Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Abused SuperVillains

Welcome back to another Guide to Geekdom. Now I promised this article all the way back in my April update. If you never read that update, this was the last article I promised on it and I simply haven’t gotten around to writing it down. Today I wanted to talk about the abused super villain. It’s an abuse that has been wildly commonplace among today’s comic book writers. It’s something that has been bothering me every time I see a long standing villain returns to the public light and they act in a certain way that doesn’t make sense. Let me explain.
An abused super villain is an older recurring villain that actually does have a long standing history that is usually ignored by a current writer in order to fit the needs of the comic that the character is in. For an example let’s talk about Dr. Curt Connors, better known as the Spider-Man super villain The Lizard. This character has had a long well established history as a tragic character. Curt was simply trying to find a cure for lost limbs by have the body re-grow the body part similar to how a lizard can. Using the lizard cure on himself to try and re-grow his own lost arm (he lost it on the battlefield because he use to be a field medic), Curt transformed into The Lizard. The relationship Curt has with The Lizard is similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in that Curt has no control over his other side and on occasion slips into this persona through circumstances out of his control. Curt has tried to cure himself of The Lizard persona multiple times and has quite frequently gotten help from Spider-Man in this goal. Peter and Curt have become good friends over the years, with Curt helping Spider-Man in any way he can.
 I remember reading a Spider-Man story arc called ‘Feral’ where everyone in the area was becoming more feral (due to an ancient artifact) especially the animal based super heroes/villains. In this arc, Curt was beginning to slip back into The Lizard persona and immediately called Peter to help stop him before he did something horrifying. Peter, being a worried caring friend, rushed over to try and help him all the while talking to him over the phone telling him that they’ll get through this.
 Now the reason I am bring all this up is because of the White Tiger book. White Tiger is a supporting character of Daredevil that has been slowly making her way to becoming a full fledge super heroine. In order to fully make her a super hero, Marvel gave her a small book that detailed her full transition to crime fighting. To fully prove that she has the skill to fight super villains, one of her issues has her fighting The Lizard in Central Park. What happened to Curt? How did he regress again? Is his family okay? Where is Spider-Man, shouldn’t he be aware of his friend’s dire situation? None of these questions get answered. White Tiger simply beats The Lizard, proves herself as a super hero and goes off into the sunset. The Lizard was used as a throwaway character in order to help establish a new superhero.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? This is a really big problem that keeps coming up in today’s comics. Writers think that they can simply throw villains into a story because they are convenient plot devices, but what their really doing is abusing well established characters in order to help their real focus move forward. Curt is a well established character and most people do remember him as a Spider-Man villain, but that doesn’t mean you can just shove him in anywhere and have readers be okay with it.
Let’s look at another example of this issue: returning a villain to their roots for storytelling purposes. I recently read the New Avengers annual. In it Wonder Man decides to form a team of disgruntled superheroes to go attack the Avengers because of the belief that the Avengers are actually making the world worse due to their decisions. This depiction of Wonder Man is bizarre at best. Simon (Wonder Man) comes off as being unhinged from his mind (not something uncommon knowing his character) and simply shouts “I TOLD YOU THIS WAS COMING, I WARNED YOU!” as he viciously attacks his friends. I get that they wanted to try and have Wonder Man return to his super villain roots, but this completely ignores the well established relationships he had with a lot of these characters and his motives for doing this seem flimsy at best. The other heroes on his team are no better. I honestly think the other heroes are only there because Marvel thought that Wonder Man needed lackeys in this battle. They come off as bumbling idiots, not the heroes they used to be.
Another example of returning a villain to his roots can be seen with the Spider-Man villain, Sandman.
Did you spot him in that picture? Sandman is right next to Hawkeye. No, Sandman is not a lone villain randomly sneaking up behind the Avengers in an attempt to bring them down. SANDMAN WAS APART OF THE AVENGERS. Maybe you didn’t know about this, but Sandman was a former villain seeking redemption for his past actions and has teamed up with Spider-Man on multiple occasions and even became a member of the Avengers at one point. After the Avengers Sandman was briefly a villain again though at the end of the story it was revealed that his powers had stretched his consciousness thin and he was having trouble controlling his actions. He then returned to the life of a redeeming super hero teaming up with Spider-Man on various occasions.
Currently, writers have returned him to the life of a petty villain who is merely a thug lackey of Doctor Octopus. A recent Iron Man story arc which had Doc Ock take Iron Man’s building hostage had Sand Man joining him in the endeavor and even taking joy in torturing some of the people in the building, before joining Electro in a fight against Pepper Potts (if you don’t know that she is a current super heroine, look it up yourself). Both Sand Man and Electro get their butts handed to them by Pepper and they flee the scene like cowardly Saturday morning cartoon villains. Whatever happened to all the progress with his character?
Let’s discuss Harvey Dent for a second. Harvey is a well established character within the Batman universe. You probably know him better as the villain Two-Face. He suffers from an obsession with duality due to bipolar and multiple personality disorders. My question stands as, will he ever be cured? Will he ever (again) show signs of progress that he is being cured. I only ask because Harvey is a rather tragic character and it’s a shame to see him go down the road of a villain again and again without any signs of hope for his future. He suffers from what I call: The Ben Grimm Syndrome. The Ben Grimm Syndrome is the problem The Thing faces with comic book story telling. Ben Grimm is constantly looking for a cure to his current Thing state, but will never find a permanent cure, because it would most likely mean an end to his storyline. Harvey will never be cured of his problems because interesting story lines simply cannot be written about the character if they have finally been cure of their affliction. This too is super villain abuse.
I hope you understand what the point of all this was. I wanted to point out the shoddy workmanship writers today put into writing super villains. To the writers, they are simple tools to write a story with, not actually characters with histories and goals. If you are going to be writing a super hero story, you have to make sure that you not only fully flesh out the hero, but the villain as well.
I’m your Guide to Geekdom, and thank you for reading.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Let's Review: Real Steel

It occurred to me recently that movie studios are starting to run out of ideas. This thought happened when I saw the trailer for Battleship and realized that Robot Chicken’s prediction about films about board games was going to be a new fad. I realize that their prediction was meant to be a skit joke and not to be taken seriously, but as I hear about more and more films coming out soon I worry that it might no longer be a joke. That being said, how did Rock’em Sock’em Robots the movie live up to my expectations? Let’s review Real Steel.
The Negative
There are two instances in the film where we transition forward with a montage. Montages are a necessary and key component in film story telling. It helps us transition through a large amount of time by quickly showing the progression of our characters through the use of a series of short scenes. The two montages I am talking about are too brief. We go from a father and son who are just barely getting along--- {minute montage later}---suddenly they are a functioning team and are quickly on their way to the top becoming boxing champions. One of the best parts of this film is the slowly building relationship between Hugh Jackman’s character and the little kid, it’s a shame that the movie mostly skips over the part where they slightly start to bond and show signs of respect for one another.
The origin of the robot Atom is notable left out of the story. It’s not a big problem I have with the film, but at the same time I have to wonder where this story plot point came from. I understand that Atom was a 2nd generation robot and his only previous function was to be a sparring partner, but if Atom does have a rare Shadow Function (which plays a very significant part in the plot) why wasn’t it taken from his body when he was left in the dumpster? Like I said it’s not a big problem I have, I’m just wondering where this miracle robot actually came from.
The Positive
I loved this film. I went into the movie theater not expecting much (come on, the premise was boxing robots), but I found myself significantly surprised by how much I was actually enjoying the film. What really carries the film is the relationship between Hugh Jackman’s character Charlie and Dakota Goyo’s character Max.
Charlie is one of the most despicable characters I have ever seen, and yet throughout the film we slowly learn why he is the way he is. Charlie is a man who has taken to many punches and is fairly down and out. He lives for the moment because it’s the only thrill he can get anymore. Max on the other hand, has horrible feelings of abandonment, but is doing his best to live in his father’s world simply because he is looking for someone to care about him. It’s this key relationship that makes the whole movie worthwhile.
That being said, the other thing that makes this movie worth it is the robot boxing matches. These fight scenes got my heart racing. The matches were well choreographed and felt oddly organic for being between two robots. This is actually where the film kept throwing me for a loop. Every time I expected a fight would go one way, a new development happened and the fight suddenly switched gears. Rest assured if you are only going to go see this film for the fighting robots, you won’t be disappointed. This is fighting robots done right.
In Conclusion
This film really surprised me. I truly wasn’t expecting much from boxing robots, but found a thoroughly well written story with great characters and well thought out fight sequences. This film has effectively become one of my favorite movies of this year. If you like fighting robots, but want a little more substance behind it, then this is the film for you. 4.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top 10 Resurrected Cyborgs

Welcome again to the Guide to Geekdom. In order to celebrate the month of October and the spirit of Halloween, I’ve decided to write up a top 10 list about the dead, more specifically about how they came back as cyborgs. To be fair not all of the characters on this list actually have died but instead were mortally wounded and were saved by becoming cyborgs. As per usual I have a few notable mentions that didn’t make the cut:
-General Grievous (Star Wars)
-Inspector Gadget (Inspector Gadget)
-Metallo (Superman)
So without further ado here is my Top 10 Resurrected Cyborgs.
10: Kuma (Afro Samurai)
If you could be brought back as a cyborg teddy bear which is symbolic of your dead sister’s favorite toy, would you want to be? Kuma is seeking vengeance against Afro Samurai for killing their master and taking the Number Two headband. It’s this need for vengeance that made him decide to come back as a cyborg to become more than a match against Afro. He later undergoes more cybernetic enhancements in the movie, such as adding a cigarette to his bear helmet, awesome.
9: Baxter Stockman (TMNT)
What do you do when you can no longer hold onto your body parts? You keep adding new parts. Throughout this series, Stockman started off as an average mad scientist with an interest in mechanics, before slowly ending up as a brain in a jar. Of course he eventually made an entirely robotic body that houses his loose brain, which includes a holographic device that portrays his former complete body, but I doubt he will be able to hold onto this body for long either.
8: The Bionic Man (The Six Million Dollar Man)
Steve Austin, astronaut.  A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better… stronger…faster. We have the capabilities of building the first bionic man. We all know this classic piece of work. We all know that the best bionics money can buy allow you to move in super slow motion to function at maximum efficiency.
7: James T. Kirk (The Return {Shatnerverse})
Star Trek: The Return
What happens when the character you’re famous for performing is nonchalantly killed in a new movie? You write a way for him to come back, as a cyborg. William Shatner wrote a novel where Kirk’s body was discovered by the Borg and resurrected back to life. Sent to destroy the Federation, Kirk later breaks free and rejoins Starfleet in order to destroy the Borg once and for all (which killed him again, but Shatner brought him back again in his second novel by saying someone beamed him out at the last second).
6: Franky (One Piece)
I will tell you right now that I am a huge fan of One Piece. Sorry if this deters you from me. Cutty Flam was an engineer who alongside his teacher and fellow student built the first sea train. Due to the secret operations by the government, Cutty’s teacher was going to be framed for a terrorist attack and be executed, being transported to his execution on his own train. Cutty tried to stop this and stood in front of the train, he was subsequently hit by the train. Using his engineering skills Cutty rebuilt himself as a cyborg that runs off of Cola, and changed his name to Franky so that the government wouldn’t recognize him. He has recently rebuilt himself to be almost a human tank, with nipple lights.
5: Tony Stark (Iron Man)
No life changing lesson is better taught than to be struck by your own weapon. Tony Stark realized that his war profiteering wasn’t helping the world at all, when he was injured by the opposing side with his own bomb. With the help of another captive, Tony was able to rebuild himself with an arc reactor in his chest and building a suit of high tech armor that runs off of the device that is keeping him alive. Iron Man has become one of the world’s favorite superheroes. If only he could stop his narcissism, he would be a good role model too.
4: Commander Shepard (Mass Effect 2)
When you’re the savior of the galaxy, it’s a smart thing to try and stay alive. Unfortunately, Shepard was killed by the Collectors for his role in winning the battle of the Citadel. Shepard was then brought back to life as a cyborg by the ‘human interest group’, Cerberus, in order to save humanity and the galaxy once again. Depending on who you are, Shepard can be your greatest friend or the greatest @$$hole who cares for no one, either way, Commander Shepard is still one of the greats.
3: Robocop (Robocop)
It’s hard being a good cop in a bad place. Alex Murphy learned that the hard way when he was gunned down by an entire drug cartel. Fortunately for him, the police station he works for was recently bought by OCP, who were looking for subjects for their Robocop program. Being forced to follow 4 directives, Robocop goes out to solve the issue of crime in Old Detroit. Later he is able to prove that the man he was still exists behind his metal shell, by overcoming his directives and solving the case of his murder.
2: Cyborg (Teen Titans)
Victor Stone was once one of the greatest up and coming athletes. Victor was a troubled youth trying to get away from his overbearing scientist parents, before being horribly mutilated in an accident. His father rebuilt him using experiment prosthetics. Victor’s body was mostly replaced with sheer metallic parts with little of his actual body remaining. Dealing with the shock of his new body, Victor ended up using his new body as a super hero, joining the Teen Titans and becoming one of their more prominent members.
1: Darth Vader (Star Wars)
‘He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil’
Anakin Skywalker is the greatest story of how good intentions can go horribly wrong. Wanting to save his wife from the prophecy of her death that he foresaw in his own visions, Anakin turned to the dark side of the force and became Darth Vader. Tragically it is this choice of his that ultimately leads to her fate as well as his own. Needing to be stopped, his friend and mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi strikes him down and leaves him for dead on a lava planet. Being found by his Emperor, Vader’s life is saved through the extensive use of cybernetics and life preserving technology. Though his body may be a shadow of its former glory, Vader is still a force to be reckoned with. Anakin is the ultimate tragic figure, and his fate as one of the dark lords of the sith and becoming the greatest cyborg come only because of his deep love for his wife.
I’m your Guide to Geekdom, and Happy Halloween.