Thursday, May 25, 2006

Two steps down the nerd ladder

In a second-floor apartment somewhere in Toronto, an apartment with no food in the fridge and no cookware in the cupboards, a small, powerful man sits gazing into the flickering depths of a computer monitor. By night, he’s a hardass newspaper editor of a breed seldom bred. By later at night, he’s a king-hell Bloor Street boozer. But by day, while lesser men toil at their drone jobs or blearily poke at in search of same, he is a general to heroes, master of the mighty, a Kaiser of costumed crimefighters. Freedom Force is his playground, and in its three-dimensional simulation of the four-color world of comic-book combat he finds the only peace his Apollonian psychology has known.

Yeesh. OK. Spend too much time thinking about superheroes and your prose starts to slip into that windy narration-box mode, the kind of writing that makes a perfectly good comics page look like the interior of a packed U-Haul; next thing you know, every sentence is filled with bold italics and ends in an exclamation mark! It’s how my instincts, conditioned by a youth filled with the adventures of Iron Man, want me to write; the alliterative curse of Stan Lee still stains every story I start. Anyway, the guy in question is a good friend of mine, he is indeed a Freedom Force diehard – someone gave him City of Heroes for a present and he actually got kind of pissed off – and he was much on my mind as I watched X-Men: The Last Stand this week.

The film was a shitburger all right, but inept as it was – and as bad as it got, it never came close to the worst of the comics I devoured as a kid and continue to gorge on -- the very act of watching superheroic action-adventure snapped open hair-trigger fantasy channels in my psyche. I caught my hands curling and twitching of their own accord, conjuring and controlling fantastic powers from my escapist subconscious; watching Brett Ratner’s blandified X-Men doing their things, I was right there with them. I was a bug-man zipping tiny through air ducts, a ghost-man freezing cheap thugs with a touch like unto the touch of death, a super-karate-man, a sorceror-man, a spring-heeled jump-man… and only occasionally a teenager-man with the awesome power to mack on Kitty Pryde without going to jail. I would have been Iron Man, but his schtick doesn’t fit the mutant milieu.

Unless one wants to just say “fuck it” to sanity and run around in gonch-over-tights all the time, the only way for us comic-book nerds to come close to living our fantasies is through gaming, and even then it’s frustrating. Superhero-themed videogames, once one gets through the character-creation process (which can take a while; nerds are universally dress-up-dolly addicts), are wholly combat simulators, reducing characters to gun turrets and tanks. That fits pretty well with the generally punch-happy, beam-filled tone of comic books – and with the play values of videogames in general – but the real four-color fantasist wants more: the drama of the double life, the mystery of the mask, the rivalries and enmities… the long-winded extemporizing on the field of battle. There’s only one way for us to really live the dream, and that’s getting back to the tabletop.

It’s a tough step to take; superhero role-playing is, like, two nerd-steps below even the crunchiest of swords-and-sorcery geekery, below even the Vampire: the Masquerade live role-players that skulk around suburban parks at dusk swirling their fucking cloaks and whining at each other. At least Vampire players get laid now and then, in a virginity-busting alchemy born of the grossly erotic nature of vampire mythology and the legendary easiness of chubby, insecure goth chicks. But once you take that step – and negotiate the pitfalls of choosing between either a rules system designed for retarded children or a system that requires advanced spreadsheet skills and on-the-fly calculus -- superhero RPGs offer some of the most fulfilling nerdgasms imaginable.

My memories of Dungeons & Dragons adventures are scant, hazy and generally pretty boring, but my college-days exploits with CounterStrike, North America’s tenth-rated superhero team (our presidential hotline only went off when the Defenders were in another dimension and Power Pack was grounded) will live forever in my dreams. Like… uh… the time we kept some bad guys drugged unconscious for six months because the infirmary was the only facility we managed to install in our HQ before our sugar-daddy pulled the plug on our funding. Or the astounding adventure where our shape-shifting “brick” teammate knocked up a hooker who ended up giving birth to one seriously pissed-off mutant baby. And what about our mysterious mission to Monte Carlo, where my dude used his x-ray vision and telekinesis to… yeah. Fun times.

So, I guess what I’m saying is… does anybody have a game going? I need a fix, bad.

1 comment:

Garnet said...

You'll be pleased to know I just got Wonder Woman's lasso working right. Oh, and now Circe can turn you into a dog. Please help me.


PS: I was pissed only at the fact that Mike/Fish sprang a surprise Christmas gift at me, not about any matter of Freedom Force fidelity. I then had to launch into a full holiday-reciprocity scramble.