Tagged: Human Torch

Mindy Newell: Feed ‘Em, Burp ‘Em, Diaper ‘Em

newell-art-130923-134x225-3301073Ah, the joys of new parenthood.

Interrupted sleep. Desperately trying to figure out why the baby is crying. Shock and palpitations at the cost of Pampers (or Luvs or Huggies). Interfering grandparents.

Yeah, it’s tough being the parent of a baby. (Just wait until they are teenagers!)

At least you don’t have super-powers. At least you don’t have arch-nemeses and equally powered villains eager to use your darling as a weapon against you

Once upon a time I worked with Keith Giffen, Ernie Colon, and Karl Kesel on a mini-series for DC that we called Legionnaires Three. The story twists on the kidnapping of the infant Graym Ranzz by the infamous Time Trapper. Baby Graym is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ranzz, a.k.a. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, a.k.a. Garth Ranzz and Imra Ardeen. Upon discovering their child is gone, both are stunned into superhero impotency as Imra breaks down in heart wrenching sobs, held by a seemingly stoic Garth.

I remember getting a lot of flak in the fan mail. (Remember fan mail?)

“Saturn Girl is the Iron Butterfly! She would never cry!”

“Garth is the weak one. Imra would kick ass!”

“You don’t know anything about the Legion! Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl would rally the troops, get on the case!”

Well, I do know about the Legion. But more important, I know about being a parent. And as I answered in the letters column (remember letters columns?), and I’m paraphrasing here, Garth and Imra may be superheroes, but they are also parents, and any parent, super-powered or not, would be sucked down into a mass of shocked, weeping, screaming, emotional protoplasm on discovering their child kidnapped. (Do I really have to reiterate that?)

Anyway, I got to thinking about babies and super-powers, superheroes and being a parent.

I talked about being the parent of a super-powered kid once before here on ComicMix, in May 2012. I called the column “My Kid’s a Superhero,” and it was in honor of Mother’s Day. It was about Martha Kent and it went like this:

A few months later Martha was vacuuming – Jonathan did the laundry, so it was a fair exchange – and went to move the couch, where all the dust bunnies lived. Baby Clark wanted to help him mommy, so he picked the couch up. Martha went to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a stiff one. When Jonathan came back from the lower 40 for lunch, he found an empty bottle of Johnny Walker Red and his wife in a drunken stupor. When she came to she had a hell of a headache and a hell of a story. Jonathan called Doc Newman who told him new mothers are under a lot of stress and to just take it easy with her. The doctor then hung up and called his wife and told her that Martha Kent was nuts.

Martha thought she had it rough?

Susan Storm Richards, a.k.a. the Invisible Woman, was pregnant with her first child when it was discovered that the irradiation from the cosmic rays that gave the Fantastic Four their powers would also prevent Sue from carrying the baby to term. Desperate to prevent this, her husband Reed (Mr. Fantastic), her brother Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and their best friend ever Ben Grimm (the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing) travelled to the Negative Zone and wrested the Cosmic Control Rod from the villain Annihilus. The Rod allowed Sue to carry her baby to term. The baby boy was named Franklin, after Sue’s father.

But it turned out that Franklin was a mutant, an immensely powerful mutant with psionic abilities. Reed, afraid that Franklin’s power could wipe out life on Earth, “shut down” Franklin’s mind, effectively reverting him to a normal kid.

Sue was furious with Reed because she had not been consulted before Reed took this drastic step, and she left him, taking the baby with her.



It’s enough to make a superhero hang up his or her cape.

ComicMix Columnist Mindy Newell became a grandmother on September 20, 2013. She is ecstatic.

Call her Grandma. Call her Gran’maw. Call her Abuela. Call her Gamma.

Just don’t call her Bubbe.




Michael Davis: Alone In My Room

Davis Art 130702-1The other day I was sitting in my studio at 4 AM working on a double page spread for a graphic novel I’m writing and illustrating.

There was a movie playing in the background, coffee and tequila on my side table and my dog Puffy laying at my feet. The house was silent, well silent except for the screams of the guy Jason Statham just threw off a roof in the movie I was watching.

Other than that guy screaming like a little bitch, my house was silent.

All of a sudden it hit me. I’m an artist.

I went to school to become a professional illustrator. I wanted to study to be a cartoonist because I wanted to do comics so badly!

Davis Art 130702-2But…

My cousin told me if I became a cartoonist I would “stave and die.” My cousin was also my mentor and if not for him there was a very good chance I’d be in jail or dead now.

No joke.

He’s also a world-renowned artist. How renowned? The house I live in cost less than one of his paintings and I live in a pretty nice house.

Again, no joke.

So when your cousin who is also your mentor who also saved you from death and/or prison who is also a world-renowned artist tells you if you became a cartoonist you will stare and die, you listen.

I listened.

I became an illustrator and as luck would have it the industry changed so as an illustrator I could still do comics just not the traditional way they had been done.

My illustration career was pretty damn good before I got into comics that I did pretty damn bad. It took me a while to understand the medium but once I did the work got better…I hope.

Somewhere along the way my illustration and comics career stopped completely as I found myself working in other media: television, publishing, radio and education.

Before I knew it I had a mini entertainment empire going and the only art I was doing was doodling a  fat Batman every chance I got.

At 4 AM the other day sitting in my studio I realized that all is right when I’m doing art. Just me, my dog, my Captain Action mug for my coffee and tequila, a movie and my work is freakin awesome.

No Hollywood drama, no politics, no egos, no bullshit.

It’s like when I was in the sixth grade drawing the adventures of The Fighting Five my very own superhero group. The Fighting Five were, the Liberator, (spelled Liverator; I went to public school) Bulldozer, The Anything Man (because I couldn’t think of anything else to name him) Judo Master (stolen from Charlton Comics but I felt I could use him because his book was cancelled) and The Human Torch (but it was the original Human Torch and I felt I could use him also since Marvel had thrown him away).

When I was alone in my room in the projects with my art nothing else mattered and I was the happiest I’d ever been as a child. Now, I’ve come full circle as I sit in my studio alone at 4 am in the morning happy with what I’m doing and who I am.

People have a hard time putting me into a category because I wear so many hats. I usually just say I’m a content producer but that’s never really felt right to me. It’s just an easy way for me to say, I’m a writer, TV producer, etc., etc., Shado, Shado (a invitation to my annual San Diego Comic Con party to the first person that gets that joke) I just figured out at 4 am in the morning sitting in my studio what and who I am.

I’m Michael Davis… and I’m an artist.

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Presents Pulp Pulchritude

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil Goes Fourth


Emily S. Whitten: “Marvel Heroes”

Whitten Art 130611On June 4, Gazillion’s Marvel Heroes MMOARPG launched to the public. And I’m here to tell you that it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play, especially if you are a Marvel fan.

Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play PC game featuring a story written by Brian Michael Bendis (which begins with a set of prequel motion comics that you can watch here). I covered the basics of the game in my previous Marvel Heroes column, so I’m going to move right into my review here.

The Good Stuff:

One of the strongest pros in this game is, of course, the Marvel IP – and what Gazillion has done with it while designing the look and feel of the game. With five starting character choices and twenty-one Marvel heroes currently available, each with three to five costumes (although Spider-man has six and Iron Man eleven!), players can instantly play as a Marvel hero who looks and talks like he or she came straight out of the comics. If players are willing to spend money, they can play as non-starter heroes from the get-go, and equip the heroes with favorite costumes as well (heroes and costumes are also available as in-game drops, but they are rare). And people who get tired of one character have plenty of choices available if they want to switch things up.

The characters look like the heroes we know and love; the costumes are iconic; and each character has unique voice-over work, some of which is done by actors who have previously voiced the same character in other media or games (e.g. Steve Blum reprises his role as Wolverine). Through this voice work, the characters interact with the environment and other players in ways that fit with their comics personas. (One thing I like about the voice-over work is that sometimes, the lines actually make me laugh out loud.) Some of the heroes even have enhanced costumes, with special effects and separate voice-over work (for instance, Pirate Deadpool speaks in a pirate voice). There are also “artifacts” you can get that change the cosmetic look of your hero a bit, or that add to their powers. The game even has a few pets available – like Old Lace from Runaways! Favorite characters of mine so far include Deadpool, Jean Grey, Rocket Raccoon, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye; and Gazillion plans to continue releasing new heroes, with Human Torch , Squirrel Girl, and Emma Frost being three announced heroes that I’m looking forward to playing.

The powers available for each hero are also mapped directly from Marvel lore, and can be customized via power points to make your individual hero suited to different play styles (melee, ranged, tank, team support, etc.) while still feeling authentic. The powers can also look pretty darned cool, like for instance when Jean Grey goes into her Phoenix Transformation and flies around with a flaming phoenix around her. Her other powers even have a different (fiery) look to them when she’s using them while transformed. The characters also have lore-appropriate epic Ultimate Powers, which can eventually be unlocked at higher levels and are mostly awesome. (I love that Iron Man’s is called House Party and calls up other Iron Man suits, just like in the movie.) You can also customize hero performance through gear drops, which come with various affixes like defense, or +X to a power, or gain of spirit on use of a basic power, or a personal favorite of mine, freeze.

The environments and enemies are also Marvel-specific in some pretty cool ways. We get maps like Hell’s Kitchen (accompanied by a cool Daredevil motion comic) which feel kind of dingy and shady and like Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen might; and maps like the Savage Land, which have dinosaurs (yay!). Other areas include the Jersey Docks, Madripoor, and more. The maps are randomized, which makes re-playing levels not overly monotonous. There are also fun side-missions, like an abandoned subway tunnel, or a convenience store, or a small island, that usually house a few enemies and sometimes a treasure chest. And then there are locations like the Hand Tower or Kingpin Tower that feel very authentic in design and end with a boss like Elektra or the Kingpin. (And I can’t explain why, but the fact that I can destroy Kingpin’s couch cushions on the way to the boss fight is a never-ending joy to me. Take that, Kingpin!) Enemies vary by location, so players will find themselves fighting AIM, Hydra, the Hand, the Maggia, etc.; as well as additional bosses, like Doc Ock, Venom, Taskmaster, MODOK, and more.

Everything about the game shows that Gazillion cares about the details of the Marvel universe and put a lot of thought into the design – up to and including the load screen tips, which sometimes address gameplay, but other times share facts about heroes and locations (and occasionally inform you that Deadpool is not standing behind you right now, which is always a relief). The motion comics are also part of the immersion – and are peppered throughout the game to move the story along. While I don’t love every single one of them, most are very cool and the introduction comic, the Madame Hydra fight comic, and the Taskmaster Institute comic come to mind as very enjoyable (the Taskmaster Institute one is the best).

Another area in which I think Marvel Heroes has done well is in the game’s accessibility to new gamers or new MMO players. For instance, I love Marvel and I love gaming. I have a comics collection that spans several shelves and is at least 3/4 Marvel, and I own an XBox and have played numerous games on it, including playing through Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2 an embarrassing number of times. However, until this game, I had never played an MMO-style game before, and hadn’t played a game on a PC in years. Marvel Heroes makes it easy to pick up the mechanics of gameplay during the prologue level (The Raft), and through interactions in player hubs, such as the crafting tutorial or the mission that sends you around Avengers Tower to “talk” to several non-playable characters and gain Marvel background information.

The game also makes teaming pretty easy – if you are looking to team up and don’t know anyone, you can try the chat window to talk to other players; or you can use the function that automatically puts you in a party. While in a team, there is a team “bodyslide” teleport feature, which transports you to the location of whichever team member you’ve chosen; and, of course, there is a team channel in chat through which you can talk to only your teammates.

Although this is not part of the actual game, I also think that Gazillion’s customer service is worth a mention here. Despite Gazillion being a relatively small company, I’ve consistently had good experiences with their community interactions and customer service. For example, during the launch of the game, there were a few problems that caused early access (for which users such as myself had paid) not to be available at the promised time. While that was disappointing, Gazillion addressed the issues with compensation for the delay, which, in my view, more than makes up for it. (Yay, a pet! I wanted a pet anyway.)

The Not-As-Good-Stuff:

Overall, I really like this game. However, there are a few issues that I think hamper enjoyability a bit.

One of these issues is the storage space (the S.T.A.S.H.) that you get for your heroes’ equipment and costumes; for XP, item find, and other boosts; and for crafting materials. The space allotted with the free game is pretty small and not organized into tabs or sections; and crafting materials, which you will need many of if you want to craft anything, don’t stack, and quickly fill up the available space. I realize that the small amount of storage space is deliberate, because Gazillion needs to make money, and people buying more S.T.A.S.H. space is one way they can do that – but I resent having to buy inventory space in a way that I don’t having to pay money if I want a new hero or costume, or a performance boost, or a cosmetic item (I have no problem with spending money for any of those things). They could have started us out with at least a little more space, or allowed us basic organizational tabs for crafting, gear, and other items. Also, while I received a S.T.A.S.H. storage tab specifically for the hero I purchased with my premium pack (Deadpool!) I did not get a tab for either of the Valentine’s Day special heroes that came along with that purchase and included costumes. So although I’m happy to have the heroes and costumes, unless I buy more tabs, four spaces in my general tab are always going to be taken up by costumes, which is a pain.

Another area that could use some improvement is in character balance – because although of course you don’t want playing Scarlet Witch to feel the same as playing The Hulk or Storm or Captain America, if one of these characters is noticeably overpowered at the same level as another hero who is very weak, the game can seem pretty skewed. I have seen some instances of this; however, I know that with MMOs, balance continues to be tweaked through and after game release, so I expect this will even out. In terms of balance, a few of the bosses could also use some work – particularly the Rhino, who just straight-up kills you if you’re standing in the path of his charge (hard to consistently avoid since he’s a world boss, so you’re always fighting him with a number of other players and their accompanying power effects, which can make it hard to tell you’re about to be run down). Again, though, I am guessing (hoping!) this may be adjusted as Gazillion works out some balance kinks, since I know this problem existed with Bullseye before and they adjusted that fight.

And To Sum Up:

I am really enjoying Marvel Heroes. I think it’s had a strong start, looks great, and has a lot of cool features. I do see some potential for improvement with the aforementioned issues, and perhaps by adding, e.g., achievements to the game and the like, but given that we know Gazillion intends to keep adding characters and other features to the game as time goes on, I have high hopes for this to continue to be a fun place to play for quite some time.

So if you like gaming (or you don’t know if you like gaming but would like to give it a try), or you like Marvel, or you like both, check out Marvel Heroes!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




REVIEW: Captain America (1990)

Captain America Collector's EditionShout! Factory has released a Blu-ray edition of the 1990 Captain America movie, a year after a DVD of the much-maligned film was released as a part of MGM’s Limited Edition collection. They deserve kudos for a nice, clean transfer but clarity and high definition cannot help a really weak story hampered by a low budget production.

As I wrote last year:

The film had actually been announced in the early 1980s from Cannon Films but in the intervening years, the studio folded and the right shifted a bit before Menahem Golan mounted it under his 21stCentury banner.

The movie languished in development until the rights were about to expire so director Albert Pyun urged Golan to let him take a crack at getting the film made for about $6 million. Marvel actually approved the script that was shot and Pyun loved its take on America’s fascination with heroism. If only some of that love found its way onto the screen.

The movie was shot in 1989 but wasn’t released theatrically and was finally dumped on video in 1992, where it was met with derisive laughter from comic book fans.

The horrific script from Stephen Tolkin (from a story by Tolkin and Lawrence J. Block) pays lip service to the source material and leaves you scratching your head at the shoddy story construction and utter lack of characterization. Significant changes were made, none of the better starting with giving Steve Rogers polio as an excuse to keep him from enlisting. Then there’s the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) now an Italian fascist, which never made sense. On the other hand, both this film and the current blockbuster made the unnecessary dramatic change in linking Cap and the Skull by having them both be products of the Super Solider formula.

There’s Matt Salinger as Cap/Rogers who is anything but the American ideal and fairly wooden in performance, perhaps because they give him nothing to work with. His first mission leads to the rocket that sent him to an icy sleep in Alaska. He’s found and inexplicably breaks free and rather than ask his rescuers anything, he runs all the way to Canada. There’s little time spent on his cultural isolation and his interactions with others is laughably minimal.

He makes his way back to Venice where he finds the love of life, Bernie Stewart (Kim Gillingham), an old woman, married and mother to Sharon (also Gillingham). He and Sharon then begin running around the world (without cash or passports or any hindrances) in search of the Skull, who apparently heads up an international cabal that directs the world’s affairs. Their current target is President Thomas Kimball (Ronny Cox), who as a boy actually saw Cap in action and has remained fixated on him ever since. He is targeted for his global environmental initiative which inexplicably would hurt the cabal’s interests.

The action is meager, the plotting a joke, the dialogue is flat, and at no time does the script allow the characters breath and expand, absorb the impact of what has been said and done. Fine character actors like Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin are utterly wasted here with nothing to do.


The film is supposedly about hero worship hence Kimball and Beatty’s boyhood fascination with Captain Midnight while the film also has references to the Human Torch and Superman which are oddities. Another missed opportunity is the relationship between the Skull (Scott Paulin) and his adult daughter, Valentina de Santis (Francesca Neri), who is dispatched as his assassin. She and her team of well-groomed killers are more joke than threat.

Much as the film looks better than it has since release, it also sounds pretty good, too. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix makes you long for a proper soundtrack. Shout! deserves brownie points for getting Pyun and Salinger to review this project for a 20 minute bonus feature, new to the disc. Both are fairly honest in their assessment that the film didn’t work although Pyun felt it would have been better with a bigger budget but trust me, it all starts from the story which was weak to behind with.

Mike Gold: U.N.C.L.E. S.H.I.E.L.D?

Gold Art 130515Hoo boy. My Uh-Oh sense is screaming its fool head off.

Here’s the inevitable backstory. In the late spring of 1965, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. replaced The Human Torch in Marvel’s Strange Tales monthly. I liked the Human Torch in Fantastic Four, but this series was sadly second-rate. I also liked Nick Fury and his contemporary appearance in the just Big-Banged Marvel Universe. But I really loved the teevee series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (damn; typing all those damn dots is gonna wear real thin) so the new Nick Fury was met with a minor adolescent fangasm.

Timing is everything. U.N.C.L.E. was just ending its first season, and the next two would suck the chrome off of a mid-sixties Buick. Over at Marvel, Stan and Jack were just warming up. A couple years later Jim Steranko would take S.H.I.E.L.D., and comics, to a whole ‘nother level. My feelings towards U.N.C.L.E. remained positive, but in a more hopeful sense. That hope actually paid off in the show’s final half-season, and the series remains iconographic to this day.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. became a critical part of the Marvel Universe – but attempts at maintaining it as an ongoing series proved unsuccessful. It attracted some great talent, but not great sales. I doubt most humans were aware of the organization until Iron Man 1 came along.

Maybe it was the success of the Marvel movies that finally got the Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie off the ground. I hope so, as that appeals to my sense of Cosmic Balance. Guy Richie is directing it, and Tom Cruise and Armie Hammer are starring as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, respectively.


I can’t say anything about Mr. Hammer except that his great-grandfather, Armand Hammer, became the world’s wealthiest man by selling lots of stuff to the Soviets. This appeals to my Cosmic Balance thing. Nonetheless, he is barely noticed in the trailers to the upcoming movie The Lone Ranger, in which he plays the lead but Johnny Depp plays the Star. But I can say a lot about Mr. Cruise.

Tom Cruise is, in my opinion, a good actor. Sometimes great. He stars as the continuing lead in the Mission: Impossible series. He stars as the continuing lead in the Jack Reacher series. In both series, as well as most of his movies I’ve seen, he doesn’t play the character, he makes the character Tom Cruise. That’s fine for M:I – his character is original, even though the series is not. But, as noted, I have a fondness for Napoleon Solo, the human being spy who kidnapped other human beings to engage them in adventures that even Alfred Hitchcock would find amazing. If the movie is called The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I want to see Solo on the screen and not Cruise.

I also have a fondness for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who earned those feelings in a whole lotta recent Marvel movies. The same guy, Clark Gregg, is playing the character in the new teevee series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Perhaps that Cosmic Balance can be described by the old sawhorse “What goes around comes around.” But I gotta tell you, my fanboy reaction to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of great anticipation.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie? Not so much.

But I hope I’m wrong.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Emily S. Whitten: The Marvel Heroes Game and the Latest from PAX East

Whitten Art 130326For anyone who’s interested in gaming, a whole lot of gaming news came out at the PAX East gaming convention this past weekend.

Given my devotion to Marvel and my affinity for playing any game that features Deadpool ever, I was particularly keen to hear the latest news about Marvel Heroes, the free-to-play MMOARPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Action Role Playing Game) created by David Brevik (of Diablo and Diablo 2 fame) and currently in production at Gazillion Entertainment.

Marvel Heroes, if you haven’t heard about it, is being designed as a free-to-play PC game in which players can advance through the game without spending any money (although there will be a store available for optional purchases). The story for the game, which centers around Doctor Doom and the Cosmic Cube, is written by well-known and multiple award-winning Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, and Marvel artists are producing comic-style cut-scenes to accompany that story.

In developing this game, Gazillion has been able to draw on all of Marvel’s considerable intellectual property, and the game is slated to feature numerous Marvel heroes and costumes, including those already announced or depicted in the model sheets on the website and in the Founders Program Ultimate Pack. (I’m particularly excited to see that Deadpool (of course), Human Torch, Jean Grey, and Iron Man will be available! I’m also looking forward to seeing what they’ll do with Emma Frost’s powers.)

Voices for the characters are being done by a number of excellent popular voice actors, some of whom are reprising their roles as Wolverine, Deadpool, and more from other media. Once obtained, playable Marvel heroes can be customized in-game, using costumes, items, and allocations of powers. Marvel Heroes will also feature multiple locations from the Marvel universe (including the Savage Land. Dinosaurs, yay!!), and allow for teaming with other players, and bonuses from teaming up.

Given all of the above, and the inclusion of awesomely fun stuff like the enhanced Pirate Deadpool costume, and the excellent trailers and videos Gazillion has released to the public so far, there is a lot to look forward to in the finished game. And since any new video game with Marvel IP is an immediate draw for me, I definitely wanted to hear the latest updates from PAX East.

And updates there were! The first of which is the newly-announced release date of June 4 of this year, with early access starting May 28 for Founders Program pre-sale pack purchasers (early access varies depending on which tier of pack is purchased). The Founders Program is ongoing, and closed beta access – which used to be reserved for the $180 Ultimate Pack – has now been expanded to the $60 Premium Pack as well.

The next bit of fresh news is that PvP will be available at launch, and that you will be able to team up during PvP. Experience points gained in PvE play will transfer to PvP, and vice-versa. Gazillion also announced that it’s planning to have end-game content which will include both team challenges and open challenges. End-game content will also feature “Ultimate Powers,” which are special abilities tailored to each hero, and which can be gained after the first run-through of the story. Having these powers leveled up will apparently be key to achieving victory during end-game challenges. These powers can be leveled up by getting and spending duplicate “hero tokens.”

…And here is where we get to the only part of Gazillion’s PAX announcements that seems troubling, rather than exciting: “hero tokens.” One of the biggest positives about a game based on Marvel IP is the ability to play as your favorite Marvel heroes. That’s been one of Gazillion’s selling points for this game since the get-go – that there will be a ton of heroes available now and in the future, from the popular to those with more of a cult following; and that players will be able to choose to play as those characters.

Prior to this past weekend, it was understood from Gazillion’s public statements that specific individual heroes would be purchasable in the game’s store, for those who didn’t want to wait until their favorite hero chanced to drop in the game. This was planned as a primary way to fund the free-to-play game. As evidence of how this mechanic was intended to work, Gazillion’s FAQ on the pre-sale page says:

What Heroes are offered for free at the beginning of Marvel Heroes?

When you start playing Marvel Heroes, you will be able to pick a hero from a choice of several, and play through the entire game for free, finishing the story. You will only be able to choose one hero to play; other heroes may be granted as random drops throughout the game. To ensure you get to play a specific hero, you will be able to purchase them.” (Emphasis added).

This explanation was echoed by Director of Community & Customer Support Stephen Reid in a YouTube video posted Dec 28, 2012, at the 4:45 mark. In another YouTube video, posted on Feb 14, 2013, Karin Ray, Assistant Producer, says: “One thing I really like about the Premium Packs is, they come with a little extra currency. So, let’s say I purchase the Avengers Assemble pack, which doesn’t come with Black Widow; and I love her. I can take that extra currency and I can just scoop her up for my team.”

However, at PAX East, Gazillion announced a different game mechanic called the “hero token” (each token representing a specific hero). In essence, the way these tokens would work is that along with dropping randomly in the game (which is not a change from the previously announced design); they would now also drop randomly from an “item” that will be purchasable in the store as a replacement for specific purchasable heroes. In other words, there would no longer be a way to buy a specific hero; only an item that gives a chance at one. And the random hero you receive might turn out to be either one you don’t want, or one that you already have (which is where the use of duplicate tokens to level up your Ultimate Power comes in).

This… is a puzzling idea. First of all, in a game that is based on a previously established IP with devoted fans, removing the ability to guarantee the acquisition of the particular hero(es) a player already loves when paying money seems to remove their incentive to pay money for, presumably, the most expensive purchasable item in the game. Secondly, for anyone who purchased a Founders Pack prior to this announcement, one element of their pack (the in-game currency) can now no longer be used in the way it was previously advertised (as explained by Karin Ray above).

Since the announcement, there have been negative reactions to this mechanic on Twitter, in the comments of news pieces on Marvel Heroes’ PAX announcements, and on Reddit. Happily, however, Gazillion is paying close attention to their potential customers, as illustrated by this response to the feedback: “We’re hearing you loud and clear. Changes coming!” The developers have also indicated elsewhere that there will be more information on this mechanic coming very soon, and that they will be responding to feedback and announcing additional details that they hope will make people happy.

I hope that will be the case, and will report back with an update when it’s available. I’m also still looking forward to the launch of the game, and hope for even more exciting news as it gets closer.

And in the meantime, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis and Barbie Dolls

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold and the Super-Hero Ideal


REVIEW: Marvel’s The Avengers

Many of the comment that follow are lifted directly from a blog post I wrote after seeing Marvel’s The Avengers opening weekend. I stand by these words and note that I have since then seen it in 2-D in a theater and on my home screen via the just-released Combo Pack. The movie is so well-crafted as to remain entertaining on repeated viewings.

Disney Home Entertainment has released this in a dizzying assortment of collections, some exclusive to certain retailers, such as the Walmart one that comes with a graphic novel by Peter David and an army of artists. The four-disc commercial set comes with the 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray discs, standard DVD, and digital copy. This one also has a link to download music inspired by the film. What I was sent for review is the slightly less spiffy two disc set (Blu-ray and DVD) but it is certainly sufficient.

The major success that was not being discussed during the May release is that for the first time, four franchises have been strategically designed and executed to culminate in the launch of a fourth franchise. There have been numerous all-star films where actors arrive and perform thinly veiled versions of their famous screen personas (and we had a trailer for the latest such examples, The Expendables 2) but this move is unprecedented. While there have been previous winks and nods to a larger universe in other films and television series based on comic books, this team film was carefully planned, laid out, and executed.

Starting four years ago with Iron Man, the Marvel Movie Universe has been carefully structured, taking the very core elements from the 1960s comics, filtered through the 2000 Ultimate Universe and distilled in an easily adaptable essence. Each film was not without its flaws and they didn’t all work with Hulk going 0 for 2 but still considered a key piece of the puzzle. But, when we first saw Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) waiting for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) after the first film’s credits and heard about “The Avengers Initiative” we knew what was coming.

The question was then: could Marvel Studios deliver on such high expectations The answer is a resounding yes but let’s look at why. First, Kevin Feige gets it. He understands the comics and the characters, but also understands film and how changes need to be made. As studio head, he made certain the egos and budgets were kept in check, focusing squarely on bringing the four-color characters to cinematic glory. That he’s remained in place has helped tremendously. So has Feige using the resources at his disposal and involving former EIC Joe Quesada from the outset, and setting up the writers committee that allowed the current architects of the print universe to help make the movies hew closely to the status quo and assure the storylines were strong.

Zak Penn also gets it. He’s clearly grown as a writer, going from things like Last Action Hero and Elektra to X2 and The Incredible Hulk. As a result, he was able to help set up the threads in the other franchises to dovetail in The Avengers. Then it was handed off to Joss Whedon, who clearly is comfortable with scope, scale, comics, and movies. He entered the Marvel orbits with Astonishing X-Men beginning a relationship that led his doing uncredited script work on Captain America which had him in mind when the current film came up. There was comfort between Feige and Whedon which led to entrusting him with a $215 million production, Marvel’s most expensive, despite Whedon only previously directing the commercially disappointing Serenity.

Fans got what they wanted: all their favorite film heroes together in one rousing story with the fate of the world counting on them. They also wanted to see the heroes bicker and battle one another, a Marvel staple dating back to the first Human Torch/Sub-Mariner squabble. They wanted tidbits connecting the film to the greater universe and got that in the form of the Chitauri (the Ultimate Universe version of the Skrulls). The general moviegoer got spectacle, humor, action, carnage, and adventure.

Given what got accomplished, the 2:23 running time is fairly tidy, especially considering how many alpha characters had to be juggled and spotlit. But that’s where Whedon excels; working with an ensemble of quirky people, each putting their foibles on display until it was time to demonstrate why should care about them. As cool as it was to watch Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, CGI, voiced by Lou Ferrigno) duke it out, the confrontation between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) was equally satisfying.

Each character was true to themselves, which was perhaps the trickiest aspect of bringing these franchises together, since their motivations varied and it required Fury to wheedle, cajole, and manipulate them into coming together to save the Earth. The parallel of Fury’s efforts with Loki’s need to keep them distracted and in-fighting was well handed, putting the emotions on display. Similarly, just as Loki cut a deal with the Chitauri to gain control of the limitless power contained within the Tesseract and the Chitauri answered to Thanos (as seen in the first of two wonderful end credit sequences), Fury answered to the international council (Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Arthur Darbinyan, Donald Li) and if the film had any false notes, it was the usual cluelessness displayed by his superiors.

Loki is fittingly the foe given his role in the team coming together in the 1963 comic book and his ability to elicit sympathy from the audience given his tortured past and wounded pride. His scenes one on one with Fury, Widow, and eventually Stark are terrific and most of the credit goes to Hiddleston.

It was also good to have moments directly connecting The Avengers to the other films such as the wonderful cameo of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), a reference to the whereabouts of Jane Foster, and the display of Hydra weaponry.

The change from Edward Norton to Ruffalo for Bruce Banner brought a level of sympathy to the scientist that was missing from the previous two film attempts. He was clearly channeling the late, great Bill Bixby and the CGI Hulk was a near-Neanderthal brute that finally looked and acted spot on. When he was ordered to smash and smiled before cutting loose, it was a clue we were in for some unbridled destruction. His confrontation with Loki may stand out as one of the single best film moments this year.

The entire second act is introspective, explosive, and fun to watch the actors put through their paces, but once the Tesseract is engaged to open the door to the Chitauri, the film puts things into fourth gear and never looks back. The final act is breathless, heroic, and tremendously exciting to watch.

This was war and with it come sacrifices. Despite all of Stark’s hubris and arrogance, when the time came, he was ready to give his life to save Earth and that changed how everyone around him looked at him. But there had to be some loss, something to make the victory bittersweet and the death that came was not unexpected but it was heroic and sad all at the same time. Clark Gregg was part of the glue that held the films together and his confident, somewhat geeky Agent Phil Coulson will be missed. We were introduced to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), clearly set up to be his replacement going forward, but if any character lacked Whedon’s dialogue flair, it was her and it’s shame because she looked ready to rock.

Apparently, that wasn’t always the case as is revealed in one of the many worthwhile extras included in the set. There is a nice assortment of Deleted and Extended Scenes (14:59) that includes alternate opening and closing scenes with Hill that actually gave her a more important role. I can sort of see why Whedon excised them and would have added yet another layer to the goings on. There’s also an extended vignette of the isolation Steve Rogers feels in the 21st Century but it would have dragged the film’s pacing so while it’s missed, it made sense. Similarly, there’s a nice exchange between Mark Ruffalo and Harry Dean Stanton that also was dropped since the pacing of the final act demanded speed.

New to the disc is the first of the Marvel One Shot original stories intended to explore the new cinematic universe. “Item 47″ (11:20) stars Jesse Bradford (Bring It On) and Lizzy Caplan (True Blood) as would-be bank robbers using a Chitauri weapon they managed to recover and make work. Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) is sent after them while Agent Titus Welliver deals with the paperwork. It might be the merest hint of what’s to come with the proposed ABC SHIELD series for next season.

The gag reel (4:05) is the usual jolly stuff. There are just two featurettes: “A Visual Journey”, on the visuals coming from page to screen; and “Assembling the Ultimate Team” (14:37), which is the usual cast and crew saying nice things about one another. Whedon’s commentary, as it was on Cabin in the Woods, is dry, funny, and insightful.

Finally, there’s the Soundgarden Music Video “Live to Rise” (4:49). which I didn’t need since their music does nothing for me.

I couldn’t check out The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience since it only goes live tomorrow, release day.

MIKE GOLD: The Only Thing To Fear Is…

I just read the penultimate issue of Marvel’s Fear Itself miniseries. This means that next month, April, should maybe possibly mark the end of their big 2011 crossover event, also titled Fear Itself. It started a year ago. Longer, if you add the event implants.

The Fear Itself storyline has several epilogues – the Shattered Heroes books, sundry miniseries as well as this particular 12 part miniseries. It ends next month, right in time for the Avengers vs. X-Men event. In total, if you wanted to read the whole thing, you’d be reading something in the neighborhood of 135 separate comic book issues.

All this leaves me with one question: does anybody give a damn?

Like the overwhelming majority of big event crossover series, Fear Itself was pretty lightweight. Yeah, yeah, death, resurrection, worlds shattered, nothing will ever be the same again, and Ben Ulrich updates his résumé. Blah blah blah. If you haven’t read any of this and you are undaunted after considering this task, let me make two suggestions.

One: You do not pile all these books up on your lap. Particularly the hardcover editions. They will crush you, physically and spiritually.

Two: You might want to consider reading the Esperanto edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses instead. You only have so much time in life; go for the gusto.

O.K. I’ve been railing against endless phony dull event stunts for over a decade, but even if Fear Itself was among the best, it went on far too long. We have entered the era of the never-ending event, where one seamlessly segues into the next. Not only are these stories trivial and redundant (Norman Osborn’s back? Really? Next you’ll tell me they didn’t kill off Captain America or the Human Torch!), they no longer deserve the honorific “story.” A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story has at least one climax, and a payoff that justifies your participation. These are qualities that are now lacking in mainstream event comics.

More fool I. As I’ve stated, I’ve been bitching about this for a long time. Yet most of these never-ending tales start off quite well and I get sucked in. Probably the best part of DC’s New 52 is that it wipes out or ignores most of their previous events. Probably the worst part of DC’s New 52 is that, eventually, they’ll do their own big event series – undoubtedly under the pretense of explaining everything that they “decided” not to explain in the individual 52 titles.

If history is any guide, in this they will fail miserably. I’m not knocking the abilities of the writers, artists, editors and editorial directors involved: the odds are overwhelmingly against them. It’s like writing a completely original episode of The Simpsons: after 500+ episodes, good luck with that. However, I am knocking the abilities of the publishers and the marketing executives who take such a short-term view of their bottom line.

I’ve said it before, and unfortunately I’ll have to say it again: What do you say, guys? Let’s try going back to simply producing great stories! You know, it just might work!

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


MINDY NEWELL: Who’s Dead As A Doornail?

MINDY NEWELL: Who’s Dead As A Doornail?

Death aims only once, but never misses.

(Maxims: Political, Philosophical, and Moral, by Edward Counsel)

Except in comics.

I was doing a search for quotes about death when I found this one, which is so apropos. I never heard of Edward Counsel; did a Google search, but couldn’t find him?? Found a reproduction of his book on Amazon; the original was published before 1923. All I can gather is that he was an Australian who was born before 1900. Anyone who has more info is welcome to let me know in the comments section.

The reason I was looking for a quote about death – of which there seems to be milllllllllions – is because all us comic fans are buzzing about the YouTube video The Death and Return of Superman, by Max Landis (son of John Landis), who stars in The Chronicle. I was going to post it here, but Martha (Thomases) beat me to it three days ago – which amazingly points out that DC actually thought Tim Drake’s/Robin’s new costume was more of a P.R. event than Supe’s kicking of the bucket – so I won’t do that. All I can say is that, if by any chance you haven’t seen it, do so at once. You have my permission to stop reading this column, go watch it (it’s about 16:00 long) and then come back. It is bitingly hilarious, and exceptionally on the mark!!!! (Major kudos to Landis and his fellow actors btw!)

SPOILER ALERT!: Okay, I’m going to assume that you have either already seen the video or have taken the 16:00 to watch it before returning here, because I’m going to give away the ending here.

Landis concludes his short film by stating that Superman’s death and return opened the floodgates for other comic characters to die and then resurrect. In other words, said resurrection cheapened the dramatic impact of said death, and ended the ability of readers to mourn the loss of the character, because the reader knew the character would eventually return. Cynics like me will always point out that the death of a character in the comic book world is always due to (1) marketing; and (2) the dictates of Hollywood – as Martha ably points out in her column concerning Lois And Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

As a comics writer, a editor, and a reader, the “make-believe” of death in comics really pisses me off.

I’d like to point out that the ability of fiction (any fiction, from comics to television to movies) to help children understand and cope with finality of death is incredibly important. J. M. Barrie understood this, as he has Peter Pan say “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” And of course, J.K. Rowling did not flinch from the meaning of death in the Harry Potter And The novels; it was one of the themes of her “magnus opus” – beginning with the main character. Need I remind you that Harry was an orphan?

Okay, young readers of comics are scarce these days. We all know that. But they are still out there; my eleven-year old niece Isabel being one of them. And children are curious about death. About six months after my husband left me, the family was out to dinner. Right in the middle of the laughter and the eating, Isabel, six years old at the time, said to me, “Is John dead?” (That was a conversation stopper, let me tell you.) Of course her parents had explained what had happened. But obviously Isabel couldn’t grasp the concept of marital separation and divorce, so all she knew was that John was gone, which in her thoughts equaled death… because, as her mom told me later, she had just seen a movie – I don’t remember which one, it might have been one of the Harry Potter’s – in which one of the characters died. And she was trying to wrap her young mind around “death.”

Which I think is good; our society tends to put death into a dark, dusty corner where it molders and mildews and mutates into something unbearably monstrous. Remember the uproar over Terry Schiavo? How about the Republican bullshit of equating Obama’s healthcare bill with death panels? And as a registered nurse in the operating room, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen terminally ill or extremely aged patients subjected to the stress of unneeded or useless surgery or treatment because the family insists on it because they can’t deal with the impending death of their loved one.

Death can be welcomed as an end to unending pain and torment. Death can be aggressively fought against with all the tools of modern medicine. Death can be sudden, or it can be stretched out into nanoseconds.

But death is real.

I’m still reeling from the death of Kara Zor-El – Supergirl – in Crisis On Infinite Earth.  Don’t talk to me about the reboots.

The Very Short List of Comic Book Superheroes Who Have Died And Returned: Alfred Pennyworth, Aquaman, Aunt May, Big Barda, Bucky, Captain America, The Doctor, Elektra, Fahrenheit, The Flash, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Hawkman, The Human Torch, Jean Grey, Moon Knight, Negative Man, Punisher, Robin, Supergirl, Superman, The Thing, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (many if not all), Wonder Man, Wonder Woman, Yellowjacket.

TUESDAY: Michael Davis. Sponsored by the Bacon Council.

DENNIS O’NEIL: Patron Superheroes?

Got a concept for you. Ready?

Patron superheroes.

You’re lovin’ it already, aren’t you?

For those of you who have never been Catholic, here’s a quick definition of patron saint, via the invaluable Wikipedia: “A patron saint is a saint who is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person…(They) are believed to be able to intercede for the needs of heir special charges.”

I mean, when you think about it superheroes and patron saints have a lot in common. Both are dedicated to helping the good guys (though the definition of “good guys” is liable to change) and both have powers that help the aforementioned good guys. You’re Lois Lane falling from a window, you yell and here comes Superman to prevent you from splatting. You’re a Giants fan, you want your team too win the Super Bowl, you pray to the appropriate saint and – yay Giants.

Okay, maybe your saint didn’t affect the game directly – though who knows? – but he or she obviously had some influence on the final score. I mean, saints obviously have a lot of clout. And these things are, by their very nature, mysterious.

Now, I don’t know if there is actually a patron saint of football, or a patron saint of the Giants, or of the New England Patriots, but if not, these surely are blanks easily filed in. If we can put a man on the moon, we can give he Patriots a patron! And by the way, there is a patron saint of athletes: St. Sebastian. So what if a Giants fan and a Patriots fan both prayed to Sebastian? Gee, another darn mystery…Maybe whoever prayed loudest?

We’re going to ignore “pagan” deities, who had a lot in common with both saints and superheroes because…well, this is a Christian country! (I believe I heard a guy wearing a suit on television say that, so I know it has to be straight.)

And that brings us to patron superheroes, though there really isn’t much to say about them, once you acknowledge the similarities between saints and superdoers. It’s just a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s, and you can manage that on your own.

But to help you get started, here’s a brief, off-the-top-of-my-head list of heroes and what they might be patron of.

Superman – immigrants.

Plastic Man – politicians.

Spider-Man – entomologists.

Green Arrow – acupuncturists.

The Human Torch – arsonists.

Invisible Scarlett O’Neil – wallflowers. (No relation, in case you’re wondering.)

The Flash – athletic shoe manufacturers

Captain Marvel – electricians.

Captain Marvel Junior – electricians’ assistants.

Hoppy the Marvel Bunny – fertility.

The Shadow – sundials.

And to make it an even dozen –

Blue Beetle – unhappy rock stars.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases