Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Superheroes Or Van Full Of Guys?

Previously on Heckler and Kochk we have rated things for our friend V_ who doesn't like gruesomeness, or people being embarrassed or a handful of other things, but those are the main ones. This has spun off into the V_ film classification board which cannot be made public as it would blow your tiny mind, and some of the people on it want more control over their personal information than two fictional sci-fi reviewing firearms can provide.

I reviewed the series premiere of Alphas for it, which I will now reproduce, slightly redacted:

[Recently] I saw the Feature Length Series Premiere of Alphas, a superhero TV show based on the X-Men template, a bit like Heroes. It opens with the team existing, thus avoiding a long boring origin story sequence and allowing us to get straight in with an impossible assassination. The team consists of Bill, an FBI agent who gets very sweaty, and also strong, when under stress; Gary who is Aspergers and can see electromagnetic signals, except Nokia; shy Rachel who can concentrate on one sense at a time allowing the camera to zoom in, or show a special effect to highlight a CLUE; and confident good-looking Maddy who has an actually useful superpower of getting people to do what she says solely through the use of her Hollywood Actress Good Looks. They're led by a hippy psychologist, who likes herbs and vinyl records, but his "hey, can't we all get along" exterior hides a spine of steel; after all we're set in New York, the Super Hero Mecca, rather than California.

The episode involves chasing an assassin, de-brainwashing him, recruiting him to the team (he has super gymnastics, but has a mental block which ruined his baseball career), chasing the brainwasher and discovering that when you chase a brainwasher people who come in contact with him get brainwashed. The team is kind of amateur, which Bill the FBI agent complains about, and their powers are low key enough that they can't just solve problems and be back to the donut shop by the first ad break. There's plenty of inter-team conflict, conflict between the professor and the FBI agent who sponsors the team and can't bring himself to say anything clearly ("Talking with you is like a Beckett play" "I don't know what that is"), and some kind of opposition called "Red Flag". If I can be bothered to care about the characters, and they don't degenerate into soap opera, then it could be quite good.

It contains a couple of shootings, a stabbing and a man falling to his death, none of which are gory, but also some creepy scenes where people have been mind controlled and one of them kills themselves in a nasty way. Other than that one scene I would declare this Suitable for V_ (SfV).

This lead me to thinking which of these characters and their superpowers could be replaced by a van full of specialists and equipment? In the commentary I went on to say:

We could replace Bill's super-strength-when-under-​stress with five ex-army guys and a a van with winch, bolt cutters, battering ram, riot gear etc. We could replace Gary's EM stuff with a 8 guys and a van filled with $1M of ex-soviet electronic warfare equipment[Ed: In Joke]. We can replace Rachel with a CSI van and lab, so a 5 person team. So far 3 of our superpowered guys could each be replaced with a small team and a van of equipment, which would also give the team more depth and numbers.


Hicks superkinethesisiesies [sic] is more problematic. In theory everything he does could be done by, say, the team that replaces Bill, but since he is the equivalent of an Olympic athlete in several disciplines, they would have to be really, really good ex-army guys.


Finally Maddy would need to be replaced by Derren Brown backed by a multi-million dollar ad-agency and even that wouldn't be as reliable and swift. I salute you, one superpower whose effects can't be reproduced by a team of guys in a van! It's also the superpower most likely to break the plot.

This is now my benchmark for low-powered superheroes. If their effects can be reproduced by a bunch of guys (by which I mean highly trained specialists; let's assume we have the hiring power and resources of a multi-million pound company) in a van, then you are officially low-powered on the Kochk Superpower scale. I should note that I consider this a good thing for storytelling purposes.

The most obvious one would be Batman; if we had a van with a world-class detective, a martial artist of the Martin Riggs or Chan Ka-Kui schools, an engineer to build, maintain and operate the equipment and a billionaire mastermind to fund and direct the team, we could recreate Batman on a gross level. On the other end of the scale, Superman would be impossible to recreate, no matter how many vans we had (although this wouldn't stop Lex Luthor pushing ahead with his Vanpocolypse).

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