Overwatch (Or, “Why the Game of Thrones Article is Still Not Written”)

So… Overwatch has taken over a big chunk of my life.

Basically, for the past 5 weeks, Vance has been doing his best passive aggressive J. Jonah Jameson impression in order to inspire me to write my Game of Thrones Season 6 wrap up article.  There are two reasons that I have been behind.  First and foremost, this season of Game of Thrones was extremely involved, and I have had a hard time adequately writing about its intricacies.  Second, Overwatch has started competitive play and that has been loads of fun.

For the uninitiated, Overwatch is a 6vs6 multiplayer videogame that is a hero-based first person shooter.  But the focus is overwhelmingly on the “hero-based” part of the description, as opposed to the “first person shooter” part.  Overwatch features (as of this writing) 22 different heroes that each fall into one of four categories; Attack, Defense, Tank, and Support.  Attack characters are used for pushing towards an objective.  Defense characters tend to be more suited to holding an objective.  Tanks are huge targets who can soak up a lot of damage.  And Support characters are used for helping out the entire team, by healing or other means.  But the trick that Blizzard (the company that made the game) employs to make all this interesting is making each character incredibly distinct.  I cannot stress this enough; no two characters are alike.  What this accomplishes is a wildly varied experience each time one plays.

Before I get much further, I feel the need to address the central complaint about this game.  There are only a handful of modes within the game, and there is no story mode or offline mode.  With only 12 maps, and each map being designed for a specific match type, there is a case to be made that this game is not really worth 60 dollars.  My counter to that argument is that the sheer breadth of strategies that can be employed by each character add up to a game with near infinite replayability.  Those who make this argument seem to be confused about what the game is actually trying to be.  This game is not Call of Duty.  Instead, it is closer to a team-based Street Fighter, wherein the player attempts to master the skillset of a given character.

And it is those characters that make this, more than likely, the best game of the year.  It starts with how balanced the characters are.  While some have complained that certain characters are overpowered,  I have not found that to be the case in the 100+ hours I have put into the game, simply because I have gotten outplayed at one point or another by every player in the game.  Granted, I could just be bad, but I believe it is more likely that every character is designed to bring something to the table, while also having corresponding weaknesses.  Hanzo, for example, wields a bow and arrow that can do massive damage.  The problem is that he moves slower while aiming the bow.  Plus, his bow has an extremely low rate of fire, and has to be charged up in order to do maximum damage.  However, Hanzo is equipped with Scatter and Sonar arrows.  Scatter arrows are basically death if one is fired at someone in an enclosed area.  Sonar arrows let the whole team know where someone the opposing team is on the map.  It is the different abilities that make each character distinct, and useful.  Mercy can heal or boost a persons damage output, Genji can deflect projectiles back at the person who fired them, Reinhardt can put up a massive shield, and so on.  What this does is redefine “skill” within the context of this game.  One of my friends has spent most of his time playing as Torbjorn, whose primary skill is building turrets that automatically lock on to enemies.  Torbjorn also has a gun that fires a single bullet and can also fire in spread form like a shotgun.  My friend rarely fires his gun though, because he is more concerned with turret placement, and the upkeep of said turret.  Great turret placement, then, becomes a skill as important as good aim within this game.  This is just one example of skill being redefined within this game. What this does is make Overwatch a very open game.  Easy to learn, maybe, but definitely hard to master.

But will you want to master its intricacies?  My guess is yes, because the characters in Overwatch have to be considered one of the greatest casts of characters in videogame history.  Blizzard has given each character such personality, and one of the genius things they have done is design the game so that the opposing team is louder than the player’s team.  I love it when games do stuff like this.  One of my favorite parts of the Left 4 Dead series was hearing the crying of a witch, and feeling the tension that came from not knowing where it is coming from.  Overwatch does this as well, in the form of chants that signal an ultimate has been used.  So, for example, when I hear “Fire in the hole,” or “Nerf This,”  I know I need to be on the lookout for the death that is coming my way.  It is a simple, yet genius way to master tension.

All in all, the game is just fun.  If you have the means to play this game, I highly recommend it.  In all honesty, there are only a handful of games I have played that have been as fun as Overwatch.  I absolutely wish there was a story mode, but for now I will settle for one of the deepest and most engrossing multiplayer experiences ever.

Cheer up Kids, You Could be Reading Comics in the 90’s

So, in case you haven’t heard, Captain America is apparently a Hydra Agent now.  The revelation occurred in the first issue of the newest volume of Captain America.  I’m skeptical that it will stick. In my opinion, if Jack Flag is dead (who Cap throws out of an airplane) then he has actually been turned, and I will simply cease to read that comic.  If Jack Flag survives, then I think it is pretty clear that Steve Rogers is undercover.

Either way, the fallout from the first comic has been insane.  The internet is abuzz with people proclaiming that they are boycotting Marvel and basically acting as if this is the worst thing that has ever happened in comics.  Little kids, who have idolized Captain America, are crying because their hero has become a turncoat.  Now, I don’t want to sound heartless, or unsympathetic to the plight of these children.  When our heroes become fallible is the beginning of the end of innocence.  But what I would tell those children is that it could have been a lot worse.  To whit, they could have been 7 years old in 1993.

I distinctly remember being told by my Mother I could get one comic book at Wyndall’s Foodland.  Up until that point, I had only ever received comics at second hand book stores.  I had never gotten a new comic before, and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity.  I picked out a comic featuring my favorite superhero, Batman.  Unfortunately, the comic I chose was the first part of Knightfall.  Now, 6 year old that I do not know, I realize that Steve Rogers saying Hail Hydra is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, but I need you to understand that the first story I ever followed in continuity begins with Batman having an existential crisis, and ends with Bane breaking into Wayne Manor and breaking Batman’s back over his knee.  That was the world I grew up in.

Of course, I could switch over to Superman right?  After all he’s a boy scout, and his stories are not as dark as Batman’s.  Well in 1993, Superman was dead.  Which means that my first in continuity story was Reign of the Superman, which features John Henry Irons becoming Steel (later played by Shaq), a psychopath named the Eradicator, and a creepy Cyborg dude.  Oh, and fictional 7 year old, you are about to receive a comic wherein your Superboy is a precocious 13 year old, who has been raised by Clark and Lois.  Enjoy that, because my Superboy was a petulant teenager, with a godawful haircut, an earring, and a leather jacket that was only slightly bigger than Rogue’s was at the time.  Basically he looked like a member of New Kids on the Block, only not Joey, Jordan, or Donnie, but one of the other two that no one remembers.

And man, what a strange story this was.  We were basically told to choose our favorite of the 4 Supermen, but every option was bad.  Irons was the most likeable, but he was basically a poor man’s Iron Man.  Eradicator’s first appearance sees him literally set a man on fire.  Cyborg blows up Coast City, and he is still somehow more likeable than Superboy.  And yeah, Cyborg destroys Coast City, which is Hal Jordan’s home.  He creates a big machine that just blows up the whole city.  Geez.  I can hear what you are saying, imaginary 7 year old.  You are asking why I didn’t just go back to Batman?  Good idea.  I did and much to my surprise Batman had been replaced by a crazy cult member.  And he would be Batman for almost AN ENTIRE YEAR!

Basically, Batman becomes a paraplegic and leaves Gotham to be healed by this holistic healer and to fight ninjas.  He leaves Gotham to be protected by Jean Paul Valley, who has been brainwashed by a cult…

What’s that 7 year old?  Why would Batman leave his city to be protected by a guy who is clearly crazy?  I have no clue.  What matters is that he does, and Azrael, as he is called, decides to pick a fight with Bane, which he wins because he has a crazy suit with all types of enhancements.  But Azrael soon proves to be a lunatic.  He still hears voices and becomes obsessed with being better than Batman.

Meanwhile, Pa Kent goes to limbo to fight demons who want to take Superman’s soul to hell (this is all true), Superman returns with a mullet, and defeats Cyborg to take back his mantle.  However, Green Lantern tries to rebuild Coast City and the Guardians keep him from doing so, because he cannot use the Ring for personal gain.  Hal Jordan goes to Oa and decides it would just be easier to kill everybody.  One of the Guardians escapes and gives a Ring to Kyle Rayner, who receives it while wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt.  How can I properly describe Kyle Rayner in the 90’s?  Imagine if Rob Liefeld was writing a character, and an editor told him that he would be fired if he did not make the character more off-putting and incompetent.  That was basically my Green Lantern, my young friend.

So over a two year period,  Superman died, Batman had his back broken, 4 pretenders to the Superman throne emerged and they were all horrible, Azrael took over the mantle of Batman and he was a brainwashed cultist, and Green Lantern killed all of the other Green Lanterns and was replaced by a brand new character who is just the worst.  Oh, and you heard me correctly; two years!  Whereas it is very likely that Captain America will be back to normal in about 6 months, comics in the 90’s drug things out for as long as possible.  So listen my young friend, try not to cry too much.  Things will be back to normal soon.  I promise you.  Sometimes you must deal with the pomposity of editors and creators, who are always wanting to make a splash.  But usually, it all turns out right in the end.

What’s that?  Why didn’t I try Marvel?  Well I did a little bit after this, but the X-Men were living in a hellscape run by Apocalypse, and Spider-Man was a clone named Ben Reilly, and Tony Stark was a teenager… Oh you’re crying again.  Sorry about that…

 

DC Rebirth: Cautious Optimism

For months we in the comic book world have been hearing about DC Rebirth.  This company-wide initiative is designed to reinvigorate the creative juices at DC and inspire a new direction that will allow for innovation in comics, and… Synergy? Unity? (I’m running out of buzzwords…)

You know what, lets just say it: Rebirth is about making money.  Plain and simple.  And please, let us not pretend to be offended by that fact.  In all honesty, DC has to do something.  Ever since “DC You,” they have been getting crushed by Marvel in the sales column, and it is not as if the sales are an aberration.  Marvel’s creative output has been close to flawless, and, unlike DC, their ventures into the mainstream have been extremely well-received, particularly on the cinematic front.  So what is DC to do?  Well, apparently you turn to Geoff Johns, and you have him write a Rebirth story.  It has worked in the past, so it will work again, right?  Personally, I am cautiously optimistic about this whole thing.  However, there are some warning bells that I believe we should be aware of.  Therefore, before next weeks giant 80 page spectacular, I believe it would be prudent to examine some of the things that make me more “cautious” than “optimistic.

A Dearth of Big Name Creators

Let us travel back in time to the launch of the New 52.  When the reboot was announced, most of us marveled at the veritable murderer’s row that DC was rolling out.  You had Geoff Johns on Justice League, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.  Scott Snyder, as the number one up and coming writer in the business, took over the Batman title.  Grant Morrison was on Action Comics.  Gail Simone was on Batgirl.  Brian Azzarello was given Wonder Woman, a fact which surprised many people, due to his typically dark subject matter.  Granted, there were some missteps, but for the most part DC was actively trying to get the nest possible creators for their New 52 lineup.

Flash forward now to the end of March 2016.  The titles have been announced, but we are waiting to hear who the creative teams will be.  After all, they are having a massive presentation to tell us who will be doing what, so surely they have some big names lined up for this massive Rebirth.  Vance and I were literally drooling over the possibilities.  Would Morrison be given a title?  What is Scott Snyder going to do?  Would there be any surprises?  And so we huddled around our phone and waited for the bombshells.  And the sad fact is… we are still waiting.  Here is what we got:

Peter J. Tomasi on Superman

Dan Jurgens on Action Comics

Scott Lobdell (danger Will Robinson) on Red Hood and the Outlaws.

No Greg Pak.  No Cullen Bunn.  No Babs Tarr, which is really strange considering how successful her Batgirl has been.  It is almost as if every creator who wrote strong titles for the New 52 has been excised from Rebirth.  And understand, with the exception of Lobdell (who has already had one much maligned run on Red Hood and the Outlaws), I do not have any problems with any of their creative choices.  Jurgens and Tomasi are seasoned vets at this point.  But where have all the up and coming creators gone?  Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brendan Fletcher redefined Batgirl.  Cullen Bunn wrote a fantastic Sinestro comic.  Remember all the hype David Walker was getting for his Cyborg comic?  Where did he go?  And why did DC stick Gene Luen Yang on a comic no one is going to read? Also, remember how Jason Fabok was going to be the next big artist?  Where is he at?  Granted, Tom King is taking Batman, which should be great.  Tim Seeley on Nightwing and Joshua Williamson on Flash both have a lot of potential.  And of course, there is Greg Rucka on Wonder Woman.  But even with Rucka’s announcement I found myself excited and at the same time thinking, “We have seen this before.”

And before I get accused of being pessimistic, then compare Rebirth’s strategy to what Marvel has done with Black Panther.  When Marvel needed a knockout writer to create the Black Panther mythos for a new generation of readers they went out and got Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times writer and winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant).  When DC needed a writer for their new Superman comics, which are each supposed to launch a new direction for Superman, they let their best Superman writer walk (Greg Pak), stuck their closest equivalent to a Ta-Nehisi Coates (Gene Luen Yang) on a comic that will be cancelled in 6 months, and went with two guys who haven’t written a best selling comic in at least 10 years in Dan Jurgens and Peter J. Tomasi.  I cannot help but find this troubling.

Rebirth is a Completely Reactionary Event

Here is an actual quote from the DC Comics Preview Guide for April, regarding the new Green Arrow title.  “Readers are aching for the reunion of Green Arrow and Black Canary, and we’re finally going to give it to them.  Also returning?  Green Arrow’s goatee.”  Sign me up!  I was iffy, and then they mentioned facial hair.

In all seriousness, within that quote from Ben Percy (who I actually think will do a bang up job on Green Arrow) lies one of the major problems with Rebirth, namely, that the entire endeavor seems to be a reaction to the whining of the old guard DC fans.  I am actually shocked that they  haven’t killed off the new Wally West and brought back the pre-new 52 Wally.  My least favorite aspect of this is what they are doing with Superman.  From what I can gather, the New-52 version of Superman is going to die and the pre-Crisis version of Superman is returning.  Which, in my opinion, negates everything that has happened in the New 52 with the character.  And make no mistake, they did a lot with the Superman character.  They gave him a new love interest in Wonder Woman.  They gave him a new power in the “solar flare.”  Now, apparently all that is going away.  Does this mean that 2011-2016 will be remembered as this time when we had a fake Superman, and the rest of his 75-plus years we had the right Superman?  I know the argument will be, “Well actually they are both the real Superman, because they are from different universes/timelines.”  All that is fine, but it still means that 2011-2016 will have an asterisk next to it, when it comes to Superman, because that Superman was replaced.  Hey remember when Marvel tried to tell its customers that Ben Reilly was the actual Spider-Man, and Peter Parker was a clone?  How is this any different?

This all stems from the fact that there is a contingence of fans who have complained about everything the New 52 has done.  They hated Superman’s armor, they hated the collar on his costume, they hated his relationship with Wonder Woman, and they want their old comics back.  However, say what you will about the New 52, but it was anything but reactionary.  In fact, the only thing it was reacting to was the fact that DC had literally told every story they could.  I mean, they had the Infinite Crisis, they had Rebirths of both Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, they had the Sinestro Corps war, they had the Final Crisis, both Blackest Night and Brightest Day… what else was there to do?  By resetting the timeline, what they essentially did was allow everyone to jump into comics without having 30 years (or more) backstory explained.  Contrast this with Rebirth, which seems to want to add everything back, so that we can have things like 2 Clark Kents.  It could work, but I am a little skeptical.  I’m not sure this will please longtime fans, and I do not see how it can bring in new fans.

The Last Stand of Geoff Johns

When Geoff Johns came on stage during the Rebirth presentation at WonderCon, he was introduced as if he is the Michael Jordan of comic books.  This really isn’t too far from the truth.  In the 21st Century only Brian Michael Bendis has wielded anywhere near the power or has had a hand in as many epic events.  His influence is evident all through the comic world.  And, when Johns wants to be, he is, arguably, the best comic book writer in the world.  And yet, if Rebirth is his baby, then where is he in all this?  He is writing the giant Rebirth Special, and is helping Abnett on a future Aquaman story, but other than that he is not writing anything for Rebirth.  This troubles me, because if DC has two assets in their pocket, they have Scott Snyder and they have Geoff Johns, and yet Johns seems to be taking on an overseer’s role.  Will this work?  I’m not sure.

Here is what I know: 95% percent of the time Geoff Johns has delivered for DC in a big way.  It appears that his hands are all over this initiative, and that is, ultimately, a good thing.  When you strip everything else away, Geoff Johns is just a guy who loves comic books.  And that is what gives me hope.  Even within my reticence, I am willing to give this Rebirth a shot, because it is rare that Geoff Johns lets the comic book community down.

All that being said, who do we think is getting their arm cut off in the Rebirth Special?

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Let’s get this out of the way: Batman v. Superman is a horrible movie.  It fails in just about every conceivable way a movie can fail.  The story is flat.  The cinematography is dull.  The editing is haphazard.  The acting is all over the place (Gal Gadot is delightful, Ben Affleck is the most well rounded Bruce Wayne/Batman ever, Henry Cavill is unoffensive, Jeremy Irons is great, and everyone else is bad to awful).  The music is really… just the worst.  The dialogue makes no sense.  I really cannot say that there was much that I liked about this film.  It currently sits at a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, and honestly that is too high a score.  But you know what?  I honestly do not care about any of this stuff.  We should have known what this movie  was the moment Zack Snyder was hired on to do this movie.  He is basically a B-Movie director with a big budget, and this simple fact has been shown time and time and time…. and time again.  I do not understand why he keeps getting jobs, nor do I understand why his movies are successful.  The only reason he is successful is that he has somehow failed upward into big franchises.  So, this movie was doomed from the start.  At best, its ceiling was mediocre popcorn film, i.e. 300.  If you were expecting more, well, I don’t know what to tell you.  But none of that critical junk really matters.  I could attempt to impress you with deep rationalizations about its weighty theological content, or its critique on modern social structures.  Instead, I am going to talk about something less aggrandizing.  I am going to talk about Superheroes.  (Mild Spoilers Ahead).

El Capitan, Vance, has already discussed heroism to some degree, with his article on Captain America, and I believe that some of the disagreements he has had with people over Steve Rogers’ merit in the MCU has really boiled down to people not realizing that there is a fundamental difference between a protagonist and a hero.  A protagonist does not have to be heroic in order to drive a movie.  Vito and Michael Corleone prove this to be true.  All a protagonist has to do is be the center of the story, and confront the antagonist, or antagonistic forces that he/she is facing.  Again, think Michael Corleone and his slow descent into evil.  Its dramatic and compelling, but no one could possibly claim that Michael is heroic.  He is a morally gray to black character, but he works perfectly within the movie he is in.  Heroes, on the other hand, are defined by good thoughts and good actions.  They do the right thing, mostly for the right reason.  So Rick put Ilsa on the plane, Sam carries Frodo up the mountain, and Han comes back in order to cover Luke while he takes a shot at the Death Star.  So with that in mind, i must point out that the “heroes” of BvS are, at best, morally gray protagonists, who are also profoundly stupid.

The general plot of this movie is that Bruce Wayne decides that Superman must be killed because he is too powerful.  The reason he decides this is because he experienced the destruction of Metropolis from Man of Steel, which happen because Zod and Superman were fighting.  There really is not much more to it than that.  So my question is, simply, who is the hero in BvS?  I realize the whole selling point of this movie revolves around watching these two titans fight (trust me, its not worth it), but shouldn’t there be some sense of heroism in these two characters?  We see Superman save 4 people in this movie.  Batman saves two.  Outside of that, every action they take is selfish, and worse, pretty self-preserving.  The fight itself happens because of hypocrisy on both characters parts.  Superman wants to stop Batman because he thinks that Batman acts outside the letter of the law, and yet Superman himself killed Zod during their climactic battle in Man of Steel.  Pretty sure that is taking the law into your own hands.  Plus, every time someone mentions that Superman should answer to some authority for his actions, he gets this strained look on his face, even though it is the very same thing he would require of Batman.

Batman (and it pains me to say it) is actually worse.  Its not so much that he straight up kills at least 20 people in this movie, which is troublesome enough.  What troubles me, and in all honesty ruins the movie, is that he wants to kill Superman for purely circumstantial reasons.  That is a complete misreading and misunderstanding of the character.  Understand this; in this movie, Jesse Eisenberg and Batman want Superman dead for the same reason.  They do not trust him, because he is an alien (well Eisenberg does not trust him because he thinks Superman is God, or something, but it is the same idea).  And this movie makes it pretty clear that Superman is to be viewed as a minority.  From the signs that mirror, directly, Westboro Baptist’s signs, all the way to the burning of a Superman effigy, Superman is a societal outcast, and Batman decides that he must die. He even states that if there is even a 1 percent chance that Superman is dangerous, then he should be killed.  That is the exact same reasoning that people have for banning Muslims and turning away refugees.  I think it is safe to say that if your movie makes Batman’s goals compatible with Donald Trump, then you have failed miserably.

And thus we get to the central problem of this movie: this is not Batman or Superman.  This is Batman and Superman as read through the dystopian and cynical viewpoint of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns.  Neither character seems to want to make the world better. Their motivations are completely self-serving all throughout the film, and in a superhero movie, that is a serious problem.  Eisenberg even tests Superman by stating that God cannot be both absolutely good and all powerful, and instead of having Superman disprove Eisenberg’s theory through some heroic acts, wherein people are saved, Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and Chris Terrio decide to follow this challenge up by having Superman go fight Batman immediately after.  This, of course, proves Eisenberg’s point (yes I realize that a character makes a pretty big sacrifice in this movie, but even that sacrifice comes in the context of idiotic violence).

Superhero movies without heroics are useless.  I am honestly worried that someone will see this movie and believe that this is the definitive version of Batman and Superman.  For Batman, they will see a murdering psychopath, who believes that his parents died senselessly, and is so tortured by the memory that he now has a warped worldview, which includes destroying anything that is different.  For Superman, they will see a cold narcissist, who was raised by two amoral people who want him to hide who he is, and who is completely burdened by having to do the right thing.  And, in this day and age, where everyone is so divided, that is not what is needed.  People need to see a Batman, who through sheer force of will wages a war on crime, so that as many people as possible can live their lives without having to go through the tragedy he went through.  People need to see a Superman who is a beacon of hope to all who see him, and who believes in mankind’s ability to be better than they are.

The movie is an abomination, but of all of its sins, the one that will resonate the most is this: I did not believe in Batman or Superman as heroes.  And that is as big a tragedy as there could have been in this movie.  If the movie was just bad i could have handled it, but turning 2 of the 3 most recognizable superheroes of all time into arrogant bullies?  That just makes me depressed.