The Many Deaths of a TF2 Noob

Short post today as I am recovering some mysterious illness. I suspect poisoning by one of my many enemies.

My name is Karl Cross and I have an addiction to being slaughtered in a virtual realm of cartoonish mayhem and violence known as Team Fortress 2. I’m not doing it on purpose you understand; for whatever reason I seem to lack the required dexterity, tactical foresight and understanding of optimal load-outs to actually rise above “barely adequate” as a TF2 player. Attempting to reflect rockets leaves me staring at my own gloriously gory gibs far more often than I’d like and headshots are depressingly far and few between.

For those of you yet to fall under TF2’S beguiling spell (and those who are wondering “what is this game? And why is this strange man babbling about it?), Team Fortress 2 is a multiplayer first-person-shooter developed by Valve Corporation featuring nine distinct classes, an impressive variety of game modes and maps, a wealth of content including, perhaps most controversially of all, hats. Released in 2007, it’s since gone free-to-play and, if Valve’s statistics are anything to go by, is more popular than ever, despite some generally well-meant grumbling from TF2 veterans.

Below are a selection of my more tasteful post-mortem screenshots and the heartless murdering monsters  talented players that expedited my many inevitable demises.

Death and Sparkles

Pyro + Sentry = Inglorious Death

Ludicrous Gibs

Well at least someone’s happy.

A head on attack may not have been the wisest decision.

My evil twin, the handsome rogue.

Reasons to play Pyro; Mutually Assured Destruction.

Fiery doom.

The Many Faces of Superman

Before I get to the main topic of this post, NEWS!

For those of you not in the know, The Dark Knight Returns is pretty much ranked up there with Watchmen in the annuls of comic history. The brainchild of the once well-respected writer and artist Frank Miller and released as a limited comic book series in 1986, TDKR was one of the first comics to deconstruct and truly examine  many of the tropes of the superhero genre, as well as being possibly the best character study of the caped crusader himself. The story is deceptively straight forward; set in the near- future, a retired Bruce Wayne is driven to once more don the cowl in order to save Gotham from itself. Sound familiar?

Any fans of the Nolan’s breathtaking finale (particularly it’s lead villain) would also be well advised to pick up Knightfall.

And on we go.

DC Animation: A Brief Introduction

Despite the . . . lacklustre performance of DC’s live action adaptations (The Dark Knight trilogy aside, obviously), their animated works are largely rated as classics in their own right, balancing comic canon, excellent dramatic writing, superb voice acting (Mark Hamill,  Clancy Brown and Kevin Conroy) and strikingly stylized artwork (I’m looking at you, Batman: The Animated Series; buy it, steal it, find it, watch it). Hell, B:TAS even created comic canon by introducing the Joker’s much loved (and much abused) accomplice in crime Harley Quinn , as well as establishing Mr Freeze as a truly tragic figure, rather than a two dimensional madman with a penchant for freezing people.

The success of B:TAS led Warner Bros. Animation to develop Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures,  Batman Beyond (a sci-fi update following a new teenage Batman in a futuristic Gotham (seriously better than it sounds), Static Shock and the much-loved Justice League. If you were a child of the nineties, you probably loved at least one of these shows and know exactly what I’m talking about. For many kids this was the closest you could get to the comics and classic stories without hunting them down.

After a nearly continuous run over more than a decade, the DC animated universe ground to a halt with the end of Justice League Unlimited in 2006. Warner Brothers have continued to release animated films in a separate continuity from pre-existing works whilst borrowing heavily upon classic comics to produce films such as Superman: Doomsday (The death of Superman), Batman: Year One, Wonder Woman (actually pretty good) and Justice League: The New Frontier (loving homage to the golden age of comics), to name but a few. Not actually knowing much about these feature length adaptations, I recently got hold of a few and decided to watch them. I was impressed more often than I was disappointed, but one thing that struck more than anything else were the radically different interpretations of the various heroes, though the most noticeable (and perhaps jarring) was Superman. So now for no other reason than it amuses me to do so, I present to you the many faces of Superman.

The Many Faces of Superman

Superman: The Animated Series

I love this design.It’s simple, iconic and one of the most enduring interpretations of the character to date. The series itself is excellent and a compact crash course in Superman mythology presented with a few original flourishes. I’ll definitely be devoting a post to this later on.

Superman: Doomsday

Of all the various Superman variations, this is the one I’m most conflicted about. One of the one hand it adheres pretty closely to the S:TAS design, but those damn facial lines remind me way too much of the original (and widely disliked) Justice League design. Obviously it’s an attempt to give Superman a slightly harder, more mature edge but it just looks like he’s recovering from a case of super-flu to me. The story is great though and an excellent adaptation of the “Death of Superman” arc. My only real gripe is that this probably would have benefited from a longer length and more of an initial focus on Doomsday as a credible threat.

Superman vs. The Elite

One thing that shines through in most of the Superman designs is an attempt to portray the character’s innate integrity, determination and kind-heartedness. This does pretty much the opposite of that, rendering Superman as a cartoon-ish (in the worst way) loud mouth. The film itself is decent, though the animation isn’t anything special and the story (adapted from Joe Kelly’s “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?“) could benefit from being a tad more complex, especially given these are aimed at a more mature audience. Nice to see a relatively modern, if not particularly well-known, story being adapted though.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

I’m pretty neutral about this one, it’s far from my favourite but nowhere near as bad as the worst offenders. The story itself is relatively interesting, if a little contrived and there’s not much here to really keep your attention, aside from a few super brawls and one or two characters who don’t really pop up in any of the other films.

Justice League: The New Frontier

I actually really like this design. It manages to balance the simplicity of the S: TAS design with a look that fits neatly in with the other contemporary re-designs. Justice League: The New Frontier is also one of the best feature length DC animations to date, especially from the perspective of someone who’s always had a somewhat distant fascination with the Golden Age of Comics.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Not a bad design, all things considered. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is solid, if not particularly impressive. Mark Harmon voices Superman whilst James Woods reminds the world why he was cast as Hades with a dark turn as the coolly omnicidal Owlman.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Oh god, kill it with fire! Kill it with with fire!

No, but in all honesty this is one of the weaker entries in the DC animated film series but it does a passable job of adapting the “Supergirl from Krypton” arc from the comics.  I think it’s the lips that really take it into “wtf were they thinking” territory. Top tip: When drawing Superman, it’s probably not a good idea to make it look as though he’s had botched lip plumping surgery.  Or like someone replaced his eyes with those of a creepy porcelain doll. At least  it can’t  get any worse, right?

All-Star Superman

Um . . . yeah.

Moving swiftly on.

Superman seems to get something of a bad rap these days, dismissed by many as childishly “idealistic” or “overpowered” in contrast to more “mature” heroes such as Batman or Iron Man. Whilst both propositions do have some merit, I’d put such problems down to good old fashioned bad writing (flying around the Earth to turn back time is a particularly dire example of this) rather than anything inherent to Superman himself. It’s also important to remember that Superman is the product of a different, less cynical age,  embodying the very best American ideals; liberty and justice for all, regardless of colour or creed, as well as a quintessentially America optimism. Though Superman hasn’t always been the shining example of integrity and justice we know today . . .

Oh Superman, will threatening people with guns ever get less morally questionable?

More on this another time.

Next time in Geek on the Threshold: Something other than superheroes.

And thus is born this weird figure of the dark . . .

“Geeks* are a complex lot. So my blog must be able to provide interest not only to those steeped in geekdom, but those on the periphery like myself. I must become a creature of the web, humorous and absurdly fixated upon things no sane adult man would write about.”

As if in answer a huge blog flies in the open window!

“A blog! That’s it! It’s an omen. I shall become a blogger!

Holy strained introduction Batman! My name is Karl Cross (and yes, the fact my name is alliterative has given me unrealistic expectations of becoming a superhero). The purpose of this blog is to examine and discuss a wide range of pop cultural oddities from cult television to comic books to video games from the perspective of a mere dilettante, I will not be referencing such treasured and esoteric titles as Amazingly Obscure Comics 234#: The Enigmatic Emergence of Europium Man!, for instance. Nor will I expect you to have a particularly keen grasp of why Gordon Freeman could most definitely take the Master Chief in a fight (there goes my potential Halo fanbase readership!). As time goes on, I’m hoping to be able to feature the work of other writers (read; shamelessly piggyback on the talent of others) and provide a unique perspective into the world of all things “geek”.

And so it goes.

Odd things that bug me. 

Why doesn’t Batman drive an ambulance? Or a fire engine? I mean, seriously? If watching The PowerPuff Girls as a kid taught me anything, it’s that not even the most technologically advanced auto-mobile in the world can overcome the dreaded threat of urban congestion. Sure, he could drive over roof tops ala Batman Begins, but that just brings in the whole issue of property damage. Not sure the people of Gotham will appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night to find Batman performing wheelies on their roof. Though I personally would love that shit. Also an ambulance is far less likely to attract attention, provided Batman can restrain himself from painting it black and sticking a giant bat head on the front.

Continuity in comics is a mess and a half, to put it extremely mildly. My first foray into the world of comics came as I began collecting UK re-prints of Spider Man (Panni’s Astonishing Spider Man to those who are interested) and despite coming in towards the end of the hilariously over-long (and overwrought) Clone saga. To a young lad with little prior knowledge of spider-lore it was, at times, utterly impenetrable; characters constantly referencing  events of obvious importance yet little explanation beyond “See Astonishing Spider Man 96″, side-characters popping up to offer cryptic and foreboding monologues before vanishing and strange sub-plots of questionable relevance that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly.As time wore on my disenchantment grew and my interests began to turn to the far more satisfying and coherent tales offered by graphic novels. To a kid who had been reading nineties Spider Man, Batman: Year One and V for Vendetta were utterly mind blowing. More on this subject later.

The fact that Twin Peaks was cancelled. Yeah, I’m still angry and if you’ve seen the ending, you’ll know why. Lost (which itself owes a debt to Lynch’s nightmarish crime-drama) was allowed to drag on for six painful seasons before resolving itself in a conclusion so utterly bereft of imagination that it must be ranked along side “and it was all a dream” for sheer creative laziness (and there go any potential Lost fans).

Frank Miller.

*DISCLAIMER: This is not a website for people who bite the heads off of chickens.**

**No, not even for money.***

***Unless it’s a lot of money. In which case this is totally a website for people who bite the heads off of chickens.

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