Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #4: Black Panther

Real Name: T'Challa
First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52 (July, 1966)
Group Affiliation: Wakanda, Fantastic Four (former)
Gaming Credentials: Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #121

Last week, BigMex posted an enlightning post regarding Marvel's "new" animated series, Black Panther.
Adapted from the opening arc of Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr's 2005 revamp of the comic; the cartoon was actually previewed quite some time ago [at the July 2008 San Diego Comicon], and I have to admit, I'd all but forgotten about it! So nice work, BigMex!

The six episode animated series finally debuted in Australia (of all places), on the free-to-air digital children's station, ABC3. A joint production between Marvel Animation and Black Entertainment Television (BET); the series is an almost literal translation of Hudlin and Romita Jr's work on the comics, animated in a style reminiscent of recently popularized motion comics, which add limited animation to existing comic book art.

For those of us unwilling to accept the transition of internet flash animations to broadcast television, the stilted movements of comic book cut-outs ican be a little jarring on screen. With an open mind and a little adjustment time, the end result is actually surprisingly satisfying!

With twice Academy Award nominated actor, Djimon Hounsou, lending his Benin accent to the title role of Black Panther aka; T'Challa, there are fanboy fantasies to be fulfilled, following a long line of rumors that the actor might replace previously touted Wesley Snipes, in a live-action version.
A fact that speaks somewhat to the attempts to enfuse the comic with a greater sense of ethnic authenticity than is typical of this type of project.

John Romita Jr's artwork gains a new context from the manner in which everything is animated, and the voices that come out of each blocky, liney face. The entire project shifts away from familiar superheroics ala; Spider-man or any of Romita's other popular projects, and exudes a more exotic quality. My limited references look toward an almost retro European tone and rhythm to the show, with maybe a little hop hop fusion in the background, and interesting shadowy emphasis on a Black Panther, who is as uncompromising as he is successful.

It's interesting to think of the series as a possible introduction to the character, for a good many.
Despite being a regularly associated ally of the Fantastic Four, briefly joining their number, and having served extensively with the Avengers; Black Panther remains one of the more obscure second tier heroes, minimalized partially, perhaps, because of his specific demographic. It's something that tends to happen a lot in American comics, which, as a silver lining, makes the animated series all the more intriguing and fresh.

These days the vogue for animated series seems to be more faithfully inspired by the comics themselves, boasting a lot of once unlikely guest stars. Black Panther can't quite compete with the likes of Batman: Brave and the Bold or even Super Hero Squad, but is noteworthy to the Marvel fan for the inclusion of characters like Ulysses Klaw, Black Knight, a Radioactive Man, and Batroc the Leaper, new models of Deathlok (who are suitably spooky), and Storm -- the African X-Woman who went on to marry Black Panther in later issues of the comic series.

As a six episode animated series, it's utterly fascinating. A remarkable trinket if it ever makes it to DVD, perhaps to be the only of it's kind as Marvel explores their new relationship with Disney. As a representation of the character, it's not surprising that it's a fanboy's delight -- it's literally the first six issues of the 2005 series! Well worth a look for anyone, particularly if you wondered who the character was during his appearance as a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- itself a curiosity, likely sponsored by Marvel's push for the Storm/Black Panther Wakandan union!

Best of all, it's got as many smarts as it does muscles.
Though still relatively uncomplicated, Black Panther jostles as much with his role as a national leader (in fictional Wakanda), as he does with his nemesis, Klaw. There's a relationship with the US, neighbouring nations, on the Panther's mind, as well as flying around on hi-tech bikes and kicking guys in the face!

<< Hero of the Week 02/07: Green Lantern       [Home]       Hero of the Week 01/24: Flash >>

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #3: The Flash

FLASH (DC) (2009)
Real Name: Barry Allen
First Appearance: Showcase #4 (October, 1956)
Group Affiliation: New Guardians, Justice League, Flash Family
Gaming Credentials: The Flash (1991); The Flash (1993); Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe (2008); DC Universe Online (TBR/2010)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #15

RebelFM: Podcast spin-off featuring 1up alumnists discussing various things 'video game.'
What they're rebelling against, I do not know, but in the most recent episode (01/20), I do know they gave pause to consider some of the popular concessions granted to developing MMOs when they're released. This was a specific reference to Star Trek Online and it's underdeveloped options, but as the talk went broader, there was a notable absence from their discussion!

During the week, DC announced that they'll be publishing a weekly comic series to conincide with the long anticipated launch of their DC Universe Massively Multiplayer Online game. In essence, the game will take on the role of an interactive parallel universe in the DC multiverse stable, allowing players to interact with versions of the iconic DC Universe stable, while also potentially contributing to the recorded canon reflected by the comic series.

It's the stable of resources and potential vision for the game exhibited by DC/Sony that has really made this, I think, the MMO to watch. DC Universe Online promises a lot of different things for a lot of different types of gamers. There's the inevitable cross promotion aspect, where DC will no doubt use the strength of their characters and storytelling to hopefully recruit new readers to both the MMO inspired comic series, and their other monthly published titles. There's also the simple aspect of presenting an MMO game that finally breaks away from the tropes established through RPGs and World of Warcraft.

For all intents and purposes, DC Universe Online looks set to meet gamers on conventional console gaming terms. Players will develop a character, lead them toward a path of good or evil, and interact with the world and their enemies through gameplay mechanics more reminiscent of adventure games than the stat-centric decision making established by WoW, and often imitated by others.

One would expect typical MMO grinding to be replaced, in part, by the use of the massive stable of NPC "hero characters" ready to appear in the game. Storytelling has been lacking in a lot of MMOs, but with DC, the promise of established heroes moving around the world should place greater emphasis on conceptually driven motivations to deepen your lust for power in the DCUO world.

Excessive Force: Players in DC Universe Online will have the potential opportunity to run with the Flash!

The Flash is already confirmed to be among the growing list of heroes and villains who will transition into the world of the game, and why wouldn't he be?
This time in last year's HOTW rotation we were talking about the return of the famous Silver Age hero in the pages of Flash: Rebirth. Since then, all reservations about the resurrection of the famously killed-off hero have dissipated as the Barry Allen Flash has been fully reinstated as the premiere speedster of the DCU. Rebirth reestablished his roots in the world, while the blockbuster success of Blackest Night has shown the Flash and his inspirational powers of hope to be one of the greatest powers, beyond even the supposed headlining hero, Green Lantern.

What does all this mean?...
In 1985 DC launched a landmark twelve-issue maxi-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The intention of the story was to not only tell a spanning cosmic epic, but also streamline DC's various properties, who, through the course of acquisitons and fifty years of publishing, had been divided into brand-centric parallel universes. With the introduction of the villain called Anti-Monitor, DC had their means to create an in-fiction justifiying factor for the unification of their stable of characters and brands into a single, fluid, interacting universe.

As publishers are wont to do, DC wanted to add another layer, namely the death of the Flash.
In comics history, his tale was one of self-sacrifice, as he used his powers of superhuman speed to destroy the Anti-Monitor's big energy weapon, and allow a smooth merging of key Earths. For twenty years, this was one of the most respected deaths in a brand of fiction that has often regarded death with fickle fingers. This created a considerable legend around a character who was already of great significance for kick-starting the Silver Age of comic books in the 50s, and arguably was a figure related to a similar movement that created the so-called Modern Age of comics.

The expansive time and inferrences of meaning might make it seem complicated, but it's really not. A character was involved in a lot of significant things, died, and has now returned. It could've gone horribly wrong, but it didn't. Thus, the wheel of Boëthius remains a ruling principle, this version of the Flash being a chief example of how art imitating life will create ups and downs in a repeating cycle.

In the comics, Barry Allen was succeeded as Flash by his nephew, Wally West.
That Flash was, apparently, ripe for a video game of his own and was a HOTW last year for that very fact. Fortunately, DC have a very successful history of creating co-existing legacies that can currently be seen in Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth [available soon in collected editions], which features up to four generations of Flash characters, all of whom are reasonably likely to put in time in DCUO. Hussah!

You'll also currently find Barry Allen wielding a blue ring of hope in the pages of both the central Blackest Night series, and also his own three-issue mini-series, appropriately named, Blackest Night: The Flash. Check out for more info on that.

<< Hero of the Week 01/31: Black Panther       [Home]       Hero of the Week 01/17: Hulk >>

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #2: Hulk

HULK (Marvel)
Real Name: Dr. Bruce Banner
First Appearance: Incredible Hulk #1 (May, 1962)
Group Affiliation: Avengers (former)
Gaming Credentials: Questprobe featuring The Hulk (1984); Incredible Hulk (1994); Marvel Super Heroes (1995); Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996); Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga (1997); Fantastic Four (1997); Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000); Hulk (2003); Incredible Hulk (2003)Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (2005); Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006); Incredible Hulk (2008); Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #6

In 1976 the impossible happened -- Superman met Spider-man!
Twenty years after that landmark crossover, expectations were further defied by the announcement of a DC versus Marvel crossover mini-series! Against all odds, the two comics giants would surrender control of some their most popular characters, to allow fans to vote for the outcome of battles between their heroes! Marvel won the 1996 clash as determined by popularity of the time, but the great irony of the event was that it documented some of the most amicable days shared by the two rival companies.

It's unsurprising that there would be a sense of rivalry between two companies who dominate the space of a particular medium, friendly, or not. Until recently, Marvel had spent the majority of the modern age of superhero comic books reeping the benefits of a domination of the top ten sales month to month. That came to an end, however, in October 2009, when DC captured six of the top ten comics -- a first for the company since the sixties!

Ordinarily the HOTW is inspired by something positive in cross-media adaptations, or significant comic book developments. There is something like that contributing to this week's Hero, but I'm inclined to say the Hulk isn't the only green-eyed monster motivating this week's feature.

It's impossible to deny that DC have spent the best part of 2009 in the control seat. Successful marketting of the Blackest Night, Flash: Rebirth, and Batman: Reborn events helped propell them to the top of the sales charts, while creative vision ensured there was enough substance behind it all to make them worthy of the praise.
It wasn't necessarily their best year. Honestly, I would claim that DC have been on a creative high spanning the best part of the last five years, while Marvel have been scattershot with their ideas, struggling to find diversity and the hits to balance their many creative misses.

During the week, Marvel renewed hostilities by announcing a trade scheme being offered to comics retailers that would allow them to exchange the removed covers of select DC issues for a limited edition variant cover for their event mini-series, Siege.
The DC titles targetted were tangential issues of the Blackest Night event, each of which came with promotional plastic powerrings upon release a few months ago. For retailers, the attraction of this offer would be the potential to sell the variant Siege cover for a high price, whilst sacrificing the relatively low income the back issue market now represents, on issues that might've been over ordered in accordance with the powerring promotion.

On his Twitter account, Marvel editor, Tom Brevoort, plays it innocent in a string of posts, offering an open palmed suggestion (on raised hands) that retailers send the innards of DC's issues to soldiers overseas. It smacks, however, of a hollow gesture of phony goodwill coming from a company that's inciting the destruction of competition product in favour of very, very unremarkable replacements. It could be argued that variant chase covers create a false economy, harboring the kind attitude which turned a booming multi-million dollar print industry sour in the early nineties. Brevoort sniped, presumably with a hint of knowing irony, "We're doing this because we're in the business of selling content rather than Cracker Jack prizes. And we need retailers..."

The skeevy move feels in keeping with the character Marvel have developed over the past few years as slightly juvenile, and slightly antagonistic. High prices, unremarkable releases, cheap gimmicks (as opposed to the fun and clever DC powerrings), and a string of dud storylines, have helped create an aura of negativity around the once proud House of Ideas. Fortunately, it hasn't all been bad, with some of their mistakes being smoothed over with small victories, such as the recent spike in quality of Amazing Spider-man comics, which had been shedding sales after deleting twenty years of history with their One More Day storyline.

The fight between the two major companies continues in other mediums, extending to DC's triumph in 2009 with Arkham Asylum, and the 2008 battle between Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the cinema. "Planet Hulk" marks one of Marvel's final animated gestures before their purchase by Disney instigates what will surely be a renewed effort -- one more likely to challenge the animated powerehouse of DC's feature and serialized productions.

Planet Hulk adapts the 2006 story of the same name, which saw the incredible Hulk propelled into space by a collective of heroes known as The Illuminati. Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and all of Earth, ultimately felt the full brunt of Hulk's rage as he returned to the planet with alien allies and a new penchant for strategic warfare. World War Hulk was the slightly more inclusive follow-up to Planet, and may yet be a future project to spin-out of the animated escapades of the green goliath on other worlds.

The legacy of these events continues to be felt in the comics, where life isn't getting any easier for the Hulk!

After spending the past year competing for attention with a Red Hulk, a Red She-Hulk, his son Skaar, and a slew of other characters, the entire Hulk family will now come under threat from a collective of Marvel's deadliest and most brilliant villains. Dr. Doom, MODOK, the Red Ghost, the Wizard, and more will wage war on the Hulks to end their violent lifestyles once and for all!

All of this makes Hulk a very worthy HOTW.
That, and the whole "green-eyed monster" motiff sat rather well with Marvel's latest stunt...

<< Hero of the Week 01/24: Flash       [Home]       Hero of the Week 01/08: Wonder Woman >>

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #1: Wonder Woman

Real Name: Diana
First Appearance: All-Star Comics #8 (December, 1941)
Group Affiliation: New Guardians, Amazons, Justice League
Gaming Credentials: Justice League: Task Force (1995); Justice League: Injustice for All (2002); Justice League Chronicles (2003); Justice League Heroes (2006); Justice League Heroes: The Flash (2006); Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (2008); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #13

It's not easy being Wonder Woman!

Not only does she have to contest personal nemesis, manipulative gods, and the over ambitious villains who spill over from her Justice League colleagues, but she also shoulders the burden of being a public female superhero. If you haven't thought about it before, you might not realise that that burden involves more than super sanitary products, hairspray, and double-sided tape -- there's a very important real-world countenance to being a significant female pop culture icon.

In the comics, Wonder Woman has the conflicting duality of being both a diplomat of peace, and a sword-wielding kicker of butt from the Amazon island of Themyscira. She's not just a card carrying member of the JLA, but also an icon to man and super-man alike -- a heroic figure who has adopted the United States of America as her home, and adorned herself in the red, white, and blue, of the flag.

Here in the land of non-fiction, she's regarded as one of the trinity of major popculture icons, alongside Superman and Batman, that headline DC comics. While it's a reasonable title for a character that's weathered seventy years in print, it's not necessarily an accolade that lines up with her in-fiction portrayals, or her penetration as a comic book hero.

Truth be told, it's been a good few decades since Wonder Woman has cracked the top of any sales chart. One would like to think DC comics would have the dedication to keep their character alive in the face of any adversity, but there's every likelihood that, were a contract not in place to demand monthly publication as a stipulation of DC's ownership, the heroine would've fallen out of print long ago.

These varying factors have led Wonder Woman to be an incredibly complicated character, despite the relative simplicity of her design as a beacon of truth and justice. DC have struggled to find a definitive account of the character, constantly revamping their approach in an effort to bring Wonder Woman to the level of intrigue that her status as the best known woman in comics suggests.

The release of Bayonetta has renewed discussion in the webspace about sex relations in games.
Speaking relatively, video games have actually been reasonably progressive in the acknowledgment of strong female role models. There's the unfortunate omnipresence of double-D busts that come with characters like Lara Croft or Mai Shiranui, but even those prominent curvacious figures have contributed something to the battle of sexes along with iconic female heroines like Samus Aran, Chun-Li, and Sonya Blade. Heck, by 1988's release of Super Mario Bros. 2, even Princess Peach was burning bras and smashing glass ceilings, as she went from damsel in distress, to gliding playable protagonist!

It's fair to say American superhero comics have had their fair share of femme fatales, as well.
Behind Wonder Woman is a long line of lady liberators ready to represent the fairer sex, including Catwoman, Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Powergirl, Batwoman, Storm, Jean Grey, Supergirl, Ms. MarvelHawkgirl, Witchblade, and a whole host of others, each running the gamut of personality traits, powers, and roles within their stories. Even so, for the most part, women remain a slight minority in a world where boof-headed hunks of muscle spend their time busting faces and oozing testosterone.

This first HOTW of the year was inspired by the release of DC's Blackest Night #6, which converts several of their iconic heroes into barers of Lantern powerrings that represent different aspects of the cosmic emotional spectrum. Wonder Woman numbers among these, converted into a violet-themed "Star Sapphire" for her capacity to love [pictured right].

Blackest Night has been heavily anchored by the manifestation of characters who represent these coloured rings and emotionally driven Corps. Wonder Woman -- famously referred to as an ambassador for peace -- rightly fits the bill for the violet power of love, but there's a reasonable argument to be made about her conversion which has resulted in an even more suggestive pink costume than her traditional star-spangled panties and golden bustier. An argument over whether or not this is a just depiction of a character whose responsibilities go far beyond breaking the jaws of evil doers and spreading goodwill to all of mankind.

It's the type of dialogue that consistently arises in comics, represented, but not defined by, the phenomenon of Women in Refridgerators -- a phrase coined by writer Gail Simone and her collaborators on an original site that discussed the use of women as disposable mcguffins [referring to the demise of a Green Lantern's girlfriend in the nineties].
When Fangirls Attack is a prominent hub for links to these types of discussions, and an extension of the "WiR" phenomenon, which arguably borders on sensationalist argument, but is a symptom of a realistic male dominance of the superhero super-genre.

Wonder Woman -- as a long standing popculture icon as relevant to video games as she is comics -- will always be a heavily scrutinized figure. Unfortunately, this high profile status and the jostling claims to the character have harmed her as a fictional entity, as much as it's helped. Wonder Woman may remain in the spotlight, but corporate sensitivities have frozen the character in an often bland state of mediocrity. Discussing the definitive Wonder Woman has become a nigh impossible task, with alarmist opinion often undermining any involvement of complexity the character might have in events like, Final Crisis; where she was dispatched by a mind controlled Mary Marvel, or Blackest Night; where she now shares the sexually provocative design of the Star Sapphire character(s).

This dissemination of characters and their handling by creators is something I don't think video games have really succumbed to, which, in a strange way, has allowed a more open acceptance of sexuality. Bayonetta is one example of a character that will inevitably offend, but I wonder if the conditions of video games have allowed a lighter, and consequently, better balanced analysis of what it means to be an empowered female in the modern world. The Lara Croft phenomenon of the mid-to-late nineties certainly proves that there can be more to a character than overt sexuality, and that attentions can lapse, just as easily.

Video games aren't generally regarded for their penetrating reflection of the human condition.
They certainly do, however, reflect as much as any other artform or entertainment exploit, speaking to the best and worst of our society. Video games and comic books have so many things in common, but by boosting characters like Samus and Chun-Li to the very top of the pile in their early days, it seems gaming has had an advantage over the print medium.

Wonder Woman introduces Raiden to the bloody-side of her Amazon fist!

Wonder Woman featured as one of the hard-hitting heroes in Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe in 2008, and will return to video games later this year as one of the many iconic heroes walking the world of DC Universe Online. In comics, you'll find Wonder Woman appearing prominently in DC's mega event series, Blackest Night, in her own three-issue spin-off, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, and in her solo series, Wonder Woman. Check out for more info!

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