Chapter 18: Will a shield save your apocalyptic bacon?

When you see a tool or weapon used again and again throughout history, in just about every culture, it makes you think: yeah, that’s pretty useful.

Hammers and saws. Ropes and wheels.

Swords and shields.

Previous posts have looked at what gear, weapons and vehicles might be smart for any flavor of apocalypse, whether you like (a) zombies going nom-nom-nom, (b) robots turning sentient and deciding they don’t like being slaves or (c) climate change turning Waterworld into prophecy. And listen, every flavor of apocalypse tastes equally bad. I pray to whatever gods that listen that we can avoid calamity and chaos. 

HOWEVER: It is fun, and interesting, to talk about this stuff, and figuring whether you want to look Lowes or the mall first. (I know you want to do that. It’s okay.)

And shields are a serious thing to think about. They keep popping up throughout history.

So let’s talk it through.

A Mondo Vibranium Shield of Invulnerability

The temptation is to go all crazy and build the toughest shield possible, a work of art that will laugh at arrows, eat bullets and make swords break in half.

I mean, that sort of shield works great for Captain America and Wonder Woman, right?

Okay, yeah. Raise your right hand if you want a shield, your left hand for a lightsaber and keep them up if you’d sell your car to get a shield AND a lightsaber.

Everybody who didn’t raise both hands is lying.

Here’s the problem: you’re not making Wonder Woman / Captain America shield.

Not today, in your heated garage with electricity and power tools.

Not tomorrow, after you buy a bunch of welding equipment and somehow find a bunch of titanium, vibranium and uranium.

And not during any sort of apocalypse, where you won’t have electricity or power tools. Seriously. You won’t, and any book or movie about the apocalypse that features electricity is Cheaty McCheatypants. 

Another clue that the movie or book cheats harder than the Astros and Patriots in a game of Who Can Steal Signs Better: clean-shaven, well-groomed heroes. Nope. Everybody in the ‘pocalypse gonna make the Duck Dynasty boys look well-groomed.

Time to get brutally practical

If you read a little about shields throughout history , a few things pop out immediately.

First, any shield had to be light enough to carry on long marches. Ten pounds is about it.

Second, even the armies that really relied on shield-and-spear formations–which isn’t a bad way to go–didn’t actually have heavy metal shields. They had light, wooden shields, reinforced with all sorts of stuff: metal or rawhide edging, linen and glue, leather. 

Third, soldiers didn’t see shields as some kind of invincible, long-term tool. They knew a shield would get beat up and possibly destroyed, so these things weren’t expensive family heirlooms like swords or suits of armor. Shields were disposable and replaceable. If one saved your life exactly one time, hey, it worked. And if a shield got smashed up, making a new one wasn’t hard.

Making a scrapyard shield of the apocalypse

Our limitations are pretty logical, then: 

(a) raw material that’s easy to find

(b) hand tools instead of power tools

(c) a final shield that’s lightweight and easy to repair or replace

So I tested it out and made one, then learned from my mistakes and made a SECOND SHIELD, embracing the scientific method of “make a Serious Plan, follow it to the letter until you learn that it Seriously Sucks, then give it another go.”

Shield Number 1: Wooden Pallet Craziness

As for raw materials, I went with the following main materials:

  • A pallet of wood. The boards were about 5.5 inches wide by four feet long, thick enough to be sturdy. Pallets are insanely common and basically scrapwood.
  • Two wooden stakes to hold it together. Also common and easy to find.
  • Wood glue and common screws to finish it off.

This thing had the shape of an octagon (think stop sign), which would seem to make sense at first, being a rough circle.

How did it turn out?

Using a wooden pallet may sound smart. Common sense.

Nope. This is a terrible idea.

Wooden pallets have poor-quality wood. Spectacularly so. The wood they use in pallets is also thickier and heavier than you’d want in a shield.

Gluing the pieces together was also a giant mess that didn’t work out. Wooden pallets have incredibly rough cuts.Smooth, perfectly straight wood might glue together fine. These things weren’t meant to be glued.

When finished, the shield was not just too big, but incredibly heavy, and more useful as a portable wall than a shield. 

Verdict? Straight into the garbage can.

Shield Number 2: Cedar Fence Special

You can find cedar fences anywhere, making this a solid idea. The wood is a lot thinner than what you find in a wooden pallet, and a lot higher quality. YES.

I went with a hexagon instead of octagon, which saved weight while still having a roughly circular shape.

To strengthen it, I hammered a bunch of extra steel plates meant to protect wiring (yes, they probably have a name, and no, I have no idea) along the edges, with some thin scrap metal plates in the center.

The final steps, which aren’t done yet, would be attaching a handle or rope, then covering the front with duct tape to protect it from water, give it extra strength and cover up the scrap metal.

Didn’t use glue at all on this one–turns out you don’t need to. Screws all the way.

Verdict: Completely doable. 

Is a shield smart?

Yes, as long as you treat it as a cheap, disposable object and keep it small.

Marching long distances with any sort of giant shield would be a good way tire yourself out.

If you’ve got a group of people with you, whether it’s three or thirty, I’d want everybody to have a small shield to protect themselves and each other. Honestly, if you’re wandering around the wastelands and see six random people with machetes and garden tools, then another six people with matching shields and spears, you’re gonna steer clear of the folks with shields. Especially if they do a decent formation with shields making it hard to hit them, and spears stabbing you before you get close enough to even try.

To maximize the effect of shields, use your Psych 201 skills. Paint every shield with the same colors or symbol, because the absolute last thing you want to do in the ‘pocalypse is mess with people who belong to a gang or army, and get hunted down by Robert Duvall or whatever. 

Also, if your band of survivors gets good enough with swords and shields in formation, it means eventually doing stuff like this. You know, in epic slow motion.

Previous posts:

Leaked script for JUSTICE LEAGUE

ACT 1, opening scene: BRUCE WAYNE drives up in a classic black car to a black tie event. He opens the passenger door for a leggy model in Little Black Dresses and Zack Snyder makes sure the sky is an appropriately grim shade of black. In the middle of the charity ball, as Bruce is giving a speech, he notices a flash in the sky and makes an excuse to leave.

BATMAN rolls up to an industrial part of Gotham where all is not right. An alien war machine nearly kills him.

Over at Arkham Asylum, LEX LUTHOR won’t tell COMMISSIONER GORDON or BATMAN what he knows about the alien war machines. He simply gloats and says they aren’t ready for the invincible army that’s coming, though he will make popcorn and watch from his prison cell. LUTHOR does reveal the invasion of alien war machines is not being sent by the Purple Man Who Does Not Like To Stand, because that villain only attacks Earths populated by Marvel superheroes.

On the rooftop, WONDER WOMAN arrives to tell BATMAN they can’t fight this war alone, and without SUPERMAN, they won’t last ten minutes, and this movie has another 105 minutes to go, so that won’t do at all. This is war. They need an army.

In a montage, a series of would-be heroes are approached by BRUCE WAYNE and reject his suicide mission.

One exception is a pebble-faced man in a hoodie, who says if they both snagged their other costume, they’d bring a total of four superheroes to this fight. BRUCE WAYNE tells the man, “This is D.C.–we don’t do irony.”

Meanwhile, the alien robot army pauses to consolidate its grip on North Dakota for some reason, instead of taking over the world already.

 

ACT 2

BRUCE WAYNE wears steampunk goggles to brave the cold of GREENLAND, which is not green at all, to get his butt kicked by AQUAMAN in a bar.

AQUAMAN refuses the call to adventure and says this isn’t the proper way of doing things. He’ll wait for his own solo movie before joining any ensemble as a sidekick.

FLASH eagerly joins up because he’s this movie’s dorky version of Peter Parker, nerding out about being allowed to hang with a billionaire playboy with a cave full of armor and technology.

The growing crew finds CYBORG fighting off a gang of alien robot warriors. CYBORG interfaces with a dying alien robot to uncover the truth: they’re scouts for DARKSEID, a villain whose superpower is that you’ve never heard of him.

Alien robot warriors grow bored in North Dakota and descend upon the village bar where AQUAMAN is scowling while he drinks his mead, which spurs him into wearing a costume that, sadly, looks better than the Batsuit we’ve been looking at for three different movies.

 

ACT 3

Wave after wave of CGI alien robots flit through the sky and swarm the ground.

AQUAMAN leaves the fight for some made-up reason so he can sulk before coming back again. CYBORG seems to get taken down by a horde of alien robots and BATMAN gets trapped in a cave, which is as close to ironic as D.C. dares.

Meanwhile, WONDER WOMAN looks amazing in slow-mo as she destroys legions of glowing alien robots, because slow-mo is her motif, if you haven’t seen the trailers for her movie yet. But it’s a losing battle. No daughter of Zeus can single-handedly win this kind of war.

It takes a son of Krypton to help out, so SUPERMAN rises from his real grave, not the fake one in D.C., to fly around in a black suit which also looks better than the weird, short-eared Batsuit we’ve been looking at for three movies.

BATMAN finally escapes the cave and CYBORG reveals that he interfaced with another alien robot to learn the location of their secret server farm, and that they’re not using https yet.

WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN, AQUAMAN, FLASH and CYBORG pile into the Batplane to do battle, but only after BATMAN finally puts on an armored Batsuit that actually looks like it was designed for, I don’t know, fighting. SUPERMAN flies solo, because he’s still getting over being dead.

Even more endless waves of alien robots fly into battle to get smashed into glowing bits until we get a glimpse of DARKSEID, a special giant clump of dark, glowing CGI with an impossibly deep, gravelly voice based on Christian Bale’s growl in THE DARK KNIGHT, and yes, this is daringly ironic for D.C.

DARKSEID throws around the heroes until he gets bored. Nothing they do hurts him.

Finally, SUPERMAN gets tired of puny punches. He picks up DARKSEID and flies him into space, past our sun, past another sun and finally into a black hole, though when he flies back CYBORG reports that this alone won’t kill the villain. DARKSEID is still communicating with his network with a 2400 baud moden. He’ll return, stronger than before.

A bloody BATMAN picks himself off the floor to say, “We’ll be ready.”

You’ll stay to watch the credits. They will be long. At the end, there will be no post-credit scene, making you remember this isn’t a Marvel movie, though the plot of AVENGERS: INFINITY CRISIS I and II will be roughly the same thing–big bad guy leads alien invastion–with the exception that IRON MAN, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA and the Hulk only beat the villain by sacrificing themselves and becoming trapped in another dimension or timeline at the end of the second movie, because their contracts are all up.

 

7 secret ingredients to cook up a Bad Superhero Blockbuster

We live in the Golden Age of comic book movies, with Marvel and DC pumping them out as faster than you can swipe your VISA for $14 tickets to IMAX 3D and $9 bags of popcorn.

Here’s the secret recipe for mediocre superhero movies and its two sequels, each of which will costs at least $250 bazillion to make and $150 gazillion to market, and no, those insanely high numbers are not why you have to pay so much for tickets and kernels of dried corn that have been exploded. That’s a coincidence.

Note: I strongly deny the theory that this post is suggesting movie studios spend more than 1 percent of the budget on the actual story, because diverting that amount of money would eliminate the CGI budget for the skyscraper that explodes and falls down in the middle of the seventh fight scene, the one in that city that sort of looks like Vancouver, B.C. after the villain kidnaps the love interest and has a creepy dinner with her in his lair, but not the explode-y fight scene where the villain crashes the mayor’s birthday party to announce his plans for doomsday.

Secret Ingredient #1: A hero is born, which means Mom and Dad better have life insurance

Sorry, moms and dads of the world: if your son or daughter is destined to put on a mask and cape to fight evil, there’s a price to pay. Which means you’ve got to go.

Superheroes with dead parents are incredibly common, for these good reasons.

Here are those reasons: (a) any villain with a brain in their noggin could simply kidnap mom and dad whenever they wanted something, forcing (b) every movie or comic book starring a superhero with actual parents to spend precious time explaining exactly how mom and dad are hiding and surviving, (c) dead parents are an easy way for writers to give their superhero their motivation to fight crime and evil and (d) how else would you get Superman to fight Batman except by leveraging his human step-mom?

The list of superheroes with dead parents is so long I don’t even have to start, but I will: Batman, Superman (his real parents, not Martha), Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther—you get the picture.

Secret Ingredient #2: Our hero is a total loser

This is a necessary step to the first movie, which tells the hero’s origin story.

You have to show how lame the hero is before he gets his powers. The bigger the contrast, the better the story.

Peter Parker is a nerdy little high school kid who gets bullied.

Steve Rogers is so small and scrawny, they won’t even accept him as a volunteer to fight in World War II.

Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy who invents and sells weapons when he’s not busy trying to poison his liver and catch every STD known to man.

Finally, here’s an example that shows how going halfway doesn’t work AT ALL.

Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) is a billionaire playboy who’s totally not a copy of Batman, and though Arrow’s rich father is dead, his mom is still alive, and living with him (?) and his kid sister (??) in the same mansion, even though he’s a grown man. Yeah, that’s the setup. It is as soap-opera-ish and stinky as you could imagine.

Secret Ingredient #3: Power up

A superhero needs talents and powers, whether they come from (a) a science experiment gone wrong (Spiderman, Hulk), (b) a science experiment gone right (Captain America, Ant Man), (c) years of training and (Black Widow, Falcon, Arrow) or (d) being a playboy billionaire genius who invents his own suit and arsenal of gadgets (Batman, Iron Man and a dozen other copycats not named Arrow).

Then there are weird powers that we do not, cannot and will not accept, like gills to breathe underwater combined with the ability to get whales to act like underwater taxis whenever Batman and his buddies in the Justice League don’t feel like using in the Batsub or Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.

Secret Ingredient #4: An old mentor who eventually MUST DIE

Sorry. It’s a thing.

The same clause in Sean Bean’s contract that requires him to die in every role is included for any actor playing the mentor to our superhero.

This is also necessary, because eventually (a) the screenwriters will write themselves into a corner and need the ultimate motivation for the hero to go beserk or the aging actor playing the mentor will (b) get sick of being a glorified sidekick and do other roles or (c) demand insane amounts of money to be in the sequels.

Before he dies, the mentor needs to be wise, charming, helpful and funny.

This is almost always a male role, whether we’re talking about a hero or heroine. Sorry. That’s how the Bad Superhero Blockbuster rolls.

Our old and grizzled mentor also needs to own many hats, because he’ll be wearing them all: sidekick, martial arts trainer, tech support and father figure.

But his death serves another purpose, because it opens up the way for five different sidekicks to pick up those hats, dust them off and put them on in the sequels.

Secret Ingredient #5: A dash of young love

Didn’t expect this in a movie with capes and explosions, did you? But it always happens.

Captain America had Agent Carter and now her niece.

Iron Man has Pepper Potts when they can afford Gwyneth Paltrow.

Thor has Princess Leia’s mom.

Batman has Rachel, or he did for a while, though I’ve always said it’s a lot like Harry Potter winding up with his best friend’s sister instead of Hermione: wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman should be forever linked to Catwoman, who rocks.

The new Wonder Woman will have Captain Kirk, which is pretty cool. Great actor. Good choice.

Arrow has–actually, I don’t really care about Arrow’s paramour, and don’t even make me think about what Aquaman does on Friday nights.

Back to our recipe: Preferably, this relationship should (a) start as early as possible, maybe even childhood, and (b) it should be a love triangle, with the third person also a friend from childhood.

That third person, ideally, should be our next ingredient.

Secret Ingredient #6: A delicious nemesis

Not a villain.

No, a villain is common and boring.

A nemesis last. He or she endures.

But this takes time. Like fine wine and good whiskey, a nemesis must ferment. Because they start out good before turning sour.

The hero and nemesis were once friends, if not best friends. Maybe they both wanted the same girl, the same achievements, the same powers and status.

A true nemesis is the flip side of the hero, showing what happens if you take the path less travelled.

Or you could take the easy way out and cast an aging Hollywood has-been as the villain, somebody who used to be box office gold. Give them a terrible foreign accent, a little backstory and let them chew up the scenery until the hero punches them into oblivion and locks them inside a chamber that gets flooded with radiation from the superweapon our big baddie intended to use to nuke LA.

Also: a quick, Cheaty McCheatypants way of creating your nemesis is to give him or her the same powers or power source as the hero.

This so lazy and bad, it rarely happens except for Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, Thor, Man of Steel, Batman Begins, Arrow and fifteen other movies and TV shows I won’t look up right now.

It’s not enough for your villain or nemesis to steal every bar of gold from Fort Knox or crown himself Lord of Canada after unleashing his army of mind-controlled badgers with steel-tipped claws and industrial lasers strapped to their heads.

To be a truly clichéd superhero movie, the villain must threaten to destroy planet Earth, or at least nuke Gotham or Metropolis, which is the same thing for DC movies.

You can blow things up however you like, though nuclear warheads were only used as a plot device in every other Bond movie, spy film and TV show since 1953.

What gives you enough pop to make the third rock from the sun go bye-bye? Here are your choices: (a) an bio-engineered super virus, (b) alien invaders, (c) an army of killer robots / sharks / zombies or (d) manipulating or mind-controlling a hero so the other heroes have to fight them, especially if the hero is somebody unstoppable like Superman.

Secret ingredient #7: Clean up the kitchen and start prepping for sequels

To be a truly Bad Superhero Movie, you must follow the recipe exactly. To the letter.

That means Movie #2 has two villains, two sidekicks and two love interests.

It also costs twice as much. Batman Returns, Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight all follow this formula.

Movie # 3 has three villains and three sidekicks. The number of love interests is your choice. Spiderman 3 and The Dark Knight Rises are good examples. We’re not even going to talk about the Batman movies starring Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

The budget for Movie # 3 is also triple the original.

Despite all the big name stars and big budget for explosions, the story is a mess and entire thing collapses under its own weight, with the only hope of bringing it back being a reboot with a new actor and director.

BATMAN VS SUPERMAN is 10 times better than I expected

After hearing about all the reviews, I expected Batman vs Superman to stink up the joint, to be Gigli with capes and masks, somehow worse that George Clooney’s turn as Bruce Wayne–which would be very hard to top.

Nope.

I enjoyed it far, far more than Avengers 2: James Spader Chews Up the Scenery, But Never Makes You Care.

In fact, it’s better than the last of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, which I saw in the theater and own on Blu-Ray with the rest. Batman Begins is actually the most solid and rewatchable of the Nolan’s films.

The Dark Knight has an amazing beginning, and the first five scenes with Heath Ledger rock, but it gets weird toward the end with the random Wayne employee trying to out Batman and the two ferries that are supposed to blow each other up. Meh.

The acid test for any movie is very simple. Would you pay cash money to see it in the theater again? I’ll go see Batfleck in the theaters at least one more time, then buy it on Blu-Ray.

Gal Gadot rocks as Wonder Woman, setting up that solo movie. Batfleck reportedly wrote a script for the solo Batman film he may direct. Aquaman was, for the first time in history, not entirely lame. And I’m crazy stoked for Suicide Squad, which has the best trailer in the history of trailers that don’t feature wheels.

Batman vs Superman performs a minor miracle: though I love Bats and dislike Supes, it made me feel for Superman during their fight. Believe me, this is just about impossible, and Zack Snyder pulled that off.

So yeah, the movie worked, both as a fun time and as a setup for the whole DC Universe to compete with the Marvel Machine to see who can gather the most dollars from us before the Antarctic Ice Sheet melts.

Verdict: Go see it in the theater with popcorn and such.