Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eclipse Chapter 1 - Ultimatum



When I finished the first book in this series, I genuinely felt like I’d accomplished something big. I didn’t feel like that when I wrote my last review for New Moon. I complained about how it seemed like nothing was happening in Twilight, but boy did I have no idea how far down there was to go. New Moon makes Dragonball Z look well-paced (Twilight does too, but New Moon’s worse). While the other books have to a one failed to live up to their promises, New Moon was worse because it didn’t even bother to promise anything. It was about was Bella not being with Edward. If Meyer had bothered to portray the questionable stuff in their relationship as problems, we might have doubted they’d end up together. But she didn’t.

Fortunately, as I noted in the review of the illustrated guide, Eclipse is a little better. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s good. Anything would’ve been a step up after that. It’s less like Meyer starts getting it right, and gets it a little less wrong this time around. Perhaps due to the stakes being higher, or the fact that there’s just one more book in the series, it seems even more like Bella gets everything without having to do anything. As helpless and weepy as Bella is, that’s still a prime Mary Sue trait.

1. Instead of the moronic teaser for the climax, why don’t we start with the summary on the copyright page this time?

“Bella must choose between her friendship with Jacob and her relationship with Edward, but when Seattle is ravaged by a mysterious string of killings, the three of them need to decide whether their personal lives are more important than the well-being of an entire city.”

Would it be unfair of me to say that sounds like something our “heroes” would have to actually think about?

Didn’t think so.

2. As for said moronic teaser, as usual it’s about a period late in the book where Bella, and really all her allies, suck: “All our attempts at subterfuge had been in vain.” She’s distraught about some kind of battle.

I’m worried about that too. After all, the only people with names I remember dying up to this point were James (a villain), Laurent (another villain), and Harry Clearwater (a faceless side character who died to set up the most idiotic, unnecessary climax I may have ever seen).

You know why Rob’s character died in The Goblet of Fire? A big part of it was so we’d believe in the increasing danger facing the characters. He was a good guy, and he still got killed. A lot of time’s gone into (and will continue to go into) telling us how much so-and-so’s a threat, but how much do you really want to bet we might lose a Cullen or two by the end of the series? Can you really believe Stephenie Meyer’s the kind of author who’d be willing to let that happen?

I can’t. Not so much because no “good guys” have died yet, but simply because nothing’s happened to lend any of the menaces any weight or make me think the author’s willing to let something unpleasant happen to a favored character. James only trapped Bella because she’s a moron. Victoria spent the entire last book offscreen because she couldn’t get past Jacob and his buddies. And the Volturi…well damn, did you see anything proving how implacable they are in dealing with rule-breakers? Who also happen to be anything more than a no-development background character? Then again, how may major characters do these books really have?

That more anything is the problem with Meyer’s books: she seems to think that because she says someone’s scary, or that whoever’s a jerk to our narrator who doesn’t deserve it, they are. Without having to actually let us see that for ourselves.

SDT. Learn it. Use it.

3. Things open on a note from Jacob where a bunch of angry stuff he wrote and crossed out is still rather legible. Bella, of course, feels guilty about putting him through this, since “behind each angry beginning lurked a vast pool of hurt; Jacob’s pain cut me deeper than my own.” Pardon me for not finding her very empathic when she takes the blame for everything she can, no matter how much sense it doesn’t make. You’ve got to have some sense of self before you can be selfless.

4. Meanwhile, Charlie’s trying to cook and failing, and isn’t too happy. “I was mystified. Charlie cooking? And what was with the surly attitude?” Because he’s wondering what he did to be punished with being her farther? I spent the last two books inside her head, but Charlie has to live with her. I doubt he has it any easier.

 Then there’s some stuff for new readers about how Charlie’s a cop and Bella’s going out with a telepathic vampire and how Jacob deliberately got her in trouble to limit her contact with Edward. And how Charlie doesn’t like Edward much either.

“Of course, I still saw Edward at school, because there wasn’t anything Charlie could do about that.” Besides ship her off to live with her mom again or put a restraining order on Edward, so maybe it’s because he really does love his daughter somehow after all.

Confusing is this little thought, about Bella putting up with Charlie limiting her time with Edward: “I couldn’t bear to hurt my dad by moving out now, when a much more permanent separation hovered, invisible to Charlie, so close on my horizon. My dad sat down at the table with a grunt and unfolded the damp newspaper there…”

This is about the only time in the book she doesn’t think of Charlie as Charlie. Did something not get caught in copy editing?

Speaking of damp newspapers, “Seattle’s making a run for murder capital of the country. Five unsolved homicides in the last two weeks. Can you imagine living like that?” Can you imagine living in a world where the author doesn’t slap you in the face with the plot like that?

5. Bella’s reading her copy of Wuthering Heights when Charlie says he’s got something to ask her, but if you guessed that was setup so Meyer could make some more shaky comparisons between her sparkly vampire wank dream and a piece of classic literature, give yourself a cookie. And go read a less predictable book.

6. What’s Papa Swan got to talk about, you ask? He asks her not to be mad at Jacob, and try to have contact with people besides Edward. Although I have to politely disgree with the claim that “For a teenager, you’re amazingly non-whiney.” Maybe he doesn’t actually live with her.

Bella’s surprised that Charlie’s loosening his strictures on her going out with Edward as an incentive for his entreaties, since “Edward hadn’t picked up any wavering in Charlie’s thoughts”. Even if there’s no such thing as psychic powers, even if it’s not something he can really control, I’m pretty sure eavesdropping like that’s another crime. At the very least, it’s something nobody wants happening to them. I mean, Jacob’s talked about how embarrassing it is for the other wolves to know every single thing he thinks. And when one of those things is being attracted to Bella Swan, you’ve gotta feel for the guy.

As for Bella’s “friends,” well, “Before Edward’s return, my school friends had polarized into two groups. I liked to think of those groups as good vs. evil. Us vs. them worked too. The good guys were Angela, her steady boyfriend Ben Cheney, and Mike Newton; these three had all very generously forgiven me for going crazy when Edward left.” Very generously. Unhealthily so. “Lauren Mallory was the evil core of the them side, and almost everyone else, including my first friend in Forks, Jessica Stanley, seemed content to go along with her anti-Bella agenda.” Wow, sign me up, Lauren! Do we get team jackets and have a secret handshake? I’ll join up either way.

In all seriousness, am I really supposed to think Bella’s mature beyond her years? Good vs. evil, are you fncking kidding me? In any case, it’s a little late to say Bella cared about any of them as anything but an outlet for favors. Which includes an excuse to get Charlie off her back. As much as she may care about him deep down, I’ve yet to see that for anyone in her circle of “friends.” Saying something’s so doesn’t make it so.

Bella gently tries to explain that “Friendship doesn’t always seem to be enough for Jake.” Why, I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

7. The subject of where Bella’s going to college is mentioned, and Bella mentions “I’m shocked, Sheriff. That’s a federal crime” when she finds out Charlie opened one of her acceptance letters already. Like she’s one to talk, especially considering Charlie has no idea what she and Edward really do together. Like steal cars and immolate ballet studios. Although I can believe the author doesn’t realize that.

When Bella drags her feet, dad asks what Edward’s got planned after graduation. However, “Three quick raps on the door saved me.” Bella’s not smart. Otherwise she would’ve already asked Edward what his story is. That’s no guarantee she’d know it, though, since the perfect boyfriend still seems to enjoy watching his twu luv squirm.

Anyway, yeah, it’s Edward, and about two thirds of the following page go into talking about how “Time had not made me immune to the perfection of his face, and I was sure that I would never take any aspect of it for granted.” Yeah, that’s probably mostly for the newcomers (mostly, because Bella’s gushing over the Cullens’ pretty is only a little subdued compared to what it’s been), but sheesh. You can take praising someone’s hotness too far, even in a romance novel. Which I’m still not sure these are.

It’s not just his body, but his manners that are perfect. “Edward was always flawlessly polite, though Charlie didn’t deserve it.” Screw you. Imagine what he’d think of Edward if he knew what Edward was really like, or what the real reasons were behind Bella suddenly going to Phoenix or Italy. Charlie’s not the one who would’ve never recovered from their first time being dumped without a new perfect partner entering his life, either.

“He was taking the idea of parental supervision to extremes lately, indeed.” If you don’t want people to treat you like a baby, don’t act like one. Furthermore, didn’t Edward make a point of having parental supervision in his cover story of following Bella to Phoenix during their fracas with James?

8. But back to college, Bella’s amazed at how she gets accepted to so many places, especially so late in the year. Except not really. “I could just imagine the motivations behind such exceptions. And the dollar amounts involved.” Because rules are for poor mortal people.

Edward’s so awesome that when he says he’s been accepted to Syracuse, Harvard and Dartmouth, he probably means sixty years ago. Sorry, it’s going to take more than that to make me forget how he failed to anticipate an evil vampire wanting revenge after getting diplomas at every Ivy League school you can name.

9. Edward tries to run the idea of taking Bella to Seattle past her dad, and is flatly turned down because of the killing spree going on there (why does he even suggest it, what with how manically protective he is of Bella? He knows what’s really going on there, and he even forbids her to see Jacob). She tries to protest, “Dad, there’s a better chance that I’ll get struck by lightning than that the one day I’m in Seattle--” Stop right there. The books have endlessly tried to say all that shit happens to Bella because she’s some kind of “danger magnet.” She’s also taken every opportunity to say how worthless she is as a person. Don’t try to say how unlikely it is something bad will happen to her. Not even with vampire chaperones, since we've seen more than once that Bella can be prompted to ditch whichever supernatural bodyguards she has at the time and do something pointless and suicidal. Unless we’re dropping that charade and admitting she’s a magnet for trouble at least in (large) part to her own apocalyptically bad judgement.

Oh, and even though Bella’s not in the mood to apply to a bunch of hoity toity colleges since all she wants out of the future is to be grafted to Edward’s hip, it turns out he’s mastered forging her signature and has already written her admission essays for her. Oh yes, true love, when your partner’s signing you up for things without your consent or even knowledge. I want Bella to do things besides sit around and whine, of course, but they don’t mean anything if the only reason she’d be interested is to humor Edward so he’ll give her what she wants.

Edward tries to persuade her to try college under the pretense of enjoying “human experiences” while she’s still properly human, but the only thing on her mind are the dangers staying human poses, namely being at the mercy of Victoria and the Volturi. Neither of whom, as I pointed out, is at all intimidating. Bella’s still worried even with Alice keeping an eye on the both of them with her “uncannily accurate visions of the future”. What happened to “strange, imperfect” visions? Suited the story for her to be more reliable all of a sudden, huh?

10. Edward confirms that the murders going on in Seattle are being committed by a newborn vampire, but “it’s not our problem. We wouldn’t even pay attention to the situation if it wasn’t going on so close to home.” Nice hero. Also, this means that when the Cullens do get involved, you have to wonder if they really care about saving anyone besides Bella despite what they say. Not to mention how it puts the lie to Bella claiming that the Cullens were "all committed to protecting human life." What's even worse is the part before that is "He and his 'vegetarian' family," implying that by not eating people, they're protecting human life. Just because you're not making a point to kill people, that doesn't make you their protector.

Not that I really care if anybody else gets killed. When Bella reads the names of the victims, “People who’d had parents and children and friends and pets and jobs and hopes and plans and memories and futures…” well, I’m not saying I don’t care when I hear someone I don’t know dies. I’m saying I don’t care when a made-up person I don’t know dies.

Michelle O’Connell and Ronald Albrook aren’t people who had lives, they’re a couple letters Meyer typed on a page (although I could believe they're people Meyer's known in real life). That’s why I didn’t care when Harry Clearwater died. All I knew was he was one of Charlie’s friends. He has some relatives on the reservation, but they’re barely more than names floating in limbo themselves. You can use the death of unknowns to establish something/someone as dangerous, that said something/someone is a heartless killer. Because if they kill people without a qualm, it means they probably won’t have any scruples about killing a character we’ve gotten to know and, hopefully, care about. But it’s hard to use that to make something tragic. Not impossible, but hard.

Think about it like this: when the Death Star blew up Alderaan, what did you think? “Everyone on that planet’s dead, how sad,” or “uh oh, the bad guys can destroy a whole planet”? Star Wars was trying to make the same point Eclipse is, after all.

To draw another comparison to The Dresden Files, I just finished the fourth one, Summer Knight. The plot involved saving a young woman I didn’t think we ever got to know that well, but we did meet her family, saw how close they were and how far they’d go to protect each other. We saw that family and their memories and their devotion. It wasn’t a stellar example, but it was an example. Or Kim from Fool Moon. We didn’t learn much about her before she died, but she had an honest to God meaningful conversation with the main character before she did. We found after she died that she was tied into the plot as more than just a statistic. We didn’t see that with secondary characters in New Moon. We’re not going to see it in Eclipse either.

I will say this: while Meyer doesn’t seem to understand that it helps to give us reasons to care about a character before you try to tell us it’s sad they’re gone, Bella is at least bothered by the fact that rampant loss of human life is occurring. In the last book it sometimes sounded like she only cared if someone she personally was attached to was endangered.

11. Edward starts to talk to Bella about Wuthering Heights and how “it’s not a love story, it’s a hate story,” but since I’ve never seen a movie version of it and I’m not reading a whole book to respond to one point (which knowing the author is off-base anyway), I’m going to step back from this one (anyone who knows is welcome to fill me in). Except for the part where Edward says “I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality.” If people were saying the things about my writing that they do about Steph’s, I don’t think I’d leave myself open like that.

12. The conversation turns to the Quileutes and how Edward doesn’t want her hanging around them. “Werewolves are unstable. Sometimes, the people near them get hurt. Sometimes, they get killed.” He used to say the same things about vampires, making his family’s attempts to blend into human society a bit puzzling since we’re supposed to think of them as good people.

“You don’t know them,” Bella whispers, but he assures her he does. “I was here the last time.” “The last time?” she asks, meaning that I guess she’s forgotten about the story Jacob told her that mattered, about the Cullens being vampires and the werewolves brokering a truce with them.

This…damn. It’s hard to justify Bella not knowing what Edward means even for the benefit of new readers. She’s a total moron if she doesn’t know what he’s talking about by now, with everything she’s seen. Meyer could’ve avoided that by changing Bella’s question to “You mean when Carlisle made the treaty?” and then having her remind us about that.

Edward places the blame for the reemergence of the werewolves on Bella: “Your bad luck seems to get more potent every day. Do you realize that your insatiable pull for all things deadly was strong enough to recover a pack of mutant canines from extinction? If we could bottle your luck, we’d have a weapon of mass destruction on our hands.” I thought they reemerged to protect their land from a vampire (Victoria). Yeah, whose fault is it James's girlfriend is still around, again, dipshit?

In any case, Edward refuses to let Bella go anywhere near La Push because of his distrust of werewolves. “Do you really have any idea of how important you are to me? Any concept at all of how much I love you?” Show it sometime in a way that doesn't involve treating her like a brainless doll and I’ll consider it. Show it by them doing something besides risking their lives (which are defined by their relationship with the other). They compare how much they love each other, but that’s no substitute.

14. Considering the nature of the posts that prompt them, does anyone else think the Twilight ads on my blog are hilarious?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Super Awesome North Shore Ninjas

Before I moved to Texas, I sometimes made extra money pet sitting. One of my regular clients was a very nice Danish lady with a psychotic cat. She did know, though. The cat’s name was Hissy.

Anyway, one of the last times I watched her place it turned out she’d downgraded her cable package and among the few channels she still got was the one run by the local high school. This was mostly a continuous loop of informational videos on their sports teams, little movies showing the school mascot (Tommy the Titan) crushing enemies of school spirit, and telecomm projects.

What’s most amazing of all is some of them were even worth watching.

After our opening credits (and a sound byte that probably came from the old Ninja Turtles arcade game) the movie opens on hotshot reporter May O’Reilly reporting on a series of thefts thought to be run by some evilnik calling himself “the Dicer.” Her boss comes in looking for someone in the newsroom willing to look more closely into the thefts, and over the objections of her cameraman, May volunteers. Is that a picture of Ernie Kovacs over the boss’s door?

At the mall where the next robbery’s supposed to be going down, the camera’s still grousing over May having to volunteer for dangerous assignments. As she’s telling him not to be such a wimp, they run into a couple of toughs who see them, grab wiffle bats and chase May around the building.

She runs into an air conditioner and knocks herself out. As she’s fading in and out of consciousness, suddenly action music plays and four brightly-colored blobs beat up the thugs.

May comes around in a basement where four weirdoes in colorful pajamas are sitting around playing Goldeneye. They’re the Super Awesome North Shore Ninjas, it turns out (the North Shore meaning the north suburbs of Chicago), mentored by Master Sliver, who appears to be somebody’s kid brother.

He explains their origin from the beginning as we cut away to a darkened room where a guy with a distorted voice finds out a bunch of weirdoes in pajamas beat up his underlings. Gotta say, I was pleasantly surprised when our villain didn’t break into a coughing fit after his evil laugh.

We return to the basement, having missed the story of the ninjas’ secret origin. When May tries to leave, the red guy stops her, prompting an argument with the blue guy, prompting the red guy to declare he’s had enough and storm out. I love how they play this thing. The hothead storming out’s played exactly like the cliché it is, with almost laughably underplayed anger on the red guy’s part.

However, then the movie commits its only real stumble, in my opinion. As the remaining ninjas swear May to secrecy, Sliver hits a button that makes the old Ninja Turtles theme song play. Yeah, thanks, we got it.

The movie bounces back fast, though. After that we goofy little profiles of each of the ninjas. And for a high school telecomm project, the blue guy’s staff-twirling before his was actually pretty good.

After the ninjas drop May off at her place, she apologizes for freaking out on them. They shrug it off. “Yeah, I mean, look at us.”

As soon as they’re out of sight one of Dicer’s thugs shows up and grabs May, and the blue guy senses something’s wrong…he forgot to tell May when they’d be showing up so she could interview them. They find a note from the thugs, but realize it’s in Japanese and they don’t know Japanese, until the orange guy shows them it’s just in a cartoony Asian font. The thugs taped it upside down. Probably to troll the ninjas.

Anyway, the Dicer challenges them to a battle to the death on the parking garage of a mall. The blue guy tells the others to be ready for anything (“yes, anything!”) as they head up, and come face-to-face (or…mask) with the Dicer himself. And about a gabillion of his thugs.

Including a black-clad girl with a whip.

The battle begins, but blue guy’s staff doesn’t work on Dicer and the thugs’ superior numbers soon wear down the other two ninjas. All seems lost…until the red guy shows up to make a timely rescue, taking down the bad guys with his CD throwing stars.

Except for the femme fatale. She bats aside their projectiles with her whip, but she runs for her life when the orange guy uses the ancient ninja art of turning girls off.

Dicer breaks the blue guy’s staff, who flashes back to his mom warning him that if he breaks he’s ground, Grounded, GROUNDED!!! This proves to be his Super Saiyan moment, and his hair goes neon blue.

When Dicer refuses to surrender even in the face of this corny special effect, the blue guy shoots an energy ball at him that turns Dicer into a fire extinguisher.

And yeah, that’s pretty much it. They save May and we cruise out to the strains of Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap”.

Watch the silly spectacle yourself here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Starchaser - The Legend of Orin

Once upon a time, there was a very stupid child. He thought there were clearly defined periods in every person’s life and stark boundaries on anything and everything. Girls liked My Little Pony, boys liked G.I. Joe. Once you hit a certain age you gave up things like comic books and cartoons. As you grew up you would automatically attain perfect knowledge of the world and how to live in it.

Then one day in 1985, his parents took him to see a movie that was his first step in breaking those nice little orderly lines, though they surely had no idea what they were getting into when they did.

That movie was Starchaser.

After opening credits on a star field backed by gloriously cheesy 80’s synth, the movie opens on a bleak underground mine where humans mine powerful crystals under the watchful eyes of robots. Zygon, the speaker for their pitiless gods, goads them on with threats of the furnace that powers their awful world going out if they don’t provide ever more crystals.

Until, that is, the miners discover a sword that projects an image of an old man who speaks of a magnificent universe beyond the mine, and exhorts them to “find the blade, and you will find your freedom.” The blade and the man fade away, leaving just the hilt and the promise of something better.

Most of the miners are dubious, except a boy named Orin who looks like an 80’s rock star and isn’t quite old enough to have had his spirit completely broken by the years of unceasing toil. He and girlfriend Elan make a plan to sneak into the next load of crystals to see what lies beyond, and learn it’s all a sham; there are no heartless gods, Zygon’s planning to use the crystals to launch a bid for galactic domination. We find out how serious he is when he strangles Elan. And she’s dead. Forever.

Elan’s grandfather had been killed previous to this trying to keep the robots from finding the sword, but he was old and infirm anyway. Considering the kind of life they lead it’s a miracle he lasted that long. The hero’s girlfriend didn’t get killed, anymore than the hero didn’t always win. It just didn’t happen.

Zygon seems to recognizes the bladeless sword Orin carries, and it suddenly starts to glow, giving him a chance to run for it. He flees into a tunnel, which promptly caves in. Like all would-be conquerors, Zygon presumes Orin died. Like all would-be heroes, Orin survives the disaster without a scratch.

A montage shows him digging upward for the first time in his life (“Never dig up. Up is hell”), until, his food exhausted and his hope almost spent as well, Orin emerges into a swamp. You and I wouldn’t be too excited by this, but Orin’s elated to find out the universe really is bigger than his people’s cave.

That is, until he runs into a pack of deranged “man-droids” who want to cut him up and use his body parts to replace their own. This was the moment when I started to realize cartoons were just another medium. These guys were scary, especially this one.

But once again the hilt saves Orin when it suddenly generates a blade of energy and kills two of his captors, letting Orin bluff the third into cutting him loose. While fleeing from the vivisected freaks’ vivisected freak buddies, Orin literally runs into a cigar-chomping space smuggler who he promptly saves from a giant swamp bug.

Orin tags along when they’re detected by the guard-bots of the crystal storage base Orin just escaped from. From there Orin learns he’s a chosen one destined to save the universe from robot enslavement, and along the way things are made interesting by a prissy ship’s computer, a sleazy gynoid, and a politician’s beautiful daughter (voiced by Noelle North!) who’s charmed by Orin’s macho headband.

Oh no!

Now, some of the movie’s influences are kind of obvious. Like the two main characters. Orin’s got a sword that only creates an energized blade when he’s going into combat. Dag (the cigar-chomping smuggler) is more than a little reminiscent of another hard-bitten space dog whose trilogy had wrapped up a couple years earlier.

But Starchaser's still a solid movie and it earns that PG rating, too. Besides the death, cursing, death, and scary patchwork robot people, it can be kind of crude. Like when Dag captures a secretarial robot in the process of escaping the crystal base, he later reprograms her by opening the access hatch on her butt. And looking at it with adult eyes, there’s one scene that sure looks like it takes place in an alien whorehouse.

Bite THAT shiny metal ass...

So not only for pushing the limits of what was and wasn’t done in animation back then, but also for telling a pretty good story and having some great animation, Starchaser’s a movie that easily earns my recommendation. This movie isn’t good in a silly way, it’s good in a good way. Even if the story’s a little predictable at times, the pacing’s solid, the characters are likable enough, and the villains are both credible and kind of scary. It’s also not afraid to take the occasional stab at levity, like with where Silica’s attitude adjustment takes place.

Even if it's not a good idea to look too close at the scenery sometimes.

Having listened to me heap praise on this movie, would you believe it was actually written by the same Jeffrey Scott who was my semi-regular whipping boy for his work on Dino Squad?

I’m not sure I do either.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Villains & Vigilantes - Attack on the Poseidon Line

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

An adventure that starts as a working vacation on a cruise ship. Have to agree, yeah, that’s a first for superhero role-playing. Things sort of started like that in For the Greater Good, but even Jack Herman admitted the whole reason that got published was thanks to its envelope-pushing villains.

Anyway, things get started with a Greek shipping magnate (is there any other kind?) appealing for help when his cruise lines keep getting raided by modern pirates. Seems Manta-Man hasn't been discouraging this kind of thing too effectively. What to do but send a bunch of superheroes undercover on the next cruise and hope they can do something about it next time.

Gotta say, that’s not quite investigating the disappearance of a supermodel after a bungee, but it’s one of the more unique hooks I’ve heard for this kind of thing. The chance to role-play against the rich and famous of your campaign world, or the handy list of thinly-veiled parodies of the rich and famous if you haven’t bothered to establish any, is a nice touch too. In my opinion, the best adventures always give you something more than just a new group of villains to pound.

Not the villains in this module are just another bunch of thugs with a couple of garish powers thrown in. I could definitely see involving most of the villains in further scenarios after wrapping this adventure, particularly the likes of Delphi with her mysterious awareness and Ajax with his power to melt and come back in a new body to menace our heroes anew. My favorite little tidbit about the villains was finding out they get more use out of Midas’s golden touch than just some interesting statuary. Nobody ever thinks of doing more with a power like that than just changing something into another substance, and then maybe throwing it at a character they don’t like because now it’s heavier.

I suppose this review’s shorter than other ones I’ve done for V&V material, but that’s mainly because so much space and effort’s devoted to laying out the floor plan of the cruise ship, plus the mansion that conceals a villain base, that the actual adventure sometimes seems a little brief. The floor plans are amazingly intricate, though, and could easily survive this adventure to see use in others. Plus, with all the role-playing possibilities between the PC’s while patrolling the ship and the celebrities and their varying degrees of sanity, though, a good GM can make rubbing shoulders with celebrities last as long as it’s entertaining.

If I have to complain about anything, it’s that it’s kind of trite that this happens around Greece, so the villains all have a Greek mythology motif.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Foe Files

As I noted back in my In Broad Daylight review, with the revival of Villains and Vigilantes, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have been getting back into the game, as it were. Lately, by going ahead with a rather strange idea for a product line. That idea being that for a buck apiece, you can buy a villain for your superhero RPG.

So far the line consists of three villains, and the first to be released was Omni-Primus. He was the villain seen fighting the Indestructibles from In Broad Daylight on the cover of the revised rulebook for the old version of the game (the one Fantasy Games Unlimited’s still using).

He’s meant to be a galactic overlord capable of threatening the entire world and fighting entire teams of player characters, the kind every superhero campaign needs every once in a while. He’s properly powerful and leaves a lot of room open for a resourceful GM to use him, but given how the Foe Files clock in at five pages counting the cover, no space at all is given to detailing the resources at his command. I’m not sure that was really wise, seeing as how in my experience villains like Omni-Primus are ones the players might never actually fight, let alone be in any shape to fight after getting past all of his flunkies. I guess I’m mainly thinking of Island of Dr. Apocalypse, which suggests to the GM that the PC’s might need some kind of miraculous healing treatment to be in any shape for the adventure if it’s run after Death Duel With the Destroyers (as it’s meant to be). Mine did.

The second pack consists of Rune, an exiled alien meant to be something of an ultimate assassin. Rune’s formidable enough, I guess, but I didn’t find the meaning of the name and thought the bird-like long nose on the suit to be pretty stupid. Particularly for this terrifying master assassin. Worse, Rune has that most reprehensibly cliched of villain quirks: pausing in pursuit of their evil plans to chat with their enemies. I could never see myself using Rune, at least not as-is.

Last for now is easily the most bizarre idea to come of this product line, the Jackal Jester, sort of a cross between the Joker and the wolfman. Yes, he combines the lycanthrope schtick with the killer toys schtick. He even shows some of the silliness of the real names used by characters in Dee and Herman’s earlier work (like Dreamweaver’s name is Donna Weston, Bull is “Big” Bill Buckford) in that his real name’s Eric Gagnard. The more I think about him, though, the more I think the two gimmicks are just a little too weird to use when combined.

The Foe Files are something of an interesting idea, but while they’re certainly affordable, the characters they contain just aren’t as fun as I’ve gotten used to seeing in these guys’ older work. I don’t think they’ve lost it or anything. Like I said, I really liked In Broad Daylight. I just don’t know that the Foe Files are the best way they could be applying themselves. Assuming these characters haven't all been sitting around for ages.

By the way, if that's supposed to be a display of the Crusaders' computer, which Crusader's mask is that?

Just asking.