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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Justice leaks


Sometime next month, probably around the third week, we'll see the release of the next HeroClix set, Justice League. Over the weekend, WK snuck a figure gallery for the new set onto their website, with graphics of the sculpts, cards, and dials for five of the new figures -- Aquaman, Doomsday, King Shark, Superman, and The Joker.

Now, I'm going to assume that, like the rest of us, you're just too lazy to hit those links and look at what's on the other side, so let me do all that hard work for you, starting from the top, with some stupid ass pointless all boogered up thingamajiggie someone decided to hang the name AQUAMAN on:

Okay, let's go from the top. First, it may be unfair, but clix ain't just clix here at the Miserable Annals. If you're going to give me an Aquaman figure, it better be a figure representing an Aquaman I have some respect for. WK has given us two Aquaman figures before, and, well, to date they still haven't given me MY Aquaman, the REAL Aquaman, the Silver Age Aquaman as drawn by Ramona Fradon or Jim Aparo (in his own feature) and Mike Sekowsky or Dick Dillin, in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

The Icons Aquaman is the closest to date, and even he's not quite right. Presumably, the Starro Attacks! figure will be the nearest WK is ever going to get to the true blue real deal Silver Age Aquaman, and, alas, he will have a mind controlling space mollusk plastered to his face.

So, WK is clearly determined not to please me with their Aquaman selection, and the horror above is just the latest salt they've thrown in that ongoing wound. Therefore, let us presume that, if I'm grading new figures on a scale of 1 to 20, this particular one has already taken at least a 5 point hit for being, you know, Modern Age crappy-crappy teen age Aquatard instead of what anything named Aquaman is supposed to be, and then, with that always in mind, move on to stuff like the dial.

Imprimis: the judicious eye, on scanning this dial, will immediately note Constantly Recurring Seth Johnson Deadly Sin Number One: Maximum Attack Value of 9. Remember Doc Nebula's Primary Rule for judging HeroClix dials: If Nine Is The Best You Can Do, It's In The Microwave With You. Couple this egregious (but, lately, all but ubiquitous) design failing with a sculpt that I would get near-orgasmic shudders of pleasure from watching melt down into goo through the window on the microwave door, and, well, things look bleak for our little plastic hero.

As an aside: Why in the name of sweet Satan Claus and all his evil elves would an entirely undersea culture such as that in Atlantis ever develop a frickin' SWORD as a hand to hand weapon? First, assuming that an undersea culture can somehow mine and smelt metals, and then somehow forge those metals into metal implements, wouldn't said metal implements rust away into nothing in about a minute? And second, you can't swing anything this big and clumsy underwater, at least, not as fast as they guy who is trying to kill you can lunge forward and get his hands around your throat, or your gill holes, or whatever, and third, in a world where everybody swims everywhere, the last thing you want is ten or twelve pounds of rusty goddam iron weighing you down every time you try to thrash your way through thirty or forty yards of water. I am aware that it was (apparently, I never read the stupid thing so I can't be sure) my old college buddy Slappy who came up with the idea of turning the Aquaman franchise into CONAN, KING OF THE OCEAN DEPTHS, but it's a really really moronic idea, and somebody should have slapped him hard for it and told him oh HELL no when he first proposed it.

(As an even further aside, I cannot believe that the guy who used to constantly mock Jan Strnnad's rather similar re-imagining of the Atom, back in the 80s, as SORT OF THE ATOM, would, two decades later, turn around and create his very own SORT OF ATLANTIS title. But there you are, I guess eventually it is inevitable that many of us will wake up one morning and find that we have somehow become everything we once despised, and are content that it be so, as well.)

Okay, now, if you look at that dial, you'll see two spots where I have boxed off several slots of Defense and Damage stats. These represent slots where this particularly chowderheaded version of Aquaman has 'special powers'. On Defense, he has a power called Parry, which if you look at his card, is defined as, "When hit by a Close Combat Attack, Aquaman can use Super Senses." All of which means, if someone is standing adjacent to this hoser and they manage to nail him with a punch or a kick or something, Aquaman can roll a d6 and 'parry' the strike on a 5-6. Presumably with that rusty length of iron he has in his hand, while it is pulling him down down down into the nethermost ocean depths.

Now, other than all the inherent stupidities with the very concept of a character like Aquaman having a frickin' SWORD, I have no objections to this; as a 'special power' it works reasonably well, and if WK ever gives us another (better) version of the Swordsman, it will be a trenendously spiffy special power for him. So that's fine. Aquaman's defense is pretty lousy on the slots where he has this power, so all its presence is going to do is make any opponent stay a few squares away and blast him into chowder with ranged attacks, but, still, the power is about as sensible as we're likely to see, on a character choice as dreadful as this one is.

But now let's look at the special power on Damage Value, called Telepathic Communication: "Aquaman can use Perplex, but only on [characters with the dolphin symbol]". There's also some verbiage allowing him to use his Perplex ability on ALL friendly dolphin figures within 10 squares that he has a clear line of sight to, except himself, essentially making him a Brilliant Tactician for fish, or something.

So, a quick search on WK's DC database reveals that Aquaman can actually use this power on the following figures: the rookie Animal Man, two other versions of himself, any version of Arcane, any version of Black Manta, any version of the Hypertime Changeling, the bystander Dane Dorrance, the new King Shark figure from this very set, some version or another of Vixen, and any version of Swamp Thing.

Throw in the Marvel Universe, and Aquaman can Telepathically Coordinate some idiot from the Serpent Squad, the Lizard, Man-Thing, Diablo, Hydro-Man, and a Morlock.

I presume he can also use his power on Abe Sapien from the Hellboy collector's set, too, if he really wants to.

You know, I truly love the idea of "special powers". I really, really do. But when you waste them on something as utterly stupid and completely pointless as this, it makes me want to beat my head against the nearest support pillar... or somebody's head, anyway. Why not give some Aquaman figure a special power that would actually be worth having, like, I don't know, a movement special power that allows him to use Charge with +4 to his Speed while in Water Terrain? Or maybe something that modifies all his dice rolls by +1 when he's in Water Terrain? That would be cool. This? For 68 points? This is a baby I would happily throw out with any bath water available.

On a scale of 1 through 20, where the Hypertime Black Manta gets around a 4, well, this Aquaman loses 5 points for being some strange form of Aquaturkey, another 5 for Maximum Attack Value of 9 or Less, 5 more for My What A Retarded Special Power You Have, Grandma, and then drops like 8 for being a guy who lives in a pineapple under the sea and who carries a friggin' SWORD with him everywhere... well, he's way into negative numbers.

Okay, let's move along to the next figure down, Doomsday:
First, Doomsday is without a doubt the stupidest character ever to appear in a Superman comic book, and yes, I'm including Vartox. Beyond that, Doomsday was the essential component to what was, is, and will probably always be the most utterly stupid superhero story ever done at either Marvel or DC, THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN.

Given all of this, WK simply isn't going to be able to win with me once they've made the decision to waste a slot in a finite expansion set along with several cubic feet of plastic and paint on any version of this execrable character. It doesn't matter what kind of sculpt the character has (although, I will point out, it is virtually impossible to make this godawful thing look good, given that in addition to being an appallingly badly conceived character, Doomsday also sports one of the most wretched visual designs ever set to Bristol board) or how useful a dial it might have, I am simply going to hates it, hates it, hates it FOREVER, and deeply resent its inclusion in any set, ever, under any circumstances imaginable.

Having said that, here's what we got:


First, there's no trouble with low stats here; Doomsday has the kind of attack, defense, and, on his first slot, at least, damage values that Seth simply refuses to give any other character who is not either an Ultimate or some sort of god. And when it comes to special powers, well, Seth has done himself proud -- on his third Defense slot, and then again on his seventh, Doomsday has a power called UNSTOPPABLE: Doomsday can use Invulnerability. When you turn Doomsday's combat dial as a result of him taking damage, stop turning the dial when Unstoppable appears in the stat slot.

This is a fabulous special power; Invulnerability the way it should be -- not only is damage from an attack reduced to some degree, but no matter how much gets through, if you hit a slot with this power on it, you just stop turning the dial, no matter how much damage may remain to be done.

If the new Superman figure from this set had this power every two or three damage slots, he would be the greatest Superman figure ever designed and nobody would ever want to play any other version. A Superman with such a power on, say, his third and his sixth power slots would be a far, far more accurate depiction of the Superman we've seen in comics for the last seventy five years than anything WizKids has given us to date. Superman should absolutely have this power.

But, when we get to Superman's write up in this set, you will see that he does not get this special power, or anything like this special power, instead, he gets... but, well... we'll be there soon enough, and it will be a horror, and sufficient unto the paragraph the bullshit thereof, etc etc etc. For now, let me say that this is a wonderful special power, a fabulous special power, and if it weren't utterly wasted on perhaps the very worst character ever to be published by National Comics or Time-Warner Publications, up to and including Ace the Bat-hound and/or nearly anything that has ever been named Azrael, I would be entirely delighted that this power now exists.

As it is, however, on a scale of 1 to 20, and trying to disregard just how appallingly offensive I find the very existence of this character to be, well, I would say, for 261 points, this figure is 11 slots of rompin' stompin' unstoppable nigh invincible fury and I'm still giving it a 0 because I hate Doomsday so very, very much, but even at a 0, this figure is way WAY better than Aquapunk, above.

So, next we have King Shark. I don't know who King Shark is; I thought he must be Green Lantern's old villain The Shark gone all pretentious, and that would have been at least mildly cool, but when I peruse his card, I discover that no, apparently he's some appalling shark god creature from the Modern Age and therefore he can kiss my ass, backwards and forwards, in parallel dimensions, and while traveling through time.

Still, for whatever he may be worth, and it's not much, here he is:

Leaving aside that this is a stupid, pointless character I don't care about, for 100 points, you get 8 slots of mostly mediocre stats. King Shark's defense value starts out quite good at 18, but shelves off quickly once he does get tagged. He's got two opening clicks of Charge to make him somewhat mobile, although an average Speed of 8 is no real help there, and on those Charge clicks he's got Blade/Claws/Fangs, giving him a chance at rolling very high damage. Given that his base damage value on these clicks is 3, though, you have to be livin' large and hoping to beat the odds to substitute a d6 roll for those 3 guaranteed clicks of damage. His third slot is arguably his best, with Close Combat Expert lifting a 2 damage value to a guaranteed 4 if he hits someone with a Close Combat Attack, his attack remains at the best it will ever be (9), and his Speed is also still at its optimum 8 with Charge.

Let Aquadipshit use his weird aquatic Perplex powers on King Shark and you may get enough bang back for your buck to make him worthwhile, but that's also 168 points for a couple of characters that the AVENGERS set's Ultimates Iron Man could most likely take out in two turns each from ten squares away. Given that this character coulda and shoulda been the real Shark, well, as the man says in the song, I am not impressed. On a scale of 1 to 20, drop 5 for Maximum Attack Value of 9 or less, drop another 5 for crappy character selection, and yet another 5 because he's wearing a grass skirt, for the love of jebus. Add 5 back in for four opening clicks of Charge, and at a solid, utterly mediocre 10, the lamentable and ludicrous King Shark is, so far, rocking the entire JUSTICE LEAGUE expansion.

Next up, it's Captain Bullshi -- er, I mean, Superman! Every new DC set gives us yet another version of Superman, although, honestly, they'll never be able to give us a better Superman than the Icons REV, so they should just give it up. Still, sometimes WizKids makes a decent effort and you have to give them some props. Just not this time, unfortunately.

Here's the haps:

First, yeah, okay, I know the set is called JUSTICE LEAGUE, but for 226 points, I need to see some Superman Team Ability action on my Superman dial. The piss poor pud wallopin' JLA team ability simply will not do. One free movement that doesn't count against my movement total for the turn, as compared to, I ignore all effects of Hindering Terrain? Sorry, Charlie, simply on the basis of the Team Ability alone, this Superman is already circling the drain. I'll be generous and only knock him down 5 points for the lousy TA, which doesn't even begin to reflect how disappointing that TA choice really is.

Now let's get a look at that dial. Okay, he's got an Attack Value higher than 9; in fact, he's got 4 straight slots with a 10. For a Seth Johnson dial design, this is astonishing and delightful, like being beaten unconscious by the world's meanest coal miner and then waking up with your dick in Eliza Dushku's mouth and her seeming happy to have it there, too, but still, this is SUPERMAN, and 226 em-effing points of his bad blue ass at that.

Accuse me of moving the goal posts if you must, but for SUPERMAN, the Man of Steel, the primal superheroic icon and the ultimate alpha male, well, for the Man of Tomorrow and Jimmy Olsen's Pal, I will damn well put those goal posts on motorized roller skates and zip the little bastards all over the horizon. A maximum 10 Attack Value for 226 points of Kal El, the Last Son of Doomed Krypton? This shall not stand. I fart in his general direction, his mother was a window dresser, and his father smelt of elderberries.

Still, he's only losing 5 points for that. His other stats are solid or even exemplary (his Defense Values are amazing) and his powers are, well, typical Superman stuff -- Hypersonic Speed, Charge, Force Blast, Super Strength, Impervious, Invulnerability, Close Combat Expert. I especially like the fact that his first 7 slots of a 10 slot dial have movement powers of some sort on them, making him a very mobile, very useful piece, especially when his HyperSonic Speed is coupled with his 10 range value. Ranged damage is mediocre on those HSS clicks (and it's worth noting that HyperSonic Speed works very differently under my House Rules, so he'll be a very different game piece should I play him) but still, all told, if this was all there was to the JUSTICE LEAGUE Superman, I'd knock another two or three points off for the unfortunate resemblance to Brandon Routh and he'd finish out with an 8, maybe a 9, which is pretty respectable given how generally shitty the First Five have been so far.

But... well. This Superman has a special power. Now, after that amazing Unstoppable power that Doomsday got, you'd think Seth would be bringing his A+ game to the greatest superhero of all time, and, unfortunately, you'd be jaw droppingly, mind bogglingly, eye poppingly wrong. Superman's Special Power, the first Special Power that the first superhero ever has had in this game -- is -- SELF SACRIFICE: When a friendly character adjacent to Superman would be dealt damage, you can instead choose to have all the damage dealt to Superman as unavoidable damage.

So, see, Doomsday, The Worst Character Ever, gets this really cool power where, no matter how much damage you do to him, when that power shows up on his dial, you JUST STOP DEALING DAMAGE. Whoa, son! That's the spiff! And Superman... well... Superman, perhaps the greatest superhero in the history of the universe, what kind of nifty special power does he get? Well, on his final five slots, for his entire last run of Defense Value, when his Defense starts at a splendid 17 and ascends to a near Jehovahesque 20, why, you can throw your entire 226 point investment away by having your team's tentpole figure and invincible brick absorb all the damage done any friendly adjacent character! Yes, if you decide you just absolutely HAVE to keep your Experienced Hypertime Batman in play, or if your force absolutely cannot survive the merest subatomic fragment of an instant without your Veteran Saturn Girl, well, just keep them parked next to The Big Blue Boy Scout and he'll be happy to take the hit for them.

Basically, what Seth in his infinite brilliance has done here is design a Special Power that will allow damage to be done to a character whose steadily increasing defense would make him almost impossible to hurt otherwise.

Now, an argument could be made that this power, carefully applied, could allow a cagey player to advance his Superman figure from one slot to another, increasing his Defense Value by very judiciously having him take one or two points of damage that would otherwise go to an adjoining ally. I don't buy that, though. If this power were on the first six or seven of Superman's slots, I could almost see employing it to keep a useful friendly figure in the game longer without hurting Superman's effectiveness too much, but pushing a 226 point character closer and closer to KO when he's already at most 5 clicks away is just nuts. Making such a suicidal capacity into a Special Power is absolutely insane, and again, when you compare this worthless and utterly demented 'ability' to the special power Doomsday got, buddy, I'm telling you, there is no choice but to subtract at least another five points from Superman's final score.

Which means, we're knocking off 5 points for the bullshit TA, another 5 for a Maximum Attack Value more suitable to the Fist of Khonshu than the galaxy's ultimate alpha male, 5 more (which is being really kind) for that stinkalicious 'special power', and, lastly, another two points because the sculpt looks like Brandon Routh. Where does that leave us? With a Superman who scores, on a scale from 1 to 20, a solid 3.

I should probably add a few points back in because he's got all that mobility and a great range, but, damnit, this is Superman, and a 226 point Superman, at that. He needs much, MUCH more for those kind of points, and the JLA TA and that special power are really unforgiveable. He's lucky to get a 3.

Next -- look! Up in the sky!

It's -- the Joker!

In -- a bath robe!

I actually have nothing really bad to say about this figure. It's from a story I've never read and probably wouldn't like if I did, and this isn't what I think of as a particularly interesting version of the Joker, but, on the other hand, if you're going to do an omnipotent sociopath with a truly maniacal sense of humor, well, this is pretty much how you do it.

Seth's done a fabulous job on this piece -- great stats, an excellent spread of powers, imaginative design, and no less than three special powers that really work well. At 199 points, this particular version of the Joker makes the similarly themed Red Skull from AVENGERS look like a very small pile of dogshit indeed.

From 1 to 20, well, I can drop 3 points off the figure simply because it's not a version of the Joker I particularly like. But that's all I can find to bitch about, and with a score of 17, that makes this Joker the best thing I've seen so far in JUSTICE LEAGUE, hands down.

I have to hope that this set gets better, because from what little I've seen to date, this expansion is on its way to being as big a disappointment as AVENGERS.

And that's, you know, hard.

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