Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 8

8: The First Film Sequence

With the first film out of the way we should look at the other films in the first sequence. Timing wise I’m of two minds on this – do you have this conversation while you’re talking about act I of the first movie, or after the first movie has been gamed out? – but I think some discussion while you’re thrashing out Act I is best.

Some things to ask yourself about the first film sequence (i.e. her herpes’ first film and any sequels that occur before the first inevitable team up) are?
·         What is the time period for the other films? All of your heroes are likely to have long publication histories, but do any of them have origin stories that can’t be contemporized and therefore have to be period pieces. In our case Captain Nostalgia clearly has to be a Depression/WWII era film as his origin is directly tied to the Nazis. Aeaea has to be a late 1970’s/early 80’s period piece because his big story centers around the AIDS outbreak, which is also chronologically defined. Phoenix has nothing in hers that really locks it down and Doc Toltec, while he does spend time fighting Nazis and wallowing in pre-code comics bondage, can have his story shifted to the present. Besides, I don’t want too many period pieces – the Aeaea one is a hard sell for the audience as early 80’s San Francisco lacks the immediate audience touchstone of socking Nazis on the jaw.  
·         What is the connective line between the films? I’m not talking about a through line or any broader themes –each hero gets to define those – but what universe elements are shared between all the movies so the audience knows that they are in a shared universe. After some discussion the hypothetical players decide it will be the Ad Astras: barring a total failure to achieve any objectives and the Nazi world conquest we know the Ad Astra organization will survive and it makes a good clearing house of optimistic scientists with an interest in super heroes. They can easily be the Universal Comics equivalent of SHIELD that turns up in all the films.
·         What is the order of the films? You want to make sure you’re introducing the connective line in a logical order, but you can easily have the period pieces provide backstory on things introduced in the contemporary ones. For our purposes we’re doing the oldest of the stories first, so we might as well have Aeaea’s film next. Jim asks for the Doc Toltec film to be last. That means Phoenix is 3rd in line followed by Doc.
Note that we don’t yet know what’s HAPPENING in any of these movies, just that the Ad Astra association is important in them and the order in which they take place.

Having made these decisions there’s the question of supporting casts in the first film sequence. Each group is different, and there are advantages to arranging the supporting cast before or after the first film. In my case I am again going before – we have all four heroes’ publication history outlined, after all, so we can easily thrash this out.

Tom, as the hero of the first film, knows that he’ll be supporting cast three times running and opts for playing Dr. Raymond Robinson (from Doc Toltec’s mythos) in all three. The character of a crusading, two fisted doctor fits Tom’s preference for Paladin-esque characters, and he adds that  Raymond is also an Ad Astra member – believable enough for his personality type – and so acts as the movie to movie linkage, freeing everyone else.

Rebecca decides that she wants to play Aldebaran Brody, the hippy Aeaea, in the Aeaea movie, seeing it as a good place yoda-esque humor and pathos. (Aldebaraon in the comcis was male, but is becoming female for the film since the name is androgynous and because – gay hero or not – the female part is a little underwritten). She’s the main hero in the Phoenix movie and for Doc Toltec is ready to bite the bullet and run against her inclinations to play Nurse Betty when Dave insists he wants to play the classic bondage bait. Rebecca opts instead to play Ralph Crabtree in his pre-villain days (This is consistent with the Doc Toltec TV show discussed last week rather than the comic books). When queried as to whether she’ll secretly be the villain in the first film she smiles enigmatically, then announces no, because she has a lousy poker face.

Dave, having claimed Nurse Betty for the Doc Toltec film, asks Bec what Phoenix time period she wants to focus on. The response is the New York segment so he claims Freddie the stoner best friend as his character. This opens the question of exactly what Freddie’s skills are in the narrative – Dave suggests emotional support, oracular powers while using a special herb and some sort of covering for her secret ID. Good enough.

Jim decides that he’ll be Kevin Karnack. This is Aeaea’s doomed love interest, but he’s also a professional skeptic and stage magician, which appeals to Jim’s love of clever PCs. For the Phoenix film he’ll be Dr. Sundah Shrinivasen (Sun), head of RNA industries and target of the film’s villain – That’s standard for Phoenix NYC era stories of super-villains carrying violent grievances against innocent or not so innocent targets. Dr. Sun is a second string hero in the UC comics universe.

Breaking this out we have
Aeaea Film
Phoenix film
Toltec Film
Dr. Robinson
Dr. Robinson
Dr. Robinson
Dr. Sun

This is realistically as far as you should go before gaming out the first film. For the sake of argument we’ll say that the Captain Nostalgia film plays out more or less as I expect: Nostalgia makes a heroic sacrifice to defeat the Nazis and is banished to the now rescued 23rd century, unable to return to his new friends. Buzz, Lee and the other Ad Astras promise to carry on his legacy. That opens us up to…

Aeaea, the Movie!

Again we sketch out the first act of the film. Everyone already agreed that this needed to be a period piece, and for the purposes of time it means that Aeaea’s origin has to be tied to the HIV demon plotline. The GM says his idea is to have HIV-demon victims become pseudo-zombies who will act as mooks. The opening scenes therefore will be an introduction to the three men in the story – Dr. Robinson is there to track down the vectors on this new disease, Karnack is trying to debunk the stories of zombies and Harvey is searching for a missing friend.

That gives us our opening scenes and exposition as we learn from these three men with similar goals meet and exchange data for the benefit of the audience. The catalyst is when the three go looking for Harvey’s missing friend and encounter him as a zombie. Then a larger zombie horde turns up along with Plot Point one when Albebaran shows up to magically save them.

This is a nice opening because after the first plot point all three men have to deal with the same life changing plot point – the existence of magic – in their own ways – trying to disprove it, trying to subordinate it with science, trying to embrace it. As with the Captain Nostalgia movie this is as far as we’d want to group plot in advance.

Let’s hypothesize what happens:

Act 2a is when the hero ultimately takes up his mantle. Karnack and Harvey fall into a love affair while Moran continues his training. Karnack, working with Raymond, is convinced the problem is still extant and pushes Moran to do something about it, but Harvey sticks with his training with the aging Aeaea until the demon’s presence is too great to ignore. With illness sweeping the city we learn that the current Aeaea has been infected by HIV and is trying to pass along all she can before the demon takes control of her body – she has to be willing to sacrifice some to train the wizard who can save them all. Harvey ultimately rejects this and attacks the zombie horde, buying time but nearly dying in the process, needing to save himself and Aeaea so he can complete his training even as the situation gets worse. He accepts the harsh mantle of responsibility.

In the 3rd session we see the men arm themselves in their own ways – Harvey by adopting the Aeaea title before magically tending to his mentor as she lays weakened and dying, Karnack with his magical tools and tricks, Raymond with the fruits of his technological research – before Harvey’s astral form locates the demon’s base and escapes back to his friends. They march in to face the demon’s forces in a long battle, forcing back HIV’s zombie forces until a trap is sprung and Harvey is separated from the others. He must face HIV, now fully occupying the body of his mentor, the previous Aeaea.

While things initially look bleak we learn that this was a set up: Harvey’s tending to Aldebaran was actually casting a series of entrapment spells on her ravaged body that he can now activate, binding the demon a single body. HIV’s zombies all collapse and the final battle begins. In the last few seconds of it Karnack and Raymond break into the room to help just as Moran casts the banishing spell and HIV breaks free of Aldebaran’s body. The demon grabs Karnack just as the gate closes, trapping him on the other side. Raymond asks him if he’s going to re-open the gate and Aeaea says he can’t: if HIV were to escape again there would be no guarantee it could be stopped. The last scene is watching the new Aeaea walk through his city – no longer under siege, with all of those stricken by the demon’s power now freed and healthy – and saying goodbye to Raymond, who is returning to Chicago to work on the new technologies that this event inspired.

This is likely more of a downer than the average movie audience will accept – Karnack lost, Aldeabarn dead – but since we’re not completely bound by audience dictates. But if we want to be really movie based Karnack will get saved somehow but will disappear by the next movie. This will piss off long term fans but get a higher rating from test audiences.