I'd been excited about the newest HeroClix set in the offing, and in point of fact, I still am... but the latest additions to the official Sinister release list to date have taken a little of the spring out of my eyes and the shine out of my step. Or something. Here's the dealio:
On balance, I'd been wavering like the needle on a broken speedometer about this set, but the arc of my swing was in the upper areas of the dial, peaking with 'ecstatic', bottoming out at 'satisfied'. An early photo of several of the figs had shown me that quite a few characters on my Oh Jebus I Need Them NOW NOW NOW!!! List were part of this set, including (in a development so incredulously bizarre that I'm still delightedly freaked out about it) the Stilt-Man, a character I'd long lusted to see incarnate in plastic form, while never seriously believing there was a shred of a chance it would happen. (I still have difficulty imagining what WizKids is going to put on his dial -- after all, here's a guy whose main gimmick is that he built a suit of powered armor with extendible legs, and he also rigged up some sort of experimental 'z-ray blaster', which usually just, you know, blasts people, but occasionally had unpredictable effects on the Stilt-Man's more hapless foes, such as when it seemingly disintegrated the too-damn-cumbersome-to-dodge Black Goliath, but actually teleported him to a planet around a distant star. How do you define that using HeroClix powers and abilities? High movement, a great deal of Leap-Climb, some range attack, and some Incapacitate, I'm thinking.. but I hope to be surprised. I guess they could give Stiltie some Perplex; he sure as hell is a pretty baffling guy.)
The set also includes Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, his crazy ass brother Maximus (you can tell he's crazy by his usual sobriquet, the Mad), the two members of the Frightful Four that haven't been made into clix yet (the Wingless Wizard and the Trapster), an original member of the Masters of Evil I've long awaited called The Radioactive Man, villains turned heroes the Beetle/Mach-1/2/3, Nighthawk, and the original Swordsman, all characters with long and interesting histories in the Marvel Silver Age.
Of those figs we'd seen so far, dials hadn't been as disappointing as I'd come to expect after Armor Wars and Collateral Damage. I am getting a little bit tired of every character seemingly have a starting attack value of 9, but I can understand why WK's new senior game designer is insisting on doing this -- stat inflation had really gotten out of hand by the time the Icons set came out, and something had to be done... and knocking superhuman attack levels back to being consistently less than a 9 would probably have kept hard core players from bothering with any of the new pieces. Even with the 9 Factor in play, the dials we'd seen to date had shown an interesting, imaginative, and generally useful array of powers. All told, I was pretty psyched about the set.
And I still am -- but the latest entries on the list have left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
First off, there's Meggan, a character whose existence I was completely ignorant of, prior to seeing her name added to the Sinister roster on Friday. Having looked her up in Wikipedia, I now know she's yet another really dopey Modern Age mutant/X-character, with an idiotic origin and truly fucking retarded powers:
Thanks to Meggan's empathy, she has a psionic link to the natural forces of the Earth. By "speaking" to the elements, Meggan can command the environment around her, and her emotional state can affect the local ecosystems. She can extinguish forest fires with a thought, summon gale force winds or part the waters of a lake with wave of her hand, cause earthquakes in a flash of anger. Meggan has even been observed causing electromagnetic pulses by commanding the magnetic fields around her, freezing opponents by rapidly dropping the air temperature around them, or increasing the powers of elemental mutants (such as increasing the temperature of Peter Wisdom's heat blasts). Meggan has used her elemental powers to affect man-made objects, such as actually making the atoms in a building's roof move apart, creating a hole in the roof that resealed itself (without a trace of ever having a hole) once Meggan passed though (which suggests that Meggan's elemental powers may have a psychokinetic quality). Meggan can focus the elemental energies around her into devastating energy blasts. She has also been observed controlling mystical energies. And she can fly (either by levitation or controlling wind or gravity)
Finally, Meggan is a shapeshifter who can assume the form of any living creature, even those who only exist in legends (once she became a Godzilla-like dragon and actually breathed fire, and another occasion she became a werewolf that looked like fellow X-Man Wolfsbane, and had all of a wolf's natural abilities). Meggan can assume the form of other people as well. Thanks to her empathy, Meggan's body will actually change in response to the emotions around her, becoming beautiful when she feels loved, or hideous when she feels fear or anger. Her elemental powers also cause Meggan to change in response to her surroundings, growing fur in extreme cold, or gills when she is submerged underwater. She can even increase the density of her muscle tissue to boost her strength to superhuman levels. In Excalibur #25, she also altered her own stature to become as big as Galactus for a moment.
The Wikipedia entry doesn't mention which obviously untalented hack created Meggan, but her "she can do anything the plot requires or I feel like scripting at any given time" power non-definition stinks so badly of Chris Claremont, who never met a largely undefined plot device super-power he didn't like, that if it isn't him, it has to be someone who learned everything they know about comics non-writing from him.
Obviously, given that I'd never heard of Meggan yesterday, I couldn't have any strong personal feelings for her. However, I do have very strong personal feelings for all the truly frickin' dumbass mutant X-team characters who have flooded the Modern Age of Comics like effluvium from an overflowing septic tank. There are a seemingly endless legion of these mutant wankers out there, most of them suck so hard they could easily be mistaken for singularities, and Wiz Kids has to date kissed the collective ass of all the dimwitted X-fans in their market demographic by coming out with at least a few more of these nose-monkeys in every damned set -- which would be okay, I suppose, except for the fact that they've actually dedicated two entire expansions, Mutant Mayhem and Xplosion, to these genetically gyrated goobers. The fact that this set, which I'd had high hopes might actually be mutant, or at least, X-cretin, free, is suddenly being cluttered up with yet another one of these lame ass losers, really kind of exasperates me. It's not that I seriously didn't think there wouldn't be any stinking Modern Age mutants in this one, but I guess I was kind of hoping that a set called Sinister, specifically themed to super-villains, with an apparent emphasis on classic bad guys of the Silver Age, might give the Claremont Brigade a big miss.
But leave that aside. The distaste I feel for Meggan is a vague colonic spasm compared to the vitriolic loathing that surges through my throbbing forehead veings when I think about the other new addition to the Sinister roster --
some truly appalling Brian Michael Bendis creation named, alternately, Jewel and/or Jessica Jones.
Straight out of her Wikipedia entry:
Soon thereafter, Jessica was riding in a car with her family when they collided with a military convoy carrying radioactive chemicals. Her family was killed and, after spending several months in a coma, she was placed in foster care and adopted by the Jones family. Months later she awoke, stirred by the first coming of Galactus outside her hospital room.
Jessica later discovered that the radioactive materials she was exposed to in the accident had granted her super-strength, limited invulnerabilty, and flight (which she never fully mastered). The Joneses re-enrolled Jessica at Midtown High, where she was ostracized by her classmates, especially Flash Thompson. Peter Parker (who had since become Spider-Man) sensed in Jessica a kindred spirit — someone who had also lost family due to a tragic circumstance. Jessica mistook his kind attention and lashed out at him, believing he was merely pitying her. At that time she found out she had super-powers.
As Jewel, Jessica was an upstart heroine with a fairly uneventful career until she intervened in a distubance at a restaurant involving longtime Daredevil foe Zebediah Killgrave, the Purple Man. Killgrave effortlessly placed Jessica under his mental control, a situation that would continue for several months. Though she wasn't sexually assaulted herself, Killgrave enslaved and humiliated Jessica, forcing her to watch as he raped a succession of college coeds whom he had abducted and mind-controlled for his amusement. Killgrave also forced Jessica to beg him to have sex with her, often until she broke down in tears, only to deny her, as a form of psychological abuse. After eight months under his control, Jessica began to lose the distinction between his will and her own, developing a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.
In the midst of a temper tantrum, the Purple Man sent Jessica to kill Daredevil, erroneously directing her to the Avengers Mansion. Since Daredevil is not an Avenger, Jessica attacked the first hero she saw there in a red costume — the Scarlet Witch. The mind-control began to wear off and Jessica attempted to flee, but she was caught and received a severe beating at the hands of the Vision (the Scarlet Witch's then-husband), and Thor. She escaped death due to the intervention of the only Avenger who actually knew her, Carol Danvers, who took her to safety.
Jessica remained in a coma for months, under the care of S.H.I.E.L.D., while also undergoing psychic therapy with Jean Grey of the X-Men. In addition to assisting her emergence from the coma, Grey placed a special mental command in Jones' subconscious that would protect her from further mind control. During this time Jessica developed a doomed romantic relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Clay Quartermain, who would prove to be a valuable friend and contact for her later in life.
The intensely violating nature of her experience with Killgrave, combined with the fact that no one noticed she had been missing for eight months, forced a demoralized Jessica to give up being a costumed superhero.
Jessica tried being a superhero one final time before giving up, adopting a darker identity as the Knightress. Intercepting a crime meeting between the Owl and a mafioso, she met up with fellow superhero Luke Cage. After defeating the Owl and his goons, she discovered that one of the thugs had brought his children with him. Jessica Jones took off her mask and revealed her identity to the cops so that they would allow her to look after the children for the night. Luke Cage took her home and the two shared a talk, initiating their strong friendship.
Jessica Jones, now no longer a superhero, opened a private detective agency, and, given her background, was sought out by clients with superhero connections. Despite her wishes to leave the superhero life, she found herself repeatedly drawn back into it. Longtime friend Carol Danvers set Jessica up with her fellow Avenger Scott Lang (the second Ant-Man), and the two dated for several months. She also had an off-and-on affair with Luke Cage, which led to her becoming pregnant.
Having escaped from high-security incarceration, Killgrave was now obsessed with Jessica and attempted to break her spirit by making her experience her worst nightmares — that she had walked in on both Lang and Cage in bed with her friend Carol Danvers. This time however, the mental defenses Grey had given her allowed Jessica to free herself from his control. She knocked him out and he was recaptured.
In the final issue of Alias, Jessica revealed to Luke that she was pregnant with their child. Luke, elated, admitted his strong feelings for her, and the two entered into a committed relationship.
Following the end of Alias, Jessica took a leave from the detective business and joined the staff of the Daily Bugle as a superhero correspondent and consultant, becoming a main character of the comic book The Pulse, and a contributor to the same-name fictional newspaper supplement within. She also became a supporting cast-member of Young Avengers.
As of 2006, Jessica and Luke are living together, and she has given birth to their child, an unnamed girl. Luke has proposed marriage, and at the close of the final issue of The Pulse (#14), Jessica decided to accept. Marvel Comics has announced she will marry Luke in the 2006 New Avengers Annual.
Now, before I go further, let me state that having learned about the existence of this wretched miserable worthless vestigial excuse for a character, my primary rage is not directed at Wiz-Kids, but, rather, at the contemporary editorial management of the Marvel Universe that has allowed this rotted blight to be inflicted on their universe. And I'm not even as mad at them, as I am simply sick and tired of being unable to turn around or take a step in the Modern Age Marvel Universe without tripping over yet another deeply rooted and appalling Brian Michael Bendis creative abortion.
Having said all that, if whoever is currently in charge of Marvel doesn't have to let Bendis run amok with their continuity, and if Bendis doesn't have to piss all over everything he sets his fingers to, then certainly, WizKids doesn't have to waste three slots in any of their expansions perpetuating this kind of rubbish. And yes, I'm certainly aware that the motivations for all three are the same: Marvel pays Bendis because idiot fans buy Bendis' work, and WizKids most likely feels that if they include a few of a very popular writer's characters in each of their expansions, then their product will have greater mass appeal. I just don't care.
I'm also aware that there are far more important things to become enraged about than which fictional superhuman characters WizKids decides to make into little plastic figurines. But this is the one I'm on about right now, and it's not like anyone is required to read this blog.
With all the disclaimers out of the way: Where do I start with how much this ridiculous and appalling character enrages me? Well, let's define 'ret-con', for those of you in the audience who aren't geeks. The phrase is short for 'retroactive continuity', and as a general rule, any time you see it, you are fairly safe in assuming that this is a story or concept that one should approach with nose plugs and tongs. Implanting previously unheard of elements, plot devices, and characters in long established continuity is a tool that can be handled well, but it takes a very disciplined, very knowledgeable, and very talented writer, which, to paraphrase The Committments slightly, means Brian Michael Bendis is fucked for starters. The very idea that we're just supposed to accept that this poor abused bitch was actually standing next to Peter Parker when he got bit by that fateful radioactive spider is bad enough, but then you add into it that apparently one of her primary personality drivers is some encounter she had with him back in high school where she mistook his interest for pity and reacted badly -- an encounter no one ever saw in the original Amazing Spider-Man issues detailing Parker's high school era adventures, for the ample reason that she didn't actually exist then -- well, it just aggravates me. This is straight up bad writing. It's bad writing when Frank Miller does it to insert a previously unheard of collegiate love interest into Daredevil's early continuity, and it's bad writing when Brian Michael Bendis does it, too.
A few paragraphs further down, we're also supposed to just blithely swallow that in response to her being mind controlled into attacking the Scarlet Witch, while she was trying to retreat in confusion, the Vision and Thor very nearly beat her to death? That, in fact, this miserable chick's life was only saved by the intervention of Ms. Marvel? News flash for Brian Asshole Bendis -- the Vision and Thor don't nearly beat ANYone to death, much less a bewildered young woman who is obviously trying to get the hell away from them. However, if we assume that the Vision and Thor are this borderline psychotic (and I don't), well, if Carol Danvers gets in their way, Carol Danvers is going to wake up in a hospital bed with her ass on backwards. This is truly, I mean, grotesquely, bad writing no matter what angle you look at it from -- but, you know, that's what I'd expect, from a writer who had Tony Stark very nearly get down on his knees and give Wolverine a hummer in order to get the dumb Canuck bastard to join The New Avengers.
Leaving all this aside, in general, I have to ask myself, as I generally do when I'm suddenly confronted with yet another piece of terminally toxic horseshit spewing from the printer of Brian Michael Bendis -- what the fuck is this guy thinking? What is this catalogue of horrible emotional, mental, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse supposed to teach us about the superhero syndrome in general? What lessons are we to draw from this?
The first interpretation that springs to mind is an extremely misognyistic one -- chicks shouldn't try to be superheroes. I mean, here's this girl, same age and background as Peter Parker, present at the time he gained his super powers and exposed to the same radiation. Later on, she undergoes much the same experience as originally gave a young Matt Murdock his super powers. Now, young males given less powerful super-abilities than Jessica go on to illustrious and highly effective careers as superhuman crimefighters. Jess, on the other hand, is such a screw up that she gets psychologically enslaved by a fourth rate villain that both Spidey and Daredevil have handled easily in the past, then gets beaten into a coma by two Avengers who normally don't beat baffled young women into comas, to say the least, and upon coming out of her coma, discovers nobody even noticed she was gone the whole time she was unconscious.
I'll give Bendis the benefit of the doubt and say this isn't the message he's trying to put forward here, and there's no deliberate chauvinism meant to be manifest in this girl's background. Perhaps he's just trying to give her an arc, to show that heroism can take many forms, and the fact that she's managed to rise above all these terrible trials and tribulations, forge a life for herself, become professionally successful, and has embarked on a new life as a parent in a committed relationship with the father of her child, is all a wonderful tale of triumph and a tribute to his young woman's towering inner strength. That is, in fact, almost certainly what Bendis is trying to do.
However, in my opinion, he's nowhere near a good enough writer to redefine the entire paradigm of 'heroism' in four color cape operas all by his lonesome. So when we're given a character who has been lucky enough to be gifted with super-strength, invulnerability, and the power of flight, who can't even fully master how to fly, and whose major accomplishment as a bad Huntress rip off with a truly lousy name is to manage to beat up the Owl (with Power Man's help)... I don't know. Maybe I just can't appreciate the subtleties. But it seems a great deal to me as if Bendis is saying (whether he intends to or not) "Girls, you know that whole 'with great power comes great responsibility' thing? That's not for you. Even if you get superpowers, you'll be much happier if you just get a job somewhere and have someone's baby".
None of which really matters as much as I'm making it out to, although it's certainly going to make it harder for me to undo every awful thing Bendis has inflicted on the Marvel Universe when I finally get to write the Avengers, if every time I open my eyes I find yet another disfiguring blotch he's authored staring me in the face.
What does matter, though, is that the Jessica Jones sculpt is just about the worst thing WizKids has EVER done.
And, adding insult to injury, I'll probably have to play the Vet version occasionally, just because the Avengers so badly need another Perplexer. Dammit. Why can't they give us a Hank Pym fig as well-dialed as the Atom?