if possible.  So it may be some weeks before you see another SII.  In the mean time the number of posts may drop off a bit, depending on what other ideas come to mind.

In regards to today's subject, I apologize in advance if I get any facts wrong.  I was well versed in this character some years ago when she was a straight up villain, and I have read her in Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, and I get a glimpse or two of her on Scans Daily.  So some details may be incorrect.  Who am I speaking of?  Who is the subject of today’s Study In Evil?

Ladies and gentlemen, I speak of Emma Frost, The White Queen.

Emma Frost is a New England Blue Blood, a mutant telepath who was a member of the villainous Hellfire Club.  She first when she attempted to kidnap Kitty Pryde and captured Wolverine, Storm and Colossus in the process.  Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Dazzler (Not an X-Man at the time) and Pryde managed to rescue their captured comrades and Phoenix apparently killed Frost in telepathic combat.1  Frost was not seen again for some twenty issues or so when Kitty was transferred to her school, the Massachusetts Academy.  Frost used a device to switch her mind with Storm’s in order to infiltrate the X-Men and to defeat them from within.  Using Sentinel robots and blindsiding the X-Men, Frost as Storm defeated the team pretty much single handedly.  The Hellfire Club showed up to gloat but they had not counted on Nightcrawler’s girlfriend of being a magic user of some small skill.  She used her power to trick the Club into thinking they had slain Wolverine during a torture session, allowing him an opportunity to blindside their captors.

Meanwhile, Storm escaped capture and kidnapped Kitty, who thought she was still Emma Frost.  Kitty got the better of her during a car accident and tied her up.  Storm managed to convince Kitty who she was by escaping her bonds, bonds Kitty had been taught by Storm to tie.  Still skeptical, Kitty decided to go along with the woman, if anything to see if she was telling the truth.

In the end the X-Men defeated the Hellfire Club again and Frost in Storm’s body almost destroyed upper New York state with powers beyond her understanding.  Storm managed to help calm Frost down and to switch back their bodies.  Frost, defeated, humiliated, agreed to reject Kitty’s enrollment in her school and send her back to Xavier’s.2

Emma Frost next appeared in The New Mutants as the head of her own team of mutant children The Hellions.  Then later she appeared in the Firestar limited series (a character who originally appeared in a cartoon series with Iceman and Spider-Man.).  There it chronicled the story of how Frost attempted to suborn and corrupt Firestar, but she was unsuccessful and the young heroine ultimately joined the New Warriors.

I am going to gloss over a great deal of history here because I do not know it, but the synopsis is Frost’s mutant team, The Hellions, were all killed (save for Thunderbird, who joined Cable’s X-Force and later the X-Men) and Frost wound up having an epiphany of sorts.  She wound up ultimately a teacher at Xavier’s with Banshee, acting as an instructor for Generation X, the nineties’ answer to the New Mutants.  After that team broke up she found herself on Genosha (And don't get me started on the sheer stupidity of Genosha, probably Chris Claremont's dumbest creative decision) during Magneto’s reign and was there when Cassandra Nova flattened the place and killed just about every mutant present.  Frost survived when her secondary mutation, the ability to form a diamond hard surface over her body, kicked in, saving her life.  She joined the X-Men and had an affair with Scott Summers (Cyclops) while he was with Jean Grey.  Today Frost, still in a relationship with Cyclops, is part of his X-Men team, which consists largely of former super villains.

When Frost appeared in the early years she was a strong character: she was a leader of minions, a member of the Hellfire Club, headmistress of her own school and a teacher of mutant children.  In a way she was the anti-Xavier.  She was also nicer to look at, too.  Then her students died and that provided the catalyst for her to ultimately become a good guy.  It was not a sudden transformation and it was largely handled well, especially as we saw she had not entirely changed her ways.  She seduced Cyclops, for example. Okay, granted, seducing Scott Summers was not hard: this is the man who left his wife-who just happened to look like his dead girlfriend-to return to his ex-girlfriend who had just returned from the dead.

Comics, people.

Now this is the part of Frost’s character arc that upsets me, and it has to do with-you guessed it!-retcons.  In New X-Men Grant Morrison wrote Frost claimed the time she faced off against the X-Men had been a period when she was a boozer and a drug user:

So that period when she is a bad ass, capturing half the X-Men and taking on Phoenix?  That point where she is interrogating Storm?

She is a drunk.  The time she switches bodies with Storm and defeats the X-Men almost entirely on her own?


Okay, granted, maybe she is lying to Scott.  Maybe she is shining him on so she does not appear to be so bad.  Only...
Image courtesy of Scans Daily
Worst, according to recent issues of X-Men she claims Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club’s Black King, manipulated her.  So not only was she an alcoholic drug user, she was being controlled by a big, strong, dominating man.  So modern writers decided to take this powerful female villain and ruin all those awesome moments from her past, all those times she had locked horns with the X-Men and New Mutants and claim she was little more than a drunken pawn at the mercy of a man.  Just as bad, her past was further touched upon when it was revealed she started off as a dancer at the Hellfire Club.  So Emma started off as a stripper before becoming head of her family company and headmistress of an acclaimed blue blood boarding school.  A stripper became head of blue blood boarding school.  Was this cheesy exploitation really necessary?

Apart from the normally accepted cheesy exploitation.

Perhaps writers felt a character who joined the X-Men could not be Evil.  This is a crock.  Magneto had tried killing the X-Men a couple times and he had not only been responsible for sinking a Soviet nuclear submarine and killing it’s crew, he also committed an act of mass murder by causing  volcano to erupt in a Russian city!  And this is a guy who ultimately replaced Xavier in running his school.  Rogue had tried killing X-Men in the past and joined the team (I will not include Sabertooth as he never reformed).  Neither of these characters had their pasts white-washed to make them better heroes.  So why Emma?

Perhaps the writers and editors felt Emma’s motivations as a super villain were not sufficient to warrant her transformation to the side of good?  If you look at Rogue she was written a sympathetic character; she was from a broken home, adopted by Mystique, unable to control her powers.  Any bad acts could be ascribed to poor parenting and a lack of choices (And she ultimately made the right choice, coming to Xavier’s when it was obvious Mystique was not going to solve her problems.).  Magneto is a tragic figure whose motives were at least noble.  But Emma?  Thirst for power, plain and simple.  There is nothing noble or excusable about her actions…until some writer or editor decided to make her some tragic figure, a person deserving sympathy.

But Tom, you may say.  What is wrong with making what appears to be a two dimensional villain and giving her some depth?   Nothing.  Nothing at all.  But it is all in the execution.  Take for example Elphaba from the musical Wicked:

Going strictly by the movie The Wizard of Oz (because I have not read Baum's books) the Wicked Witch is a pretty simple character; there is nothing to her beyond a simple revenge story (Granted, actress Margaret Hamilton did a stellar job.).   But the musical (I will not touch upon the book as I only got half way through it; I stopped at the part with the sex show where someone got strapped to a tiger.) Elphaba is given an interesting back story as well as motivation beyond simple revenge.  Above all else, Elphaba was not re-written as being weak.  This does not mean I think one witch is superior to the other.  I am simply saying when the writers of the musical gave The Wicked Witch an origin they did a wonderful job.

I liked Emma as a scheming manipulative bitch who came to see the light in the wake of terrible tragedy.  I liked the fact that in many ways Emma had not changed.  But to take all those villainous accomplishments and water them down by claiming she had been a manipulated drunk cheapens her.  Frost was an awesome villain!  At least, she was before some hack got to her.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, I find unacceptable.

So, what have we learned?

Sometimes a little is enough.  By that I am talking about a villain's back story.  Remember this guy?

Now remember this guy?

Or worse, this guy?

I'll bet most of you really did not need to see Darth Vader's origin, did you?  Darth Vader was much cooler when his past was mentioned but not given an in-depth study.  Darth Vader is now much less awesome now that I saw Jake Lloyd and Haden Christensen wreck him under George Lucas' direction.

Damn, I knew all that venom I managed to avoid delving into last week was going to come out somewhere.

Back to Emma.  Frost's past was not needed.  Knowing she was an upper class New Englander who simply knew she was better than everyone else due to breeding and genetics was enough.

Do not destroy awesome characters through retcons!  Seriously, keep them strong.  If they do awesome things do not re-write history to undo them or cast them in an unflattering light.  If they do something magnificently villainous do not claim later on they were drunk at the time or under the influence of someone else or that was some evil doppelganger or robot (Something that happens all too often in comics, sadly.).  That just cheapens them.  The only exception I can think of, maybe, is when they apparently die and then you can claim they are a clone or robot.  But even this could be dangerously annoying for players to deal with if it is done too often.  Once I suppose might be all right, but a recurring character that never dies?  Few things will annoy players more.
Do not make retcons that do not hold up under scrutiny.  I am not against retcons if they are done well.  For example, the revelation that Magneto was Jewish and a concentration camp survivor were outstanding additions to his character and did not contradict anything we already knew about him.  But Frost’s alcoholism does not hold up for me.  For example, when Storm is in Frost’s body wouldn’t she have noticed her alcohol addiction?  Wouldn’t she had felt need for a drink over the twenty four hours or so she was in her body?  And could Frost as a telepath effectively use her powers if she keeps impairing her higher brain functions with booze?  It makes no sense!

There is nothing wrong with simple motivations.  Sure, your villains can be motivated by religious fanaticism or a desire to make the universe a better place regardless of how many little people get crushed.  But there is nothing wrong with straightforward greed and lust for power.  Just because the motivations are simple it does not necessarily follow the characters have to be two dimensional.  Remember The Wicked Witch?  She was just bad, there did not need to be anything else to make the movie great.

Next time you make a bad guy and revisit them and you feel you want to tweak them, "improve them", take a moment and reconsider.  Is he/she fine the way she is?  Do they really need that detailed back story or a retconned alteration of their goals and motivations?  Or are they fine just the way they are?

1 X-Men 129-131
2 X-Men 151-152

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Song of the week

The Smithereens.  I don't have much to say about the song or the band.  I was never heavily into them but I love the hell out of this tune.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Study In Evil, Part V

This article has gone through numerous re-writes over the past few weeks.  Without an editor it is up to me to try and edit myself, to try and produce a tight, focused article.  And where Star Wars is concerned my nerd rage would often get in the way and I would roll off into tangents about what a bloated joke George Lucas has become or the opportunities he missed or how he destroyed his own franchise.  But there are plenty of places to find that sort of thing on the internet.  In these articles I am supposed to be focusing on the different sorts of bad guys and how you can use them as examples for your campaign.

Man, was it tough to finish this article.

For today I will focus on George's Star Wars, episodes IV-VI.  The second trilogy is trash and a waste of time and nothing good came of them (And if you say Natalie Portman go out and Netflix Closer).  Also, I will focus only on the movies and not touch upon comic books or novels as a majority of people will be more familiar with the films rather than other media.  That also means any information posted at sites like Star Wars dot com or Wookipedia do not count, so if anyone wonders why my interpretations do not line up with what is found there or anywhere else, that is why.  I could have written separate articles about all three of the villains I have in mind, but unlike Khan, T’Pring and Dukat, who were villains that had nothing to do with one another (outside of some really bizarre Star Trek slash fic), Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and The Emperor are all directly linked, part of the same organization: The Empire.

Some of you might ask “If you are going to cover an organization like The Empire then why not Star Trek’s Dominion?  Because frankly I find The Dominion is not that interesting.  Gul Dukat’s heel turn in joining The Dominion made no sense, I found Weyoun to be a simple sycophant (albeit a well portrayed one: Jeffrey Combs is an outstanding actor.) and The Dominion’s motives suspect (Wouldn’t it have made more sense for The Dominion to destroy the wormhole rather than stage an invasion through it?  The Wormhole would always remain a little known, unreliable anomaly as well as a dangerous choke point and I fail to see how any Founder would risk getting cut off from The Collective if it collapsed.).  The Founder were all right as bad guys, I suppose, but overall I never really found the Dominion War story arc to be all that engaging, especially when you compare the awesome battle seen in Star Trek II where majestic ships trade blows, and then in DS9 battleships like the Akira get wiped from space with seeming ease.  Star Wars IV-VI handled space battles much better IMO and it just felt like DS9’s producers were trying desperately to copy what Star Wars was doing.  The problem is capital ships are not fighter craft.  And yes, there were fantastic episodes like In The Pale Moonlight, I will not deny DS9 had some compelling storytelling.  I just felt overall the war storyline could have been handled better.

So, The Empire.  And let us start of with...Grand Moff Tarkin.
With a face like that is is hard to believe he once played Doctor Who.
Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is a different sort of villain from the ones we discussed before in that his villainy is of a more detached, bureaucratic sort.  We do not know much about his ideology (since he only appeared in one movie and more of the focus was on Darth Vader than him) but to me Evil to him seems more like a vocation than a cause.  In another life he could have found himself working for the IRS or Department of Motor Vehicles.  When he blows up your planet to make a point or has you tortured for information it is nothing personal, it is like my friend Dave Zyn said “for the greater evil”.  Oh, I am sorry about the necessity in blowing up your planet.  If you did not want your home made an example of then you should have taken a greater interest in local politics and seen what your princess was up to.  And next time, do not send a nineteen year old to represent you in the Senate.  Tarkin is the very definition of cold, calculating villainy and this is what makes him so much fun to watch.  If Tarkin has any flaw it is his arrogance. “Leave now?  In our moment of triumph?”  Yeah, Moff, way to not listen to your tactical expert.  I half hoped that guy decided to say “Screw this,” and he booked for the nearest escape pod, just in case.

Cushing gave Tarkin a chilling face to the Empire by his lack of passion, by his businesslike approach to dealing out death and destruction on a horrific scale.  Little things frustrate him, like the princess not responding to torture or coercion in the proper manner and yet instead of ranting he has the same affectations of a man standing on a train platform, upset that the 3:15 is ten minutes late.  It would have been easy to put in an over-the-top, mustache twirling villain in the role but Cushing’s take on Tarkin is all the more effective due to his lack of passion. By the point The Empire has become a well oiled machine and the blood of billions the grease that keeps it running smoothly.  

Now we come to...
Darth Vader, one of the most iconic villains in all of literature. Vader is an awesome villain on numerous levels.  First, let’s start with presentation.  Darth Vader is tall and imposing, a menacing figure in black, his face hidden by a helmet and mask to give him a cold, mechanical air.  He possesses a chilling voice, a combination of James Earl Jones’ majesty filtered through a respirator to further enhance Vader’s inhuman countenance.  He is quite different from Tarkin in every way.  Not only is their appearance dramatically different, but Vader is a True Believer, a zealot who follows an obscure religion (this is one of the many reasons I am not discussing the second trilogy, as it is strongly implied in Episode IV the ways of The Force is a “tired old religion” and Vader has “sorcerer’s ways”, all of which are pretty much invalidated by the number of Jedi in those films) and bows before what appears to be a religious leader (he refers to The Emperor as “My Master”).  Vader does what he does out of a firm conviction what he does is right, be it a desire to maintain order in what he perceives is a chaotic universe.  Snapping necks, choking out incompetent subordinates or hacking his son to pieces, it all comes down as acceptable sacrifices to The Cause.  And what about his entrance?  Episode IV began right on every note; the opening scroll to provide exposition, the beleaguered blockade runner fleeing from the immense Star Destroyer.  The desperate battle in the corridors of the rebel vessel, the white smoke, and through it Vader strides, pauses with hands on hips to survey his works, and he finds them good.  Then we have Vader choking out the captain with one hand and snapping his neck, towering over a captive Princess Leia.  In every instance Lucas effectively paints Vader as a physically menacing villain who has vast resources at his beck and call.  It is through these visuals, through the framing of Vader that The Empire is painted as a nigh unstoppable force and the rebellion seems doomed despite the victory mentioned in the scroll.

And then Vader grows stronger in the second film!  In the first he is obviously powerful, with a host of powers and physical abilities.  He can choke a man from a distance, possesses prenatural senses and he wields a wicked and unique weapon (In the three films only three light sabers are ever seen).  Now in The Empire Strikes Back he is deflecting blaster bolts, telekinetically tossing around hundreds of pounds of metal and choking men out from hundreds of yards away just by seeing them on his view screen!  The ante is upped, which is quite necessary when Yoda reveals to Luke a sample of the awesome power The Force can provide when he lifts the X-Wing from the swamp.   If the good guys have access to such power then Vader must as well.  Him…and The Emperor…

If that was all there was to Darth Vader that would have made him interesting enough, but…there is more to him that places him above a mere fanatic.  He has ambitions, thoughts of empire himself.  He envisions a universe ruled by himself, with his son at his side.  This gives him a welcome depth.  But also as we see in Episode VI Vader is in a way utterly helpless, a true slave to The Emperor’s dark power.  Vader’s entreaty to Luke in Empire seems to me a desperate attempt to take the initiative while away from The Emperor and his immediate influence.  Hearing Vader’s dialogue in Episode VI when Vader speaks to Luke, explaining he has no idea of the power of The Dark Side it strongly implies that Vader could only break free with his son at his side, thousands of light years away from The Emperor’s dark influence.  You can interpret Vader’s entreaty to Luke in two different ways; ambitious slave seeking to supplant his Master in order to create his own empire, or the pleas of a man desperate to escape his captivity, seeing in his son his salvation.  When Luke escaped Vader is so depressed he even forgets to choke some poor bastard to death.

Something else to consider: Vader might seem like a complete psychotic in the way he chokes out minions and prisoners almost at random, but after watching the three films repeatedly I detected something else about him.  Vader appreciates courage and competence.  Think about it: in the first film remember that black clad subordinate who tells Vader Leia would die before she told him anything?  Vader's only response is "Leave that to me".  That guy is pretty darn uppity.  Then in Episode V who gets promoted when Admiral Ozzel screws the pooch and has to be choked out?  Piett, the guy who stood up to Admiral Ozzel earlier and turned out to be right.
Piett's first command?  "Get that trash off my deck!"
And later in the movie who is talking smack to Vader?  This guy:
Vader respects a man with backbone.  Just don't discuss religion and you should be all right.  One wonders if Lando Calrissian had stood up to Darth a bit more maybe Vader would not have kept changing the deal.  At some point it seems like Vader is just messing with Lando just because it is fun.

As a GM a Vader-like character can be a challenge to role play.  One must be careful to understand everything that motivates him and to not have him make contradictory statements or actions, or if actions do seem contradictory there must be a good explanation (i.e. the character was lying because he knew the room was bugged, or circumstances have changed dramatically.).  This is true of any recurring villain, but for a bad guy with a deep back story and complicated motives this can be especially tricky.  Still, making a Darth Vader and running him successfully can be a rewarding experience. 

Now we come to The Emperor-
-who is not at all complicated.  The Emperor is just bad, there is nothing redeeming about him at all and really he is not all that interesting.  The Emperor is more a force of nature than a character, he is not fleshed out very well and his motives seem to be evil for evil’s sake.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not have a problem with villains who are just plain bad.  I just think that they are the least interesting sort of villains and if they do not have a decent motivation a writer/GM needs to work extra hard to compensate by making them entertaining in other ways.  Regardless of his lack of depth, I will concede The Emperor is highly entertaining to watch.

One thing I do agree with Lucas on is how well he handled The Emperor’s introduction to the series.  In Episode IV he is mentioned in passing.  In Episode V he is first seen when Darth Vader, the principle villain of the movie, kneels before his image(!).  Finally he makes his debut in Episode VI and we get a good idea of just what a devious scheming bastard he is, one who is also able to back up his dark will with power.   Unlimited Power.  This progression is handled very well as we are given a great build up to his debut.  This approach would be good for a long running campaign.  Create a principle villain who is not aware of the PCs’ existence as they are beneath his notice.  Have the PCs fight the principle villain’s minions until such point that they have earned his attention.  And that is when the PCs realize they have hit the major leagues, when the principle villain now takes a personal hand in their destruction.

Organizations are made up of people.  And because they are that means each and every one of them is going to have their own motivations for what they do.  Be it fanaticism, a lust for power, they view it as just a job or they feel trapped by circumstances beyond their control, each one has reasons for being there in the heroes’ way.  While it is all well and good to have your generic faceless minions remain largely vague in their motivations those villains who have names and who control those minions should have more going for them.  What we saw with Star Wars, episodes IV-VI was a large evil empire, but one comprised of a collection of men with their own motivations and goals.  Seeing these three types of villain can show how an evil empire or organization can have a wide variety of antagonists working and running it, even if the “theme” of the organization is well set.  When running a campaign one should keep in mind that diversity will not only be more realistic, but more fun for the players as they encounter different sorts of villainy to destroy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Song of the week

Hollywood Undead, Levitate.  In case some people are starting to think I don't like modern music. :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stormwatch and The Justice League

So about six months or so DC Comics did a universe wide reboot, causing all their comics to be canceled and starting thing over at issue one.  Many comics, like Secret Six, disappeared altogether, other comics were completely new, like Batwing.  And some comics that had been canceled before the relaunch returned, among them Stormwatch.

Stormwatch began as an Image Comics title from the nineties, a United Nations super hero team operating from a space station.  Operatives were teleported to the Earth's surface and were directed by a supervisor called Weatherman (the series, combined with the "Satellite Era" of the Justice League, were both inspirations for my own Vindicators game when I decided it needed a little re-tooling).  The series was not very well written early on and it was not until Warren Ellis came on board that things took a dramatic turn for the better.  Ellis wrote the series to it's conclusion and was there for the reboot, then that run ended with half the team dying in some crossover with Alien I did not bother to buy (those characters later on returned in a magical reset button all too often used in comics in the pages of Stormwatch, Post Human Division, which to me was a fantastic title where minimally powered paranormals were deployed to deal with major threats by employing clever tactics and teamwork.)  Ellis used the remaining characters, most of whom were his own creations, to form a new series: The Authority.  The Authority were a team of paranormals willing to do whatever they felt was right to stop threats to the Earth regardless of how it might offend those in charge.  The series saw many ups and downs over the years with varying levels of success.

So Stormwatch is back, with Wildstorm characters being integrated into the DC Universe much like the Charlton Comic characters Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, Nightshade, and others had after The Crisis back in '86.  Back then the introduction of those characters worked wonderfully (Save for Cannon, who pretty much disappeared) and they made a smooth transition into the DC landscape.  The Wildstorm characters?  Well...

Here is my problem with the current incarnation of Stormwatch: it is The Authority.  Stormwatch was a government sanctioned team of heroes who, while they may have skirted the boundaries of the law (or outright broke it, depending on who was Weatherman at the time), at least had heroes as members who possessed a strong moral streak and a respect for authority.  The Authority consisted of self righteous bastards who thought they knew what was best for the world and were willing to do whatever they felt was right regardless of who they offended or what laws were broken.  They were not so bad during the initial Ellis era when they faced off against three global threats no one else could have possibly handled.  But starting with the Millar era the team became impossible for me to read because they became the most unlikable bunch of bastards I ever had the misfortune to spend money reading.

And this is pretty much what we are getting with DC's Stormwatch.  DC's Stormwatch consists of paranormals who operate in secret that handles threats too big for the likes of the Justice League to handle.  Think about that: DC is now publishing a series about characters who make Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern (Pick your favorite) look like scrubs.

I have no objection to The Justice League being Earth's most powerful super hero team, mightier than the Teen Titans or Suicide Squad or what have you.  Each team serves it's own niche in the super heroic landscape, having their own adventures uniquely tailored for those characters and the overall concept the super hero team serves.  And sometimes a team not the Justice League winds up saving the Earth without their help.  The Teen Titans took on Trigon, for example, a world class threat.  And I have no problem with the Justice League sometimes being written as being ill suited to handle a particular threat. For example, in the pages of Justice League Dark the JLA is confronted with a threat they are not equipped to handle because of it's magical nature.

 (Picture courtesy of Scans Daily)

And I have no problem with Earth's most powerful heroes sometimes needing help.  The first Teen Titans adventure consisted of Justice Leaguers being mind controlled and it was up to the sidekicks to save the day. 
What annoys me here is the idea that there is this organization that has apparently been operating for who knows how many years in secret, protecting the world long before the Justice League even existed.  On the face of it, it makes no sense in this new DCU landscape because the first story in the new Justice League involves the heroes meeting one another (mostly) for the first time as the planet is invaded by Apokolips and Darkseid.  If this is a pre-Justice League of America invasion then I would assume Stormwatch would have intervened somehow to stop it?

But setting aside the so-called logic of Stormwatch's existence, I find it ridiculous that DC would publish a comic that makes their principle heroes look worse than redundant.  It makes them look incompetent for not being aware of this other team.  It would be like Batman being unaware that there had been a vigilante operating in Gotham city for years, taking out threats even bigger and more menacing than The Joker.

Now you might ask, what does this article have to do with gaming?  It goes back to what I have discussed in one of my first posts about the dangers of NPCs and GMPCs making the PCs look inferior and/or unnecessary. This is why you do not introduce legendary figures like Ben Sisko in your Star Trek game to come flying in with The Defiant to make the PCs look useless.  Not unless your characters are there to rescue Ben Sisko.  Highly unlikely, I know.
You're God-damned right!

Now you might ask yourself what is the harm of having such powerful beings existing in your universe?  Star Trek has Q, Dungeons & Dragons has various deities that are sometimes called upon to intercede on behalf of the heroes.  In DC Comics during Grant Morrisons run on JLA the Rock of Ages storyline had several ‘Leaguers running into god-like beings, and if we are talking god-like beings then let us look at the likes of Marvel’s Galactus.  However, the difference in all these cases are the beings in question are used sparingly and are do not show up the heroes.  Rather, their appearance are plot devices that might be employed for a variety of purposes.  They might show the heroes that the gods themselves are fallible and petty as the worst of them (i.e. many of Q’s appearances), or it might humble them a bit, putting their lives in perspective if they feel they have grown too arrogant (one of Q’s greatest appearances was in Q Who when he introduced the Enterprise crew to the Borg.  Not so cocky now, are we Jena Luc Picard?).  And they just might be a convenient plot device to bail the heroes’ butts out of the fire when they get in over their heads.

The difference in what Stormwatch represents in the New DCU is they make the established big guns look redundant and incompetent.  What I mean by the first is any threat the Justice League handles Stormwatch can handle in a much easier fashion based upon the resources at their disposal.  What I mean by the second touches back on what I said about Batman; how could the likes of Green Lantern and Superman with the senses at their disposal never pick up on this group?  Now granted, one member of Stormwatch is The Martian Manhunter, who is also a member of the Justice League.  So it may be assumed the Manhunter is using his position in one team to hide the existence of the other.  I suppose that is entirely possible, but if this is the case then it calls back the objections many people had about the limited series Identity Crisis, where one Justice Leaguer used her powers to wipe Batman's memories.  The Martian Manhunter must not only be eliminating evidence of Stormwatch's existence from Justice League databases, he must also be mentally assaulting his team mates to scrub Stormwatch evidence from their minds!  If this is the case then The Manhunter From Mars, one of my favorite DC characters (and the other reason I decided to give this Stormwatch a chance, the first being that I thought I was buying, you know, Stormwatch and not The Authority), is now being written as a complete bastard.

But wait!  You may say.  What about Marvel’s Annihilators?  Those guys are ridiculously powerful and make The Avengers or X-Men look like pathetic bush leaguers.    In a poor writer’s hands Marvel’s cosmic powered heroes could easily make The Avengers look pathetic in comparison.  But in the recent Earthfall limited series writer Dan Abnett was able to show how The Avengers worked with the cosmically powered team to overcome a universal threat.  And the Annihilators normally operate off Earth, outside of the normal "jurisdiction" of Earth's heroes.

When I first started my super hero game I decided that rather than the world be a place where paranormals and metahumans had just begun to appear, there would already be established heroes.  And there would be a premier super hero team already in place with it's own rich history.  And I decided early on that this premier super team had to go.  More than that, this premier super team had to face a threat they could not defeat on their own.  Indeed, the threat they faced largely incapacitated them and it was up to the PCs to not only save the day, but to save the premier super team!  Afterwards the team, High Justice, retired, it's members taking on the roles of mentors to younger NPC heroes or fading from the public spotlight.  Logic was preserved as was the PCs' place in the landscape of my, now our, fictional universe.

So if you are thinking about introducing a group of NPCs that would be operating in the same sphere as the PCs, or might be interacting with the PCs in some fashion, please do not follow the path DC has taken with Stormwatch and make your player's characters look the worse for it.  Do not retconn some team of NPCs or a ship or what have you into existence that makes your players look redundant, that might make them feel as if their efforts have been wasted.  Do not do what DC has done to their core heroes and show your players the respect they deserve.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The death and return of Superman

I hope to have a new post up tomorrow, and this one will not be one of those study in evil ones where I take a fictional villain and dissect them.  In the mean time my friend Dave Zyn turned me on to this video about the death and return of Superman (Comments to follow after the video).  I promise this will not become one of those web sites where it is reduced to me just posting stuff I like from other web sites.

It is an awesome video and in watching it, it made me change my mind regarding what I thought was the real culprit in destroying death in comic books.  For me it had always been Jean Grey's return in '86.  By the way, her return led to some horrific consequences.  It turned Cyclops into a total bastard, a man who would leave his wife to return to Jean Grey (a wife, incidentally, who looked exactly like her), necessitating in writer Chris Claremont writing said wife, Madelyne Pryor, out of the picture by turning her into a super villain.  Okay, granted, there were other ways he could have gotten rid of Madelyne and I think making her The Goblyn Queen, evil clone of Jean Grey was a bad idea, but this was the era of Mister Sinister so I am not really surprised Chris Claremont had done some really stupid things in this time period.  Other writers and editors had basically come in and wrecked all his plans for his comic but the dude seemed to forget the X-Men was part of a larger universe and man, these things happen.  The X-Men had been his private sandbox for so long he forgot that other writers and editors could sometimes play in it.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, Jean Grey's return.  Jean Grey was a fluke, an anomaly.  Heroes and villains coming back from the dead between '87 and '93?  Rare.  Very rare.  But after Superman's return?  Death meant Nothing.  Look at this list of dead heroes who returned and look at the dates when they returned.  A vast majority of them came back after '93.  You would be hard pressed to find many that came back after Jean Grey's return but before Supermans death/rebirth.  Heck, hers was not the first death/rebirth: Iris West Allen, The Flash's wife, came back from the dead in '85!

So, excellent video, a lot of fun to watch. Thanks, Dave!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Song of the week

So I had been working on this one article and almost had it done, when I got sidetracked by this other article.  And then I had in mind a third.  When all was said and done I now have three articles, all in various stages of completion...and none were ready by Saturday.  So hopefully one of them will get done in a few days.

In the mean time, Bob Welch, Ebony Eyes.

I knew next to nothing about this guy so I decided to look him up.  Turns out he was a member of Fleetwood Mac.  It also turns out Fleetwood Mac has had as impressive a line up change as Pink Floyd's and and Welch was with the band before it's most successful era, when Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had come on board (If I am reading the Wikipedia article right it means Buckingham had been with the band earlier and left, then returned with his then girlfriend).  Welch was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band and I think that is a crime, considering he had been with the band for three years, wrote songs for them, appeared on three albums.  The man got screwed.  Then again, this is the same organization that has yet to induct Rush so I suppose I should not be surprised.