Friday, October 23, 2009

Hero of the Week #21: Carnage

CARNAGE (Marvel)
Real Name: Cletus Kasady
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-man #344 (March, 1991)
Group Affiliation: NA
Gaming Credentials: Spider-man 2 (1992); Spider-man & X-Men: Arcade's Revenge (1993); Amazing Spider-man: Lethal Foes (1994); Spider-man & Venom: Maximum Carnage (1994); Venom & Spider-man: Seperation Anxiety (1995); Spider-man (2000); Ultimate Spider-man (2005); Spider-man: Friend or Foe (2007); Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #543

Today; 1up reported [video] that Cable will follow Psylocke in the growing list of PS3/360 Ultimate Alliance 2 DLC updates to the moderately popular Marvel action-brawler. For today's HOTW, however, I want to take you back to the previous week, when Carnage was announced as the first character joining the MUA2 cast.

My first instinct is to call it an unlikely announcement, but that would fly in the face of updates like 1up's, which have described the villain as a "fan-favourite" inclusion. The thought occurs that neither assessment is actually especially wrong, which connects in a curious way to a lot of the discussion that's been undertaken on my 1up blog over the past few months...

When last we saw Carnage in the comics, he was being taken on a one-way trip into deep space courtesy of The Sentry. It was the debut of the hero into official Marvel continuity, and was also the stage upon which the company were launching a brand new all-star line-up for the long-running -- and then-recently disassembled -- Avengers franchise. A super-villain prison break was the event to bring the new team together, consisting of many new inclusions featured in Ultimate Alliance 2, but I'm just getting distracted now.

The point I'm trying to make is, that, as an indication of the worth of the Carnage character to the current Marvel Universe, The Sentry took the symbiote villain into deep space and quite literally ripped him apart!

While, yes, this was a suitably 'bad ass' moment within the fiction, it was also the realisation of a contempt writer Brian Bendis had previous voiced for the widely maligned character. This is significant because being ripped in half in deep space is, generally speaking, not a fate likely to befall a Dr. Doom, or Magneto, any time soon. You don't get bisected and left to experience Newton's laws of motion first-hand, unless you're reasonably expendable, and that's pretty much the case for the once heavily promoted villain.

Comics fans in the aggregate have come to regard the symbiote characters, Carnage in particular, as conceptually unmotivated characters of little substance or worth. While I might not necessarily agree with such sweeping dismissal, it's difficult to make a case for the character when the sum of his influence generally revolves around lengthy Dragonball Z-esque tours of murdered bystanders and super-powered fight rematches.

Gamers have very different expectations for Carnage.

As the titular star of one of the first memorable outings for Spider-man in a video game; Maximum Carnage; and a feature villain in several others, it's easy to see how gamers could have a different perspective on the character.
Their experiences have probably been more positive partly due to the fact that video games, particularly in the technologically prohibitive early nineties, are and were more forgiving to a character built almost exclusively around gimmick-driven action.

While mainstream story-driven successes like Batman: Arkham Asylum have at least introduced a counter argument, it's fair to say we're in an age sympathetic to the same mindset of the action-driven nineties. Ergo; despite being completely uninvolved (and still drifting in space) during the superhero Civil War and reviled by many comics fans, it stands to reason that there's a market and a different identity in video games, for a character like Carnage.

My reaction to the character tends to be reponsive to the opinions around me.
As a comics fan; I think it's a disappointing and short-sighted mob mentality that dismisses any potential the Carnage character might have. At the same time, in respect to video games, I think the inclusion of Carnage also speaks to the negatives of that audience, who are in a contrasting rut of familiarity and shallow concepts [RE: the proliferation of shooters].

Take what you will from the striking similarity between some screenshots of Carnage's living costume in action and the nineties-styled chainz, bladez, n XTREME powers in the open-world superhero game, Prototype. Maybe Marvel are taking a little back for themselves?

At present, it seems character DLC isn't going to be the platform for new elaboration in the game's story, so narrative influence probably isn't a criticism to dwell on too extensively. Not in respect to Carnage specifically, at least. Previously on the blog, I did talk a little bit about the potential for the MUA franchise to represent the Marvel Universe more elaborately. You might like to check that article out, as well as recent story-driven blogs about Oddworld Abe, Tekken 6, and Street Fighter, to get a sense of the continuity of discussion!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is currently available for all major platforms.
There is currently no release date for the PS3/360 downloadable content pack, which will include; Carnage, Psylocke, and Cable. More characters are expected to be announced in coming weeks, and can be previewed upon availablity at the MUA2 developer blog.

<< Hero of the Week 11/01: Solomon Grundy       [Home]       Hero of the Week 10/18: Flash >>

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hero of the Week #20: Flash

Real Name: Wally West
First Appearance: The Flash #110 (December, 1959)
Group Affiliation: Justice League, Titans
Gaming Credentials: Justice League Task Force (1995); Justice League Heroes (2006); Justice League Heroes: The Flash (2006); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #21

It was only a few years ago now that Flash was one of the most prestigious characters and series being published within the DC pantheon. Alas, even superheroes can fall on hard times, and after intervening in the events of DC's Infinite Crisis, the Wally West version of the character slipped into obscurity.
After being briefly (and unsuccessfully) succeeded by his junior [Bart Allen], the West version of the character is now to be upstaged by his predecessor, the Silver Age's Barry Allen, who is part of a revamp designed to restore DC's iconic vision of the hero via Flash: Rebirth.

The hard-luck story of Wally West continued this week when it was revealed that recently defunct developer, BottleRocket, were six months into working on a solo game starring the scarlet speedster!

If DC's nominations for the 2008 fighting crossover Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe are anything to go by, then there's a good chance the game was set to further establish Barry Allen as the most significant character to be dubbed the fastest man alive, but there's a modern flair about early screenshots of the game that speak to the Wally West version.

A rare moment for the Flash, appearing idle in development screenshots leaked by BottleRocket.

Rightly or not, video game adaptations haven't got the greatest reputation these days.
Comments on 1up's feature detailing the aborted Flash game come with mixed opinions in the comments section, many expressing lethargy, despite the recent triumphs of Batman: Arkham Asylum. To their credit, one game hardly assures quality investment from all studios handling comic book properties, but gamers should take something positive away from a long awaited live demonstration of possibilities.

Licensed properties like comic book superheroes might be a way for studios to bet on installed fanbases, but they aren't without their greater purpose. Characters with vivid expectations provide an end goal that may require various lengths of technical and conceptual innovation. I talked a little about this in a previous blog about the potential of the upcoming Green Lantern game, and think the same potential applies to Flash, to a less elaborate extent.

Once upon a time the mere existence of Sonic the Hedgehog was enough to consider the possibility of a Flash video game (which roughly equates to the Sega platformers inspired by the TV series, in the early nineties).
These days however, we expect a little bit more than running quickly from one side of the screen to the other. As the games move into more realistic territory, the balance between creating the illusion of superhuman speed and keeping the player in control becomes key. The development of motor racing in video games has created one of the most prominent new perspectives for what is expected of speed in a game, and is probably the logical reference point for any modern engine attempting a game about a character who runs fast.

Taking a character like this off of the racing track can clearly be a tricky thing.
The balance between high speeds and directional gameplay have been something the Sonic franchise has struggled with in it's various 3D modern equivalents, where controlled high speed running has been captured through the use of race tracks. For a superhero, who has become a regular fixture of sandbox cityscape environments, these kinds of options become less flattering.

It's a tricky situation for any character, but a superhero like the Flash has an entire universe of fiction to draw upon, making his transition to video games potentially about much more than just moving quickly. Batman: Arkham Asylum reminded us how valuable a world of fiction can be when filling in the gaps of design and motivation that make gameplay function.

You might not know it to look at them, but the Flash has one of the greatest lists of villains you'll find in superhero comics. Don't let the hokey costumes and gimmicks fool you! Under the watchful eye of writers like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, the beloved Flash rogues (who actually call themselves The Rogues) have developed into characters as fleshed out and elaborate as any comparable hero. Their potential to exist in an interactive world and even become playable options is as exponential as imagination. It doesn't hurt that Flash is also associated with some of the best known superheroes in comics, also, who have just as much claim to cameos and guest spots as Captain Cold or Zoom!

It's been a busy weekend, so I'll leave it to you to ponder what might've been had BottleRocket finally brought the Flash back to the spotlight. The various incarnations of super speedsters will be present when DC unleash their MMO, DC Universe Online. Team Flash are also readily available in the DC Comics mini-series, Flash: Rebirth, telling the tale of the return of former HOTW Barry Allen, his arch-nemesis Professor Zoom, and the adjusting purpose of Wally West! West will also star in co-features when a new Flash series launches in the future.

<< Hero of the Week 10/23: Carnage       [Home]       Hero of the Week 10/04: Green Arrow >>

Originally posted:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Remembering T. Haseloff

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hero of the Week #18: Green Arrow

Real Name: Oliver Queen
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
Group Affiliation: Justice League
Gaming Credentials: Justice League Task Force (1995); Justice League Heroes (2006); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #24

A guy in Robin Hood cosplay might not immediately sound like an impressive superhero specimen, but not too long ago, Green Arrow was one of the hottest properties selling comics. Since, the character has made the transition to animation in Justice League Unlimited, and live-action with a stylized interpretation in Smallville. He's been floating around movie developmental hell, as part of a DC Universe prison-movie called Supermax, and has also just been announced as the latest confirmed character for the action MMO, DC Universe Online!

Still not convinced? Once upon a time the character was compared negatively with Batman due to the derivative nature of his vigilante persona, but I think since Green Arrow developed a strong brand of his own, that's a great way to sell the character. I mean, it's not that you're going to get GA gliding around the city fighting clown-chic terrorists, but if you've been a fan of the tool-wielding escapades of the Dark Knight [ie; Arkham Asylum], you can at least understand the language that lies beneath the green jersey and uber-Errol Flynn goatee.

It hasn't necessarily been anything inherent to the concept of a bow-and-arrow superhero that's driven Green Arrow into the upper echelon of superhero comics. Like Batman, it's the gritty urban crime drama that's unfolded around his saga, with occasional splashes of superhero epics like dealing with his return from the dead, that have made this such an intriguing character. Not that being a modern-day Robin Hood hasn't presented an interesting layer to the character, communicated through his strong liberal leanings.
This side of the character brought him to be briefly serve as Mayor of Star City in the mid-2000's, and has created the beloved dynamic of tension between he and Hawkman, who represents a more extreme dynamic of justice than the romantic Green Arrow's. Not that GA isn't prone to cutting corners and confronting the shades of grey that make up superhero justice. GA has famously delt with drug addiction and HIV through his sidekicks, and alongside buddy partner Green Lantern, race relations, in seminal stories from the '70s that remain a pre-Watchmen benchmark in the constructive clash of reality and fiction that has come to define modern comics.

Green Arrow is a politicized urban vigilante that represents the type of diversity in characters you'll (theoretically) encounter throughout the course of your playtime in DC Universe Online. He's also a prime example of how DCUO will be able seperate itself from a homogenized medium that has typically imitated, and subsequently been crushed by, World of Warcraft.

While the ability to create and develop superhero avatars will be common to other MMO games, it's the opportunity to interact with a world vividly established over seventy years of comics, film, and television, that will make this a whole new experience. DC has the benefit of drawing upon a long list of iconic fictional environments like Metropolis, Gotham City, and Green Arrow's Star City, that will encourage gamers to seek out the equally famous characters that reside within. With any luck, quest-like storylines running through the game will also be able to capitalize on the strong characterization of heroes like Green Arrow, replicating not only the good-vs-evil struggle of their regular adventures, but also more complex reactions, like the Ultimate Alliance-esque riff that formed in DC's 2004 series Identity Crisis, over similar themes of invasive law enforcement.

You can currently find Green Arrow appearing in both the Green Arrow/Black Canary on-going series shared with on-again-off-again flame, Black Canary [Duh!], and in the mini-series building toward a new JLA team, Justice League: Cry for Justice. Check out for more info, and keep an eye on DC Universe Online (also on MySpace) for more character announcements, like the one that made GA this week's HOTW!

<< Hero of the Week 10/18: Flash       [Home]       Hero of the Week 09/26: Deadpool >>

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