Friday, October 21, 2011

Arkham City and Twisted Mirrors

So I started playing Arkham City this week. Well, I started trying to play Arkham City at least. Save Points are the bane of the Dad Gamer's existence. You never know when you'll have to deal with your kid getting his head stuck in a shoe, waking up in tears from a previously sound sleep, and so on. Toss in the constant looming threat of Mom commandeering the TV for required teenage vampire viewing, and you're left with 15 minute play sessions.

And when the game only saves after/before long cut scenes, that really, really blows. I may restart the game on Easy just so I can move quickly through the beating up mooks portion of the game.

But as a video game interpretation of a comic book? The game's pretty good. I like that villains left out of the first game, presumably because they were not insane enough to be locked up in Arkham, are out and about in City. I admit a fondness of The Penguin. There's been some complaints about the treatment of women in the game, namely Harley's horrible outfits and Catwoman being called 'bitch' a lot. I agree that Harley's introduction was sad - look, the camera is going to be pointed at your outfit, Harl, so there's no need to draw attention to it via dialogue. I have not progressed far enough to encounter the Catwoman stuff in bulk.

It's strange going from Arkham City to watching an episode of Batman: the Brave and the Bold. The switch happens when the toddler is unleashed (head freed from shoe) due to violence concerns, but I dunno about that. City is so dark, I doubt he could tell if someone was hitting someone else. Meanwhile, Brave and the Bold punches are often in slow-mo, back-lit by a primary color halo. Still, there's the whole bitch thing and given the rate West is picking up new words, that's one I'd rather he not start busting out.

The dread responsibility of a parent, I know.

Anyways, after finishing Season 1 of tBatB, my mind is currently wrapped up in thinking about The Injustice League or Crime Syndicate or whatever the heck they call the Evil Versions of DC's main heroes. I still think about that old Chuck Klosterman piece about Archenemy vs Nemesis and it makes me wonder - are the negative versions of heroes better archenemies (flat out foes) or nemesi (dark reflections too close to home)? Basically, archenemies would never encounter each other without a fight while nemesi could have a super-awkward HBO-style dinner together.

For example, I think Batman and Owlman would get along. I mean, they would be seething at each other the entire time, but I suspect they share enough common traits that a few hours together would not be a horrible debacle.

On top of that, I wonder if the negative reflection characters should simply have the same powers as their primary, just used towards nefarious ends, or should they be entire reimagings? Basically, should we just be slapping a goatee on these folks, or should we allow them to have developed along another path? If we do the latter at what point do we diverge? What details do we change?

Let's use Superman as our example as he already has a few evil versions. There's Ultraman, the gangland style Boss of Bosses evil Superman from Earth-3, Bizarro, a twisted caricature of Superman, and even to some extent the various totalitarian Supermen like the leader of the Justice Lords or even Red Son Superman. Each of these versions have similar powersets but differ in origin. Heck, the Justice Lords version has the same origin as regular Superman, except that he went through some tragedy that lead to a major rethink.

So if I had to come up with an Earth-3 'evil' Superman, what would I do? Tricky. Baby Kal-El being found by different people who do not inspire him like the Kents did has been done to death. So instead, I'd have our Kal-El come to Earth fully grown from a non-exploded Krypton. As a baby, Kal's dad indeed thought Krypton was going to explode and loaded his firstborn into a rocket. When Krypton didn't blow up, though, the baby was recovered from orbit, Jor-El was locked up in an asylum, and Kal grew up in an orphanage, the Balloon Boy of the planet.

Growing up, Kal entered the Science Academy, determined to wipe the stain of his father's name from his family's legacy. Except he wasn't working in the physical sciences. Instead, he became a sort of sociologist-psychologist with a focus on studying how people react to calamity. So when he discovered the existence of Earth, a world of no import populated by people who were psychologically very similar to Kryptonians, he went out to "run some experiments." The fact he developed superpowers when bathed in the light of Earth's yellow sun was just a happy accident - Kal had come with a bevy of deadly Kryptonian devices.

Rather than an evil Superman who cares about material goods and power (Ultraman), is a unfocused force of destruction (Bizarro), or a misguided zealot (Justice Lord/Red Son), we have a Superman who cares more about himself and his theories than anything else. He is divorced from humanity the same way a research scientist is divorced from her lab rats. He operates with a secret identity so as not to affect the outcomes of his experiments, not because he wants to live any closer to the people. He is, pretty much, an uncaring godlike figure who tests man for his own ends. Contrast this with Luthor, who for all of his crimes, at least has a faith in humanity (his). If anything, this evil version of Superman is closer in spirit to Brainiac.

Would this version join an evil Justice League? I doubt it. But that's because I don't think an alternate Earth where the baddies are winning would ever create such an organization. Sure, after they won they might (ala Wanted), but I can't see the Villain of Tomorrow signing up with a bloodthirsty Amazon who wishes to wreak vengeance on a Man's World that responsible for aeons of oppression or a guy who dresses like an owl out of hatred for his parents' weakness in the face of a gunman. I can't see them wanting to join up either, let alone the tyrant that lives beneath the ocean or the intergalactic mercenary with a Power Ring.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tarot Tuesdays: The Fool

So after a harrowing September-bleeding-into-October, I'm hoping to get things back on track by instituting a few regular features round here. One of them will be Tarot Tuesdays, where I doodle up a DC hero as Tarot card and talk a bit about why that character is a good fit. This feature was inspired by some of the discussions I've read regarding the cards featured on Justice League Dark covers.

We'll be starting with the Major Arcana and working our way through them. The Minor Arcana will probably be done in batches when I'm too lazy to draw. I'll be using Rider-Waite as my main inspiration, mainly because that's the deck I'm the most used to. I used to scam cupcakes in middle school with my strange psychic abilities and a tattered Rider-Waite deck (I also had a set of loaded dice I'd use to grift for chips, but that's a tale for another day), and since that was also the time when I first started reading comics, there's a sort of mental link there for me.

Let's get started with Card 0, The Fool.

0. The Fool. (Superboy)
Superboy stands on the roof of the Kent family's general store, bindle in hand, Krypto the Super-Dog nipping at his heels. The sun shines on his back as he prepares for adventure.

Vertigo did a tarot deck a few years back that cast John Constantine as The Fool, but I'm not so sure about that. To me, The Fool has always been about beginnings and John seems much more concerned with Endings (solving things, wrapping up loose ends, righting wrongs, etc). So I went with Superboy. And not just any Superboy, but the Silver Age version (as indicated by the presence of the Kent's General Store and Krypto).

Waite writes "With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world" which covers young Clark pretty well, don't you think? His precipice is not a physical one, as falling is of no concern to him, but his future. About to leave Smallville for Metropolis, Superboy is about to step out of the innocent chaos of his small-town exploits and into a more world-defining role. Krypto wants him to stay and play, perhaps knowing in the more serious world of Superman, there wouldn't be much of a place for a super powered dog. He has a bindle because that's totally something that Silver Age Clark would have.

On the positive side, The Fool stands for new beginnings, new adventures, new opportunities, unlimited possibilities, pleasure, potential, and passion. Inverted, he represents rashness, plunging ahead without thinking, and thoughtlessness. If you've read some of Superboy's adventures, young Clark was not always the type to think things through (blow to put out a fire, make an enemy for life; make a crack about a how women are poor UFO drivers, get turned into a girl; etc.) and this brashness tended to backfire more often than not. He's clearly not thinking things through here, as protecting his secret identity is probably made harder by hanging out on the roof of his parents' store.

The Fool is a pretty potent card and I wanted it to be represented by a potent character. While Superman himself would be an obvious choice for the lead-off card of the deck, being the first superhero and all, he doesn't quite fit it anymore given the weight of popular culture that now hangs around him. Superman is confident, knowing. Though his arrival opened up worlds of possibilities, he gives the sense that he knows how to navigate through them. Superboy doesn't give that impression, so if we take him in his Young Clark form (as opposed to clone or worlds-adrift jerk versions) we get all the benefits of opening with Supes with none of the Big Blue drawbacks.