Monday, April 30, 2018

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

I tried to avoid spoilers to this movie, but if you think I didn't, my apologies in advance.

It's been a while since I've reviewed something, so I thought I'd give my handful of readers my take on the new DC animated movie Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay For those familiar with the earlier animated Suicide Squad movie Assault on Arkham, I should tell you that this is not a sequel to that movie but rather follows the DC animated movie Flashpoint, a fact which isn't revealed until pretty late in the movie.  That's too bad, because I thought Assault on Arkham was a great movie and vastly superior to the live-action film.  The real giveaway that the two are not related is that Killer Frost, theoretically killed in Assault on Arkham, appears in Hell to Pay but with a different secret identity and costume (for those keeping track, the AoA version is Louise Lincoln, the HtP version is Crystal Frost).

Hell to Pay is a pretty standard Suicide Squad plotline: the (sometimes) superhuman villains in Belle Reeve Penitentiary are sent by Amanda Waller (now also the skinny version and not voiced by the late, missed CCH Pounder but by Vanessa Williams) to find a missing person and recover a "card" that the person has on him.  The rules of the Suicide Squad have already been made clear in the prelude with the neck-bomb detonation of some C-list characters to show how ruthless Amanda Waller can be when handling the Squad members.  Joining the regular crew is Bronze Tiger (a regular from the comic series), the aforementioned Killer Frost, and Copperhead.

Unlike the previous animated movie, the plot revolves around a supernatural element which emphasizes the natures of good and evil and the incongruity of a team of anti-heroes in that dynamic.  The "card" in question guarantees its bearer gets into Heaven rather than Hell when that person dies, which at some level is so corny that it actually distracts from the rest of the film.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but there is the expected constant stream of action, double-crosses, snarky banter, and the odd bit of humor.  What was surprising was how little Harley Quinn was in the movie, which could be either a good or bad thing depending on your feelings about the character.  Deadshot, like the earlier films, remains the tentpole, sympathetic character.  The ultimate villain is Vandal Savage, who also appeared in Justice League: Doom, making me idly wonder if they are in the same canon.

Flashpoint squeaked by with a PG-13 rating, despite its graphic violence.  Hell to Pay rocks the full-on R rating for some surprisingly graphic violence, language, and the most ridiculously gratuitous one-second-long flash of female nudity.  Despite featuring both a hedonistic villain's pleasure pad and a strip club, the film decides to slip the nudity into the most pointless moment possible in the film for the briefest of moments.  Regardless, it isn't Justice League Unlimited.

I can see the interest in doing a movie that is more in line with the comic book version of the Suicide Squad in hopes of drawing new readers to that title, or getting readers to buy the movie.  If you don't compare it to Assault on Arkham, Hell to Pay measures up as a solid Suicide Squad story with familiar characters and team dynamics.  My biggest critique is the somewhat wacky plot device, which not only seemed to engage in bad theology but also a cosmology that is a little out of place in the DC canon.

Rating: rent, buy if you're a big fan

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Mighty Crusaders

I've really let my writing slow down, so I thought I'd expound upon some things that I like that are on my mind lately.  One of these is The Mighty Crusaders.

My interest in the comic book team The Mighty Crusaders goes back not to the original team, but to the brief period when DC Comics re-envisioned the former Archie Comics characters as part of their Impact Comics line from 1991 to 1993.  Despite DC's goal of reading younger views with more kid-friendly story-lines and direct-to-newstand sales, as a college student I liked the Impact line for several reasons. (Side note: DC Comics also took another property they owned outright, Charleston Comics, and used those characters as the basis for the Watchmen.)

First, it was fun getting into an entire comic book universe on the ground floor, one which appeared to have little-to-no backstory and every character was just having its start.  Second, with the Iron Age in full swing, I appreciated the more Silver Age-style stories.  Even their "gun and claw" characters, the Black Hood and Jaguar, were decided toned down from the Punisher and Wolverine (and countless knock-offs) that were dominating the market.

Impact Comics suffered a lot of problems, from losing writing and art talent to other companies and projects, lackluster sales, and lukewarm support from new editorial direction at DC Comics (you can read more about Impact's woes here).  But I always enjoyed the titles I kept up with, including the excellent Black Hood comic up to its ending with the sudden universe-ending mini-series The Crucible.

A quick word about The Crucible.  Initially it was intended to allow DC Comics to overhaul the Impact characters in hopes of revitalizing sales.  The Crusaders were supposed to be launched into space, only to return to a new world with new challenges, etc. while a handful of heroes remained behind.  Instead, the Crusaders went to another dimension, and the six-issue series became the swan song of the entire publishing line.

But what a song it was.  The Comet, the most powerful of the Impact superheroes, was slowly going crazy and the Black Hood, a normal guy with limited skills aside from what he gained by wearing the eponymous black hood, had to try to keep him under control to avoid a major catastrophe that he had seen in a vision of the future.  A lot of focus was put on the stress and despair that the Black Hood faced until his final, inevitable confrontation with the Comet in a story that spanned years of narrative time.  While Batman vs. Superman stories are pretty common these days, The Crucible was a great take on the concept going back to 1993.

Anyways, I liked the Impact characters so much I actually wrote up several using the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rules a while back.

In 2012, Archie Comics (now Red Circle Comics) decided to try to use the old Crusader characters in a new, similarly kid-friendly title called The New Crusaders.  The core story idea was that the original Crusaders--the Shield, the Fly, Steel Sterling, etc.--had all gone into retirement in the present day.  After being kidnapped by the Brain Emperor (a villain from the original pre-Impact period), their children were organized by the original Shield to help find them and defeat other supervillains.

I liked The New Crusaders a lot because it felt a lot like older teen superhero books like Teen Titans where you had a collection of heroes with different backgrounds and origins for their powers.  To get with modern day sentiments they also added an African-American character (the Comet, adopted by the original Comet) and retained the Impact idea of a female Hispanic Jaguar (also taken in by the Caucasian original superhero).  The Shield provided the role of the stereotypical grizzled veteran trying to make the teens grow into heroes.

Unfortunately the curse of the Crusaders continued, with older fans of the series wanting more realism and action.  The authors shockingly killed off Fireball, one of the most developed characters in the series, as a way to up the drama and maturity of the title, but it continued to struggle until finally it was cancelled in early 2013 on a cliffhanger ending.  The final battle was devastating for the team as it also killed off the teenage hero Steel Sterling and crippled both the Shield and the Jaguar.

Since then, Red Circle became Dark Circle, and content across the board, including the Archie titles, became more serious and mature in nature.  Dark Circle relaunched several of the Crusader characters in yet new iterations, including the Shield and the Black Mask.  Then just a few months ago, they launched the Crusaders yet again, this time under the original name The Mighty Crusaders.  Interestingly enough, the team actually bridges the three generations of the Archie Comics mythos: the original Mighty Crusaders, the New Crusaders, and the new Shield from the Dark Circle title.  Joining the new Shield is original Steel Sterling (whose wife and son, the teen Steel Sterling, were killed at the conclusion of the New Crusaders arc); and Jaguar, Comet, the Web, and the thankfully renamed Firefly from the New Crusaders.  Darkling, a character from the original Mighty Crusaders mythos, also has jonied the team.

Again providing leadership is the original Shield, now physically challenged by his injuries, making him the one constant figure in all iterations of the team.

I like the concept, not the least of which is because the team now resembles another favorite of mine, the Justice Society of America, with its sense of legacy.  They are three issues in and are already battling a villain tam from the original iteration.  Here's hoping that this version can actually make a serious go of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


For the past few months I have been gaming in my living room, rather than in the dedicated space in my basement.  The reasons were manifold: it is much colder in my basement, I no longer had to be mindful of a spouse who didn't participate in gaming, and the basement was a major mess from all the chaos of my ex-wife moving out.

But time has passed, Spring is here, and I'm ready to get my gaming room back to being a gaming room.  Or better yet, even a better room than before.  There's a lot of old toys the kids no longer use and other assorted junk down there as well.  So I will be unloading unwanted miniatures, manky terrain, and RPG's that will never see the light of day in the next few weeks.

What will be tricky will be figuring out what falls into that RPG category.  A few days ago I was at Half Price Books and spotted a Player's Handbook from the 3.5 Edition.  Now these are pretty rare, and there is a definite crowd who favors that edition over others.  I have a 3.5 PHB, not to mention Pathfinder, which is going through an edition change in the near future.  So I had to self-assess: what is the likelihood I'll ever run or play in a D&D 3.5 campaign in the near- to far-future?  Answer: highly unlikely.  So I passed on it, even though it was rare.

It may be time for some Marie Kondo-esque examinations of my RPG and wargaming collection.

One thing I haven't mentioned lately is some clutter I'm actually generating, namely the fieldstone modular dungeon.  I'm almost done with the building portion of Phase 2, but am currently derailed because my daughter needs Hirst Arts blocks for a diorama she is building for school.  I'll try to get some pics posted.

Over at Strange Vistas