Batman v. Superman v. Storytelling

Just heard a news report referring to the “long-awaited movie Batman vs. Superman“.

Long-awaited by whom? I keep running into reviews of it, and articles scattered across the last 6 months, that imply or outright state that what fans of superhero movies, and particularly fans of Superman and/or Batman, want is to see them fight for no reason. Is there this huge market of people who care enough about these characters to be interested in this conflict, but don’t care so much about these characters that they mind that the person wearing the red cape shares none of the characteristics that have defined Superman for the last 75+ years?

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#RPGaDay2015: 19 – Simulating Powers and Influencing Stories

It’s probably no surprise that the supers RPG I wrote is, most days, my favorite. “Why” is hopefully the more interesting question.

When we wrote Four Colors al Fresco back in 1999/2000, the supers RPG scene, even moreso than RPGs in general, was very different from today. With two minor† exceptions, all supers RPGs up to that point had the same fundamental structure, focusing on modeling superpowers with varying degrees of detail and complexity. Marvel Superheroes (and others) had extensive lists to try to cover every power imaginable. Champions (and others) instead provided a system to build your power, detail by detail*.

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X + Y = Z

or

I Have Superstrength Because

Just a quick thought here. I’ve been working on writing up guidelines for character creation in Four Colors al Fresco. Unlike most RPGs, balance and point costs aren’t really a concern–but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Because unlike most modern supers games, not just anything goes–if your character doesn’t fit into the pseudo-period setting, it can be jarring. However, in my experience, both creating characters and watching others create them, the hard part is not fitting into the setting, it’s worrying too much about “logic”. 

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How Not to Take Over the World

The Evil Mastermind has at his disposal:
1: A guy who can generate winds sufficiently powerful to smash his way into Tony Stark’s Vault of Dangerous Top Secret Things™.
2: A radiation source capable of melting a battleship in a matter of seconds, through a mile or so of water.
3: A cosmic space dragon.
4: A super-genius, who in turn controls:
5: “Titanium Man”, an unstoppable force of destruction.

So, what’s his clever plan to Conquer the World, BWAHAHAHAH!!! ? Continue reading

Vigilante =/= Mutant

Smallville is this season very transparently stealing the mutant registration act storyline from the various X-Men comics. I’m impressed at how many ways it doesn’t work. For starters, it just doesn’t fit the tone of the series or the universe, IMHO. But that might just be me; the other problems are more significant.

The Mutant registration act was, of course, an allegory of the Holocaust, and various other historical–and current–attempts to scapegoat a group of people. As such, the allegory required that the victims be blameless, at least as a group. In the Marvel universe, nobody chooses to be a mutant. Thus, condemning them for that status, irrespective of their behavior, is what makes the allegory work. Vigilante is a behavior–a profession, i suppose–and something that the characters clearly chose. So the “Vigilante Registration Act” is not immorally condemning them for an accident of their birth, or even for their beliefs, but for their actions. It’s like the writers completely missed the allegory of the mutant registration act, so when they went to copy it, they copied the superficial details, but changed the one bit that gave it moral weight.

On top of that, they chose as their “persecuted group” those who made a set of decisions and behaviors that is pretty morally gray. Which could possibly work–you could explore some really complex questions, and Smallville has at least taken stabs at them in the past–except that they’re not examining the morality. They’ve simply replaced “mutant” with “vigilante” wherever it appears in the script, and written the stories as though “vigilante” is inherently and obviously good. Our heroes are the good guys because they’re the good guys. Which, I suppose, takes us back to the origins of Superman. :-/

What’s worse is that Smallville has flirted with these themes in the past–in fact, for the majority of the run–and done it much better. So a heavy-handed attempt at cloning a popular theme from the rivals is even more insulting, since we’ve seen them much-less-clumsily tackle this same theme on the show already. The persecution and ostracization of “meteor freaks”, most obviously. But for a couple of seasons, at least, they’ve toyed with the question of “alien invasion” or how the populace would react to knowing Clark is an alien. They’ve tread this ground before, posed some great questions, answering some of them and letting us mull over the others. This new plot arc wouldn’t be doing anything new or interesting even if it were doing it right–which it’s not.