Look out world, Batonna Mama is on the case

Look out world, Batonna Mama is on the case
Freeware program lets you create your own superhero

There she was, a superhero of my own creation. Her name — Batonna Mama. She is Mistress of the Twirling Arts.

Batonna Mama is one tough cookie, I’ll tell you. She can throw her power-batons through a brick wall and catch’ em on the other side. She can march in five Memorial Day Parades in one day. She can lead a plume-hatted, sash-wearing drum corps to Hell and back.

She is the ultimate twirling trooper, and she would never have come to be if it wasn’t for a nifty computer program that no comic-book geek can do without. The program, dubbed “The Hero Machine” by its creator, can be downloaded for free and lets you create all sorts of neat characters with just a few button clicks.

The queen of the clubs, Batonna Mama.

With the program, available at heromachine.com, you can assemble a superhero, villain, or fantasy character out of hundreds of different options. It’s those options, with all their goofy variety, that make the “Machine” worth powering up.

You can make a super- hero that looks just like Iron Man and give him an Abraham Lincoln-style top hat instead of his normal metal helmet.

You can choose from more than a dozen types of gloves and even more accessories, such as belts, weapons, capes and more. That’s important, because if you know anything about superhero fashion, it’s all about the accessories. Where would Superman be without his cape? Where would Spider-man be without his web shooters?

Just look at Batman. He wouldn’t be caught dead without his world-famous utility belt. And Green Lantern without his ‘lantern’-beam shooting Power Ring? He’d just be regular old “Green,” and supervillains would start calling him “Chartreuse” just to be spiteful. Let’s face it, a hero needs his accessories.

Creator: Using his talents as a computer programmer and sometimes artist, Hero Machine’s creator and webmaster Chris Hebert created the Web site when he left his job at Dell Computer Corporation. Those talents, mixed with his love for comics, helped birth The Hero Machine in December 2000. Now, he uses the popular Web site, which has gotten a whopping 804,172 hits just since Jan. 1 of this year, as an advertising tool.

Baron Von Shark, criminal mastermind.

Hebert’s first major client was Newsday magazine, for a weekly comic strip called “Chip Tracer.” With that success, Hebert hopes to sell variations of the Hero Machine to other companies looking to get young Web surfers onto their sites. Just think — someday we might have the option to put Kool-Aid Man in six-inch heels or add a few extra piercings to Mr. Clean.

So how does it work? The Hero Machine runs on the Internet programs Netscape or Microsoft Explorer, and since practically every computer has either one or the other, it’s really simple to run. On a typical modem line, it takes about 5 minutes to download. If you’re not comfortable with that, you can run the online version, too.

Making a hero: Essentially, the program starts you out with a basic character outline. You can pick from seven, including a strongman, a fantasy humanoid and a “Xena: Warrior Princess”-type. From there, you select particular clothing styles, weapons, a superhero code name and colors. After a while, you’ve created a brand-new character suitable for squaring off against the likes of The Incredible Hulk.

Consider the ones I’ve created:

  • The Golden Archer — As corporate shill for McDonald’s, he’s a master archer who uses his special bow and arrows to bring evil vegetarians to justice, Robin Hood-style. Among his arsenal are Chicken McNugget-tipped arrows dipped in honey and sweet-n-sour sauce.

    The champion of Peru, Iron Sword

  • Iron Sword — He’s a Peruvian with a heart of gold and a brain of lead, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you think about all of the blows to the head a superhero takes. Why is he from Peru? Well, do you know any other superheroes from Peru? No, I didn’t think so. I’m just trying to even out the American vs. Peruvian Superhero gap. The score so far? 15 kabillion to one, but thanks to good old Iron Sword, Peru is coming on strong.
  • Baron Von Shark — This dastardly fishmonger is the leader of my supervillain trio. After he downed some shark cartilage pills that had been accidentally doused with radiation, he developed the powers of a shark. He can bite you with his rows of pointy teeth. He can smell a bloody steak from three miles away. With a squinty, sidelong glance, he can even make Roy Scheider faint dead away.

  • Punch Bug — After a bizarre experiment, this femme fatale developed the powers of an itty-bitty gnat and a Volkswagen Beetle combined with a human. She can fly circles around you, has a four-cylinder engine in her rear end and plenty of storage space up front.

  • Combat Clown — Taking his cue from the Joker, this felonious funnyman is locked, loaded and ready to take down the Big Top.

    Old toys: The Hero Machine program reminds me a lot of the “Mighty Men and Monster Maker” toy I had when I was a kid (and still have, come to think of it).

    Basically, the Tomy art kit had interchangeable plastic tiles with raised images of superhero and monster body-parts on them. To create a figure, you took a “head plate,” a “torso plate” and a “leg plate,” stuck them in a special tray, put a piece of paper on it and then rubbed a crayon over it. The crayon would then “draw” an image of the superhero you had assembled.

    He’s no Joker, he’s Combat Clown.

    I’ve seen similar items for girls called “Fashion Plates.” Both were pretty neat, and I spent hours playing with the “Mighty Man” maker. The Hero Machine is the same thing with a computer thrown in to smooth out the process.

    Getting better: Aside from the free program, the Web site offers a much more grandiose version of the Hero Machine for $10. The “Beta” version has a lot more options, including layering, more super weapons, an “energy aura” for your characters and a much broader color pallet to play around with.

    As an example of its grandiose-ness, check this out: The Beta version includes 50 different overshirts for each pose. Heck, I don’t own fifty shirts myself, so to me that’s a lot to choose from.

    With those kind of options, it makes me wonder, who can I make next?

    Visit Hero Machine here.

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