Saturday, July 30, 2011

Comixology Sale on Superman Comics

ComiXology is doing a sale on Superman comics this week, just like they did for Wonder Woman several weeks ago. The sale is only good for today and tomorrow.

Lots of Superman comics available for $0.99. Unfortunately, the site isn't easy to navigate to find a collection of the titles available for that price. I ended up clicking through to the DC Store and found them available there. That also includes the free Superman 101 title, which gives you a grounding on the Man of Steel.

I highly recommend Matt Wagner's Trinity: Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman series. An excellent series, and tough to beat at the price. The Man of Steel by John Byrne is also an excellent series, and was fundamental to the modern-day interpretation of the character. If you are interested in interpretations of the character that stray from the standard DC Universe, but are still excellent reads, then look into Kingdom Come by Ross and Waid, as well as All-Star Superman by Morrison and Quitely.

Myself? One of the things I have never read and always meant to was the critically- and fan-acclaimed Superman: Red Son. An "Elseworlds" tale of Superman's rocket crashing in the Ukraine instead of in Kansas, set in the cold war era. It was written by Mark Millar and has art by Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong. At less than $3 for the series, I have already started enjoying it on my Android phone. So far, so good.

A lot of the stories here are iconic, and you really can't go too far wrong. Not to mention, the first appearances of Superman, Jimmy Olson and Lex Luthor, each for less than a buck.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ripping the Covers

Marvel has started a promotion where if retailers send them 50 covers from a group of Flashpoint titles (all number 1's, first printings only) then Marvel will send them a variant cover to Fear Itself #6.

Marvel clearly seems to be in the driver's seat in the comics world right now. Fear Itself #2 sold more than Flashpoint #1.
In a way, this isn't too surprising. Flashpoint is very cool for those of us steeped in DC continuity, but might be a little too inside for general consumption. That and the fact that Marvel generally makes up around 45% of all books sold, compared to DC's 25-30%.

Marvel is also dominating in the theaters this year. Green Lantern has been a financial disappointment for DC, and, in my opinion just flat out was not as good as Captain America, which is the best comic movie since Iron Man. Marvel is in the catbird seat, and is looking to stay there.

This promotion is an interesting gambit - taking comics off of the back issue shelves (none of the books on the list are new releases) that might not be likely to sell in return for something they can sell to a collector for a much higher price point. Hmmm... less shelf space for a competitor, combined with buzz for themselves. Sounds like a good promotion.

My only issue is this: I don't really like the idea of one publisher encouraging destruction of another's product. It makes sense financially here (probably for both Marvel and the Comic Book Shops) to do so, but it feels... dirty to me. And not as in "that's dirty pool" but instead as in "unclean."

I am torn, though - I do approve of the benefit to the Local Comic Shops. They have inventory that they have already paid for, and may not be able to move ever. And they can render this inventory legally unable to be sold, send the covers to Marvel and recycle the actual books. Marvel will then send them something they can sell, hopefully for enough to make up for the "unsellable" inventory they destroyed, or at least close to it.

But again... that destruction of comics just seems so... needless. I would much prefer a promotion where Marvel sends out similarly rare variant covers in exchange for receipts from non-profits that show that some unsold Marvel comics have been donated. Same benefit to the local comic shops, adds benefit to the community, and doesn't involve destruction at all. Of course, that is less of a one/two punch from a "we're up and our competition is down" perspective, so I see why this is being done as it is.

At any rate, I think it is a clever move on Marvel's part to solidify their relationship with comic shops even as some of those very same institutions start to resent DC's "Day-and-date digital" approach to comics. The next 6-12 months are going to be very interesting ones in the world of comics. Here's hoping that all of the attention helps everyone involved, and the industry comes out better for it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DCnU and DC Universe Online

I'm sure it isn't a surprise to anyone that I play DC Universe Online, the MMORPG set in the DC Universe.

It's a fun game, though it doesn't have as much depth of content as I might like, and after Sony Online's hacking issues, the number of players has decreased, so it is harder to find a decent pick-up group to run missions with.

It makes up for the lack of depth by having all of that content be DC content. You are helping the heroes you read about, and you are fighting the villains you read about (or vice-versa if you choose to play a villain). My speedster villain, Velocicrat is about to go on a raid on a JSA safehouse. Taking on the JSA - that's just cool. So is putting Harley Quinn away, or battling Lex Luthor to save Superman from a kryptonite force field.

What makes this game so much fun is that it is, most definitely set in the DC Universe. So what happens in September? Already, it's a little weird to be buying things from Cass Cain Batgirl. One of my characters regularly buys from Power Girl, Jay Garrick Flash and Hawkgirl. I've seen no mention of any of those characters in the DCnU come September. As mentioned, my villain is about to take on the JSA, who will not be part of the DCnU.

I am concerned this could actually impact my enjoyment of the game. Not that it makes the game any less fun - and it is a well-designed game in my opinion. I love the fact that all power sets have two roles they can take on - a damaging one and another one that helps to round a team out. There are certainly improvements that could be made. When I switch from one role to another, the powers available to me switch automatically - why do I have to go in and manually switch my equipment piece by piece? But overall, the game play is pretty balanced, and can be a lot of fun.

But will that fun be impacted when I run missions centered around Black Adam - whether trying to save his love, Isis or entering his sovereign land, Kahndaq - knowing that he currently doesn't exist in the DCnU? I really hope not, but I fear it might. A huge portion of this appeal is playing with and against the characters that I read about regularly. I'm not sure playing in an "Elseworlds" version of the DCU will have as much appeal to me. And, possibly as much of a concern, after recent beatings to the player base, if I find it doesn't impact me, but it does impact others, how much harder will it be to find people to share my adventures with, and how will that impact attracting new users if the two settings don't match?

I'm hoping this quality game weathers the storm, and can gradually tweak characters, costumes, etc. to better reflect the DCnU. I'll definitely be watching with interest the post-September impact on the game.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review of Captain America: The First Avenger

Time to sit back and review the fourth and final Super Hero movie of this summer. So far, I have enjoyed the first three (Thor, X-men: First Class and Green Lantern) to varying degrees. Each had their strengths, and their weaknesses.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, a very personal story is told against the epic backdrop of World War II. The acting is excellent, the pacing good, and the use of effects was right on. In fact, the pre-Super Soldier Serum Steve Rogers was probably the best CGI I have ever seen.

I was talking to a colleague on Friday, and we were speculating how much of that CGI they would have vs. how often it would be a close-up of Chris Evans' face, or him behind something, or other tricks to reduce the need for the effect. I have to say, it didn't feel like there was much of that kind of trickery, and if it was there, it was masterfully executed.

This movie has a hero who is more than his heroics. By showing us Steve Rogers back when he was a 98 pound weakling, we see what will make him a great hero. He wants to go fight in the war. He talks about other men putting their lives at risk to support the country and says "I have no right to do any less." After being rated 4-F (not fit for duty) 5 times, he is approached by someone who asks him "do you want to kill Nazis?" Steve's response is telling: "I don't want to kill anyone. I just don't like bullies." To me, that was one of the defining lines of the movie, along with the interaction between he and Peggy Carter, where he names all the places he was beaten up as they drive through Brooklyn on the way to make him into a super soldier. Peggy asks him, "You have some kind of problem with running away?" and Steve answers "Once you start running, they'll never let you stop."

After the application of the Super Soldier Serum, we get a Captain America who is a blend of the classic one, and the Ultimate Universe one. He carries a gun, and is even willing to use it, but it isn't the first thing he goes to. He has the more pragmatic approach of Ultimate Cap, but none of his propensity for violence. In this film, Captain America doesn't shy away from violence, but he also doesn't revel in it. He got beaten up enough before he was Cap to enjoy hitting other people.

Chris Evans is close to perfect in his role. He plays Captain America as a man who believes in and wants to help his country. Whether that means selling war bonds or being a one-man rescue mission. Evans was also surrounded by other strong performances - Haley Atwell was very strong as Peggy Carter, Stanley Tucci turned in a strong performance as Dr. Erskine, Dominic Cooper was great as Howard Stark, the eventual father of Tony "Iron Man" Stark. We see in him the showmanship and love of women that is even more pronounced in his son. Tommy Lee Jones was outstanding as Colonel Phillips. And Hugo Weaving, as always, turned in a top-notch performance as the Red Skull.

Despite my recent entry about heroes being defined by their villains, and that being one of the weaknesses of the Green Lantern movie (the enemy being a CGI "force" as it were), here Captain America and the Red Skull don't interact much. The climactic fight of the movie is, of course, between them, but for me, the important part of the movie was the character development of Steve Rogers, and him taking his role as a true super hero.

That said, the "opposite sides of the coin" was done well, and Weaving made you believe in a character who thought he was walking in the footsteps of gods and that all the earth should be his.

Captain America: The First Avenger opened on 3,715 screens. This compares to 3,955 for Thor. As of my typing this, estimates put Cap at $65.8, just a rounding error higher than Thor's $65.7 on opening weekend. The difference being Thor didn't have to cede as many 3D screens to a certain teen wizard. Thor made about 60% of its opening-weekend revenue from 3D, while the good Captain was below 40%. I saw it in 2D. These days, I pretty much only watch 3D movies that were shot in 3D, not that were converted in post-production.

All-in-all, marvel seems really well set up for next Summer's Avengers movie. A teaser for which comes after the credits of Captain America are done rolling. I found it definitely worth staying for. It's short, but definitely got me excited for the movie, the first of the Marvel movies to be released by Disney without another company involved. Less than 10 months before I get to sit down to this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Comics Events

Okay, so we are part way through both Marvel's Fear Itself and Flashpoint. I've read only the core Fear Itself books (plus the lead-up, "Book of the Skull"), and have read most of the Flashpoint tie-ins.

The truth is, I am a little weary of cross-over events. And so is my wallet. So, my early impressions of both of these cross-overs may be tinged by that, but I will try to be objective.

Overall, both are interesting. The Asgardian corner of the Marvel Universe has never been my favorite, so Fear Itself has its work cut out for it to pull me in. The main book's focus on Thor and the Asgardians as well as Odin's opponent, The Serpent, contain the bare minimum needed to drive the story forward. Each issue of Fear Itself ends with a page or two telling you what other books you should pick up.

So far, by my reckoning, Fear Itself has been a little slow moving. I'm not sure why... there seems to be a lot of story, but it doesn't seem to be moving. It might be because some of it is a foregone conclusion to me - Steve Rogers is going to come back to being Captain America. Three issues of him warring between being a SHIELD administrator and a field operative do not hide that. So, when Bucky Cap gets killed, and Rogers steps up, it doesn't feel like a significant development, it felt a little more like "finally." Not to mention, I am never a fan of "good guys gone bad" stories, like with the Thing becoming one of the Worthy. Overall, this is not my idea of a great event, but I still have hopes for it.

Flashpoint, on the other had is moving at a breakneck pace, as suits a story that focuses on Barry Allen. I have always loved Marvel's What If and DC's Elseworlds. Flashpoint is like one of those, so it is right up my alley. I love watching Barry piece together what is different about his new world. The nice job of having Cyborg stepping up as the primary hero in a world where there is no Superman, and where Batman is even less social than in the familiar DCU. And I haven't felt like I needed to read anything other than Flashpoint itself to follow the main story, and understand the scope of it.

I have to say, in the battle of the event books for 2011, so far I feel like the decision goes to DC's Flashpoint. And, of course, the payoff is bound to be bigger on the DC side - Flashpoint is leading up to big September relaunch.

I don't think either of these would be welcoming to someone new to comics, and I think that is an issue. Yes, in the current environment, events sell. But they sell to the existing audience, and probably not to new readers. If I didn't already know Deathstroke the Terminator as he exists today, how much would I care that he is now a pirate, and how significant would it be that he was killed by Aquaman? Similarly, with Fear Itself, the Asgardians are such a significant part of the story, and they are converting characters to the Worthy, Thor-like powerhouses. Using characters like Titania, Absorbing Man, Attuma and the Grey Gargoyle. Is this the right approach? Maybe the next Marvel crossover should feature in starring roles the characters who are in the movies - and be self-contained.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Judged by Their Villains?

I have always believed that a great hero can be judged by their villains. I think this is one of the challenges that new books starting off these days have. Many of the great heroes have villains that fans love to see appear.

Spider-man has his menagerie of animal-themed villains: Vulture, Rhino, Doctor Octopus, Tarantula, Puma, Scorpion, Chameleon, Lizard, Jackal. And I probably missed a few. You could also include Venom and Carnage here, as they are at least somewhat spider-based. In fact, if you go to the wiki page on his villains, it is amazing just how many are themed after animals. And those are not even necessarily the best - Green Goblin has always been my favorite Spidey foe.

There are similar lists for all kinds of heroes. Think through Batman's gallery of rogues. Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Hush, Bane, Scarecrow, Mr Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul... a great group of villains. And just like many of Spider-man's villains are animal-themed just like he is, many of Batman's villains are suffering from "one bad day" syndrome. On one bad day, Bruce Wayne lost his parents. Two-Face was scarred for life. Joker was disfigured. Mr. Freeze's wife was frozen. Many times, a villain is a dark reflection of the hero.

Spider-man and Batman have two of the greatest Rogue's Galleries in comics. Flash isn't too bad either. Some other well-known heroes are kind of passable (Superman, for instance. Lex Luthor is a good villain, but some of his others just aren't that memorable. The Hulk is the same way) and still others have real challenges in this area. The Punisher has problems because he keeps killing his villains. So, either he doesn't get recurring villains, or he really sucks at his job.

I think this concept might have been part of the problem with the recent Green Lantern movie. As I have mentioned, I still liked it, but I don't know that Paralax was the best villain to feature. A kind of embodiment of a concept might not be the best villain, and Hector Hammond wasn't really given enough screen time to be a proper villain. I actually think that once upon a time, Hal had a really good group of enemies. Some of them relied a little too much on the color yellow, it's true, but even so, Goldface, The Shark, Doctor Polaris, Sonar, Hector Hammond, Black Hand, Major Disaster, Star Sapphire and of course Sinestro. I think for the first movie, something a little more human would have made for a better opponent.

X-Men first class went classic - the big bad worked with the Nazis. The opposing characters had clear motivations, and some of them looked downright sinister.

In many cases, a hero is judged by his villain. Having a great villain is the difference between emotional investment and intellectual detachment, in my opinion.