Avengers Arena not worth it after all

Posted in Comics, Superhero, Young adult with tags , on July 5, 2014 by Cara Marie

I didn’t read Avengers Arena when it first came out, because I objected to someone taking characters I love and sticking them in a battle royale-type situation. (Even if I do love Battle Royale the movie.) Then after the series was finished, I’d read enough that was positive about the series (and also really enjoyed the author’s run on Cable and X-Force) that I decided I would give it a go. And it wasn’t as bad or sensationalist as I had feared. But it wasn’t that worthwhile either.

Avengers Arena isn’t the series Hopeless originally pitched – that was a ‘straight teen drama set in a superhero school’. In the afterword to the trades, he says:

‘[The editors] pointed to a couple sentences near the end of the pitched that outlines what would have been our third arc. It was something about our kids competing in a tournament with other Marvel Universe schools that turns into a death match when a super villain takes control. The Triwizard Tournament meets The Hunger Games. Tom and Axel pointed to those two sentences and said, “There’s your story. Just do that.”

I never told this part of the story before, but I hated the idea. Instead of my dream project, they wanted me to do a Battle Royale homage. Were they serious?’

Later, Hopeless says he’s grateful for it. ‘They knew the story we needed to tell, long before I did. I’ll never thank them enough for pointing it out or Bill for talking me into giving it a shot.’

Thing is, I can imagine the concept working as an arc in an existing series – you’ve had time to build up to it, it can bring together themes you’ve been hinting at throughout the whole thing. (You won’t be pissing off the fans of existing characters by starting a new series devoted to those characters being compelled to kill one another!) But as it stands, I think Avengers Arena is a weak story. It’s not thematically coherent the way other teens-forced-to-kill stories are.

The basic idea is, I think, to highlight that adult superheroes are already letting these kids become killers. The closing pages of the comic show a couple of reporters discussing the kidnapping of the teenagers involved (before they or anyone else has let slip what happened in Murder World). One of the reporters says, ‘There’s a lot of blame to pass around here … most of which obviously belongs to whoever did this horrible thing. But from there I think you can head straight over to the adult super heroes. The men and women who trained these kids. Who failed these kids. These heroes of ours …’ – and we see Arcade, the mastermind of the whole thing, clicking ‘upload’ on a video –‘they should be ashamed of themselves.’

But this is not a theme that has been pushed through the series as a whole. It would have worked if this had been the end point of a series about training young superheroes – but that’s not what this is. This is a stand-alone story. Sure, half the kids are from Avengers Academy, and I could understand the arc in that context – but others are from Runaways, or other series that don’t involve kids actually being trained as superheroes. The original characters in the series are a UK superhero school, but this needed to come across of much more of a training facility than it did.

Also, Arcade’s motive for pitting the kids against one another is personal – partly him trying to prove his own worth as a supervillain, and partly just for entertainment. It is not political, the way the Hunger Games are political, or Battle Royale is political.

Arcade says to the participants, ‘Got the idea from a couple of kids’ books I read in the pen.’ Which is to *nudge wink* to the reader, yes, we know this is like The Hunger Games – but later, it comes out that book Arcade mostly has in mind is ‘the one about the kids on the island’, that is, Lord of the Flies.

But Lord of the Flies is about ‘human beings are [mostly] bad or at least morally weak people who form bad societies’, not about ‘bad societies force [mostly] not-bad people to do bad things’. Bringing up Lord of the Flies doesn’t strengthen the themes in Avengers Arena, it only confuses them.

And I think that’s what the issue is with the series as a whole – it is confused, and it tries to make an argument at the last minute that it hasn’t been building towards.

On the other hand, I did enjoy a lot of the characters – mostly the ones I wasn’t familiar with. Cammi I really liked, and would be keen to track down her other stories, and Death Locket and Apex in particular of the original characters. Also Arcade’s contractor, Miss Coriander, who was supremely competent and happy to work for Arcade whilst not buying into any of his bullshit.

I was more disappointed with the role of the characters I knew coming in. There was plenty of Hazmat being nihilistic, which is always good, but other than that … Reptil didn’t really get to do anything, Mettle got to die almost straight away … (Also, I was annoyed because there’s a line in there that made it so that Mettle was not Polynesian. Not that it was ever stated that Mettle’s dad was native Hawaiian, but it was a reasonable thing to assume, and it’s not like there are a whole lot of Polynesian characters in comics.)

I think Hopeless would have been better off with all-original characters, because he really did seem more interested in them. Which may be an artifact of this not being the series he originally pitched.

Hakuōki and emotion in video games

Posted in Games, Historical, Romance with tags , on June 9, 2014 by Cara Marie

Partway through my first playthrough of Hakuōki, I thought how strange it was, to be playing the character who doesn’t go out and fight, who is helpless in many situations. I thought, in a typical game, you’d be playing as one of the shinsengumi, and it could be a typical RPG …

And then I remembered my history, and remembered that it couldn’t be at all. Because there’s no victory at the end. You couldn’t frame the story in terms of action and have it conclude satisfyingly as a game.

It can only conclude satisfyingly on the personal level.

And I thought also, how there are certain emotions that games evoke better than any other medium. Betrayal, for instance. If a book makes me feel betrayed, it is at the author for some failing of theirs – I do not feel betrayed by the characters themselves. Not the way I felt betrayed when I discovered Chizuru’s father – ‘my’ father – didn’t care for my happiness, only saw me in terms of my ability to procreate. Or the way I felt betrayed playing Magical Diary, when I found out Damien had been lying to me the whole time.

And along with betrayal, there is frustration and hopelessness.

Chizuru is not able to contribute to the shinsengumi as a warrior. The tasks she comes up with for herself are rather less grand – serving the tea, doing the mending.

‘You don’t need to do that,’ she’s told, ‘the servants can do that.’

It’s frustrating. ‘Here’s what I can contribute.’ ‘No, no, your contributions aren’t necessary.’ You’re too valued to do that; not seen clearly enough to be given anything of use to do.

Chizuru’s father says, all you have to offer is your womb. Sannan says, all you have to offer is your blood. It’s a romance, so in the end, what you have to give is love – something you can choose.

Hakuōki is about finding a satisfying life when the roles open to you as a woman are very limited. The heroes’ journeys reflect this too – they must find a satisfying life when the role they currently fill is disappearing.

I think I found Hakuōki more satisfying as an exploration of the limitations of gender roles than I did Analogue, which is far more explicitly about gender roles. Because in Analogue, you play an observer; it is a game, but it is an epistolary game, and you are discovering the story as you read and are told about it, rather than living it. You are not Hyun-Ae, having things done to you, having to live with the expectations put on you. And so I never empathised when Hyan-Ae the way I did with Chizuru, because I never was Hyun-Ae.

Of course, when you think of the feelings a game can invoke, betrayal, frustration and hopelessness aren’t seen as desirable ones. But they can be very effective in a narrative game, and I’d like to play more games that take advantage of them.

(Why, yes, I did read too much shoujo manga growing up and I do enjoy stories that make me feel awful, why do you ask?)

Dangan Ronpa: Sakura + Hina, friends for life

Posted in Games, Science fiction, Young adult with tags on June 1, 2014 by Cara Marie

My Dangan Ronpa overview post turned into 2000+ words and counting comparing the game to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. So I thought I would write about two of my favourite characters instead. Most of the characters in Dangan Ronpa are understandably standoffish – the premise of the game is that they have all been kidnapped and are being compelled to kill one another.

There is a lot of distrust and fear, but Sakura and Hina can’t be bothered with that shit. They are FRIENDS and don’t you doubt it. Sakura is the Ultimate Martial Artist and Hina is the Ultimate Swimming Pro – they bond straight off over their exercise regimes and love of protein shakes. They keep believing in one another, even in the face of the most startling revelations.

The strength of their friendship would endear them to me on its own – but also, here is a picture of Sakura, don’t tell me you don’t love her already:

An extremely buff young woman, with white hair and an impressive scar across her face.

Any game that has a female character that looks like that is alright by me.

Funnily enough, I am also predisposed to like Hina on account of her body type, although it is very different from Sakura’s. Hina is slim and busty, and I automatically feel protective of slim, busty characters (provided that it’s not just a function of the art style …).

Hina gets a fair amount of flack for being busty – notably from Toko, a character whom I find it extremely difficult to like. It seems as if Hina finds it easy to brush off the harassment – until a scene where Makoto and Hina are going swimming, and Hina gets embarrassed, because she only has a T-shirt to swim in. And she says something along the lines of, I don’t know why it matters, I’m sure it never used to. Which I found heartbreaking.

Hina has a warm, bubbly personality, but she’s also one of the most sensitive characters in the game. Which I can’t talk about without getting into massive spoiler territory – but this also relates to why I like Sakura so much, and the friendship between the two of them.

Read more »

Showdown in Little Tokyo

Posted in Action/adventure, Crime, Movies with tags on June 1, 2014 by Cara Marie

Dolph Lundgren stars as a baby white guy who was raised in Japan and takes the culture very seriously. Brandon Lee stars as a part Japanese-American dudebro who gets to quip a lot. Together, they are the worst cops I have ever seen on film!

No, really, they are dreadful. Entering buildings without warrants, setting fire to people who have fallen in vats of flammable liquid … there’s not much in the way of due process going on.

Because they are such shitty cops, they have both had trouble keeping partners in the past. When they meet, Lundgren has been beating up the gangsters harassing the owner of his favourite restaurant – Lee walks in, and, not knowing this, immediately starts trying to beat Lundgren up as well. Cue super awkwardness when they realise they are both cops! And what’s more, each other’s new partner.

Screenshot of Lee in a superfly suit, arms open wide, and Lundgren in a leather jacket, looking dubious.

Dolph Lundgren is not impressed.

Read more »

The Tournament

Posted in Action/adventure, Movies with tags on May 14, 2014 by Cara Marie

A movie about fight-to-the-death competition for assassins. No, I don’t know why you’d participate either.

So there are three main characters:

  • the assassin who won the last competition three years ago; since then, his wife was murdered in what apparently was an attempt to knock him off – he’s convinced that one of the other assassins did it, and is determined to get his revenge
  • an assassin who actually seems like a nice person (Kelly Hu) – we know this because when confronted with a poor schmuck of a priest, who’s had someone else’s assassin-tracker slipped in his drink, she tries to protect him
  • aforesaid schmuck of a priest, who is introduced getting kicked out of the pub at opening time. Big ups to whoever decided that what this film needed was an alcoholic priest. He is played by Robert Carlyle, who is putting in more effort than he really needs to for this film.

I found this quite enjoyable, but it more as an unintentional comedy than as a serious action movie. There are some particularly incongruous music choices that make it – like the old-timey music played over a montage of death. Read more »

Judge Dredd: Versace edition

Posted in Action/adventure, Movies, Science fiction with tags on April 13, 2014 by Cara Marie

Here are some things Judge Dredd (the 1995 movie) does well: it really truly looks like a 2000AD dystopia. The special effects are excellent, with a few exceptions (the mid-air chase scenes don’t stack up so well). There is a good robot (not in the moral sense). And I do believe there are some modern movies could learn from the number of women in the background of scenes.

On the other hand, who decided Rob Schneider needed to be in this movie? Who decided that Dredd needed a love interest? Why do studios think that erasing a property’s defining characteristics is the way to success?

(Maybe that’s unfair – I have seen a lot of really good adaptations, that took liberties without betraying the source material. On the other hand, I’ve also seen Stark Trek Into Darkness and The Dark Knight Rises, so.)

Also – the giant gold shoulder armor, why?! Read more »

I’m never going to be a judge (like you)

Posted in Action/adventure, Movies, Science fiction with tags on April 12, 2014 by Cara Marie

This post is about the Dredd’s ending: so big spoilers. Read more »

‘Who the hell finds robots?’

Posted in Action/adventure, Horror, Movies, Science fiction with tags on April 12, 2014 by Cara Marie

The premise of Battle of the Damned is that there has been a zombie virus outbreak in what is supposedly a city somewhere in South-East Asia. Dolph Lundgren has been sent in by a mysterious businessman, to track down said businessman’s daughter and bring her out.

Dolph Lundgren’s character is named Major Max Gatling (of course). I am now thinking of changing my name to Cara Gatling. Read more »

Dredd+ movie night

Posted in Movies on April 12, 2014 by Cara Marie

Last night we had a ‘people-with-limited-emotional-range-killing-lots-of-people-in-the-dystopian-near-future marathon’, impelled by L’s idea that we should watch both Judge Dredd movies together. The other movie we watched was Battle of the Damned, a movie staring Dolph Lundgren, zombies and robots.

This is the order we watched them in:

  1. Battle of the Damned
  2. Judge Dredd
  3. Dredd.

That is also the order of improving quality, over a very steep scale.

I was going to write about all these in one post, but then I wrote a giant plot summary of Battle of the Damned, and now I am exhausted so I will separate them out and link them instead.

Cable and X-Force (and Hope)

Posted in Comics, Superhero with tags , , on April 6, 2014 by Cara Marie

So I finished reading Cable and X-Force (I got seriously behind on my comic subscriptions for a while) and damn, this was a good series. It strikes a good balance between action, silliness and pathos.

The final arc is a crossover with Uncanny X-Force, and apparently I will read crossovers if they involve only two series. I still find them kind of awkward – often I prefer one of the writers to the other, and I don’t always have any idea who the other characters are. But the crossover was centred around Hope (who is in Cable and X-Force), so that was okay.

Hope, and her dad, and her dad’s clone, and her own personal bogeyman. Read more »