Television: Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest HeroesOkay, so I lied. I said that the only new show I’ll be watching this fall is Heroes on NBC. That was a falsehood almost before the words were on the page, thanks to my wife setting up a Season Pass for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, also on NBC. Now, to add to the untruth, comes Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, an animated series produced by Moonscope, a French animation studio.

I heard about the series earlier this year, but completely forgot about it until it was mentioned on one of the many podcasts I listen to. After a bit of a false start with the Season Pass, my trusty TiVo began recording the show at 8:00 on Saturday evenings. I missed the first couple of episodes, but the two I’ve seen—”My Neighbor the Skrull” and “Trial By Fire”—have both been pretty good. The storyline is classic Fantastic Four, introducing both the shapeshifting Skrulls (and setting the stage for the Super Skrull) and the Kree, a race of alien conquerors. These two races are at war with one another, which should make for an interesting story, especially if the Kree send Captain Mar-vell and his awesome nega-bands to Earth. ((Actually, including the nega-bands would almost certainly require the writers to introduce the ubiquitous Rick Jones, who uses the bands to bring Mar-Vell out of the negative zone.))

Johnny Storm
image-459
The visual style of Fantastic Four borrows a lot from anime, which would be okay if not for Johnny Storm’s hair, which looks like it was ripped from someone in Dragonball Z, or perhaps Digimon. I can’t even conceive of the amount of hair gel Johnny must use every morning, and if those sideburns were any longer they’d be a chinstrap for his wacky hair helmet. Actually, Johnny’s sideburns may have been a chinstrap at some point, but if so it was surely severed by his pointy, pointy chin. (Click image to enlarge hair and chin alike.)

Tonsorial oddities aside, Fantastic Four is a fun show that looks promising. It’s geared toward 6 – 12 year-olds, so it lacks the edginess of some recent superhero fare, but the story so far has a lot of potential. I do regret missing the episode entitled “Doomed”, though, as I’m very interested to see how they treat the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemesis, Doctor Doom. If he’s done well, the series could quickly become a favorite.

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Kraken: Tentacles of the DeepKraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)

Starring Jack Scalia, Victoria Pratt and Charlie O’Connell

Written by Nicholas Garland, Sean Keller and Brian D. Young

Directed by Tibor Takács

Thanks to the wonders of TiVo, I was able to sit down and watch Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep Saturday afternoon. The movie, which stars Jack Scalia, Charlie O’Connell (Sliders) and Victoria Pratt (Mutant X), was originally titled Deadly Water until The SciFi Channel held a contest to rename it. ((Despite the title, the featured creature is never referred to as a “kraken” by any of the characters.))

Archaeologist Nicole (Victoria Pratt) is not Indiana Jones, but she’d like to be. ((At one point, Nicole declares that an artifact “belongs in a museum.”)) She’s traveled to Desolation Passage in search of an ancient bronze mask she hopes will lead her to a legendary opal. She is dogged in her quest by Maxwell Odemus (Scalia), who plans to secure the opal in order to regain favor with his family back in Greece.

Dashing marine photographer and all-around nice guy Ray (O’Connell) offers to help Nicole after the skipper of her boat is killed by a giant squid. Unbeknownst to Nicole and her crew, Ray has his own agenda: his parents were killed by a giant squid in Desolation Passage over a decade ago, and Ray’s got a taste for calamari with a side of revenge.

As SciFi originals go, Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep is pretty mediocre. Apart from the obvious Indiana Jones ripoff (sorry, homage) and the low-grade computer-generated sea critter that changes size from scene to scene, the story is just generally weak. For instance, Nicole maintains that the squid may be the embodiment of Scylla, a figure from Greek mythology. Scylla was a beautiful nymph transformed into a hideous sea creature by the sorceress, Circe. Nicole adds the element of the opal to the myth, claiming that anyone who possessed the giant gem was ultimately slain at sea by a giant squid. This explains why the squid attacks Nicole and her crew when they’re exploring the sunken Chinese freighter (which was also attacked by a giant squid) that contains both the mask and the opal, and it certainly makes sense that the squid would attack Odemus’ men when they attempt to recover the opal after blowing up Nicole’s boat.

Even the hapless teenagers who are attacked halfway through the movie have managed to earn the squid’s ire: they inadvertently stumble on the remains of Nicole’s nosy underwater camera, the very thing that awakened the cantankerous cephalopod in the first place.

But why attack Ray’s parents at the beginning of the movie? They didn’t possess the opal, nor were they attempting to find it or even in danger of accidentally stumbling upon it. It’s just a random attack on some innocent people who are trying to enjoy their vacation. Of course, it gives Ray a reason to want the squid dead, but it’s one of those annoying inconsistencies that turns a passable story into a bad one.

In the end, the bad guys are all killed, a couple of the good guys manage to escape, and the opal sinks back to the bottom of the passage, where a host of tiny squid swim around it in preparation for Kraken 2: Deeper, Tentacles, Deeper!. ((SciFi Channel’s first original hentai movie.))

Television: Requiem for a Daywalker

The interesting thing about Blade: The Series is that—apart from two episodes—the show wasn’t really about the main character. If you’ve not seen the series and spoilers are the holy symbol that burns your flesh, you may wish to retreat to your coffin at this time.

For those unfamiliar with the Blade franchise, the basic conceit is that vampires live among us in secret, fighting amongst themselves and infiltrating every aspect of the human world. Though humanity remains largely ignorant of the existence of these nocturnal predators, those few who are aware are separated into two groups: hunters, who seek to destroy all vampires, and familiars, who have allied themselves with the bloodsuckers in the hopes of one day earning eternal life.

Blade was born into this world shortly after his mother was bitten by a vampire. As a result, he is half-human and half-vampire, possessing “all of their powers and none of their weaknesses.” Blade has super-human strength and reflexes and is able to move around in daylight because the sun’s rays are not harmful to him; this has led to vampires giving him the name Daywalker. Blade’s powers come with a price, however: like his vampire half-brethren, Blade is compelled to feed on blood, an urge he quashes by regularly injecting himself with a special serum.

Blade: The Series is a spin-off of the popular movie trilogy starring Wesley Snipes. Rapper Kirk “Sticky” Jones had a mighty big trench coat to fill when he took up the title role for the small screen, but as I mentioned earlier, Blade: The Series wasn’t really about Blade at all.

The cast of Blade: Jessica Gower, Neil Jackson, Kirk Jones, Jill Wagner and Nelson Lee
image-456
The series’ major protagonist is actually Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), who returns home to Detroit after a tour in Iraq to find that her brother, Zack, has been killed. The police seem convinced that Zack was involved in some sort of gang, but Krista learns the hard way that the true culprits were vampires. Shortly after discovering that her brother was a familiar, Krista is turned by Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson), perhaps the most powerful and influential vampire in the city and one major horndog. All seems lost for Krista until she is approached by Blade, who offers her an alternative to the bloodsucking lifestyle to which Van Sciver and his associates have become very accustomed.

Krista begins to inject herself with Blade’s serum to stave off the bloodthirst and becomes Blade’s agent within the House of Chthon, one of the twelve vampire factions that are constantly at war with one another. The information Krista feeds Blade ultimately leads to a major confrontation between the Daywalker and Van Sciver, who engineers a major coup at a secret vampire conclave in Toronto.

Much of Blade: The Series revolves around Krista, her difficulty in fighting off the ever more intense vampiric urges, her struggle to hide her true nature and intentions from Van Sciver (who has the major hots for her), and the cat-fighting with Chase (Jessica Gower), another shapely vampire who is none too thrilled with Marcus’ new obsession.

The first season of Blade: The Series—which wrapped up a few weeks ago—will apparently be the only season. A few days ago, Jill Wagner announced that SpikeTV would not be picking the series up for another season. A day after Wagner’s announcement, SpikeTV issued a press release confirming that Blade would not be returning to the small screen in the foreseeable future.

I’m not surprised that Blade: The Series has been canceled, but I am a little disappointed; the show was actually pretty good. I’m a fan of the basic premise of vampires living in secret among us, exerting political influence through a network of human pawns and aligning themselves in factions that constantly jockey for positions of power. Also fascinating is the caste system among the legions of undead: purebloods (those who were born vampires) look down on their half-blood brethren (who were once human, but have been turned), and at least one house has been exiled by the others for inciting a civil war.

Political intrigue and infighting aside, Blade: The Series had a pretty solid storyarc through the first season. Krista played a pivotal part in nearly every event that occurred from the pilot to the finale, but the focus on her storyline (not to mention Marcus’ machinations) may have prevented Blade himself from developing as much as he should have. As a result, Blade doesn’t seem to change much throughout the course of the story.

The most frustrating aspect of the series’ cancellation is that the final episode apparently ran a few minutes longer than an hours. I say “apparently” based on the fact that the TiVo recording abruptly ended during a conversation between Krista and Marcus, just as Marcus was about to reveal how he had located Blade’s secret base. Dammit!

RPG: With Great Power… (Part 1 – Origins)

With Great Power...When Chris Miller returned from GenCon last month, he brought me a copy of With Great Power…, a roleplaying game from Incarnadine Press. The title is taken from a classic line spoken by Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben Parker. “With great power,” Uncle Ben told his nephew, “comes great responsibility.” This, perhaps more than anything, is what drives Peter to don the mask of Spider-Man day after day and put himself in harm’s way to protect the innocent from all manner of malevolent villains.

With Great Power…, as you might have guessed, is a superhero roleplaying game, in which players create their own heroes to battle evil and injustice in the world. Unlike so-called “traditional” RPGs, characters in With Great Power… are not defined by a series of ability scores like Strength, Dexterity and Charisma, but rather in more abstract terms, such as their relationships, convictions and sense of duty.

Wednesday evening I walked through “The Origin Process” with Chris and his friend, Matt. With Great Power… is all about collaborative storytelling right from the start. Players (Chris and Matt) and GM (myself) first decide what the overall theme of the game will be. This is expressed in terms of a struggle that each of the characters must face throughout the story. Chris latched onto “Justice vs. Vengeance” almost immediately, and we ran with it.

After the Struggle has been chosen, character creation begins. As with everything else in With Great Power…, character creation is a collaborative process. Players do not create their characters in a vacuum, armed with a set of dice and some general parameters provided by the GM. Instead, each player answers a series of questions about his or her character and the other players are encouraged to add details as the hero is being fleshed out, a process referred to as “penciling”.

None of us were used to this type of character creation, but after spinning our wheels for a few minutes we started to have a lot of fun with it. The characters began to take form as ideas about their origin, powers, relationships and responsibilities came from all directions, some concepts blossoming and others withering on the vine.

Chris’ probability-altering hero is the twentysomething son of a wealthy defense contractor. Young and idealistic, he wants to see the family’s wealth and influence used for more humanitarian purposes, a goal that is directly contrary to his twin sister’s bloodthirsty ambitions. While their father lies in a coma (thanks to an “accident” arranged by the sister), the conflict between the twins will likely escalate from sibling rivalry to a full-fledged familial war.

Halfway around the world, Matt’s hero—struggling to understand and control his newly-emerging superhuman strength—mourns the murder of his Lebanese fianceé and begins his quest for vengeance against those responsible for her death. Little does he know that the trail of her killers will lead him back to the United States, and the arms-dealing daughter of a comatose billionaire…

At this point, The Origin Process isn’t quite complete. We still have to boil the characters’ aspects down to their essence to make it easier to gauge how much they suffer during the thematic Struggle. Suffering is key to the conflict-resolution of the game, which is accomplished through negotiation and playing cards rather than dice rolls. Scenes are built much like characters are created, through a collaborative effort by everyone involved. How well this storytelling concept works for us will be discovered over the next several weeks as we complete The Origin Process and move into enrichment, conflict and the story arc.

Stay tuned.