James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, is the Marvel character also known as the black Iron Man.
I have absolutely no opinion of War Machine. I do, however have an opinion of James Rhoades – but not the character James Rhodes. The James Rhoades I’m talking about is graduating from UCLA today (today being June 16th 2013) and has been my apprentice for the last four years.
That James I was introduced to some five years ago by Whitney Farmer at the San Diego Comic Con. James wanted to meet me and have me look at some of his work. It’s real hard for me to view portfolios at Comic Con because my days and nights are crazy busy. If I’m looking at someone’s work I like to be able to spend some time with that person. For me looking at a young artist’s work require a conversation not just canned advice many professionals give young talent.
I had no time to really talk to James, but both he and Whitney gave me big puppy dog eyes so what else could I do?
His work consisted of a small sketchbook, which I looked though. Clearly the kid had talent. At 16 he was a better artist than I was at that age. I gave him what advice I could with the little time I had to do so. I told him to work bigger, fill the page and to look at drawings from the old masters.
Before I ran off to my next appointment I asked James what sort of artist he wanted to be. “I want to write and draw comics.” He said. In all my years of looking at portfolios rather as a mentor, instructor, illustrator or lecturer that was the fist time anyone had ever said to me that they wanted to “write and draw” comics. I have to admit that really impressed me but his sketchbook had no comic book work in it.
When I mentioned that to James he told me why he had not brought his finished comic book work and blah, blah, blah, blah blah and blah.
No matter what the kid said he sounded to me like an excuse and all excuses sound to me like blah, blah, blah.
I had no more time. so I gave the kid a good luck’and I was out.
That was what I thought was that.
Nope, that turned out to be the start of the Whitney Farmer Project. Since Whitney is always included in all of my Comic Con events I saw her later at my annual dinner…
“So what did you think of James?”
Before the Black Panel…
“He’s an amazing talent, is he not?”
After the Black Panel…
“You should look at his finished work!”
At my annual Comic Con party…
“He would love to see your studio!”
Having drinks at the Hyatt with some friends…
“You know, you should mentor James!”
Finally I had enough and agreed to look at James’ finished work at my studio. I told Whitney to give the kid my number and to have him call me after the con.
After the con, rightafter the con, James called me.
James continued to call me…often…for about six months until I saw him at my studio. He made it crystal clear, (well crystal clear after he stammered for about an hour) that he wanted to apprentice in the studio.
“Kid, you don’t even have a car. How are you supposed to get here?”
Ha! Game! Set! Match! Davis!!
Look, I had nothing against the kid but I take apprenticing very seriously and with the work load I have taking the time to show someone the ropes is ripe with complications and complications equal lost revenue. In other words, taking James on could cost me, literally.
Thus began another six months of James calling me and inquiring about an apprenticeship. It’s important to state something for all you aspiring artists out there and that’s this, James called me consistently for a solid year and at no time did I think the kid was bugging me.
That is a hell of a feat – and I cannot stress this enough.
One fateful day James started his phone call like this: “My parents got me a car so I can study with you.”
This kid had talked his parents into buying him a car so he could hopefully apprentice with me. They brought him a car on the chance that he could study with me.
Like I said.
That very next week James was in the studio and has been for the last four years. James not only graduated from UCLA today but as of Monday the 17th he becomes a full-fledged studio assistant and professional artist writer with a fantastic future.
Today happens to be father’s day and I’m sure James’ dad (and mom) are very proud of him as am I. His family is mad cool (even his rotten sister) and I’m glad to know them.
In fact he has become a real part of my family and like the son I never had.
Of course any son of mine is subject to FBI, NSA and CIA investigation and as my son he is required to take the rap for anything I may have done.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been a Superman fan pretty much forever. Superman was my first encounter with superheroes, beginning with watching the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie when I was very small. Through the years, Superman has remained one of my favorite superheroes. Sure, I love Deadpool (obviously!), and I’ve always been a big X-Men fan… and Batman… and Spider-Man… and I could go on and on from there – but Superman, the most unequivocal and steadfast symbol of hope and ethical humanity in the whole collection, has always been there in the background, informing my appreciation of the rest of the bunch.
Some people say that Superman is a boring character. He’s too perfect. He’s incredibly powerful and can do almost anything, way beyond what most of us can fathom, and he’s constantly doing the “right” or noble thing. How interesting can someone like that be?
Very interesting, I think. It’s Superman’s decision about how to use his power; his nobility; and his steadfast idealism in the way he decides to live his life for humanity and constantly be striving to do that right thing that have made him a multi-generational symbol and inspiration. At the same time, it is also his choice to live for humanity that drives him to live amongst humanity, and thus empathize with their plights, and, eventually, fall in love with one of them – Lois Lane.
Lois is the other half of what makes Superman so interesting. She’s a strong character in her own right, as she has to be to match up to someone as powerful as Superman. But she’s also only human, with human difficulties. Lois humanizes Superman, she pulls him back to Earth from the skies in which he might otherwise constantly float above us all. Sure, as a child, Superman is in touch with humanity, anchored by his parents and their desire to raise him with a strict moral code that respects and teaches responsibility for humanity. But once Clark seriously takes on the Superman persona and is living far from his parents as an adult in a strange city, someone else’s influence is needed. Enter Lois.
In most iterations of Superman, Lois does not, for at least a significant period of time, know that Superman and Clark Kent are the same man. Various reasons for this remaining the status quo of their relationship exist, from the potential danger to Lois if she knows Superman’s secret identity to Clark’s insecurity about her feelings for him asClark, or his desire for her to, essentially, “like him for him,” and not for being some kind of alien demigod. This dynamic not only serves to anchor Clark, but also to drive the story – as a lot of the drama, humor, and interest of the Superman story stems from Clark’s attempts to live a double life and somehow still win over the woman he loves and attain a very human kind of happiness.
Superman’s power and nobility, combined with Clark’s very human relationship with Lois Lane, are what make him such an interesting character, and what make me throw up my hands in disbelief when someone says that Superman is boring. Because how could an interaction of our human struggles with our human desire to be heroic be boring? How could it be just another story? Well, if people make it that way, I suppose. If people stray from what makes Clark-and-Superman great, and try to instead fit him into the box of every other superhero out there.
Now, let’s talk about Man of Steel.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
On a strictly is-it-an-enjoyably-watchable -movie level, I liked Man of Steel. Except for the overly long fight scenes (of which there were several), the pacing is pretty good. The cinematography is good. The story is fairly cohesive and easy to follow (despite some odd plot holes/questions, like how Superman’s costume was just hanging around on a ship that had been buried in Earth’s icy caverns thousands of years before the destruction of Krypton). Henry Cavill is delicious, and also shirtless in pretty much his very first scene. Shirtless and on fire. And it’s hot (all puns intended). Amy Adams is also adorable. Overall the acting is pretty top-notch. And there are many recognizable genre, TV, and mainstream actors to clap about (including at least twoBattlestar: Galactica dudes, Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani). There is also some blatant product placement…that works (Clark’s childhood friend Pete Ross works at an IHOP. After watching the movie, my friend and fellow journalist Alicia and I were forced, forced I tell you, to go to IHOP because we suddenly had IHOP cravings. But it was delicious, so that’s okay).
On a Superman mythos level, things get a lot shakier. One thing I did enjoy was the minor Superman character name-drops. Pete Ross, as mentioned, shows up in both Clark’s flashbacks and present day. Dr. Emil Hamilton is there as a military scientist or consultant. Steve Lombard is working at The Daily Planet. And there’s a wee Lana Lang on the flashback bus when it goes into the river. I also actually really enjoyed the first part of the movie, from Krypton through about the first two or so flashbacks. This is one film I’ve seen that actually world-built Krypton to a realistic extent and then spent some time there. Sure, there are echoes of what’s been developed before, and the combination of technology and organic, mythical-looking creatures was a bit weird at first, but I loved details like the floating silver orbs that are a combination of personal assistants and bodyguards, and also allow for a sort of 3-D video communication (or for a 3-D ultrasound!). And I liked the extent to which they managed to make the look of Kryptonian attire realistically tie in with Superman’s costumed appearance.
After Krypton, the first few scenes establish a Clark who’s wandering the world, interspersed with some growing-up time. These scenes are very enjoyable. The current scenes show a Clark that, like a well-developed Krypton, we don’t usually get to see much on screen. Clark’s soul-searching and wanderings as a young man are referenced in several versions of the Superman story, but we don’t often actually see them. And each of the early flashbacks shows a young Clark who is learning about his powers, and about his responsibilities, in a way that is organic and not heavy-handed.
Once the movie has spent some time on this, however, it moves more firmly into the present day origin story, with just a few more flashbacks here and there. These are of an older Clark and, while I get that teens are difficult and superteens perhaps even more difficult, these scenes are devoid of the familial love and warmth that marks the earlier scenes. They also include a scene in which Clark literally stands fifty feet away from his dad and watches him get swept away by a tornado. While the movie tries to make this into a character development point, it’s such a wrong note for Superman that I just couldn’t get behind it. Keeping his powers a secret or not, no Superman I’m interested in would be that selfish, even if his dad was telling him not to save him. It’s around this point that the movie also moves firmly into being, essentially, an alien disaster movie that happens to feature Superman.
Given the trailers we’d been seeing, and the fact that both Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were signed on, I feared that we were going to get a very grimdark Superman in Man of Steel. And although the first several scenes were all fairly serious, since they cut back and forth it relieved the grimness somewhat, and I thought maybe my fears were going to be unfounded. Well, not so much. After the first few cuts back and forth, things turn continuously grim and grimmer in Man of Steel. Death and destruction (on a global scale) begin to appear everywhere and only increase for the rest of the story; and boy, is it exhausting to watch. It’s also not what I wanted to see in a Superman movie.
During Man of Steel, we are told by Jor-El that the S on Superman’s chest means “hope” to Kryptonians. And that’s exactly what Superman is supposed to be for us – a symbol of hope. He is our hope that there are people like him out there, and that it’s okay to believe they exist – which is important, because if they do exist, and succeed at existing, then maybe it’s not so unrealistic for us to try to be a little bit like them. Maybe we can be heroes too, at least now and again. In a way, Superman is the first part of that iconic last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current…” Superman reflects the best of human idealism, and the struggle to move forward, despite obstacles, and to continue moving forward. Superman is a symbol of hope…but this is not a hopeful movie.
There are a lot of dark superhero movies out there. The recent movies of Superman’s sometimes-partner Batman, for instance, are dark; and that works for him. I loved The Dark Knight, but I don’t need a hundred Dark Knights. The world is depressing enough right now, and I don’t need to constantly see destruction and death on the big screen; because we see it every day. What I need right now, what I crave, is a movie that shows me a hero who strives and succeeds at being better than that. At being better than all of the “reality” we are facing both in reality and in our current media. At actually “saving the world,” and not being beaten down by it in the end. At being a steadfast constant who won’t break under the pressure. And what I really want to know, after seeing Man of Steel, which could have been the perfect vehicle for this, is: why couldn’t this movie’s producers have been “the brave and the bold” movie team who dared to actually celebrate an ideal and a hopeful future in which disaster is not an inevitable and acceptable norm? In which there is somebody who can actually stop the world from being destroyed before half of it is gone?
Instead, they opted for a Superman whose introductory film features a final body count that at least equals if not exceeds that of the villain, General Zod (and that includes General Zod, since Superman, albeit reluctantly, straight-up snaps Zod’s neck in the end). As someone on Twitter said, “There is no Man of Steel criticism more stark than the fact that Earth would have been better off had Kal-El died on Krypton.” And as writer Brian Reed snarks, a conversation between Zod and Superman that would easily fit in this movie could be: “I’ll kill all of these humans you love.” “I punched you through 30 buildings. I’ve probably killed more of them than you at this point.” That…is a sad state of affairs.
Along with all of the death, the film also features a metric ton of property (and Earth) destruction, and Superman and the Kryptonians constantly whaling on each other to the point where my soul was craving even a smidge of character development, and welcomed Perry White and Steve Lombard’s struggle to free some random Daily Planet intern from rubble. You know your Superman movie is in trouble when a watcher is more interested in that than in Superman. Maybe because your Superman movie tries but fails to show the complexity or nuances of being both Superman and Clark Kent? Because it’s too busy showing things blowing up and the whole world falling apart? Yeah, maybe that.
One way in which the movie does try to humanize the adult Clark is via the introduction of Lois, and his interactions with her. But in my view, this is another great failure of the movie. Lois, as a character in Man of Steel, is great. She’s smart and upbeat and determined and fearless and loyal and successful and kind and has a strong sense of what’s right. She goes after the story, and gets the story, and has earned the respect of her editor and fellow reporters, and she is all around the sort of Lois I want to see. Lois and Superman, in their interactions, are also very strong.
But do you notice what’s missing about the previous sentence? Any mention of Clark. The meeting of Lois and Superman in this movie is just that – a meeting in which Lois knows him as Superman from the get-go. Yes, his name might be Clark, and she knows that too, but that’s incidental to all of their interactions. And while that may not greatly affect the dynamic of this particular movie as a movie, what does it do to the Superman mythos and to any potential sequels? Well, it strips out the human factor, the fun, the heart, and the drama that all come from the original Lois and Clark dynamic. It strips out a large part of what makes that story great.
As mentioned, when Superman is forced to be Clark around the woman he loves, and to wonder if she’ll ever love him for himself, rather than just for his powers as Superman, it brings him down to Earth, and to humanity, and gives him a reason to strive to be a better human, as well as a better superhero. It also makes the story a lot more fun; even if eventually, Lois does discover the truth. The story leading up to the reveal makes the reveal that much better, and also makes the relationship that much deeper. But here, it’s like they decided to skip right to the third season of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – when those first two seasons were what makes anything after them work at all.
To catastrophically misunderstand this dynamic to such an extent was so unbelievable to me that, even though it’s a weak storytelling element and has been done before, in Man of Steel I kept waiting and hoping for amnesia. I seriously thought that when Superman saved Lois from the burning Kryptonian escape pod and she said, “I’m sorry…” the sentence was going to end with, “…but I don’t remember how I got here.” I couldn’t believe that they’d seriously set up the entire relationship to be Lois and Superman-who-also-happens-to-masquerade-as-Clark-to-other-people. And yet, they did. What a disappointment. Sure, maybe they can make it work if they do another movie, or a Justice League movie, or whatever; but it won’t be the Superman I know anymore, or the Superman I love.
In our post-mortem discussion of this movie, my friend Alicia said that Henry Cavill, while very good, would never be her Superman. And while I love Henry Cavill, and think he acquitted himself as well as the script would allow, I agree with her with a bit of a rephrase (because really, Henry Cavill isn’t the problem). Man of Steel will never be my Superman. And while I realize that heroes can be re-made for modern times, and sometimes should be to keep things fresh, Superman is one of those rare few where messing with his core story too much just flat out ruins who he is.
Superman is known as the Big Blue Boy Scout for a reason. Sure, the nickname is affectionately snarky; but it’s also a great compliment – a nickname for a hero who always does the right thing and acts to help others, and who is always prepared to solve the world’s problems and deal with its disasters. The goal of making a movie about Superman should be to maintain the bright ideal he has always been when at his best, without making him unrelatable or cheesy. I don’t know what Man of Steel set out to do, but in the end, it certainly didn’t feel like that. If I don’t leave a movie about Superman feeling like there’s some hope in the world, then that movie is not about the Superman I love. And Man of Steel didn’t leave me with much hope.
Well, that’s about all the movie analysis I can manage for one day, but until next time, Servo Lectio!
Forgive me folks. Today’s column is going to be a sappy, crappy, and sweeter than caramel drenched hot fudge balls dipped in rock candy. Consider this my spoiler alert: there’s absolutely no snark in today’s column. There’s only the happy tale of how a pair of acquaintances became so much more to me and to my Unshaven brethren.
The only thing truly standing in my way of bringing the noise and the funk to my half of every Samurnaut book were real life models. I make no bones about my abilities: I draw from life. A blank paper to me is less an invitation to showcase a spindly Spider-Man or healthy Hulk. I was trained to draw what I see, and sadly my mind is far too left brained to maintain an image well enough to reproduce from grey-matter to hand. But I digress.
When it came time to shoot The Samurnauts, I opted to reach out to those whose faces I wasn’t so acclimated to. That, and I honestly didn’t want my immediate family and friends traipsing around as superheroes. My call-to-action was met (largely) by members of a local(ish) comedy troupe I had opened for on a handful of occasions. Oh yeah. I should totally mention: for a hot minute I considered pursuing stand-up comedy. Don’t look it up on YouTube. Seriously. Don’t type “Marc Fishman Stand-Up.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you. OK? OK. Where was I?
Oh yes. Six members of “Big Dog Eat Child” were kind enough to lend their faces to The Samurnauts. With said Big Dogs I was granted a set of models built for emotion and staging. Putting a nerf gun into their capable hands and shouting “be heroic” showed their natural talent to contort and twist into brand new people. Amongst them, Erik Anderson and his wife Cherise (not of the troupe, but equally interested in helping out when our initial model had to cancel) stood out as being very much into becoming superheroes. After a fun afternoon of digital photography, Nerf wars, and prancing about… I made a last-minute offer to my new models. “If you are ever curious as to how this will turn out, feel free to look me up on Skype.”
It could not have been maybe a week or two later that my computer buzzed at me. Erik and Cherise, in the heart of the weekend (when most everyone is enjoying not having to make comic books), wanted to check in. And there they stayed glued to their screen watching me build a comic book from roughs to inks to colors to lettering. Over the course of the weeks that it took, they stayed up on Skype night after night watching the construction. Suddenly I was no longer making a comic alone in my basement… I was drawing for an audience. An audience willing to literally stay up with me until they couldn’t stay awake. As they would later tell me… I was better than HBO.
When the first issue of Samurnauts came hot off the press, Erik and Cherise were at the convention with bells on. Not happy enough to simply see a final copy of their issue, they were determined instead to see Unshaven Comics succeed. They grabbed a handful of business cards and took to the show floor to spread the word. A husband-wife guerrilla marketing team… doing the job we figured would not be gifted to us for many many years of convention-trenching. Oh how wrong we were.
Over the years (which I can’t even believe is how long we’ve been doing this…), Erik and Cherise have become less friends of Unshaven Comics, more family. Every convention, literally every convention we have attended since The Samurnauts was a thing, they have been in tow. We launched a Kickstarter to turn Erik into a cosplayer. And when it succeeded, soon our Blue Samurnaut was showing up in every costume-round up album across the mid-west. And this past weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, both Erik and Cherise stood behind tables pitching our wares at Heroes Con in lieu of our own Kyle Gnepper (who was deservedly enjoying a vacation gifted to him by his non-comic-book-making day job). They did it without being asked. They did it because they love our book. They did it because they want to see us succeed.
There’s that gem of a lyric… “I get by with a little help from my friends…” And never before would I have found it to be so profound. Unshaven Comics is substantially lucky to have a plethora of amazing friends out there in the industry. We’d be remiss not to thank Mike Gold, Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, and the whole lot of ComicMix‘ers for the continuing success we’ve achieved in the five years we’ve seriously pursued our dream. Erik and Cherise engrained themselves into our studio and company without asking for anything more than the promise of continued hero-dom. A price we still feel guilty for today.
I know those of us who make comic books have many reasons to be cranky, snarky, angry, or bitter. But here I sit in awe of two people who Skype’d in with me once because they loved the idea of being heroes to the world… and ended up instead being mine.
From the moment the Black Avengers was announced I’ve been asked over and over again what I think.
I think a few things…
I think anytime there is a serious attempt to bring not just African American but any minority characters to the forefront is a good thing. I pitched a project a year ago and was told a black super team would never sell in Hollywood, so what’s the point in even doing the comic book?
I think I’d better not tell you what I wrote and then discarded about the person who said that. Give that a thought – me thinking I’d better not say something.
I think (well, I know) I really like Axel Alonzo and what he’s doing with Marvel. Let’s face it, a young black child who see a Marvel logo on a black superhero book is going to lose his or her little mind.
After the Black Avengers, can the Malcolm X-Men be far behind?
I think it almost makes up for Mark Millar’s black character, Tyrone Cash. A black scientist who, when he gains superpowers decides to give up the whole scientist thing and become a drug-dealing thug.
Yeah, I was pretty rough on Mark last week and again this week but that’s nothing compared to what I have in store at my annual standing room only Black Panel at the San Diego Comic Con.
I think what’s sure to be a hot topic on the web especially among black creators is rather or not just black creators should be the teams on the project.
No. I don’t think just black creators should do the Black Avengers.
However, if Mark Millar writes a story arc and Tyrone Cash shows up that would be the quickest way to destroy what looks like a noble undertaking on Marvel’s part. The smart play would be to have Mark write a story arc and deal with that horrible black scientist who gains superpowers and becomes a thug drug dealer.
No, I’m not kidding.
Yes, there are black thug drug dealers in the world (there is one due at my house in an hour… heh) but a scientist who gain superpowers and becomes a fucking drug dealing thug?
That kind of characterization would kill all the good Marvel’s doing with this project.
Lastly, Marvel said they wanted to do something like Dwayne McDuffie would do. Would do? Dwayne, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and myself did do it. In fact, the San Diego Comic Con is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of us doing it.
On 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.)
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!
Would you like to meet ComicMix writers and staffers Martha Thomases, Marc Alan Fishman, Robert Greenberger, Adriane Nash, Glenn Hauman, and me?
Why? Geez, get a life.
All seriousness aside, the Heroes Convention in Charlotte North Carolina is one of the few large conventions that is actually still about comics. As people who memorize my columns know all too well (when they’re not wandering about Times Square mumbling to themselves), I dislike those huge shows that call themselves comic book shows or, worse, comic cons yet are nothing more than mass media B-list star feeding frenzies. Not that those shows don’t have their place; they do. Just don’t call them comic book shows unless they are actually about comic books.
You know, like the Heroes Convention in Charlotte North Carolina… this very weekend, from Friday, June 7 through Sunday, June 9, at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College Street.
It’s also a damn good show, well-run by a seasoned staff under the direction of show founder and all-around swell guy Shelton Drum.
Here’s your reward for making it this far into my column: on Saturday at 1:30 pm in
Room 207CD, ComicMix is going to have a panel called “Your Comics Your Way.” We will be making several major (honest) announcements regarding this here ComicMix thing, including the first public reveal of our new ComicMixPro Services!
Just go there. You’ll have a swell time. Seriously swell. Tell ‘em Groucho sent you. Maybe they’ll give you a DeSoto.
Right now Nick is dealing with an issue that involves my dear friend Don McGregor. I can think of a lot worse people to deal with than Nick who has always been cool with me. I have high hopes that Nick and Don get on the same page and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
However, I will say a bit more about Don. As readers of ComicMix have no doubt noticed I have some recurring themes in my articles among them African Americans in the industry, the High School Of Art and Design and Asian Women.
Even I know that sometimes returning too often to a theme can get a little tiresome. Except for the many Asian women mentions, I realize that the constant mentioning of my high school (the greatest high school on the planet) and black people (the darkest people on the planet) can just get tedious. Yes, mentioning Asian women can certainly get monotonous also, especially to black women, but I really could care less.
Black Women! That Was A Joke! I Love my sisters…long time.
There is a recurring theme I wish I revisited often and I don’t think my readers would object too and that’s my love letters to creators I’ve had the pleasure to meet and often become friends with. Every so often I meet and befriend a creator and it’s always cool.
Not as often I meet and befriend a creator who I idolized beforehand and that creator becomes like family to me, Don McGregor is one of those creators. I do so love me some Don McGregor and yes I’m going to write about black people but in a first for me I’m combining two recurring themes: black people in the industry and a love letter to a creator!
Don McGregor is just a great and I mean great guy. He also just happens to be one of the best writers to ever write for comic books.
When I met him I stammered like a little bitch I was so in awe of this man. THIS from a man who hangs out with academy award and Grammy winners and whose annual San Diego Comic Con party has a guest list that reads like a Barbara Walters after Oscar special. I’m not saying any of this to impress you I’m saying it to underscore how freaking jazzed I was to meet Don McGregor.
One of the reasons I started the Black Panel, a forum to discuss African Americans in the entertainment business, and why I return to the black theme so often in my articles is because the African American experience is a complicated one.
I’m just trying to give some insight into that experience from a black perspective. I’ll let you in on a little secret; black creators seldom think white boys write good black characters. Don’t get me wrong-some of the greatest black comic book characters were created by white boys.
The Black Panther, the Black Racer, Storm…err…. the Black Panther, the Black Racer…Storm.
Look, I’m sure there are others in fact I know there are others but the misses have been so massive that all my brain can come up with are the three I’ve listed. How massively awful are some of the misses?
This massively awful, Marvel some time ago introduced a new Bucky. He was a black man who stood six foot three inches.
Give that a sec; a 6’3” black man named Bucky.
Yes, that was long years ago, but in 2010 Mark Millar created a black superhero, Tyrone Cash, a.k.a. Leonard Williams. His story? Well, he was a scientist, I’ll say that again, he was a scientist named Leonard Williams THEN he subjected himself to one of his super soldier serums and gained the power of the Hulk.
What’s the problem, you ask?
He gained Hulk like powers yet he retained his intellect.
What’s the problem with that you ask?
Well after he got his Hulk like powers this scientist decides to become a fuckingthug and start dealing drugs. So let’s recap: he retains his scientist intellect and becomes a thug drug dealer.
Look, I think Mark Millar is a good writer but a character gaining Hulk like powers while maintaining a scientist intellect becomes a thug and a drug dealer? How the fuck is that not some thoughtless stereotyping?
What’s next, Mark? A black member of Mensa gets the powers of Superman and becomes a pimp? BTW, I hear you’re English and I’d like your take on a graphic novel I’m writing. It’s about how Princess Diana gets the power of Wonder Woman and becomes a two-dollar whore.
I’ve got a lot more examples of screwed up black characters created by some white writers but that’s an entire book in and of itself so I’ll just let the two examples I used stand. Not that I give a shit what people think but let me say this, there are some incredible white writers who write great black characters and on the flip side of that there are some great black writers who write horrible white characters. Oh and Mark before I forget, when I received my PhD the first thing I thought about was robbing a liquor store. Nah, I’m just kidding, but as soon as I get Hulk like powers…
But as usual (sorry, Peter) I digress. Don McGregor body of work and original creations are simply awe-inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad Don McGregor story. I know I’ve never encountered a bad Don McGregor original superhero. One of the reasons I was such a little pussy when I met Don is he writes the best black characters. Hell, I wish I could write black characters as well as Don does.
Sabre is one of Don’s creations is one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Sabre is a black character, in case you were born yesterday. Why didn’t I mention it above with the other great black characters created by white writers?
I’ve been revisiting my childhood on YouTube and podcasts a lot lately; and for this I place the blame squarely on voice actor Rob Paulsen – voice of Yakko Warner, Dr. Otto Scratch’n’sniff, and Pinky, of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Well, if I was going to be fair, the daisy chain of blame would stretch all the way back through Twitter; Billy West; the organizers of Awesome Con; Mike Gold; Deadpool; a couple of federal judges; Glenn Hauman; Glenn’s lovely wife Brandy; YA author Esther Friesner; and Terry Pratchett and the Discworld. But that’s way too convoluted, so Rob, it’s all your fault!
At some point in my childhood, I became a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked until after school let out, and although there was a lot of “homework time” and “chore time” in my day, I fondly remember the period of time between when I arrived home from school and when my parents returned home as “snacks and TV with no parents anywhere in sight” time. Thanks in part to this, I watched a lot of cartoons growing up – Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DuckTales, TailSpin, Rescue Rangers, Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Smurfs, Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Gummi Bears, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, Gargoyles, and Tiny Toon Adventures, to name a few. But hands down, Warner Bros.’ Animaniacs was one of my absolute favorites.
I don’t know how exactly, but I managed to be watching TV when the very first couple of episodes of Animaniacs, which included the consistently excellent shorts De-Zanitized, The Monkey Song, Nighty-Night Toon, Yakko’s World, Cookies for Einstein, and Win Big first aired – and just like that, I was hooked. The show arrived at pretty much the perfect time for me – I was twelve years old, so young enough for my TV diet to still include a regular fix of cartoons. But given that I was the sort of child whose favorite book in the fifth grade was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I was also able to appreciate a lot of the more sophisticated humor and pop culture references going on beneath the gags. Also, let’s be frank – I love cute things, and the characters in Animaniacs (particularly little Wakko Warner, and Pinky of Pinky and the Brain) are pretty darned adorable.
I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing I watched at least 3/4 of Animaniacs when it first aired. Even after other cartoons sort of fell by the wayside, what with high school and extracurriculars and all, I still watched it; and when Pinky and the Brain spun off into its own show, I watched that too. Of course, eventually (and sadly) the shows ended. And I went to college, and then I went to law school, and you know how it is, things move along. But I never forgot about Animaniacs; and I am sure that in ways that could never be quantified, it influenced the development of my personality. Certainly, years later, I have found myself referencing the show without even realizing it until after the fact, such as when writing my hamster Izzy’s Twitter bio.
Recently, as ComicMix readers will know, I interviewed the amazing Billy West. And when I shared the interview on Twitter, the inestimable Rob Paulsen retweeted it. And so I was scrolling along his Twitterfeed, and recalled that I’d always meant to listen to his podcast, and began listening to it. And then I heard him mention that he was doing live appearances, and asked him if he’d ever done one in DC, and he said he’d like to, and a few weeks later, lo and behold, we were able to set something up, and so now Rob Paulsen will be appearing at The National Press Club in DC on August 1 (get your tickets now!). Hurrah! I am very excited.
This year, in case you don’t know, marks the 20th anniversary of Animaniacs, which first aired in 1993 – and here’s a pretty cool brief history of the show, with first-hand information courtesy of creator Tom Ruegger. One amazing thing about Animaniacs is that it still holds up, twenty years later. Through a combination of humor that appeals to both children and adults, stellar and clever musical compositions and lyrics, unique characters, and, of course, the award-winning voices behind those characters, the show is just as enjoyable to me today, as an adult, as it was when I started watching it at twelve years old. In fact, it’s even more enjoyable because I can appreciate some of the cleverness and references more as an adult; and because I am now also interested in the voices and creators behind the show, something I never really stopped to think about when I was a child. This is another area in which much of the blame lies squarely on Rob Paulsen, whose wonderful, amusing, amazing, fascinating Talkin’ Toons podcast – seriously, it’s awesome – includes not only discussions of his work, but interviews with a myriad of other amazing talents behind Animaniacs and pretty much every other animated show out there. (FYI, you can listen to the podcast via his website, iTunes, or even a super-handy and easy to use smartphone app. Check it out – because if you are not listening to it, you are missing out.)
From the frequency of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain questions on Rob’s podcast, to the reception the voice actors involved receive at fan conventions, it seems to me that I am far from the only one out there who watched the shows as a child and has rediscovered my love for them as an adult. Animaniacs was and still is a gem in the realm of animated shows. And given that many of the folks who watched it when it first aired now have children who watch the DVDs with them and also love the show, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to wonder if the time might be ripe for a new season of Animaniacs. After all, one great thing about animated shows is that the characters don’t have to age unless the creators want them to – so twenty years later, they could easily make new episodes that picked up wherever they wanted them to. I, for one, would really love to see that happen; and from what I’ve heard via the podcasts, so would at least some of the creators. So hey – you never know!
If you’ve never seen Animaniacs before, YouTube is your friend and I highly recommend you give it a try; and if you love Animaniacs as much as I do, maybe you’ll join me in raising a glass to its 20th Anniversary, and wishing upon a star that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot might escape the water tower again someday soon.
So pissed that this article was first written for my website. My website is usually where I rant about goings on in the world of politics and such, I almost never talk about comics there. Well, I was so pissed over a Publisher’s Weekly article I couldn’t wait for Tuesday to vent my anger so I went ahead and wrote this piece for MDW.
Those of you familiar with my writings know I tend to use language not suited for everyone.
Translation: I swear a lot.
Chantal d’Aulnis is a dear friend who I’ve known for a long time. She is also the unofficial 6th founding member of Milestone, as it was Chantal who gave us invaluable advice when setting up the company. She pointed out to me that my swearing may take away from the importance of what I was trying to say in this article when I posted it on MDW.
It’s with that in mind that I’m going to edit the original piece for ComicMix. I will be substituting less offensive words in the place where I swore in the original piece. The words changed are in bold just in case you are wondering. This version will also have additional new content or not…
This one’s for you, Chantal…
The following from a recent Publisher’s Weekly article:
This year’s programming includes a spotlight panel discussion that recognized the 20th anniversary of Milestone Media, a pioneering comic book company founded by a group of black writers and artists that included the late Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan and others.
The article was about The East Coast Black Age Of Comics Convention the Milestone panel was just one of many great things that went on at the convention over the weekend and it was nice the PW gave us a shout out.
Publisher’s Weekly is a big deal a mention there even a small one is never a bad thing, well unless that mention is a review and the reviewer thinks the book you wrote sucks booty. I’ve been mentioned and/or reviewed in PW a few times. The last time was a review they did on the book David Quinn and I wrote, The Littlest Bitch.
That review got us a call from a network looking to talk to us about an animated series of the book. It’s safe to say in entertainment all the major playa’s read PW.
So, when I see that PW has regulated Derek Dingle and I to “other” status regarding Milestone that’s a cause for concern and frankly PW should have done a better job with their background checking. Milestone Media changed the game so much that we are being celebrated at the San Diego Comic Con this year. Comic Con is the biggest pop culture event in the world. You don’t use “others” to describe founders of anything that important. It’s retarded reporting at best and pecker journalism at worst.
This year’s programming includes a spotlight panel discussion that recognized the 50th anniversary of The Beatles, the pioneering rock and roll band that included John Lennon, Ringo Starr and others.
I mean, come on.
Don’t get me wrong, the article was a wonderful piece, extremely well written but, “…and others?”
Come the boogeron!
I could be wrong but here’s what I think happened, the reporter got his or her background information from those she or he interviewed at the convention. The reporter’s name is Bobbi Booker, I have no idea if that’s a girl or guy and yes I do know a guy that that spells his name that way so it could be a guy, smartbotty.
Like I said, I could be mistaken but I think whoever Bobbi spoke to gave the impression that Derek and I didn’t matter as much or we were junior partners.
There’s a myth a lot of people have taken as truth that persists about Milestone. The myth is that my dear departed friend and partner Dwayne McDuffie started Milestone and everyone came after.
That myth is so strong that a few years ago some clown went on Facebook and called me a liar when I stated at my annual Black Panel at Comic Con the following;
“Denys Cowan created Milestone, I co-signed but the creation of Milestone is ALL Denys. Anything else you hear is just scrotum basket!”
By “co-sign” I mean, I was with Denys the moment he came up with the idea and said it was a good one. That (white people) is called a co-sign.
Imagine my surprise and anger when this mouth stain went on Facebook and called me a liar during a major forum. He stuck to his “sources” until I bet him $10,000.00 that his information was simply sissy.
This guy was convinced that Dwayne put everything together then called Denys, Derek and me. On another black comic forum someone swore Robert Washington both created Static and wrote the Static bible.
Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie, Derek Dingle, Christopher Priest and I created Static. Oh, and the Static bible? I wrote that. What Robert Washington did was take our good idea and make it darn great. Those books were some of the best comics to ever see the light of day and that was all Robert and John Paul Leon.
Speaking of John Paul, I read somewhere that Matt Wayne discovered him.
Nope. That was me.
On many on line forums people who have no darn clue about Milestone except what they have “heard” are holding court as if they wrote the business plan and pitched it to DC and Marvel.
Oh, you didn’t know Milestone almost ended up at Marvel? I guess Ray Ray didn’t get that from Huggy Bear who knows all. “Word on the street is that Milestone was started by John Lennon and Ringo Starr…”
This is not sour grapes on my part. I’m not bitching because I’m not getting the proper credit for my contribution to Milestone, but rumors and misinformation have a tendency to become fact that can affect everything that you do. I’ve seen news stories that mention no one but Dwayne when discussing Milestone.
Why is that important to correct?
It’s important because brand is important. How you manage or don’t manage your brand can be the reason the business world gives you respect and takes you seriously.
Don’t think so?
My Space is a butt joke, Paris Hilton is an afterthought, Blackberry is just another smartphone and Tim Tebow is feces unemployed.
Brand management or lack there of is why those above are no longer on any A-list.
Tiger Woods, Robert Downey Junior, Vanessa Williams and Bill Clinton are at the top of their game after each faced career ending scandals. That’s brand management.
For my money the single best example of great brand management is Tylenol. Years ago tainted Tylenol tablets were killing people. Tylenol managed to not only come back but are bigger than they have ever been.
The Milestone story is too important to let just anyone who heard some Doo Doo though the grapevine tell it. If the accepted narrative becomes just Dwayne created Milestone what happened to me at a meeting some time back will become commonplace. I was in talks with a mainstream publisher about an imprint deal I would have with them. During a meeting with eight people in the room including the publisher someone mentioned Milestone. I promptly interjected that I was a founder of Milestone and someone actually said; “No it was McDuffie who started Milestone with backing from Quincy Jones.”
Oh, no!Now, I’m put in the position where I have to address that. Having to deflect, correct, restate or clarify anything in a corporate setting is almost always bad.
Anytime you take the position that information you provided or spoke to is flawed, inaccurate or wrong puts your credibility in question. The perception that Dwayne is solely responsible for Milestone is problematic because Dwayne was such a massive talent future Milestone business could be at serious risk if a company decides they don’t want to be in business with Milestone because the guy who started it is gone. He’s not gone, his name is Denys and he’s even more talented than he was when he started Milestone 20 years ago.
Derek, Denys and I are truly blessed to have been partners and friends with Dwayne. Milestone was a great idea and Dwayne made it a greater idea of that there is no doubt. I’ll leave you with a bit of advice Dwayne gave me and no doubt countless others…
You guys! You guys! Hey you guuuuuyyyyysssss!!! …Otherwise known as “wonderful ComicMix readers.” Guess what? Go on now, guess! Naaaaah, you’ll never get it. So here it is:
I am one year old!!
Well. If by “I” I mean “this column,” and if by “one” I actually mean “one year and a few weeks.” But still: can you believe it? I’ve been writing this here li’l column for over a year now. That’s fifty-seven columns to date! Holy cannoli! (Aaaaand now I want a cannoli. Great.)
However! On this, my one-ish year anniversary, I want to send a big thank you out to anyone who reads my columns, shares them with friends, comments on them, or discusses them with me. I get a lot of joy out of writing these columns, whether they are the ones where I’m ruminating on the vagaries of pop cultularity; or the ones where I get to talk to extraordinarily talented people or review excellent art; or the ones where my mind runs whimsically through a field populated by ridiculous stuff like superheroes celebrating the holidays together and antisocial vigilantes answering dating advice questions. And although part of that joy comes from my passion for the subject and for writing in and of itself, a big part of it also comes from the experience of sharing my thoughts and knowing my writing is engaging others in thought or discussion, or providing a bit of enjoyment (I hope!).
I’m always interested in whether what I’m writing resonates with readers, and in writing on topics that others want to read about. Therefore, even though technically this column is about me and my one year of writing around here, what’s it’s really about is you, my readers! So that I can write more things you want to read, I’d really like to know more about you: like how you first found my column; what you’ve read; what you’ve most enjoyed reading; what you didn’t care for, and what you want to see more of. To help me with this, you can answer the quick survey below!
But before we do that, here is a brief reminder of some of the sorts of things I’ve written (And all fifty-seven columns can be found here):