Monday, July 13, 2009

Hero of the Week #7: Superman

Real Name: Commander Kal-El
First Appearance: Action Comics #1 (June, 1938)
Group Affiliation: New Krypton Military Guild, Justice League
Gaming Credentials: Superman (1978); Superman: The Game (1985); Superman (1987); Superman: Man of Steel (1988); Superman: Man of Steel (1992); The Death and Return of Superman (1994); Justice League Task Force (1995); Superman 64 (1999); Justice League: Injustice for All (2002); Superman: The Man of Steel (2002); Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (2002); Justice League: Chronicles (2003); Justice League Heroes (2006); Superman Returns (2006); Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe (2008); DC Universe Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #5

It is my intention not to double-up on any of these HOTW features, so despite the reasonably surprising news that Ryan Reynolds has been cast as the Green Lantern, we shant return to that particular character. Assuming, of course, that he is to be the star of the film, already revealed to be the tale of Hal Jordan's recruitment into the Green Lantern Corps. On the surface, Reynolds seems better suited to later Lanterns, such as the impetuous Guy Gardner, or perhaps the youthful Kyle Rayner, but for now we are to assume - with mixed feelings - that he will headline in this, his third comic book role (following Marvel's, Deadpool and Hannibal King).

Superman might seem like an unusual choice, but after having the honor of the "Featured Blog" spot for the past few days (with discussion about the fundamentals of reading comics), it seemed fitting to go with a classic hero. Besides -- is there every really a bad time to talk about Superman? As one of DC's iconic holy trinity of heroes Superman is one of the most recognised pop culture icons in the world. You can clearly see from the titles listed above, he's both one of the best and worst examples of the lengthy relationship between comic book superheroes, and video games. Best; because his 1978 Atari debut backs up just how far back the relationship between mediums goes, and worst; because it reminds us just how long we've been waiting for a really good Superman game.

Superman Returns finally put the player in a city worthy of the name Metropolis.

It's arguably only now that we're really seeing technology be developed and applied in ways that could fully realise the Superman experience. The proliferation of open-world gaming has been tailor made for superheroes who traditionally spent their waking hours loitering around the rooftops and alleys of densely populated cities, hoping to bump into friends or foes alike. That said; for the most part, I think fanboy-gamers would've been satisfied if they could at least lay claim to a decent Superman platformer, or adventure game! Afterall, as I can attest with some experience, part of the fun will always be in the collision of superhero mega powers!

To be fair, they weren't all exercises in neon pointlessness (like Superman 64).
While restrictions of a mechanical or arbitrary nature might have held back their potential, titles like the 16-bit efforts of platformer,  Superman: Man of Steel, and the scrolling beat 'em up, The Death and Return of Superman, both captured the fisticuffs and powers of Superman (and friends) to varying degrees of acceptable success. Within the narrow focus of 2D one-on-one combat -- even Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe deserves some shred of credit for giving Superman perhaps more attention than was balanced (you don't see that arctic breath much, these days!).

Superman no doubt inspired exaggerated mini-modes added to traditional Kombat in MKvsDC.

In some sort of twisted irony, it now appears likely that the game to deliver the most complete Superman experience will not actually even allow players to take control of the hero. DC Universe Online hopes to live up to the dreams of readers worldwide by transferring the events and serialized storytelling of comics into a live online gaming platform.

Boastin free-flowing action unlike traditional MMO systems; DC Universe Online plays with a fluidity and control traditionally associated with finite console games. Whilst realising a catalogue of superhuman abilities, players will be able to interact with iconic locations and characters sourced directly from DC comics. The army of heroes and villains range everywhere from A-list icons like Superman and Wonder Woman, to more obscure fare, like Ambush Bug and Tattooed Man. And while a tenative release date places it vaguely around late 2009/early 2010, the game needn't worry about interference from rival publisher, Marvel Comics, who pulled out of their plans to launch a similar MMO game with Cryptic Studios and Microsoft earlier in the year.

The question now remains -- will DCU Online finally be the game to realise the Superman experience to it's fullest capacity? With competent gameplay and an entire iconic universe at it's disposal, as well as DC comics talents like Jim Lee and Geoff Johns at their disposal, one could argue that it's place in superhero gaming is already assured. Particularly as it avoids even tackling the incredibly popular misconception that Superman's many strengths are an inherent flaw in the conversion of the character to a video game -- instead utilizing Superman as but one of the many iconic NPCs that populate the universe.

at1UP's own Mike Cruz digging Wednesday Comics!

Back in the land of comics, one of the key reasons for choosing Superman as this week's HOTW is the release of the twelve-part newspaper-style follow-up to DC's least successful weekly comic series, Trinity. The titular trio of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are all involved in the new Wenesday Comics anthology, but this time share the stage with a host of lesser known characters, treated by some of the most prolific writers and artists in comics, many of whom aren't often affiliated with the mainstream superhero style of fiction.

Borrowing from the tradition of newspaper strips; Wednesday Comics comes printed on retro-inspired pulp paper at an appropriate scale of 14" x 20" -- much larger than a standard American comic book. Among the talents contributing are John Arcudi (The Mask, BPRD) and Lee Bermejo (Joker, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel), whose Superman story has gained particular attention for the first part being run in the pages of USA Today, with subsequent instalments to feature on the USA Today website.
This keeps the Man of Steel in the hands of the public, while it's likely more invested readers will follow Superman out of his home titles, and into the year long maxi-series, Superman: World of New Krypton, where he has taken reluctant resistance on a newly created Kryptonian settlement. The story puts the character in uncomfortable territories where his powers are no longer entirely unique, and his voice no longer awe inspiring.

More information is available at, and for the MMO, the Sony DC Universe Online homepage.

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths: The Comic Book Fight Club is updated with varying consistency, promising a feature fight for every Friday on the calendar (even if sometimes they're late). The site acts as an information resource, discussion site, review blog, and a Kryptonian good time.

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