Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hero of the Week #26: Spawn

SPAWN (Image: TMP)
Real Name: Al Simmons
First Appearance: Spawn #1 (June, 1992)
Group Affiliation: Hell (former)
Gaming Credentials: Todd McFarlane's Spawn: The Video Game (1995); Spawn: The Eternal (1997); Spawn: In the Demon's Hand (2000); Spawn: Armageddon (2003); Soul Calibur II (2003)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: DNR

When I look at a character like Spawn, and the video games he's headlined, I can't help but ponder the fact that the likes of Hawkman will only make their video game debut in next year's MMO, DC Universe Online. I guess that's just my penchant for the classics talking...

Today's feature is a little duplicitous in nature.

This isn't a celebration of Spawn as much as it is an acknowledgment of an interesting development over in the comics. Not that it isn't worth spotlighting a character who's managed to star in four of his own video games, and guest-feature in a fifth. Truth be told, over in the comics, Spawn's world has changed quite significantly, even seeing the titular role handed over to a brand new guy called Jim Downing.

Spawn was one of the flagship characters that launched Image Comics as a power to be reckoned with, in 1992. Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, partnered a coup with other prominent artists of the time to launch a studio that put greater emphasis on the value of creators. Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Marc SilvestriRob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, and Whilce Portacio, made up the rest of the Image founders, whose legacy is one that has allowed for some of the brightest talent of the past decade to enter the comics industry through independent works.

Robert Kirkman is among the talents to emerge through Image's publishing practises, creating the highest selling independent comic of today, The Walking Dead, along with several other projects that include the immensely popular superhero classic, Invincible.
This success has afforded Kirkman the rare distinction of being inducted into "founder" status within the Image fold, some fifteen years after the company's creation. Now, he unites all founders but Jim Lee for a project that will see the superheroes of the original Image Comics clash in Image United -- a series not without precedent, but still reasonably significant as a curiosity, all these years later.

It's fair to say that the original Image Comics properties created by the founders were very much products of their time. In retrospect, many are regarded with severely mixed feelings, not surprising of practises that placed emphasis on a certain brand of visual flair over writing. This quality of Image Comics, however, was all about graphics and characters for the video game generation. They were influenced as much as they influenced.

Having defined a popular perspective on comics over the course of the nineties, the rise of Image coincided with a mainstream swell in video game releases that saw direct overlap. The first Spawn game was released only three years after the character's debut, and saw Todd McFarlane go on to form an on-going relationship with video games that has led to lending his artistic approach to video game releases, often with results of mixed quality, similar to his comics [ie; the terminally infamous action figure battle game, Evil Prophecy].

Love or hate the exploits of bombastic chain-swinging nineties bad asses like Spawn, they're an important footnote on the landscape of both comics and video games as mediums, and that's good enough to make Spawn our representative HOTW!

The last Spawn video game was in 2003, but you'll find Image United #1 on shelves now from Image Comics! Check listings for subsequent release schedules.

<< Hero of the Week 12/06: Dr. Doom       [Home]       Hero of the Week 11/22: Sandman >>

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hero of the Week #25: Sandman

Real Name: Wesley Dodds
First Appearance: Adventure Comics #40 (July, 1939)
Group Affiliation: Black Lantern Corps, Justice Society of America (former)
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #123

Last week's HOTW [Dr. Fate] was inspired by the Smallville two-parter set to feature the Golden Age heroes of the Justice Society of America, which has since taken on a life of it's own as a TV movie, Absolute Justice.

Written by fan-favourite reverend of reverence, Geoff Johns; the characters -- which were a vital part of solidifying his status as an A-list writer -- appeared to be in proven good hands, but 1up poster, Sune, raised the fair question of whether or not these colourful characters could reach the screen without becoming garrish parodies of their printed selves. As if to respond, a teaser trailer was released a couple of days later:

If you ask me, the brief glimpses featured immediately put to bed any concerns about the quality of treatment the classic characters will receive. It's difficult to gauge exactly how prominent the JSA will feature in their iconic forms, with an odd glow on shots of Dr. Fate and Sandman suggesting their costumed escapades might be relegated to flashbacks of better days -- a visually expressive interpretation of their golden age days. Not that I'm complaining! I'll take what ever I can get!

Through the course of the trailer we also get pretty clear glimpses of pseudo-Superman Clark Kent; Smallville regular, Green Arrow; the Golden Age Green Lantern's ring; and memorabilia from the JSA Brownstone, which includes a classic painted groupshot featuring; Star-Spangled Kid, Atom, The Spectre, Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Hourman, Mr. Terrific, and others. If you don't know who all of these characters are, then you'll have to take my word for this being a very cool detail.

Of particular personal note is the trailer spotlight on The Sandman.

Chances are you're more familiar with the Marvel villain of the same name who featured in the third Spider-man film, and a handful of recent related video games. Though more obscure, the Golden Age DC Sandman predates his grainy counterpart by almost thirty years, having officially debuted mere months after Batman, in the pages of the July 1939 issue of Adventure Comics.

Much like early Batman; The Sandman owed his origins much less to the superhero phenomenon being established by The Phantom and Superman, steeped moreso in the tradition of adventure and detective mysteries found in pulp magazines like those that starred The Shadow, or The Spider.

Sandman's early adventures dealt with an array of detective exploits that brought him into conflict with murderers and felons, whose fates were sealed through Wesley Dodds' sleuthing, sneaking, and clandestine operations, sponsored in part by his special sleeping gas administered through a gun. It was for this reason he donned the eerie visage of the gas mask that has become iconic to the character. It's interesting to see the unique early design of the character faithfully recaptured in the Smallville trailer, featuring the trademark face mask, rather than a more conventional WWI gasmask design found in stories like those told in the nineties adult reimagining, Sandman Mystery Theatre.

Despite the strength of his early pulp-inspired aesthetic; The Sandman actually only existed in this incarnation for a very short time. As superheroes gained momentum in the 1940s, Sandman was given a complete makeover after his first few years, retooled as a hideously indistinct yellow and purple caped crusader. The character borrowed further from the popular conventions of superheroes of the time, gaining a young sidekick, inspired by the likes of Robin and Bucky, called Sandy.

While many of the World War II heroes were granted sustained age in the comics, the Wesley Dodds Sandman was killed off earlier in the 2000s. Continuing a theme of legacy that has spiralled out of the influence of the Golden Age characters, Dodds' sidekick, Sandy, eventually replaced him as The Sandman. It's entirely plausible that the Sandy version of Sandman will be the character featured in Smallville, alongside other legacy characters (like Stargirl), but for the sake of my own fandom, let the Wesley Dodds original be our Hero of the Week!

For the best source of Sandman adventures, I would strongly recommend the first volume of the Golden Age Sandman DC Archive Edition, and the collected editions of the modern Vertigo retelling of the Sandman's early career, Sandman Mystery Theater. The character has also made a cameo return as one of the undead Black Lanterns featured in Blackest Night. An upcoming JSA Blackest Night mini-series seems reasonably likely to take a closer look at the zombified hero.

<< Hero of the Week 11/29: Spawn       [Home]       Hero of the Week 11/15: Dr. Fate >>

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hero of the Week #24: Dr. Fate

Real Name: Kent Nelson
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #55 (May, 1940)
Group Affiliation: Black Lantern Corps, Justice Society of America (former)
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #122

If you've had your ear to the ground, you'll know all about the announcement that superstar comics writer, Geoff Johns (Blackest Night; Green Lantern; Flash: Rebirth), will be writing a special guest-appearance on TV's Smallville by the Justice Society of America! Not only that, the two-parter has since been upgraded to a full fledged movie-length special, suggesting more than a passing cameo by Hawkman, Stargirl, and our Hero of the Week, Dr. Fate!

Johns is no stranger to these characters!
It was in the pages of JSA -- alongside fellow Hollywood alumnist, David Goyer -- that he first established his reputation and knack for indulging historically rooted characters, and bringing out the best in them for the modern age. Johns returned to the team for one last run in 2007, but has continued to maintain their presence as elder statesmen in the DCU through many of his projects, including his current event-titles; Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth.

While you're almost certainly familiar with aspects of the writer's work, there's also been ample opportunity to get to know the good Doctor, as well!

Despite being one of the great heroes of the Golden Age of comics (1940s) -- Dr. Fate's mystic presence has spanned the decades, reaching as far as the most recent present! The helmeted agent of order has registered modern appearances you might have seen in animated episodes of; Superman, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and most recently, Batman: Brave and the Bold. The original Dr. Fate even holds the distinction of being one of the few characters to gain membership with both the Justice League and the Justice Society!

The introduction of the JSA as battle weary predecessors to Tom Welling's Superman and the other heroes of Smallville should be a very interesting experiment in exposing the uninitiated to the concept of legacy in DC comics.
Whilst the nineties animated versions of characters walked closer to their comic book counterparts than was previously customary, there is a still significant divide between the interpretations of the much-loved Bruce Timm attributed cartoons, and the material that inspired them. The gap between source material and the mainstream, however, appears to be ever closing as cartoons like Batman: Brave and the Bold, and movies like Iron Man, introduce design and concept tropes taken specifically from various eras of comics. The Brave and the Bold series, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for borrowing heavily from less popular eras in comics, such as Batman's adventures of the fifties and sixties.

Modern comic book superheroes as we know them owe much of their origins to the pulps of the twenties and thirties. The era of characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow overlapped with early appearances of the first comic book heroes, seemlessly bleeding in to the dawn of Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Superman, Sandman, and Batman. The influence of the thirties and forties, and those periods that followed, continues to be a great source of inspiration and homage to modern comic books, even if the value of this history is sometimes mischaracterized and misinterpreted in the internet age. This reverence for the past and indulgence in it's ideas has been key to DC's recent turnaround that has included a rare domination of the top ten selling comics and the reexpansion of brands like Green Lantern and the Flash.

It's interesting to see how perceptions have been, in part, shaped by the presence of these characters in other entertainment mediums. Spider-man made perhaps the most significant transition in the modern age, establishing himself as a multimedia icon early through his animated adventures in the sixties. Rarely has a year gone by since that the character hasn't found his way into television programming, spawning multiple TV series, video games, and some of the biggest grossing cinematic blockbusters the world has known. This presence in the pop culture zeitgeist has arguably been invaluable to maintaining the illusion that Spider-man is a less complicated or storied character, fostered through a sense of familiarity and regularly constructed 'do-overs.'
The fruits of DC's crossmedia labours appear to be baring similar results, with the nineties Timm cartoons gaining cult-like status amongst a fiercely dedicated fanbase.

It will be very interesting to see how perceptions change after Dr. Fate and the JSA get their time to shine in Smallville, and next year, join the ranks of the Massively Multi-player Online extravaganza, DC Universe Online! Video games have long been an oversight for the DC icons, but they'll be out in force when players get the chance to literally jump into the DC Universe and experience face-to-face encounters with the likes of Superman, Batman, and even Dr. Fate, too!

The original Dr. Fate died a few years back in the comics (of mystically reverted old age), but you'll find his resurrected undead corpse waging war on the living in the pages of Blackest Night!
You can also find the newest wearer of the helmet of nabu (Kent V. Nelson) in the pages of Justice Society of America, who probably won't have to wait long to face-off against his predecessor in a Blackest Night mini-series. All of this makes him a pretty good choice for HOTW!

Just in case you're interested -- check out some of the previous HOTWs to come directly from the Golden Age: Batman (1940); Captain America (1941); Superman (1938); Hawkman (1940); Aquaman (1941); Joker (1940); Scarecrow (1941); Green Arrow (1941); Solomon Grundy (1944).

<< Hero of the Week 11/22: Sandman       [Home]       Hero of the Week 11/08: Magneto >>

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hero of the Week #23: Magneto

MAGNETO (Marvel)
Real Name: Max "Erik" Eisenhardt
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September, 1963)
Group Affiliation: The Brotherhood (former)
Gaming Credentials: Uncanny X-Men (1989); X-Men: Madness in Murderworld (1989); Wolverine (1991); X-Men (1992); X-Men (1993); X-Men 2: Clone Wars (1995); X-Men: Children of the Atom (1995); Marvel Super Heroes (1995); Marvel vs Capcom (1998); X-Men: Mutant Academy (2000); Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000); X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 (2001); X-Men: Next Dimension (2002); X2: Wolverine's Revenge (2003); X-Men Legends (2004); X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005); Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (2005); X-Men: The Official Game (2006); Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #774

It was just last month that Magneto made his triumphant return to the ranks of a once Decimated mutant populi in the pages of Marvel's Uncanny X-Men [#516]. It was in an act of curious symmetry, Magneto suffered a similar fate to his film counterpart [X-Men: The Last Stand] when the Scarlet Witch, a mutant herself and Magneto's estranged daughter, uttered a simple incantation -- 'No More Mutants!'

Thus, in one simple act, homosuperior were reduced from millions to less than two hundred, stripped of their powers and restored to humanity! In Uncanny #516; Mags returned to reveal his powers had been restored via a one-time deal with the High Evolutionary, and now he's returning to full strength in video game DLC near you in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2!

Magneto rounds out a pack of characters that also includes; Juggernaut, Carnage, Psylocke, Cable, and Black Panther!

Curiously enough, this makes the second time PS3 and 360 users have been able to download the Master of Magnetism, having had the opportunity to add DLC to the previous Ultimate Alliance. It's arguably a testament not only to the strength of the villain-cum-hero-cum-villain, but the enduring X-brand that's earned it's fair share of spite from the comics reading audience.

I don't doubt you'll find a strong argument from many enthusiastic fans, but for the most part, the X-Men have been reduced to irrelevance over the course of the decade. It started strong with the influence of famed writer, Grant Morrison, who along with collaborator Frank Quitely, set about completely reinventing Marvel's merry mutants for the new millenium. It was, I believe, an incredibly successful project, steeped in the same kind of referencial indulgence of Morrison's recent DC work, with a healthy dose of unique twists and compromise with the then-strong film franchise.

Through the course of Morrison's run with the "New X-Men" he created a spiral of plottwists that included the reveal of an alternate identity for the thought-dead Magneto -- Xorn. Xorn subsequently became the posterchild for the convoluted dissassembly of Morrison's work that unfolded following the Scot's departure, resulting in years of regression that have returned the X-Men to a very unflattering creative position. Through the constant reshuffling, Marvel have reverted the brand to an insular continuity desperate to recapture the heydey of the eighties and early nineties, with absolutely none of the panache.

Through cartoons, film, and video games, the X-Men brand has created a very interesting cult audience for interpretations that deviate somewhat from the origins of the comics. X-Men Legends and the Ultimate Alliance sister series draw their inspirations from a unique combination of influences, both the films and animation, as well as traditional X-Men 'lore' and the Ultimate reinterpretation popular in the early 2000's.
This confluence of ideas hasn't necessarily created anything resembling a definitive interpretation of the X-Men, but it's another fascinating example of how alternate mediums are able to foster a completely different view of very similar properties [ie; Carnage].

Ever present in all of these crossmedia interpretations is Magneto, easily the greatest arch-nemesis of the X-Men, despite often falling somewhere into the company of anti-heroes. It's fair to say the X-Men have a great cast of villains beyond the Master of Magnetism, but you need only look at the above listed gaming credentials to recognise the importance of the villain. He's a very curious inclusion for the MUA2 DLC pack, but sure to be a popular inclusion amongst fans.

For more Magneto you can find Uncanny X-Men available monthly from Marvel Comics [even if you might be better served sitting it out], and, of course, check out DLC channels to get a hold of the first exciting pack of heroes and villains for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2!

<< Hero of the Week 11/15: Dr. Fate       [Home]       Hero of the Week 11/01: Solomon Grundy >>

Originally posted:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hero of the Week #22: Solomon Grundy

Real Name: Cyrus Gold
First Appearance: All-American Comics #61 (October, 1944)
Group Affiliation: Black Lantern Corps
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #327

Y'know, in the course of the past twenty-plus weeks, I've really begun to appreciate how absent the DC Universe has been in video games. Between Batman and Superman they certainly have the number of games to rival the competition, but it's a pretty narrow view of things. Perhaps that's part of the reasoning behind the upcoming release of DC Universe Online -- the long coming MMO representative of the entire DC universe of comics.

Solomon Grundy might be the type of character you'd go straight to when thinking about the heroes and villains who've never made the transition to video games, but after fifty-five years as a regular bruiser for some of the most prominent characters (and some not so), you'd kinda figure he might factor in somewhere into the production of a video game. I mean, when it comes to villains who take a poundin' but keep on reboundin', Grundy's right up there with zombies and Eggman!

Rising from Slaughter Swamp, Solomon Grundy began his career bedevilling the Golden Age Green Lantern, whose vulnerability to wood was exploited by a monster made of the bark and marsh of the swamp. Since then, Grundy has become a sparring partner for the A-list of DC comics, regulary clashing with the Justice League, Justice Society, Batman, Superman, and the modern Green Lantern.

The origins of the villain were even recently explored in a seven-issue mini-series where Cyrus Gold - the man cursed to die and rise again as Solomon Grundy after his murder in the 1890s - raced the calendar to escape his curse. The story also featured the likes of Poison Ivy, Bizarro, and The Demon, Etrigan! After battling for seven days toward the truth, Cyrus Gold appeared free from his curse, only to rise the next Monday courtesy of a Black Lantern powerring! The saga continues in upcoming Blackest Night issues of Superman/Batman!

Solomon Grundy is also among the confirmed heroes and villains featuring in the superhero MMO, DC Universe Online. He'll no doubt be ready to bruise with your playable character as you navigate the ranks of heroism (and villainy) in the game. Grundy is also our Halloween Hero of the Week!

<< Hero of the Week 11/08: Magneto       [Home]       Hero of the Week 10/23: Carnage >>

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