Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Villains & Vigilantes: which is which, exactly?

OK, here's my golden opportunity to alienate nearly every fan of this game including the creators themselves and the long-time publisher of record, FGU.

"Never miss an opportunity to offend someone," I think has become my motto on the web, simply because it is impossible. [Remind me to tell you of the guy who gave me a negative rep for announcing to my buds that I was taking a break from my regular superhero game forum and then promptly did the same thing himself a few weeks later. If I do it, it's bad form - if he does it, it's a necessity. LOOO-SERRRR]

How do you tell a villain from a vigilante, is my question - both are breaking the law, so are not BOTH guilty?

Well, whenever someone makes the law a god instead of a servant, you get questions like that. Jesus had to deal with a fair amount of legalism in the religious leaders of his day because they thought by abiding simply by the rules, they were right and everyone else is wrong.

Now Jesus did not tell them the law was WRONG - but their application of it was wrong. they did not use the law to protect and serve but to beat and abuse those who failed.

Their response was sort of like Lex Luthor's in Superman Returns: WROOOONGG!!



Now as a former victim of my self-imposed perfectionism and always eager to please some verbally abusive alcoholic, I am pretty aware of how people NEED the law to stop excesses. The law, she can be a most useful tool.

But she is an editor, not a creator. She only shows up to mop up a mess caused by others. We write laws to protect people from other people. If we are not careful, we can overdo it and - just as the religious leaders did - misinterpret the words to fit what WE want them to say.

So, again, what makes the difference between a villain and a vigilante?

A villain is self-serving. He decries the injustices of the world and demands re-payment. If not satisfied, he takes matters into his own hands and begins his personal quest for self-actualization. He thinks of himself as a hero and the world and the government as his enemy - a 'self-righteous hypocritical enemy' at that.

This was best shown by Bill Willingham in the mini-series JLA: Salvation Run.

From the mightygodking.com blog a full synopsis is given of Lex Luthor and this part is especially true - for ALL villains as well:


Other villains fight men. Luthor is, when you get down to brass tacks, a man trying to fight God.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Luthor shares a number of personality traits with Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Able to inspire/charismatic? Check. Proud? Big check there. Narcissistic? Check. Selfish? Check. Unwilling to dignify his opponent by speaking of him plainly? Oh, check. (In Paradise Lost, Milton uses Satan’s arrogance to avoid the trap of having to describe God – Satan defines God in loose, etheral terms rather than speak in the plain specifics of which he’s capable. Sound like anybody? Hint: “the alien.” [i.e. Superman]) Utterly self-confident? Check. Said self-confidence (mostly) justified? Again, check. Utterly obsessed with his enemy, who is only his enemy by choice? Oh my check.

Great writing. If you leave my blog for his, I wouldn't mind. He nailed it.

Villains serve themselves. Vigilantes - the superheroic kind - are out to serve the public good. They exist to restore rights to victims, not take rights away. The problem is they don't wait around for 'official approval' having seen the officials drop the ball too often.

And if you are watching a legal system fail in front of you, you stop trusting it - or fearing it. A corrupt police officer or judge does more damage than they know; they EMPOWER the criminals. When the supposed 'authorities' cannot be trusted, what do you do? Wait until they repent or start cleaning up ASAP? You see this cycle often in the inner city: Kids who grow up under the care of abusive parents or parents who neglected them learn quickly that mommy and daddy really aren't going to do too much for them, so they have to fend for themselves.

How can you respect an authority that keeps failing you? And I don't mean 'Daddy told me I couldn't go to the Jerry's house party!' I mean 'Daddy spent the paycheck at the casino.' Let's be real here.

Hmmmm. In reading the above, I realized that my example showed that the crime was irresponsibility. We write a lot of laws to show people they have responsibility to the family, to their employees, to the public in general.

And right now, a trademark battle is being waged, where it is the creators versus the publisher of record. Both sides are claiming the right to use the trademark with FGU saying it never lost the right. On paper, FGU has a strong claim. In the hearts of gamers and friends, Jeff and Jack have the better claim.

So here's the final tally on Villains & Vigilantes, my favorite role-playing game of all time:

Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, as Creators: 1
Scott Bizar, FGU, as Editor in Chief/Publisher: 1

Jeff & Jack, as Copyright holders [actual game rules]: 1
Scott: 0

Jeff & Jack, supporting game after 1988: 0
Scott: 1 [yes, it's been available]

Here's the conundrum in my mind: merely publishing this game kept FGU as the trademark holder for Villains and Vigilantes under the original agreement, done WAY back in 1978 when these guys were in their late teens.

I think publishing has changed so much, a sympathetic judge may fairly rule that Jeff and Jack have the right to use the trademark. You see, with Print-on-Demand, and easy electronic file transfer on the web, a publisher who prints a bunch of copies and pays the cost of printing and ships them out to various stores to be bought is a thing of the past.

That was how things worked - and that was why the law was created to keep respect and honor and equitable treatment between the Publisher and the Creators.

But if 'publishing' means 'keeping an electronic file up on some server somewhere so it can be downloaded' then as long as THAT criteria is meant that the creators will never get their rights back.

You see in the real world, after a while, you'd just let go of the trademark since it was no longer profitable. If no demand, no printing. And then the rights revert back to the creators.

So should FGU give the rights back to Jeff and Jack - though they [FGU] have done nothing wrong?

Legally? Don't know. I really don't.
Ethically? Yes.

You see, the problem is, FGU is just an entity. We, the gamers, do not know them. We are glad they have served honorably and done the job they were supposed to do. I have personally talked with Scott Bizar and was very pleased to hear how he paid commissions, etc. I think he's been very good to Jeff and Jack.

But in the end, FGU only owns the trademark. Not the concepts, art, rules, or anything else. In other words, they own the label on the package.

And "a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet."

So what I hope for is this; that FGU would, for the next 2-5 years, would SHARE the trademark with Jeff and Jack. Both would publish materials compatible with the V&V Second Edition rules.

If Scott has any backlog of scripts or material, NOW would be the time to publish it. Get it out and into the hands of fans.

THEN hand the keys over to Jeff and Jack, with his blessings.

I know. Sounds like a fantasy, doesn't it? And I am not so naive as to think this the only solution.

But I love reconciliation. And I love heroes.

And I want to see both the creators of V&V make a wise agreement in 2010 with the man who published their work when no one else would.

Its a bit like Siegel and Schuster vs. DC comics all over again. Without DC, Superman would never have lived. But because of DC, those men never got the recompense they could have had. Finally, citing 'moral obligation' and fearing bad publicity on the eve Superman the Movie's film debut, DC decided to honor the creators of Superman and start paying for some medical bills, etc. DC had no legal order to do so. They did not have to do it. But they were smart: they watched the fans.

Fans may be the ones who decide this in the end.

Well, we've waited 20 years to see a great game come back to the forefront.

We can wait a little more.

Amen.

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