The Lost Art of Prose in Comics

I have been steadily working my way through some newer Marvel comics. Yes, I’ve actually broken down and purchased honest-to-Galactus comic books. Marvel Now! has sucked me in. I enjoy most of them and will continue to purchase these fine titles from fine writers.

imagesCACYZPXV

However, I’m also reading two other comics: the Hellblazer trades and the Brian Michael Bendis / Alex Maleev run on Daredevil (via Marvel Unlimited – note, the Bendis/Maleev combination on Daredevil is, in my humble opinion, the greatest combination of character, writer, and artist that could possibly exist).

In any event, a thing occured to me while I was reading these three varieties of books. What happened to comic book writing? Yeah, I know comic book writing is great right now. I couldn’t agree with that more. However, in thirty minutes I read Avengers #1, Indestructible Hulk #1, Superior Spider-Man #3, Uncanny X-Men #1, and Wolverine and the X-Men #25, #26, and #27. In thirty minutes, I read Daredevil (Bendis/Maleev) #26 and #27. And in thirty minutes, I read only one issue of Hellblazer in the nine issue trade I have. Why? Why could I read seven comic books in 30 minutes, two digital comics in 30 minutes, and one issue of one trade in 30 minutes?

The answer is that there was a hell of a lot more to read in one issue of Hellblazer than in seven issues of Marvel Now! I’m talking words to read people.

So what happened? Has comic book art taken over for comic book writing? When I was a kid, I chose comics based upon two things (in order): characters and art. Now that I’m an adult (sort of, I still read comics), I choose comics based upon two things (in order): stories and characters. The Hellblazer comics, originally released when I was a kid, would never have interested me because the art is okay and the character didn’t fit in to the DC universe. But man are there a lot of words in that comic.

So does anyone know what happened? Has art taken over for prose in comics?

Advertisements

One Dog’s Opinion: The Future of Digital Comics

A few years ago I heard something great: Marvel Comics was putting some of their old comics on the internet for me to read. No, this wasn’t a BitTorrent type of thing; this was Marvel Comics (registered trademark, copyrights, the whole nine yards®). When I tried it out, my first reaction was awe. I could read over 2,500 past Marvel titles for a measly $4.99/month! Are you kidding me? I started out by reading all the Age of Apocalypse comics, then slowly worked my way through classic runs like Peter David’s “Incredible Hulk” and Frank Miller’s “Daredevil.” This actually led me to stop buying analog Marvel comics (because I no longer had the time or resources) and solely read comics online. Marvel does a great job of posting modern comics only a year or so after the comics initially debut in collected trades. So I was able to read Civil War, Secret Invasion and World War Hulk a little later than most but at a fraction of the price. It’s almost like a DV-R for comics.

Of course, it’s not the perfect solution. For the sake of completeness, here are some of the pros and cons of Marvel Digital Comics:

Pros:

(1) The ability to catch up with older stories without having to track down & buy the issues.
(2) Can’t emphasize this enough: it’s cheap ($4.99 a month; $30+ a year).
(3) The user interface is tremendous.
(4) Variety: There are now over 10,000 issues to read.

Cons:

(1) Immediacy: You do have to wait (sometimes a year or more)for new story lines and issues
(2) Some buggy issues (though these seem to have been cleared up recently)
(3) Cannot read with the iPad (ed.note: This is my LARGEST issue with Marvel Digital Comics)
(4) Not enough issues I care about

After perusing a few thousand issues over the past two years, I went to look for DC’s offering in the digital comics space. I definitely wasn’t pleased with what I found. DC was selling new issues digitally. There did not seem to be any back issues (I was looking for Detective Comics; I had planned on reading all 500 or so in a month… I was sorely disappointed). Additionally, I recently found that other comics are available via an app on your iPad called comiXology that offered same-day-as-print issues from a variety of publishers in addition to Marvel and DC like Dark Horse, Image, Valiant etc.

So, it seems that most comic book publishers are only selling new comics digitally, with Marvel being the only one the only one allowing their older comics to be read digitally. What does this mean? Will  digital comics replace floppies? Does it mean that Marvel will move away from Digital Comics Unlimited? Will DC have a DC Comics Unlimited? What do Dark Horse, Image, Boom etc fit in??

I’ve read a number (two) of articles on the future of digital comics and I just do not believe that digital will ever take the place of paper comics. I still get Batman monthly, though I get it analog because I don’t want to pay for a digital copy. It’s a shame that DC doesn’t offer readers with an unlimited digital options; I’d gladly wait a year to read something if it mean I could fall down an unlimited comics rabbit hole for a few hours every so often.

So, if I had my druthers, I would propose that the major comic publishers get together and do what Marvel has already done: a year or two after the initial publication of the comic (and associated trade), the comic is available on a digital site for people to read for a monthly fee. This could be the future of comics! For those that still want the books the day they hit the stands, go buy the book from their local comic shop! But for the comic book fans who can’t drop $45 a week on books and don’t even have the time to read them if we did, a catch-all subscription program would be a Beyonder-send.

Why isn’t this happening now? I believe publishers think that they can get more loot from publishing comics by paper than they can get from digitally providing them. Not everyone has a computer or the ability to get access to digital comics. Some people (yours truly) will not buy paper books and will wait until the digital comic is released (thereby depriving the publisher of revenue) (ed. note: Cruel).

So perhaps the future of comics that I would prefer will not come to pass.  I understand the comic book publisher is in the business of making money (not pleasing thegreekdog), so I’m not going to gripe too much. But DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc should know that I’m not reading their books, I’m reading Marvel books. My allowance of comic book funds goes to Marvel Digital Comics and classic trade paperbacks. It doesn’t go to monthly paper comics or digitally downloaded monthly comics. Some would label me a philistine. But I’m hardly that. I’m old school. I’m not on Twitter (ed.note: But I am! Follow me @imperviousrex!!). I don’t use Facebook (ed. note: We are! Follow us at facebook.com/modernborefare). I want good stories and will seek out the best, most efficient way to get them.  I could never buy 200, much less 10,000 comic books but in a way,  Marvel Digital Comics allows me to do that for a low monthly fee & opens up the vaults to let me read those stories that I would otherwise not read. SO in my mind, I think that means they win the comic book publisher battle.

Note: In a turn of high hypocrisy, I refuse to read digital novels.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (in a Game)

I read voraciously.  I only read fiction.  Suffice to say,  I’m interested in a good story.  I enjoy compelling characters, a grandiose plot, a great ending.  That “interested in a good story” characteristic appears to have manifested itself in the types of games that I like.

Sure, I like Madden, I play Madden; real time strategy games too.  But if we’re talking RPGs or first person shooters, if the story isn’ there I’ll eventually stop playing (no matter how good it is otherwise).  Example: SykrimSkyrim is really, truly awesome.  But I stopped playing it.  The game became rather boring after the third guild that I joined simply because it didn’t seem to advance the story.  I know that’s the guild system is one of the high points of the game and it’s partially my fault for getting into it more, but it still turned me off.

This isn’t the set up to your average “Things I Love & Things I Hate About Video Games” post; no, this is to establish that I think the “interested in a good story” characteristic is determinative of possibly my favorite console game of all time: Red Dead Redemption.

Image

I was initially skeptical of Red Dead Redemption.  I like Rockstar games, but don’t love them.  Same with Westerns.  Also, I don’t particularly care to invest money in games unless I’m convinced they’ll be good.  But since my brother told me to pick up the game (he has similar interests in good stories), I figured why not and guess what?  I was immediately hooked.  After turning on the console and starting the game, suddenly I was presented with  something I had never seen before.  It looked like we were getting a real story: the boat, the people hustling; the town… hell the main character wasn’t a prettied-up jackass or macho non-thinker.  He looked like he had a back story and it was a good one. He had a history, things had happened.

I won’t go through all the details of the story.  You can find that on Wikipedia or Youtube or by (please!) playing the game.  Spoiler alerts notwithstanding, the actions you took in the game had a purpose: to advance the story.  Almost everything you did in-game accomplished this. You had a former criminal who had already reinvented himself as a loving husband and father; forced by the government to bring his fellow criminals to justice with the endgame of being able to live out the rest of his life in peace, unharrassed.  Yes, the graphics were excellent.  Yes, the voice acting was tremendous.  Yes, the game play was simple yet effective and fun.  But I keep coming back to the real strength of the entire experience: the story. Even outside of the main storyline, the characters and their dialogue were incredible. I loved Nigel West Dickens.  Irish was a favorite.  Edgar Ross was sufficiently sleazy.  They were caricatures of Western icons, but they were effective and entertaining. In the context of the story, they were real and they were important.

But then we get to the ending (real spoiler alert here).  This is the first time in my long history of gaming when real, sentimental, big-boy tears welled up.  I was sad.  I reloaded to see if I could do something different.  When I couldn’t, I became angry.  I went online and tried to figure out what I could do.  I couldn’t do anything;  I couldn’t save him.  The story of the greatest character I ever played in a game abruptly ended with one of the biggest shocks I’d ever experienced.  I played the last few scenes, enjoyed the “coming-full-circle” element of them and turned off the XBox 360.   I felt fulfilled and a little upset with the result.

I finished the game in November 2010 and I haven’t played it since then.  But I remember the story well.  It occupies a place in my thoughts like a favorite novel.  Whomever wrote the script (Dan Houser, Michael Unsworth, and Christian Cantamessa) should be awarded an Academy Award for best writing in a drama.  I searched for more western video games, hoping to rekindle some semblance of the same experience I had with Red Dead Redemption.  I couldn’t find one within sniffing distance.

If you haven’t played Red Dead Redemption, shame on you.  That’s an issue you need to rectify.  If you have, do what I’m going to do.  Go back and play it again (or wait until RDR 2 comes out – I’ve read things);  I’m firing up the 360 as we speak.  I’m heading back to enjoy the Old West atmosphere.  And dammit, when I’m trapped in that barn while my wife and son are running for their lives, I’m going to throw open the door and blast as many of those government bastards as possible straight to hell.

Continue reading

Modern Borefare: What We’re Currently Playing

Impervious Rex:  Console-wise, I just got promoted from Homicide to Vice in L.A. Noire; I hope I’m almost done with the game as Sleeping Dogs is giving me the stink eye.  L.A. Noire probably cemented Rockstar as my favorite game developer; look at the murderer’s row of games they’ve dropped in the past few years: Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3. All interesting takes on established genres, all completely compelling (until they aren’t). On my phone, I’m currently cementing myself as the #1 player in the world (for real) at Fairway Solitaire. Check the leaderboards! On my iPad, I’ve gone back to Infinity Blade II, though I’m a tad ashamed to say that I’ve also stared playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Then on Facebook I’ve been completely consumed with Avengers Alliance, which is basically Farmville for comic book degenerates.

thegreekdog: In my spare time, of which there is little, apart from reading, I’ve been playing two games. On my X-Box, I’ve been playing MLB 2K12 while on the elliptical machine (it is both a talent and a curse – I can play video games on the elliptical, but I can’t work out on the elliptical without playing video games). I’ve decided to play the career version of MLB2K12 which involves creating a player and taking him through the minor leagues with various goal. Nick Siamidis had quite a year last season, hitting .330 with 3 homers and 40+ RBIs in two months with the Reading Phillies. He also played a slick third base. Siamidis was invited to spring training in his second season, but after hitting below the Mendoza-line during spring training he was sent back to the AA affiliate (Reading). Mashing the ball at Reading, Siamidis was recently called up to AAA Scranton Iron Pigs. Siamidis is hitting almost .400 with a homer and 20 RBIs in less than a month, so he’s looking for a call up to the big club soon. The game is good to an extent. I’m a little frustrated that I’m hitting .400 with a 79 rating (the current Phillies third baseman is a 72) because I haven’t met the goal of hitting 6 homers or having 6 sacrifice bunts. Anyway…

I’m also playing Star Wars Empire at War which is a mix of grand strategy and RTS. I’m not sure what I can say about this game other than if you like Star Wars and have a passing interest in strategy games, this one is for you.

vicious pjurahead: Hey, ViciousPJurahead here, there & everywhere. I’m playing Max Payne 3 and based on the trophies and the way story is progressing I think  I’m in the final 3rd of the game. I have also just downloaded Ticket to Ride for iOS which I play at night before bed when I get lonely. Following Max Payne 3 I will move onto the seedy underbelly known as Sleeping Dogs.

adam: What am I playing right now? I’m at the beach where it’s been raining for two days straight so I’m playing a drinking game at 10:30 in the morning. When I return to civilization I’ll continue plodding through Crysis 2, which is much better than it’s given credit for. I do a lot of iOS gaming. Dead Space on the iPhone is totally serviceable and Autumn Dynasty for iPad is insanely good (if a little simplistic). That machine was built for RTS. Please port Age of Empires to the iPad, leave some food outside my door and GO AWAY.

Video Games Genre Improvements You Want to See Made…

Choose...or perish!

I often wonder whether video game makers (if we can call them that at this point) have anything other than the bottom line in mind when they’re busy churning out the next Grand Theft Auto XI / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare VI / Civilization XIV? Are they considering the gaming public at all? For what it’s worth, I think the answer is a qualified “yes” but If I had the ear of a developer working in one of the following genres, here’s what I’d ask them for:

(1) Role Playing: As I mentioned earlier, I hate MMORPGS; I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. That being said, I LOVE RPGs generally. Favorites include Baldur’s Gate and its sequels, Skyrim of course, and Knights Of The Old Republic (KOTOR!!!). What I really want to see, however, is an open-world RPG, similar to Skyrim, in the Star Wars universe. Now you may say, “But thegreekdog! We have The Old Republic now!” To that I reply, simply, “See above.” Make a free-world Star Wars single player RPG and watch the money flow in. Hell, keep adding DLC and watch the money keep flowing in. Do this now!

(2) Strategy / War Game: Yes, I play strategy games. I’ll play any strategy game that involves something slightly more engrossing than a real-time strategy game. You can have an RTS element, so long as you have the non-RTS element as well (see, e.g. Star Wars: Empire at War which is about as perfect a game as you can get). Hearts of Iron? Great. Civilization? Fantabulous. Medieval: Total War 2? Outstanding (download the Stainless Steel mod and be even happier). The publishers of Total War recently made some 17th and 18th century-type games with grand armies shooting muskets. Okay, the next logical step has to be Civil War: Total War. This is another game that needs to happen… and soon.

(3) Sports: I’m a pretty fanatical sports game player, especially when it comes to two franchises: Madden and MLB2K#. Most people do not like MLB2K#,  mostly because of the gameplay and graphics. Guess what? Graphics never really interested me, so that’s a non-issue. As long as the guys do what they’re supposed to do, I don’t care if Johnny Damon has a beard or not (ed. note: Isn’t that the source of his power?). For those that complain that the gameplay interface is difficult? Well, yeah, it is. But it isn’t broken. Madden, while complex, is enjoyable for me as well. I mostly enjoy the franchise modes in both those games. All that being said, Madden needs competition. MLB2K# has MLB: The Show to compete with (albeit on a different platform). Madden has no competition since the NFL gave EA the sole license to print games. Since then, I’m think that EA’s gotten lazy and not really made any improvements to the franchise.The answer? Madden needs competition!  And competition will breed improvement in Madden (says thegreekdog, Libertarian). For Madden to evolve, we need a competing NFL-licensed football game for all platforms.

(4) First Person Shooter: I generally don’t play shooters, simply because I don’t have the twitchiness for them. I’ve played Star Wars FPS’, I’ve played Halo and others of their ilk. And last year I purchased a Call of Duty box set (starting with II through Modern Warfare II). It was a great investment and I thoroughly enjoyed them. That being said, I think we really need Call of Duty: World War II again. Bring it back. Update the graphics (This is where I  care about graphics). Put us in Africa. Hell, let us fight every major World War II battle.

I sincerely hope some intrepid game designer is reading this and takes these words to heart. Add what improvements in which genres you’re looking in the comments below.

High Falutin’ Fantasy

(New contributor thegreekdog has arrived; your reading list is squarely in his sights.)

There is some cross-genre pollination as between video gamers, comic readers, and fantasy readers. If you’re knowledgeable about arrow-studded ACLs preventing one from fighting dragons, you’re also likely knowledgeable about the newest Batman retcon, and you’re also angrily awaiting George R.R. Martin’s next book (the dude has to write faster, if only because the HBO show is going to catch up with him). In any event, I spend much of my time reading fantasy and science fiction. I skip around a lot. I may be reading a book published in 2011 (see below) or I may be reading a book published in 1959 (yes, yes, I’m a Philistine for not reading Starship Troopers until now).

In any event, I like classifications for my fantasy reading pleasure. There’s kid fantasy (David Eddings), there’s classic fantasy (LOTR), and there’s realistic fantasy (GRRM or GoT or whatever acronym we’re associating with the overrated series written by a walrus). There’s also realistic and high-falutin’ fantasy. And that brings me to Steven Erikson.

Steven Erikson (a Canadian, but we won’t hold that against him) has written one of the most epic fantasy series I’ve ever read: Malazan Book of the Fallen. If you want more biography, history, etc., hit up Wikipedia.

Erikson writes fantasy novels that are ultra-realstic in the vein of GRRM. People die. People die a lot. People that you care about. That’s surely not the only “realistic” part of realistic fantasy, but that’s the part that gets people like me to keep reading. And Erikson delivers that.

Erikson also delivers to the thinking man a version of philosophy that’s hard to resist (if you’re a thinking man… or woman). Once you get through the first book, which is as ponderous as LOTR and quite hard to follow, you’ll be treated to a treasure trove of great stories and grand philosophical ideas. There’s the mortals turned gods; there’s the philosopher king and his godly assistant; there’s a sergeant that plays the fiddle; there’s a guy that eats too much; and, of course there are dragons. There are discussions of the meaning of life, why people go to war and fight, what it means to sacrifice, and what is love. It’s a funny and intelligent series. It completely took over my personal life for the last six months. And, at the risk of killing your ability to do anything other than read ponderous fantasy, I highly recommend the series.

And, to complete matters, I literally cried real, big boy tears for the entire last two chapters of the last book.

So, start with Gardens of the Moon (published in 1999) and read through The Crippled God (published in 2011). Thank me later.