Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nextwave thoughts

I've been reading lots of comics recently--more than I have within the past few months, anyway--and I decided to give Nextwave another try. I read the first five issues or so, and my reaction was pretty much exactly the same as it was when I first tried it out: so what? I mean, yes, Nextwave has lots of crazy, fun ideas...but that's it. There's no depth or logic to the crazy ideas, rarely a rationale for the crazy ideas, and only the barest minimum plot to link one crazy idea to the next.

Maybe it's just me, but I read for the stories, not for the concepts. I had similar problems with 30 Days of Night and Full Moon Fever--books that read more like pitches than stories. Nextwave reads like a bulleted list of wacky concepts. I'm all for wacky concepts--whether it's Nikola Tesla fighting Thomas Edison's Lovecraftian demons with a giant steampunk mecha-suit or giant frog gods with reality-altering tongues or Skrulls trying to steal magic from faeries--but there has to be some kind of follow-through. Just throwing the idea out there in isolation is all right occasionally (for example, the crazy background or cameo characters in "Invincible" or the Star Wars flicks), but doing so repeatedly doesn't make for a story. It just makes for a bunch of throwaway gags or unelaborated ideas. The majority of the fun is in that elaboration, in the examination of the consequences of those crazy ideas, and nothing in those first few issues of Nextwave seemed to provide that follow-through.

I may go ahead and look at the rest of the series, but this experience hasn't made me interested at all. Where's the brilliance that people saw in this series?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Question of Tremendous Importance

I love The Who, but I'm not too keen on the "Best of The Who" pack for Rock Band. The included version of "My Generation" is awful, and I really only know "Eminence Front," "Amazing Journey," "Baba O'Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Going Mobile," and "Who Are You." I feel no particular yearning for a live cover of "Summertime Blues," and I'm just kind of ignorant about the other tracks.

So, should I drop the 1600 Points on the full pack, or should I just spend 800 on the ones I want?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Holiday Question

Which comic book character, hero or villain, would you most like to see playing replacement Santa?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A confession

Aaah-ah-aaah-aah! I come from the land of the grain and soy!I was wrong about J. Michael Straczynski's "Thor."

I just finished the first trade, and I quite enjoyed it. I like the various juxtapositions: Asgard and small-town Oklahoma, Thor and Don Blake, the drama of the Marvel universe and the drama of the real world, gods and humans, etc. I'm not thrilled with girl-Loki, in part because it's reminiscent of "Earth X," and I've seen what letting elements of "Kingdom Come" seep into the main timeline has done to the DCU. Then again, I'm not sure how permanent a gender change is for a shape-shifting god of mischief.

I'm a bit surprised that the "search for the gods" bit seemed to wrap up so quickly and uneventfully. Sure, the Destroyer popped up, but I expected there to be a bit more epic questing involved. And, while I know this is kind of a dumb question to be asking, isn't anyone suspicious that Asgard popped up just outside a small Oklahoma town right after Don Blake moved in? Or that Thor showed up in Africa while Don Blake was also there in Africa? I know, I know, suspension of disbelief, but it still rankles me a bit.

Despite those little flaws, I really liked the book, the premise, the characterizations, and especially the gorgeous art. I like that it's exploring Thor's godhood more than his superheroics. It's clear that this is the Straczynski who I liked so much at the beginning of his Amazing Spider-Man run, and not the Straczynski I loathed so much at the end of it and in his Fantastic Four run. I'm quite looking forward to picking up the second volume.

So, um...does it continue to be good?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fighting Words

I rented Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe yesterday.

You may recall that I did not have high expectations for this game. So, unlike Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, I was actually pleasantly surprised.

First things first, I realized while playing MKv.DCU that I hadn't played a current-generation fighting game since, like, Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Sega Saturn. I'm not entirely sure why; as a kid, I loved fighting games, but I haven't played one in years--with the exception of the Smash Bros. series, which is pretty far removed from the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats of my youth. I think a lot of my love for that genre was because every game was a multiplayer title, and it didn't take long to make it through several rounds. These days, that niche in my life is usually filled with Halo 2 or Rock Band. It's interesting, though, realizing how the limitations and developments in technology have influenced my taste.

Back to the game, it's more or less what I expected. All things considered--the ludicrousness of the concept, the bloated pretentiousness of the Mortal Kombat storyline, the general quality of DC Comics games--the plot for the Story Mode is actually pretty good. I only played the DC half of the plot--I frankly have no desire to explore the Mortal Kombat side of things--so I'll give you the basic run-down. Superman blasts Darkseid with some heat vision, destabilizing the Boom Tube he's in and ultimately causing the DCU and MKU to start merging. Heroes are trading places with Mortal Kombatants, and all the while characters are getting infected with a glowing yellow rage energy that causes them to see friends as foes and attack ruthlessly and indiscriminately. Our heroes and villains team up on a quest to save the two universes and stop Dark Khan--the nasty amalgam of Darkseid and Shao Khan at the top of the whole thing.

The graphics are good. We've come a long way from the motion-capture characters of the early Mortal Kombat games, who had something like five stiff animations each. None of the characters, I'm happy to say, are simply recolors of other characters with slightly different powers. When characters get hit, their costumes show damage, so by the end of a three-round fight, the fighters can look pretty torn up. As you jump around the room, your opponent follows your movements. The animation is done very well; the special abilities look good, and overall the gameplay graphics are pretty well awesome. There are still some issues; the characters in the cutscenes often look oddly-proportioned--faces too small for heads, heads too small for bodies, long necks. The knockout moment tends to be kind of funny; you'll hit the character, who will then recover, resume the fighting stance, and then fall rod-straight backward onto the ground. I wish they'd put as much effort into making that not so goofy as they did into making sure that Catwoman's breasts jiggled in the cutscenes. There's a lot more blood than I expected there would be, though not nearly as much as was in the old-school Mortal Kombat games, where every character was a thin-skinned hemophiliac with skyrocketing blood pressure.

The voice acting It's not terrible, but all the characters sound kind of weird and flat. It could be the dialogue, which was often terrible. Also, Liu Kang makes nearly the exact same goofy noise when doing his bicycle kick that he made back in 1992, and I'm pretty sure I heard Raiden say "Hadoken" at one point. The Joker, though, is pretty much spot-on, somewhere right between Mark Hamill and Cesar Romero.

Gameplay hasn't changed much at all since those days. And I'm not entirely sure why. Either the controls or the characters are sometimes a bit sluggish, reacting just a little more slowly than you'd expect. The weirdest part of the whole thing is that the game required me to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick. The D-pad controls normal motion, the left analog stick controls sidestepping and other "3-D" motion, and the right analog stick sits unloved next to your button-mashing thumb. I've never actually played a next-gen console game that required me to use the D-pad to move around, including the '80s games I've downloaded from XBox Live Arcade. Fighting games used to be designed for joysticks, which were basically big analog sticks; why on Earth would this one force me to use the awkward and generally pointless D-pad? Why not assign the "3-D" motion to the right analog stick and normal movement to the left stick?

All I know is that for the first time in years, I have the makings of a blister on my thumb. It's nice nostalgia, but it's kind of a pain in the...thumb.

I played a bit of the Arcade Mode to start, and after each fight it gave me the old "Finish Him!" routine. In my entire history of playing Mortal Kombat (which, admittedly, stops after the fourth game--Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3) I think I've only been able to pull off one fatality, and that was one of Sub-Zero's early ones. I simply don't have the patience to learn the ridiculously complex button sequences and practice them enough to pull them off reliably in the short time frame. Meanwhile, there's nothing in the game or the manual about the fatalities, and GameFAQs doesn't have anything about the game yet, so I'm at a loss. I wondered briefly how people found out how to do fatalities in the days before the Internet, then I realized that that was the entire reason for magazines like "Tips & Tricks."

I do wonder about the game's difficulty. I've never been particularly awesome at fighting games, so I'm always a bit wary when I do well early on (also, shooters. It's because I was so good at it that I realized what a crappy game Darkwatch was). I don't think I lost a round until Scorpion, the first of the MK characters, showed up in Story Mode. After that, I found that the MK characters generally seemed a little tougher, faster, and stronger than the DC ones. Your mileage may vary on that one, though. Even though I had to play several fights repeatedly (Dark Khan especially), the Save feature made it easy to return to where I left off (though it kept making me watch cutscenes over) which was nice, and I was able to breeze through the story mode pretty quickly.

Bottom line, if you're fond of fighting games and fond of the DC characters, you might give this one a rental. I don't know how well this will play with the Mortal Kombat fans, given the toned-down blood and gore. But I do know that it's far, far better than Justice League Task Force. And as long as you're not expecting too much from it, it's fairly fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Comic Compromise

I haven't said much recently about the cancellation of Manhunter and Blue Beetle (and Birds of Prey, though that looks like it might be a temporary, R.I.P.-related thing). For one, I'm not caught up on either book (though I've been buying them regularly), so I'm not sure what's going on yet. For two, while I won't dismiss the arc without reading it, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if cancelling the Sturges Blue Beetle was an act of mercy--the way it was for Shadowpact and Remender's All-New Atom. And for three, it's not surprising. Books I enjoy keep getting cancelled, and The Outsiders keeps going; there is no justice in the world.

So, I understand that there's not enough of an audience to support a monthly Manhunter book, or a monthly Blue Beetle book, or a monthly All-New Atom book, or a monthly Catwoman book, or a monthly Firestorm book, or a monthly Chase book, or a monthly H-E-R-O book. And I understand not selling titles that don't sell well; that's just good business. But what about an anthology book or two? Mightn't there be enough support for an Adventure Comics featuring 12-page stories about Blue Beetle, the Atom, and Firestorm? Mightn't there be enough support for a Showcase Comics featuring Manhunter, the Question, and Chase? Wouldn't there be enough support for 48-page monthly or bi-monthly anthology books, featuring characters linked by a common theme, with finite arc-based stories that could be easily collected in trade forms (a la Doctor 13) featuring characters who can't support solo titles? Might that not be a better way to debut new stories or characters than the endless stream of miniseries? If I were buying a book for Blue Beetle and Firestorm, and there were an additional story about El Diablo, I'd be a lot more inclined to follow that story in the book I'm already reading than to pick up the El Diablo stand-alone miniseries.

I know it's been proposed before, and I can see reasons for not doing it, but isn't it at least worth a try?

Belay that last post

You know, I like Geoff Johns an awful lot. And I like James Robinson too. I really like the ideas behind the Brainiac and New Krypton stories so far, and I can't wait to see where the latter ends up going. Supergirl's been given a pair of new status quibus in the last couple of days, and that's going to mean some very interesting developments for her character. But there are the niggling little things that keep bugging me.

First, what happened to Cat Grant to transform her from the character she was in the '90s--a troubled, passionate, competent reporter--to the character she is now--a vindictive tramp? I mean, it looks like they're pulling a bit from her characterization in "Lois and Clark," but there the trampiness was largely an act, and she actually had some depth (at least in one episode she did).

Second, why is Perry White smoking cigars? The man nearly died of lung cancer a few years back and gave up the habit back then. It wouldn't be a big deal--in fact, it really isn't--but Johns is supposed to be the king of continuity, and Robinson's no slouch in that department either. Poor Perry's been backsliding for awhile now under Johns' pen, so maybe I'm a little hypersensitive to changes like this one.

Third, we've had some high-profile appearances by both Ron Troupe and Lucy Lane in recent months. While I'd rather see more of Ron than Vince Lombard and Cat Tramp Grant, I'm a little upset that I've not seen either one mention the fact that they're married and have a son. The last time I remember seeing little Sam Troupe, it was when Greg Rucka was writing Adventures of Superman, but I haven't heard anything yet about Superboy Prime punching him out of reality. I suppose entering the Army wouldn't necessarily preclude raising a toddler, and I suppose Ron could be the more stay-at-home of the two parents, but I'd like some confirmation that they didn't sell their marriage and child to Mephisto Neron or something.

Fourth, a small note to Gary Frank: please stop making Lois Lane look like Margot Kidder. I can think of at least four people who have looked and acted better in that role.

Finally, there's the Pa Kent thing. On one hand, it's got Clark referring to Jonathan as his father again--a nice change of pace from two years ago (by the way, Johns started two years ago?! I thought it was a year at most). On the other hand, why is it necessary? I like that Clark has his parents alive; how many other superheroes can actually go get advice from two living parents?

This is not to say that the death wasn't expected. Even if the cover solicitations hadn't made the end obvious, the conversation Clark and Jonathan had in the first part was basically one long "we're so happy; what could possibly go wrong?" I'm just at a loss to understand why.

No, I'm not. Not really. See, all of these changes--like so many changes in comics these days--have a common thread. Every single one of them is trying to set the status quo back to a point that the authors have arbitrarily deemed perfect or otherwise sacrosanct. In the case of Geoff Johns, as has been obvious since he started on the title with Richard Donner, that period is 1978 and the Superman movie. In order for that to happen, Clark has to be an unpopular nebbish, Lois ought to look like Margot Kidder, Jor-El has to be a major influence on Superman's life, Perry White has to be an angry cigar-smoking tyrant, and Pa Kent has to die tragically of a heart attack. Throw in some more tropes of the past--Vince Lombard, for instance--keep some of the more modern bits--Ron Troupe, Clark and Lois's marriage--but take everything else as close to the past as possible. I'm a nostalgia buff as much as anyone, but I'd prefer progress, or at least the illusion thereof. New Krypton and Supergirl's new Linda Lang identity are examples of just that sort of illusory progress--both are taking classic ideas and spinning them into something new and interesting. Killing Pa Kent the way he died in the movie, the way he died in All-Star Superman, the way he nearly died in 1993, isn't progress, and so far I haven't seen anything to suggest that the death is going to be a springboard for greater developments. Pa Kent's death should have been a big deal; it shouldn't have been treated as an inevitability, something minor to happen in-between major events like Brainiac's attack and the birth of New Krypton. It bothers me that these changes seem to be happening not because the characters or plotlines dictate it, not because they'd open up new avenues for storytelling, but because that's the way things used to be. Nostalgia's great, until it becomes the main driving force behind a story. At that point, things tend to fall apart.

I read recently, and I wish I could remember where (I'm sure some intrepid commenter will remind me), a blog post or something with the thesis that comic writers who grew up in the '90s (with Kirkman as the prime example) are better than the previous crop, precisely because '90s comics sucked. Those writers, then, aren't quite so rosy-eyed nostalgic about the comics they grew up with, and had to seek out a variety of other eras and genres to get excited over. I'll admit, the idea has a lot going for it, especially if the crop of Loebs and Quesadas trying to take comics back to the '60s and '70s is any indication. No one wants a return to the age of useless straps and ubiquitous mullets.

Like I said, I'm a fan of nostalgia. Who isn't? But nostalgia is like salt: it's great to sprinkle over actual food, but eaten on its own, it's gross and unhealthy. Nostalgia's a great tool for spicing up a story, but it doesn't work for its own sake.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Warm Fuzzies

I've been so busy these past few months that I just haven't had the energy. I've let them pile up beyond belief, keeping track of the barest minimum when I get a little chance.

So I say this with the utmost sincerity: it feels great to be reading comics again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't post this enough

In light of my last post, I wanted to give an example of the real Fantastic Four, someone who really gets the team's personality and dynamics. Nothing fits the bill quite like this:

"And the Thing just loves to fight!" Why, it's like they've leapt off the page and onto the screen!

I don't say this nearly enough

You know, for all the times I've ragged on them in the past, for all the energy and enthusiasm I focus on the competition, and for all the abuse I heap upon their current EIC, there's something that often gets left by the wayside:
I Love Marvel Comics

Maybe it's just the video games talking; maybe it's the fact that I have three unread issues of Marvel freaking Apes sitting on my desk, but I really do love Marvel Comics. Not everything about them, mind you--as you might guess, I go through periods where my love is on the down-swing, but there are a lot of things about the Marvel Universe that just hold a special little place in my heart. So, for the next few days, I'm going to wax a little poetic about the House of Ideas.

And where should I begin? Well, I've been playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance again recently. The first time I played through, my main team consisted of Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and Luke Cage, who occasionally got swapped out for the Thing (though I can't quite remember why). This time around, I've been playing a bit more with some of the in-continuity teams. The X-Men are fun, since there are so many combinations, and it's been neat to watch everyone mourning the death of Nightcrawler...even when he's in my party. I do wish Cyclops weren't such a wuss, but what else is new? The Classic Avengers are fun, especially since I already keep Cap and Thor in their original costumes, and Iron Man's classic armor has better boosts than any other early-unlockable suit. I was chomping at the bit halfway through the game so I could unlock Ghost Rider and build the New Fantastic Four team, which is sadly about as effective as it looks. I still need to get the Joe Fixit outfit for Hulk so I can complete the look. As soon as I unlock Silver Surfer, I'm going to put together an erstwhile Defenders team (aren't they all?). But more than anything, I keep coming back to the Fantastic Four. In my first play-through, it seemed like Thing was the only one with anything useful to contribute, but after playing with them a bit, I see what an incredible group they really are. Johnny's fire powers are all so good that I have trouble picking which ones to keep active; Sue's force field ability and "Unstoppable Force" skill make her nigh-invulnerable; Thing has a great set of upgrades and abilities. If there's a weak link, it's Mr. Fantastic, who still has some pretty devastating attacks. Maybe it's just because I rock the game's socks, but playing as the FF has given me quite a bit of insight into why four folks with relatively tame powers can be one of the most formidable forces in the Marvel Universe.

Just call the Four!I'll admit that as a kid, I never really got into the team. I bought the title for a short time around Infinity War (with all the doppelgangers running around) and again when Reed was "dead" and Thing was wearing a mask, but they never caught my interest. The next time I regularly bought the World's Greatest Comic Magazine was during the Waid/Wieringo years--specifically, the storyline where Dr. Doom turns his ex-girlfriend into a suit of skin-armor. Contrary to how that sounds, the book was incredibly fun, and is among the best things I've ever read by Mark Waid. The thing about the Fantastic Four that I think tends to get lost in the shuffle is that the best stories, whether they take place in the Negative Zone or the suburbs, are ones that center around the interactions and relationships between the FF family members.

And that, I think, is why the FF is the only group in the Marvel Universe who can make a transition from New York street crime to global supervillainy, to space invasions and otherdimensional entities, and do it seamlessly. They are, quite literally, the close-knit family that can handle anything. When written poorly, the Fantastic Four are just another superteam; when written well, the Fantastic Four is totally unique among comic book superheroes.

And that's pretty fantastic.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

Wow, it's been awhile since I last posted. I apologize; I've been pretty gosh-darn busy, and consequently I've had almost no time whatsoever to read comics or do the other various geektastic things that I tend to talk about on this blog. Things have freed up somewhat now, leaving me a little more time to do the nerdy things I enjoy so much.

And one such nerdy thing, which has also eaten up a bit of my comic reading/blogging time, is playing video games. I recently managed to acquire an XBox 360, which means that for the first time since the Sega Saturn, I own a current-generation system.

My first purchases for this new and wonderous white rectangle of joy, as you might have guessed, were Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and The Incredible Hulk, since I already knew I loved the former, and since the latter looked like it might be picking up from the spirit of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which is a fantastic game. I'm a little disappointed with how that turned out, but that feeling may or may not be balanced out by eventually getting to play as Hulkbuster Iron Man.

Apparently not contented with those and the half-dozen other assorted XBox games I've managed to pick up on the cheap, I went out and rented Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. You might recall that I'm a pretty big fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man game, which in my experience has had the best combination of mechanics, writing, and voice acting of any of the Spider-Man video games to date. I never got around to playing Spider-Man 3, and while I was impressed by the inclusion of the Prowler, I didn't give Spider-Man: Friend or Foe more than a single rental. I'd heard a lot of hope and hype about Web of Shadows, so I was excited to try it out and see if it'd be a worthy successor to USM.

First, the good: the game is gorgeous. New York City is huge and feels very realistic; the animation is fluid, and the character designs (with one notable exception so far) are spot-on. The action sequences are fast-paced, the combat is fluid, and the web-swinging mechanics are just about perfect (largely because they're just about the same as in USM). The storyline so far is fantastic; there's the obligatory in media res part at the beginning, and then a good, slow build-up to the main plot, with some of the usual side-quest stuff, involving the street gangs and the Kingpin. One thing I really like is that most of Spider-Man's powers work in boos battles about as well as they do in regular combat, which is a nice change of pace, since usually bosses seem to be immune to webs and various other special moves. The option to switch between the classic and black costumes, and the different powers that go with each, is fantastic. The moral system accompanying the costumes also works well with the plot and Spider-Man's character in general. The game feels very open; the only time I've encountered any problems was when I tried to go across one of the bridges while exploring early on, and hit up against an invisible wall. I haven't yet gone to see if there are other bridges in the city, but it seems to me like a Spider-Man game ought to contain a traversable bridge. It really doesn't matter which one--George Washington, Brooklyn, Queensboro--I can't tell the difference, and apparently neither could Stan Lee when Gwen Stacy was thrown off two of the three.

Now for the bad. The first thing I noticed that raised my hackles was the flash effects. Pretty much every time Spider-Man throws a punch, his hand creates little trails of light, which get bigger and brighter and more explosive as the combos increase. Last I checked, Spider-Man had not plunged his fists into Shou-Lao the Undying, and thus should not be demonstrating the iron fist--let alone the iron knee, and every other iron body part he happens to use in the game. For a game with such realistic-looking characters and landscapes, these cartoony effects really hurt the sense of immersion. I don't think I'd have noticed if they were more understated--speed lines, a flash when hits connect--or if they were limited to special moves, but it's every gosh-darn punch.

The next thing I noticed was the voice acting. Actually, that's not fair--so far, most of the voice acting is very good. Wolverine is spot-on, Venom and Black Cat were great, and even the stock phrases sound fine. Luke Cage is good, though I think my opinion is tainted by the fact that he doesn't sound like the version in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and thus sounds a little off. No, the biggest problem with voices is Spider-Man himself, and to a lesser extent, Mary Jane. Spidey does pretty well with the humor, but otherwise he's way too whiny and high-pitched, which makes listening to him more than a little annoying. In fact, the same complaints could be levied at MJ as well, but you don't actually hear much from her, except over Peter's "hands-free cell phone." This may, again, be because I'm spoiled by previous games--Ultimate Spider-Man had pitch-perfect voice acting pretty much the whole game, so it's a little jarring to hear bad choices now.

The game is occasionally glitchy. I haven't experienced any of the freezing and restarting that the Newsarama review mentions, but early on I had to fight one enemy who was stuck below the street. Later, a cutscene played toward the end of a battle, and one of the remaining enemies turned invisible thereafter. That wouldn't have been too problematic, except that the game's targeting system stayed inexorably locked onto him until he was beaten.

That targeting system is the biggest gameplay flaw. Well, the targeting system and the camera, which are related flaws. First, targeting has a tendency to never quite lock on when you want it to. Sometimes it'll decide that what you mean to be aiming at is not the symbiote creature who is gnawing on your face, but the Kingpin squad trooper minding his own business eight blocks away. Sometimes you can change which enemy you're targeting by moving the right analog stick--something rather difficult while you're already trying to juggle your left stick, buttons, and triggers in the midst of a heated battle--and usually that results in switching to an enemy nine blocks away.

The camera, ostensibly, moves to center whichever enemy you've targeted. Sometimes it does this well; other times, it locks onto Moon Knight halfway across the city and outright refuses to be swayed in any other direction. Part of this is because the right analog stick is used to control both the camera angle and which enemy (or ally) is being targeted at any given time, and it's never the one you want when you want it to be. Not being able to see who or what I'm web-shooting at has been the single most frustrating problem of this game so far.

Especially when that problem interferes with the game's moral system. See, the moral system operates on "Red Points" (good deeds) and "Black Points" (evil deeds), which you're awarded...well, pretty much randomly, I think. As far as I can tell (since there was no manual with the rental copy) there's no way to see how many points you have in either column, even though presumably the points determine which allies you can call and what direction the plot goes in. As long as Luke Cage and Wolverine are still coming when I call, I guess I have to assume I'm still on the side of the angels. Sometimes it's easy to tell when you're doing the morally right thing--after big cutscenes, the game usually makes you explicitly choose between Red and Black, which dictates your next action and presumably results in you receiving oodles of points one way or another. When you save civilians, you get red points. When you fail to save civilians, you get black points. I really like that aspect; it seems to me to fit Spider-Man's personality to a T. There are few other heroes with moral compasses so finely tuned that they'd beat themselves up over civilians they failed to save while in pitched battle with the forces of villainy, so that much is spot-on.

After that, though, it gets a little muddy. Sometimes collateral damage gets black points, sometimes it doesn't. After awhile, there's no apparent Red Points reward for saving civilians. During the fight with Wolverine and a bunch of symbiotes, red and black points seemed to be awarded more or less randomly. There's no color point reward whatsoever for stopping crimes or other criminal activities, as far as I can see, even after the police decide Spider-Man's a menace and shoot at him as readily as the bad guys.

Ultimately, it seems that the game seems to really, really want you to show off that black suit and play as a bad guy. Only the black suit has the power to detect symbiotes-in-disguise; only the black suit gives you the power to throw cars, which the game tells you to do so that you can stun and defeat the giant mecha enemies, even though throwing a car nets you two Black Points. No Red Points are awarded, so far as I can tell, by beating the mecha with fists and webs alone. And most obnoxiously, you'll occasionally be in a battle, with the glitchy and unresponsive targeting and camera system, when you'll get a flash of blue spider-sense around your head (good luck noticing it with all the other colorful flashes in the battle), and you might notice a tiny note at the bottom of the screen about there being a civilian in danger. Once in awhile, it'll tell you more explicitly to use the Left Trigger to target the civilian and the Y or B button "while near them" to rescue them. Fail to do this, and you'll get a very clear notice that you earned 10 Black Points. Do this, and I'll hail you as the god of button-mashing, because I've only ever been able to do it through sheer dumb luck. See, things slow down a little when the civilian's car explodes, launching them into the air, but Spider-Man slows down too. Which makes it darn near impossible to right the camera, lock onto the civilian, jump up to them, and press the right button while near them in midair. And that's assuming that hitting Left Trigger actually locks onto the civilian, and not whatever the nearest bad guy you're fighting is. I realize that the evil path is supposed to be easier, but the good path shouldn't be impossible, especially not in a game centered around a superhero, and especially not just because the targeting and camera mechanics are crap. As long as your Red Points (which you ought to be able to monitor) are in the lead, targeting and camera should automatically lock onto civilians in danger, and spider-sense shouldn't slow down Spider-Man. That's the whole point of spider-sense.

On more minor notes, this game seems less diligent than previous installments in making sure that your webs are actually sticking to something as you swing around the city. After a few instances of wondering what I'd hooked onto, I've looked up to see, in fact, that Spider-Man has managed to web the sky. Perhaps in addition to acquiring the iron fist, Peter also managed to get the Power Cosmic (he presumably took over for Golden Oldie). It's a small thing, sure, but it's another contribution the game makes to killing the immersion. Besides that, there's the matter of the black suit itself. I know my "Maximum Carnage" better than most, and consequently I know that symbiotes--or at least, the Venom/black costume symbiote--are weakened and hurt by sonics, heat, microwaves, and electricity. Consequently, I find it odd that a symbiote would be able to take over Electro. Besides that, I was a little annoyed when I managed to find an in-game church tower, with a giant bell, that rings if you hit it, that did absolutely nothing to my symbiotic costume. The game was clearly made by comic geeks with a real attention to detail--the billboards advertising careers in A.I.M. and S.H.I.E.L.D. are a testament to that--so failing to include one of the most iconic scenes in the black costume's history seems like a glaring omission.

I'm sure I've missed some things, but after a review that long with a reference to Aunt May's stint as a Herald of Galactus, I feel like I've reached a good stopping point. Bottom line: I'm planning on buying the game, but I won't drop $60 on it. A good story with some great moments and decent mechanics makes Spider-Man: Web of Shadows at least worth a rental.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A little excessive

Hey, I'm still alive! And ridiculously busy. Between teaching and work and grading and writing assignments and lesson plans, and the infection I'm still recovering from, my ability to read comics has become mostly nonexistent. I'm months behind on Superman, I haven't yet cracked the JSA Annual, and the third issue of the new Ambush Bug series sits unread on my desk.

But that doesn't mean I'm not keeping up with news. Which is why I saw this:

Really? I like Stephen Colbert as much as the next guy, I watch the show when I can, I was more than a bit miffed when Joey Q decided to give Mark Gruenwald's shield to him for no apparent reason, but I thought it was kind of funny that he was still running for president in the Marvel U. But this? This really smacks of "Joe Quesada wants to get on the Report again." Look, we get it. Marvel likes Stephen Colbert. But he's not flipping Wolverine, he doesn't need to be popping up as a frigging guest star in a Spider-Man comic.

In ten, twenty years, this will look even more ridiculous and pandering than it does now. Joe Quesada, I have "The WØRD" for you: "Goody Rickels."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Big Finish does good work

By this point, you all know how I feel about Doctor Who. A few months back, when I was really starting in on the fanaticism and devouring all the Who-media I could, I listened to a retrospective on the Eighth Doctor by the Doctor Who Podshock podcast. Since Eight's only canonical appearance was in the TV movie, and since I hadn't seen much of the work of the other Doctors about whom they were reminiscing at that point, I figured I could listen knowledgeably to the show. And for the most part, I figured right--until they mentioned the Doctor Who audio plays by Big Finish Productions. Now, I generally avoid the non-canonical peripheral works that inevitably surround the shows I like; I was pretty big into Star Wars as a kid, and it bugged the hell out of me when the non-canonical stuff I liked was rendered irrelevant by the canonical stuff I didn't (e.g., Boba Fett's origin). While I would gladly watch every bit of Doctor Who I could get my hands on, while I would view Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures with nearly the same fervor as the series proper, while I would devour fansites and podcasts, I drew the line at the spin-off novels, fan films, and so forth.

But the Big Finish audio dramas represented my only chance to get more Eighth Doctor stories with Paul McGann. And I really like radio dramas. And I drive a lot, and my usual list of podcasts tends to run out fairly quickly. So I started listening to the Eighth Doctor dramas. And I've really liked them; some ("Sword of Orion") have been better than others ("Stones of Venice"), but they've really worked to solidify my positive opinion of Paul McGann's Doctor. Moreover, they've given McGann a chance to shine, which sadly the TV movie did not. I'll state it again--if there's another Doctor-lite season of the show (as there is for 2009), I'd like to see a series of episodes or specials highlighting McGann's tenure as the Doctor prior to and during the Time War. Adapting some of the audio dramas--or at least Charley, who is a fantastic companion--would make the work that much more enjoyable (and easy).

Awesome Side note: According to The Sun, some of this is sort of coming to pass, as one of next year's specials will bring McGann back during flashbacks to the Time War. I hope this paves the way for more McGann in the future (team-up!). Edit: Or maybe not, but I'm going to continue to hold out hope.

Anyway, I've recently branched out and listened to a couple of the other Doctors' shows (since I've watched more of the other Doctors' episodes and feel like I'm familiar enough to do so). Despite how much I like Peter Davison, "Loups-Garoux" left me cold. Colin Baker's "The One Doctor" was a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek exploration of the Doctor Who mythos and tropes and whatnot. And while that one surprised me with its quality yesterday, I think I have a new favorite.

Because "The Chimes of Midnight" is incredible. It's creepy on the level of "Midnight" and "The Empty Child," it's poignant in a fashion similar to "Forest of the Dead," it plays with time in interesting ways like "Blink," and it's just a very well-written, well-put-together, fantastic Doctor Who story. It's not just "good for an audio play," it's one of my favorite Doctor Who stories--visual or otherwise. Up there with "Blink" and "City of Death." I recommend it to anyone--though you have to at least listen to "Storm Warning" first, since it introduces Charley and some of the plot elements. It's fantastic, fantastic, fantastic, and I hope it represents a general improvement rather than a statistical fluke.

The wait until Christmas--punctuated though it is with Sarah Jane Adventures--has just gotten an awful lot shorter. With Doctor Who on disc at home and on the iPod in the car, I'll be able to satisfy my cravings whenever I want. And I encourage the rest of you to do the same--at the very least, the Eighth Doctor deserves more than the TV movie.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Real Life Rick-roll

So, I was listening to my iPod on the way to lunch today. It was on shuffle, and as I pulled into the parking lot, it started playing Rick Astley's classic "Never Gonna Give You Up." This was not a particularly uncommon occurrence--it's only a 2GB iPod. No, the strange thing was when I walked into Subway and the same song was playing on the radio over the restaurant's speakers. The only way it could have been eerier is if it had started in the same place where I paused the iPod.

Anyway, crazy stuff.

Crossposted here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Going through popstars' closets

At this point, we all know that Natasha Bedingfield has a Pocketful of Sunshine. Here is an incomplete list of other containers she possesses which happen to be full of light:
  • A handbag full of moonbeams
  • A fanny-pack full of stardust
  • A backpack full of plasma
  • A coinpurse full of bioluminescence
  • A sporran full of incandescence
  • A rolled-up shirtsleeve full of firelight
  • A pair of Roos with zipper-pouches full of magnesium flare

Monday, September 01, 2008

Supermonth: Never-Ending

So, over the double-sized Supermonth, I managed to get out almost a month's worth of Superman posts. I didn't quite get to everything I wanted, and real life got in the way a little (computer issues, money issues, traveling, and I just started student teaching and working again), but it's time to bring Supermonth to a close. Which isn't to say that I'm done with Superman posting in the foreseeable future, by any means. I still plan on getting to the last post or two in the video game series, and I've got a stack of old Superman comics awaiting review on my desk, plus an essay on Mr. Mxyzptlk's character development and a few notes about how much I wish "Smallville" were more like "Superboy." There's more than a month worth of the Man of Steel, and I think I've drawn out his 70th birthday celebration long enough. Thanks for sticking around!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Supermonth: Supergirl Liveblogging

I remember watching Supergirl years and years ago, and being generally pretty confused by it. I only have vague impressions left; something about Argo City being underwater, and the Omegadrome, and a cardboard cut-out of Superman. All that's about to change, though, as I pop the DVD into the player and liveblog (so to speak) the flick from start to finish. Join me, won't you?
The opening titles are actually pretty well done; reminiscent of the Superman films without feeling too derivative. Also, very sparkly. Mia Farrow's in it? Interesting. And Peter O'Toole!
Is it bad that I cringe whenever I see one of the Salkinds' names these days?
All right, so we've got some kind of city in a crystal mountain, where people are dressed like it's the Valley of the Dolls. And I think I just heard someone called "Leia."
Apparently Zaltar, O'Toole's character, is some kind of crystal sculptor. Kara approaches him, asking what his new creation will be; he says "I think, a tree," which brings to mind a bit of Joyce Kilmer (and to my heathen mind, a bit of Yip Harburg) and sets Zaltar up as some sort of god figure. We'll see if that pans out.

Anyway, Kara asks what a tree is, and Zaltar tells her it's a lovely thing which grows on Earth. "Earth, you mean where my cousin went?" You know, I've never been keen on the idea that Kara knew where Kal-El was sent prior to her own journey; maybe it's just because in the Silver Age, she watched him through a telescope, which defies more physical laws and principles than most of her powers put together, but it's always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Zaltar wants to visit Earth himself, using the "binary chute," but Kara warns that he'd never survive the pressure. He thinks about going to Saturn instead, and then chastizes Kara for not thinking sixth-dimensionally. See, Saturn and Earth are in outer space, while Argo City is in inner space. Well, that clears everything up quite nicely. Wait, what?
Zaltar shows Kara the Omegahedron (not Omegadrome, which I recall now is the thing that made Cyborg all gold and liquidy), the city's power supply, which he'd "borrowed" from "the Guardians." It's a spinning ball that glows and produces a light show similar to the Cosmic Key.
Zaltar says "I think that I shall never see the branches of a living tree;" now I'm pretty certain that the Kilmer reference is intentional. The Omegahedron cannot create life, only the illusion or shadow thereof. Alura, Kara's mother shows up, and Zaltar creates a bracelet for Kara with his orange plastic wand, saying something about "inventing miracles." If the God thing isn't intentional, then the writers lack any sense of symbolism.
Zaltar apparently founded Argo City, though he wishes to leave, wondering what lies beyond the city walls. He has decided to go to Venus, and he surreptitiously kicks the Omegahedron over to Kara, who uses it to animate the dragonfly she created with the orange wand. I'm sure only good can come of this.
The dragonfly rips through a window, which appears to be made of wax paper, and the city begins to explosively decompress. Kara is slammed up against the hole. Some guy who looks an awful lot like Topher Grace shouts her name and rushes to save her, then Zaltar fixes the window with his wand. Apparently the Omegahedron went out the window, giving Zaltar the excuse he needs to leave the city, to look for it. While he's chatting, Kara gets into the chute, and the lotus-petals close up around her to form a pod. She leaves the city, via some kind of gravitational radiation, from inner space to outer space, and according to her parents, she'll never be the same again. If you're wondering why, join the club. Zaltar, as penance for losing the Omegahedron, suggests that he must be placed in the Phantom Zone.
Kara's pod zips through inner space (I guess) alongside some pretty trippy special effects. Kind of "Willy Wonka boat ride" trippy, not quite "the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey" trippy. I guess that means it's only half-full of stars.
We cut to two WASPs enjoying champagne on a high-class picnic. Selena, Faye Dunaway's character, muses about how awesome the world is, and how she can't wait until it's all hers. Peter Cook, her companion (who sounds an awful lot like Alan Rickman), suggests that the only way she can rule the world is to become invisible. What? He then explains how to do so, apparently, which involves a dead man's head and several black beans. Apparently he's some kind of wizard, and Selena's trying to discover the secrets of black magic.
The Omegahedron falls from the sky and lands in Selena's soup. The parallels to the Masters of the Universe movie continue.
Selena picks up the ball and starts to recite some kind of immortality spell. She then dismisses Nigel, gets into the car, and uses the Omegahedron to start it (since Nigel's still holding the keys). On the radio, we hear that Superman has set off on a peace-seeking mission to a galaxy that may be hundreds of billions of light years away. Kara, you have absolutely the worst timing.
Kara's pod opens up, and she comes out, then flies out of a pond, dressed in her Supergirl costume. Okay, wait, what? When did she get underwater? Where did she get the costume? Somehow, I doubt that I'll be given any satisfying answers to these questions.
Testing her new powers, Supergirl picks up a flower, then uses heat vision on it, which for some reason causes its petals to open up. She then discovers she can fly, and dances around in the air in a sequence that's actually pretty cool. The whimsicality of the Superman family, particularly with regard to how fun and awesome flying is, isn't explored often enough. The scene honestly reminds me of a more low-key version of that bit in Superman Returns where young Clark is jumping around the cornfield.
The bluescreen flying effects are less impressive. Helen Slater reminds me a bit of Alicia Silverstone.
There's a gorgeous shot where Supergirl is standing in front of a body of water at sunset, doing the classic Superman arms akimbo pose, with her back to the camera. If nothing else, the cinematography is pretty good so far.
Selena returns to, abandoned funhouse, which I assume she got real cheap from a police auction of the Joker's property. She calls out, and I swear it's for "Ianto." I guess this must be Torchwood Five or something.
Oh, Bianca.
Bianca comes in and suggests that they start their own coven in order to pay the bills. She suggests charging $5 a head for membership fees, which leads me to wonder just how popular covens are in this town. It's that damn Wiccan mafia, I tell you.

Cut to Supergirl flying above the city, when her bracelet starts beeping and blinking. Why did Zaltar give her a signal watch? And if she asks him, will he make her big? She lands, and a semi comes to a stop in front of her. Two skeezy men emerge, making typically chauvinistic remarks to the Maid of Might. She naïvely greets them and asks where she is. The men respond that she's on "Lover's Lane." Great, another "LL" in the Superman mythos. I don't know what's dumber here: that two truckers are going to try to take on a girl dressed like Superman, or that Supergirl's bracelet apparently has an alarm that notifies her of good places to get sexually assaulted.
One of the men tugs her cape aside to get a look at her rear; the other one turns out to be Max Headroom. No, really. Supergirl explains that she's Superman's cousin, and that she's looking for the Omegahedron, the Macguffin that powers Argo City. This exposition doesn't fail our intrepid truckers, who are unwavering in their noble quest to score some Kryptonian jailbait this night. In the middle of a street, no less. You can probably predict what happens: Supergirl lifts Sid the Squid up by his chin, accompanied by the usual bone-cracking sound effects we've come to expect from Kryptonians using their powers on muggles normal people, and she asks why they're doing this. Big Russ's response: "It's just the way we are." Well, there's some anvilicious dialogue for you. That's right up there with Sandman.

Sidenote: I vaguely remember this same thing happening in the Superman/Batman arc that introduced the newest iteration of Supergirl. Except that Kara was naked at the time. But I'll check that when I get the chance.

Supergirl blows Matt Frewer...into a fence, with her super-breath. For some reason, the other trucker pulls out a switchblade and tells her she "shouldn't have done that." He is similarly unfazed when she uses heat vision on the knife. It's like he's consumed by bloodlust, only for sex...if only there were some term for this strange sex-lust.
Supergirl kicks him in the junk. He goes flying into a pile of garbage, and the Girl of Steel takes to the skies. And yet, the trucker must be wearing a frigging kryptonite cup, because he lethargically suggests (not even in falsetto!) that they don't mention this to anyone.
Selena's holding a party, and she claims that the attendees are her army of the night. This is the most incredibly '80s army of the night ever. No army of the night in history has featured so much Jheri Curl and so many white sportcoats with the sleeves rolled up. I was pretty much instantly reminded of this:
That's right, a Hocus Pocus reference.

So, she lights Peter Cook's cigarette with her finger as a demonstration of her awesome powers. He shows her...something; it's not clear what, apparently to demonstrate that ambition is dangerous. As a response, she toys with one of the partygoers, again to demonstrate her amazing abilities, which now extend to telekinesis and beverage-based scorpion-generation. She sends Nigel away angrily.
We cut to a forest, where Supergirl is asleep on the ground, wrapped in her cape. She wakes up and bids a rabbit good morning. Then, all the woodland creatures help her make a pretty new dress so she can impress Prince Malverne at tonight's ball.

No, wait, scratch that last part. A couple of kids run in to retrieve a lost softball, then return to the diamond, which appears to be separated from Supergirl's sleeping place by a single row of trees. She starts watching the game, seemingly surprised to find it. Because, you know, someone with incredibly sharp super-senses can't possibly hear a loud softball game being played thirty feat away. Supergirl may be the world's soundest sleeper.

She checks out one of the girls in the audience, who appears to be wearing some kind of school uniform. Somehow, by walking behind various trees, Supergirl is able to change her costume into a matching uniform and backpack, and turn her brunette to boot. By comparison, Superman's superweaving skills are like the guy who learns how to sew buttons back onto his shirts before he goes to college.
Sidenote: I think I've linked to that super-weaving page more often than any other single page on the web.
Supergirl, incognito, goes into some kind of private school and begins looking around. The name "Danvers" is dropped fairly casually by a passing student; it apparently belongs to the headmaster or principal or whatever. Supergirl says she's a new student; and noting a portrait of Robert E. Lee on the wall, gives her name as "Linda Lee." You know, I want to go to a private girls' school where the headmaster has a picture of a Confederate general on the wall; I imagine there would be nothing but totally progressive values in such a place.
Nigel barges in to complain about all the nasty new Gryffindors students, who have played pranks on him. While the headmaster is out of the room listening to him grousing about his Potions class, Linda forges a letter from Clark on the typewriter and sneaks it into Danvers' file. How did Linda find out her cousin's Earth name?
Holy crap! Girls in bras! That's honestly racier than I expected. And girls in bras with towels inexplicably wrapped around them from chest to knee. That's...more bizarre than I expected. Linda gets a tour of the campus, including the "girls who lounge around in their underwear" dorm that exists solely in movies and college males' dreams. Linda gets placed in a room with Lucy Lane. What a coinkidink! Danvers puts two and two together about their relatives working together on the same paper. Strangely, though Lucy claims that she was supposed to have a single, the room is clearly a double, and Lucy has decorated it as such, including signs that say "It's mine beyond this line." She also appears to be reading a She-Hulk comic.
Linda sees a poster of Superman on Lucy's wall; I may have misremembered the cardboard cut-out. Lucy offers to introduce Linda to Superman. Irony!
Selena's playing a game of "He loves me, he loves me not" with Tarot cards, and comes to the conclusion that people will do anything for love. Thus, she concludes, she's going to make everyone fall in love with her. Some kind of tchotchke on the armrest starts pulsating, and the camera cuts briefly to show Linda in class nearby. Eventually, Supergirl's bracelet starts blinking and beeping, and she uses X-Ray vision to see Selena's car driving away. She is about to leave when Professor Snape chastizes her.
After class, Linda and friends are playing what I can only assume is field hockey. One of the other girls is apparently trying to kill Lucy Lane for no reason besides pure malice, and Linda rushes in to save her, allowing the field hockey ball to shatter against her body. And then, girls in the shower! And girls peeping on other girls in the shower! And the mean girls are fiddling with the pipes in order to give the girls a good scalding. Ah, the wholesome fun of an all-girls prep school. Linda, naturally, turns the tables on them with a bevy of super-senses and some heat vision, leading to their eventual humiliation.
Lucy offers to pierce Linda's ears. That can only lead to great things, I'm sure. It'll be like those old comics where Jimmy tries to cut Clark's hair. Oh, and Lucy's in a bra again. And Linda's putting a bra on over her uniform...and stuffing it. What the hell?
Speaking of Jimmy, Lucy talks about how she's having him come up from Metropolis.
Linda Lee is Willow Rosenberg. Especially in her voice.
According to Linda's map, Midvale is near Peoria, IL. Next thing we see is Supergirl on a flying tour of Chicago. At least they're not trying to pretend that Chicago is Metropolis or anything. I'm glad that the modern films have been better about masking their locales; no more Statues of Liberty in Gotham and Metropolis.
Selena's making a love potion. Kind of makes me wonder what the heck the point of the flying scene was. Gosh, this movie's long...there's still over an hour left.
Oh, right, Bianca.
Selena lures a landscaper into her secondhand hideout and gives him a dose of the love potion. Then Nigel shows up, wearing what appears to be a Members Only jacket.
Ye gods, I can't imagine how boring it must be to be reading this. Especially if you're not watching the movie while doing so. Many apologies.
The landscaper wakes up in a daze and ends up walking through the still-active haunted house; Nigel tries to talk Selena into doing something with Mosaic. I didn't realize that Green Lantern was going to show up.
Jimmy Olsen takes Lucy, Linda, and his friends out for a classy dinner at a generic fast food restaurant. They happen to see the love-potion-struck fool staggering through the street. Apparently he hasn't looked up from his shuffling feet since he left the funhouse, since he's supposed to fall madly in love with the first person he sees. Also, since he's not kissin' everything in sight, this must be Love Potion No. 7 or something, not #9. Lucy calls him a dingleberry; Linda asks what a dingleberry is. Oh Linda, be very glad that Lucy didn't explain it to you.
Jimmy pops by to offer some anti-drug propaganda from behind his bowtie and sweater-vest. Jimmy, you're a tool.
Selena uses the Omegahedron, which is either stuck inside a dragon-shaped box, or has grown to be shaped like a small leaden dragon tchotchke, to send an earth mover chasing after her lovestruck gardener. In the entirety of the chase, he apparently sees no one. Lucy runs out to climb into the runaway piece of construction equipment, hoping to stop it. Instead, she's knocked rather easily unconscious, while calamity ensues all around her. Cue Linda's quick change in the bathroom.
Supergirl surveys the area, apparently trying to figure out which problems to stop first. She actually manages to take care of things pretty efficiently. Supergirl changes to Linda for some reason before opening up the jaws of the earth mover (having taken it away from the chaos), and naturally he falls in love with her. Selena, watching through her magic mirror, is terribly upset. This naturally could have been avoided if she'd chased after him in a car rather than trying to remote control construction vehicles to capture him. Don't supervillains ever do anything simply?
Somehow, despite watching the whole thing through a magic mirror, Selena and Bianca miss that Linda and Supergirl are the same. She sends some kind of spell to kill Linda or something.
Supergirl shows up to fight the invisible wind or monster or something. It's invisible, and it's stormy, but it's not totally clear what the threat is supposed to be.
Okay, it's invisible Godzilla. Supergirl stops it (revealing its shape in the process) with a makeshift lightning rod that generally defies the physics of lightning rods.
Linda finally figures out that the bracelet is a kind of tracking device for the Omegahedron. She follows it to the funhouse, where the gardener-stalker shows up with chocolates and roses.
Lovestoned landscaper gets a name--Ethan--and continues talking in wannabe Elizabethan. He proposes to Linda, and they both act kind of dumb.
Selena starts spinning the lovebirds on a magically out-of-control Tilt-A-Whirl. Linda, as you might expect, disappears, and Supergirl drops in shortly thereafter. So far Selena still hasn't made the connection. She's not particularly bright. She also claims to be a "Siren of Endor," which I think means she's supposed to be a tall, bald Ewok.
To demonstrate her awesome power, Selena tries to kill Ethan. With bumper cars. Supervillains are dumb.
"You got hit on the head with a coconut." "Supergirl" = "Gilligan's Island."
Selena has brought Nigel in to teach her Occlumency or something. He uses the Elder Wand to help her with the Omegahedron, and together they capture Ethan just after he apparently figures out Supergirl's identity.
Selena feels up Nigel so she can steal the Elder Wand (or whatever), and uses it with the Omegahedron to make Nigel look like a hobo in drag. She also turns her funhouse into a mountaintop castle with a decor strangely similar to the Luthor place in "Smallville"Selena entrances Ethan and puts Supergirl into the Phantom Zone, complete with the classic spinning square motif. Which is actually pretty cool. The glass pane breaks, and Supergirl is in a dark, barren wasteland of a world, which is (I presume) the movieverse Phantom Zone. She quickly discovers that her powers are gone completely. So she starts walking. I know it's not going to happen, but I think it'd be pretty awesome if she ran into Mon-El or some Phantom Zone prisoners. So far, though, she just falls into a tar pit.
Selena's driving through the city, where some of the college students (Lucy included, also Jimmy) are protesting her. She really asserted her omnipotent dominance over Midvale rather quickly.
Wow, maybe we will get to see some Phantom Zone prisoners, because someone just pulled a sleepy Supergirl out of the muck.
Oh, it's Zaltar. He offers her a "squirt," which is less dirty than it sounds, and he's clearly gone a bit mad, or at least a bit depressed.
There's a way out of the Phantom Zone, but it's impossible. Which I'm pretty sure means there's no way out. Eventually Supergirl's super-perkiness convinces him to help her try to escape via some kind of singularity or something.
One thing I'll say about Selena, she knows how to pace herself. Some villains are all "Today the city, tomorrow...the world!" but she's all, "Today Midvale, by the end of the week the contiguous bits of North America, and after that we'll see." Good for you, Selena. Don't spread yourself too thin.
Supergirl and Zaltar make their way through Disney's The Black Hole, while Selena tosses fireballs at them from afar. That doesn't do much, so she decides to summon "the demon storm." Zaltar sacrifices himself to let Kara go on without him, and the god parallels from earlier go largely unfulfilled, except maybe in some Nietzschean way, but it's been awhile since I read Zarathustra, so I can't be sure. Supergirl escapes and flies into Selena's lair. Selena threatens the lives of Kara's friends, as you might expect, and Supergirl neutralizes her trap, as again you might expect. Supergirl demands the Omegahedron, but Selena uses it to power up the Elder Wand so she can do some flashy but ultimately lame magic tricks to the general environment. In the meantime, I should say that it's really a good idea to have a magical villain in this flick. It allows for some more entertaining encounters than you get with the traditional beat-em-up of superhero flicks. I wish one of the Superman sequels would remember his other weakness like this does.
Selena summons Stampede to stop Supergirl. There's some weird stretching, and Supergirl's writhing in pain, but she hears Obi-Wan Zaltar's voice in her head and it gives her the resolve to call on the Strength of the Bear and break free. Ethan disturbs the Omegahedron, and Nigel tells Supergirl to "confront her with it," which is singularly vague advice. Somehow, Selena and Bianca--who really feels like a bystander in all this--are sucked into the magic mirror, and the monster vanishes. That's kind of a confusing climax.
Supergirl takes the Omegahedron and swears Jimmy and Lucy to secrecy about her existence. Ethan says he'll explain to the others about Linda, and they share a tender moment. Supergirl flies off.
Supergirl goes back underwater and we see Argo City in the distant darkness. I think that must have been the source of my confusion as to Argo's whereabouts as a kid. The credits roll, the theme song plays, and the movie's over.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Much like my experiences with "Lois and Clark" and "Superboy," I expected this to turn out to be absolute crap, but it was actually pretty decent. There are some nasty plot holes, and some things aren't entirely clear, but overall it's a decent flick, and Supergirl is made into a distinct character. At no time does this movie feel like it's just Superman in a skirt, or like the plot is interchangeable with the Man of Steel. It's very much a Supergirl story, and Supergirl has enough whimsy and pluck (though her naivete is frequently overplayed) to carry the film. The film is easily better than either Superman III or IV, and doesn't suffer from the blatant bad ideas of those movies. My biggest complaint is that it sometimes feels like there are ideas that don't get followed through all the way, and points that don't quite get complete closure. At the very least, it's worth a watch, and it's worth the $7.50 I shelled out for it. I'm happy to put Supergirl onto my DVD shelf.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Supermonth: The Game of Tomorrow (Part 4)

Superman has a bunch of superpowers.

I know, I'm as surprised as you are. But that's how these things go, sometimes. You never know how they're going to change your favorite characters.

I mean, look at some of the older Superman games; they knew how to treat the character right. On the Atari 2600, Superman could pretty much just fly. I think. It's hard to tell with that game. And then on the Genesis, he could do a bunch of stuff, but really only if he got special power-ups. Otherwise, he could be killed with a few punches by pretty much any enemy. And that's the Superman we know and love, right?

Video games have long had problems dealing with the matter of Superman's abilities. If he has unfettered access to all of them, it can become something of a game breaker, in the same way that many writers have called his abilities a story breaker. Especially invulnerability. Playing an average Superman game could be precisely as tedious and effortless as playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Game Genie with unlimited invincibility.

Thankfully, Superman Returns tackled that particular problem. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of issues left with the rest of Superman's prodigious set of abilities. Chief among these, and one that games have long struggled with, is which ones should be included? As far as I'm concerned, these are the important ones, ranked more or less by necessity:
  • Super-strength
  • Heat vision
  • Flight
  • Super-speed
  • Invulnerability
  • Super-senses (especially super-hearing and X-Ray vision)
  • Journalism
  • Freeze-breath
Most Superman games are pretty good about touching on all of these, at least in some fashion. Here's a brief run-down of how they're often utilized:
  • Super-strength: Superman is strong. Duh.
  • Heat vision: Superman's primary ranged attack; usually some kind of special move, usually drains some kind of power meter, sometimes used only in certain levels (especially flying levels).
  • Flight: Sometimes it's pretty much useless (Justice League: Heroes, JL: Task Force, most side-scrollers) as Superman hovers a few feet above the ground. Sometimes it's only used in specific levels (the Genesis Superman game had R-Type-style shooter levels that were all flying, and Superman 64 is apparently a long flight practice game); more recent games (SR, Shadow of Apokolips) incorporate it as a major, if not the primary, mode of movement.
  • Super-speed: Often ignored; sometimes only present in certain moves (the Genesis game had a power-up where you'd spin around really fast to drill through the floor). In SR, you can run or fly at super-speed by holding down a button.
  • Invulnerability: Discussed at length in the first post.
  • Super-senses: Often ignored or triggered rarely in specific places. SR and Shadow of Apokolips use a radar icon to simulate the combined senses, notifying you of events and enemies in the general vicinity. You can trigger X-Ray Vision in Shadow of Apokolips, but it only works on certain things--specifically, things in areas where you're supposed to use X-Ray vision. Doesn't exist at all in SR.
  • Journalism: I'm using the term loosely here to encompass the set of Clark Kent's specific skills--sneaking about, investigating things, interviewing, gathering information, etc. As far as I've played, only Shadow of Apokolips uses this to any degree.
  • Freeze-breath: Generally present as Superman's second projectile attack. Freezes enemies on contact for a period of time. In SR, it can also be used to put out fires; Shadow of Apokolips basically combines this with the more general super-breath, which can move things.
While I like a lot of the choices in Superman Returns, the power set isn't really one of them. Strength is hard to screw up, their solution to the invulnerability problem is pitch-perfect, and the flight system in the game is almost flawless (I think the next post will be just on flying), but after that, things fall apart a bit.

Speed is the first issue, and this was largely the case with Shadow of Apokolips as well. In the games where super-speed is an option, you usually lose fine control when you move faster. That makes a lot of sense, really; it's how speed often works in the real world, and it's been a mainstay of video game logic since at least the days of Sonic the Hedgehog. Most games try to make each power-up have some drawback as well--something simple, like limited duration, or something more significant, like decreased health or control. It maintains the balance of the game.

The problem is that this really doesn't apply so well to Superman; super-speed applies not only to his movements, but also to his reflexes, senses, and thought processing. It's not quite to the degree that the Flash operates at, where he consciously shunts into speed-mode and everything moves in slow motion, but it's certainly similar. And it would have to be; otherwise Superman would constantly be flying into things by moving faster than he could think or react. Sure, he's going to build up some inertia over time, and that should be accounted for, but it shouldn't be quite so bad as it is in SR, where a short super-speed flight will typically send you careening into various buildings. Super-speed should, at least sometimes, shift Superman into so-called bullet-time (as it has in recent adaptations like Smallville and Superman Returns), where everything else is slowed and Superman is moving at a normal pace.

The problem, of course, is limiting this. After all, if you could shunt into bullet-time whenever you wanted, then there'd be no challenge to any battle. So the player's ability to go slow-mo has to have limited duration or limited applicability, while also having some explanation to justify the limitations. It wouldn't be particularly difficult to do that, especially depending on which universe the game is based on, but even just having the bullet-time mode drain your stamina meter (because Superman has to work hard, physically and mentally, to do so much in such a little time) and ending it if Superman gets hit (because it breaks his concentration) would be enough.

Which isn't to say that there shouldn't be a speedy way to get around, too. There's a place for the SR-style super-speed, where you just move faster, but it needs to have much tighter controls and it doesn't need to include such a drastic loss of precision.

My biggest complaint about heat vision is really just a complaint about SR's sloppy controls. Both SR and Shadow of Apokolips allow Superman to do either a sustained beam or a short, powerful burst that drains a lot of the power/stamina meter, and that's fine with me.

X-Ray Vision and the other super-senses are a fairly major sticking point in SR. I don't mind balling up Superman's senses and representing them with a radar display; it worked well for Spider-Man's spider-sense too. My problem is that there should rarely be a situation where I'm Superman, and I can't see what's happening on the other side of a building, or around a corner. I can see through things, I shouldn't have to search so much for the bad guys. I know that making X-Ray Vision a constant option requires a lot more thought and programming into the locations, which is why Shadow of Apokolips only lets you use it in certain places. Still, at least some token attention should be given to it, and systems now are getting able to handle environments of that level of scale and detail. As consoles improve, the excuses for omitting X-Ray Vision dwindle.

You already know my problems with freeze breath as a concept, but I like having it around as a weapon in-game. It's not usually a problem; it's used fairly creatively in Shadow of Apokolips (at one point, Superman has to move a bunch of floating mines without touching--and thus triggering--them), and it's an essential bit of the SR arsenal. But for some reason, SR decided to make "super-breath" and "freeze-breath" separate powers. I'm not sure why; I've not found a single situation in which super-breath is useful and distinct from freeze-breath. It's a waste of a power slot, which could have been filled by something--anything!--more useful. Superman only needs one breath-related superpower in a game.

Which brings us to Journalism, Superman's overlooked ability. One of the nice things, one of my favorite things, about Superman: Shadow of Apokolips, was that it included levels that you had to play as Clark Kent. These levels usually required you to sneak around, take out video cameras, and use your powers in covert ways as you gathered pivotal information to further the plot. While there are other games that involve Clark somehow, it's never been with such a clear eye toward the story, and I've not seen it used since. Bringing Clark Kent into the game allows for many, many more gameplay options, including recon and stealth missions and types of character interaction that you otherwise wouldn't find. Moreover, it would allow the game to make use of some of the supporting cast, which is sadly missing from SR and many other Superman games.

Hopefully I'll get to the cast in a future post. There's not much left to cover; we're almost home free!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Two great tastes that taste great together

I've counted at least three references to Doctor Who in the most recent Middleman episode. First, a NASA agent named Lethbridge-Stewart, a name-dropping of the Zygons, then an intergalactic Perpugilliam treaty. Add to that all the Die Hard references, the First Law of Robotics, a reference to that episode of Saved By the Bell, and the fact that the text on the Clotharian bomb was in Aurebesh, and I'm beginning to think that this episode was made just for me. If you're not already watching Middleman, dammit, start. You really, really don't want to see the deep blue funk I'll fall into if this show gets canned.

Oh, and I should have that Aurebesh transliterated in a couple of days. I need to get a copy of the episode that I can pause, first.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Supermonth: The Game of Tomorrow (Part 3)

I understand the impulse to make Metropolis a gigantic, sprawling...well, metropolis. It's clear in the game of Superman Returns that the designers were trying to demonstrate how overwhelmingly huge Metropolis is, spread across four islands, the main one (presumably New Troy, though the arrangement of the city doesn't really map well onto any of the canonical versions, nor even the version shown in the movie) having several tiers of urban plateaus. Metropolis is huge.

Unfortunately, Metropolis is also uniform. There's very little in the way of distinctive landmarks, which makes getting around the city a chore. The screen has a little radar and a note of which general neighborhood you're in, but that doesn't really tell you much, largely because there's no clear distinction between neighborhoods. The Spider-Man games have it fairly easy in this regard, since they're modeled on a real city, and thus have lots of recognizable buildings and areas to pull from. Plus, the layout of the city is mostly pre-determined, so there's no fumbling in that regard either. In SR, the only real recognizable places are the Daily Planet and a couple of Planet Krypton and Big Belly Burger restaurants. And even those aren't particularly easy to find; the best way to find the Daily Planet building is to start the game in front of it.

For practical purposes, Metropolis needs some navigation help. I'm not sure if street-by-street notifications would really help, but labeling key locales on the in-game map might be useful. Shrinking the city would certainly help (paging Brainiac); it can be big without being so confusing, and Superman really ought to know his way around.

Including some other major landmarks and areas would be useful, too. The plot of the movie universe makes it unlikely that there'd be a LexCorp Tower, but what about the GBS building? The Daily Star? The Ace O' Clubs? S.T.A.R. Labs? 344 Clinton St.? The Newstime offices? The Avenue of Tomorrow? Props to the game for including Hyper Sector [sic] and Suicide Slum, but the whole point of Hypersector was that it was more futuristic than the rest of the city, while Suicide Slum is Metropolis's industrial and criminal district; there's nothing to show any of that in the game, and both areas are pretty much the same as any other area.

Part of this is the fault of DC Comics for not developing a clear, consistent layout for Metropolis. This seems to be the general consensus in-universe:

(Image taken from here, but I think it's originally from the Metropolis Secret Files & Origins)

Although that's pretty loose. Even that doesn't note where most of the landmarks are located, just general regions. I know that it's useful to writers and artists that the fictional cities remain flexible, but there needs to be some kind of definition.

Personally, I'd like to see them actually canonically define what states cities like Gotham and Metropolis are in, rather than leaving them vaguely floating around New England. The old DC RPG apparently placed Gotham in New Jersey and Metropolis in Delaware, which actually makes the most sense to me (especially since it's been repeatedly established that Gotham is north of Metropolis, and that both are island cities on the east coast). "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" placed Metropolis in New York, which doesn't make much sense geographically, particularly in relation to Gotham.

But even that's not entirely necessary, it'd just make things somewhat easier. No, someone needs to actually draft a rough map of Metropolis, establishing where landmarks are in relation to one another, so media tie-ins and comics can have some idea of the layout. It doesn't seem to hamper Spider-Man much that his city is relatively rigidly defined, it shouldn't be a burden to DC's heroes either.

Following that, the ideal Superman game would include as many familiar spots as possible, and should do its best to make the different boroughs and neighborhoods distinct. If the Grand Theft Auto games can manage it, so can Superman. Also, I'd like to see them incorporate the sort of Easter eggs that litter the Spider-Man games: billboards and that sort of thing with throwaway in-universe ads. There are some generic billboards in SR, but nothing related back to the DCU. I'd like to see posters advertising the soap opera Secret Hearts, or ads for Newstime and Wayne Enterprises and the Super Buddies. I'd really like to see benches promoting the services of the Power Company and Kate Spencer.

Other generic landmarks would be nice; I mentioned hospitals in the previous post, and police stations would be nice as well. In fact, the S.C.U. and Science Police ought to have some kind of in-game presence; it needn't be big, but just having them around to assist (or be assisted) in the random battles would be cool. Also, they could serve the very useful purpose of evacuating panicky civilians from battlegrounds.

Oh, and battlegrounds! I've mentioned a couple of times that I'd like to be able to do the typical superhero thing--"Let's take this fight away from the city"--especially since the city has a health meter. Don't tell me that there aren't any condemned buildings or abandoned warehouses in Metropolis, where Superman can take enemies to in order to fight them with limited collateral damage; it seems like the city's full of them (though not so much as Gotham, which apparently has its own abandoned warehouse district).

Metropolis has been around for most of Superman's history, and it has developed a pretty distinctive character of its own. If the games would treat the Big Apricot with a little more detail, it would add immeasurably to the feel of the game.

Edit: One more minor detail: I was playing the game earlier, just to remind myself of some of the layout issues, and I ended up picking up the Daily Planet globe. It's pretty much impossible to set the globe back in its spot; this is partially due to the really bizarre physics of the ball. See, it handles an awful lot like it's made of plastic and filled with helium. If you drop it, it bounces lethargically around down the block, sending civilians into a panic as it wrecks cars and pavement with each landing, until it rolls to a halt against a building or something. Racing it to the bottom to try to catch it is an exercise in futility; Superman basically has a mid-air seizure as you try to hit the catch button next to the falling sphere. I like being able to manhandle the Daily Planet's most distinctive feature, but I wish it would handle like a giant ball of metal rather than a giant party balloon.

Then again, considering how frequently that globe gets knocked around, maybe the city finally decided to replace it with something less expensive.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Supermonth: The Game of Tomorrow (Part 2)

Continuing with the discussion of the necessary elements for a good Superman video game, today we'll be addressing the random encounter/event system.

I really like the trend in games like Ultimate Spider-Man, in which you are free to roam the city, and you get random alerts that you can choose to respond to--crimes in progress, people in danger, etc. It adds to the feeling of actually being a superhero--helping people in need, foiling crimes, patrolling the city, that sort of thing. In general, it makes the game feel a lot less linear.

There are some problems with the way the encounters are implemented, though. The biggest problem with these in Ultimate Spider-Man is a lack of variety; the biggest problem in Superman Returns is that there's very little control over triggering the events. In USM, you're basically on top of the event before it really starts progressing; in SR, the screams and sirens start if you happen to accidentally pass within a few square miles of the dot on the radar. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem, if not for one of the things I like about SR, which is the Metropolis health meter. In USM, you can trigger an event and ignore it without any real penalty. In SR, if you ignore a triggered event, mass destruction will ensue to the city, essentially penalizing your health. There needs to be a little more choice involved, and that's easily enough accomplished by tightening up the trigger radius. As with so much of Superman Returns, otherwise decent gameplay is muddied by sloppy controls.

Superman Returns really tries to give a bunch of variety. You fight dragons, robots, mutants, Kryptonite-powered aircraft, giant aliens, and the occasional supervillain. And sometimes, a combination of those. There are tricks to most of them. Some of the robots are very, very fast, others explode violently when hit, others are immune to heat vision and can avoid freeze breath. There are two types of dragon; both are tough to take out physically, but one goes down with a bit of heat vision and the other with a little freeze breath (they are, naturally, color-coded). You can't use the long-range powers on the mutants or they'll grow larger and stronger; if you punch Riot, he splits off a duplicate.

The problem is that, despite the variety of events, fights generally come down to freezing and punching. That's the best way (as far as I've found) to beat the robots, the Kryptonite ships, Riot, most dragons, etc. It's my basic fall-back strategy, but it works a bit too well and too often. I find myself rarely pulling out the heat vision (because it seems to be more dangerous than the freeze-breath) and never pulling out super-breath (which just blows things away without appearing to actually do anything).

The only exception to the fights in these random encounters is the building fire. Every once in awhile, you'll have to put out some towering inferno, which you naturally do by blowing on it. Freeze breath works fine for this, which suggests to me that super-breath is utterly redundant. Apparently you can also pick up and move around the fire trucks to put out the fire, but it's unnecessary and seems pretty tough to do, given the sloppy controls. The infernos represent the only reprieve you get from battle in these events, and they're a bit on the bland side. Where's the rushing into the building to rescue trapped children and pets?

I'd like to talk about how other Superman games have done the random event system, but in my experience, this is the first one to do so. It gets a lot right, but all the random robots and faceless monsters really make me wonder where the familiar villains are. Mongul and Metallo show up in the main plot; Riot pops up now and then in the encounters, but Superman has a long list of villains that would be great for this sort of thing, and would add a lot of variety to boot. Let's see some bank robberies (as in USM) by minor supervillains like Loophole and Barrage. Let's see some creativity to the beat-em-up battles, like being able to stop the mutant rampage by finding Dabney Donovan or Simyan and Mokkari and taking out their control system. Where are the deadly toys and lethal pranks? None of this would be any harder to implement than what's in the game (and similar games) already; there's really no excuse.

The other problem with the random events in SR is with the civilians. Harming the civilians decreases the city's health, and I like that. If the controls were tighter and allowed for more options, this would provide a great way to make the player have to be creative with their powers. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to move a fight to a more sparsely populated area. Even that wouldn't be a problem if the Metropolis populace weren't the dumbest, most oblivious people in the world. They don't run away from a fight, they just wander around aimlessly. Occasionally, they will wander right between Superman and the monster du jour. While Superman's in mid-punch. I know this is the big city, and they're used to this kind of thing, but no one should be that blasé. In USM, people run away as soon as Spidey starts punching, and those are New Yorkers.

So, naturally, any battle leaves several innocent bystanders lying in the street, crying for help. Superman can pick up individual civilians and rush them to nearby ambulances, and doing so restores some of the city's lost health. The usual problem of sloppy controls means that Superman typically grabs at air three or four times before actually finding the injured person next to him, but once they're in hand, he can rush them to the EMTs and drop them off. Then, he can rush back, where he'll often find that enough time has passed that the rest of the injured people have disappeared. If, by some chance, you happen to trigger another event while ferrying civilians, you'll find that the ambulances often don't move between events, requiring even longer trips to rescue bystanders. And sometimes, just sometimes, the ambulances never show up or disappear entirely, leaving Superman to uselessly carry around civilians and drop them off on the sidewalk.

If rescuing civilians is going to be a priority, then it needs to be a priority. Superman should have time enough between events to aid in the cleanup. It doesn't need to be unlimited time--there could even be a clock or counter on screen--but he shouldn't have to choose between saving injured people and stopping another event, just because the triggering radius is too large. Civilians should have a better AI, and ambulances should always be nearby. Moreover, there ought to be hospitals and police stations and such, as a stationary alternative for rescue.

Of course, those would require that Metropolis be a navigable city, which at least in SR, it isn't. Next time, we'll be exploring what Metropolis should be in the ultimate Superman game.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


So, I just finished watching the Middleman episode from two weeks ago, and I start flipping channels. Lo and behold, there's a much younger Matt Keeslar on "Law and Order." Interesting how that sort of thing works out.

Incidentally, anyone know where I can get a green(?) Eisenhower Jacket? GenCon kind of whetted my appetite for convention costumes, and I'm thinking I might middle it up at Wizard World next year. I've searched a bit online, but I haven't yet found anything quite right that isn't antique and covered in military insignias.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Supermonth: A Totally Hetero Thought

So, most representations suggest that Superman has indestructible hair. It makes some sense (though not a huge amount), though it depends on how Superman's powers are supposed to work.

One thing I wonder, though, is what the texture must be like. I mean, I'm sure the hair on his head is relatively normal, but depending on the artist, Superman's often been shown to be pretty hirsute. Body hair, at least in my limited experience, is generally fairly coarse; would body hair of steel in turn be like steel wool? If Clark Kent's showering, does he wear holes in the washcloth with his indestructible man-fur?

If I were to guess, I'd suspect that his hair is the same texture as human hair, but much stronger, but what does that mean for his plumbing? I imagine the super-mullet was hell on his drains.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Supermonth: Supertropes I Hate: Soul-Vision

I'm told that I have Elliot S! Maggin to blame for this trope. Apparently, some passage in Miracle Monday inspired Mark Waid, in "Superman: Birthright," to give Superman the ability to see the souls auras of all living things. We'll get back to that momentarily.

In theory, I like Elliot S! Maggin. The idea of having an exclamation point in your name is simply awesome, and I dig (the first) Kristin Wells, the Superwoman from the future--especially her costume. In practice, though, I don't think I've ever read any Maggin Superman stories that I've really enjoyed. Everything I've read from him seems to me like it takes itself way, way too seriously. And the idea that "Kal-El" translates roughly to "Star Child" is a bit too end-of-"Neverending Story" for my taste.

And yet, just yesterday I bought Miracle Monday at a used book store, thereby completing my collection of Elliot S! Maggin Superman novels, neither of which I've read. Yet. I think I'll be hitting up Tom DeHaven's It's Superman before I get to the Maggin stuff.

So, Mark Waid gave Superman the ability to see this amazingly beautiful aura around all living creatures, and he hated to see that aura snuffed out. Consequently, he was a vegetarian.

Now, here's where I start having a problem: plants are living, too. They're just as alive as animals. Why wouldn't they have an aura? What about bacteria and fungi? What gives animals the special soul-aura that makes them inedible? Would he see an aura around Medphyll or Mogo? Or Red Tornado? The kingdom of Animalia represents a relatively small portion of living things, especially in a universe as densely populated as the DCU. The whole concept fails out of the gate.

But my bigger problem is a thematic one, one that plagues so much of "Birthright." John Byrne may not do much right, but his Superman was conceptually more "man" than "super." He was (technically) born on Earth, his costume was designed by his human family, and his decision to become a superhero was borne out of his rapport with humanity and desire to help people.

Waid, on the other hand, ramped up the alien aspect of Superman's character. He made Clark more of an outcast loser than he had been in decades (perhaps more than he ever had been), Superman's costume came from his alien parents, and as the biggest punch to the gut, his rationale for helping people was more or less borne out of his alien ability to see their souls, and not wanting to have to endure the ugliness of watching souls go poof. This kind of thing really distances Superman from the humanity he struggles so hard to achieve and maintain, and that's a damn shame.

And the worst part of all of this is that every time I think the soul-vision idiocy has been shoved mercifully back into the bottle, it crops up again in-continuity, where Superman assures Lex Luthor or Superboy that they do, in fact, possess souls (which, apparently, means that they're living animals. Whoop-de-flibbity-doo). It hasn't shown up recently, certainly not that I've seen post-OYL, so I hope above hope that Busiek and Johns and the others working on Superman comics have recognized what an asinine idea this is, and have consigned it to the dustbin of stupid powers along with super-hypnotism and rebuild-the-Great-Wall-of-China-vision.