Art Superhero: Man of De Stijl.
ALSO SEE: Supermondrian
Art Superhero: Man of De Stijl.
ALSO SEE: Supermondrian
As a comic book writer, one of the things that I am fascinated by and always try to seek out are the things you can only do in the medium of comics. Things like juxtaposing concepts to create a counternote concept in the reader’s heads or breaking down time with extreme precision and turning it into space. That stuff.
I like discovering these kinds of things in other media too, so I was really happy to find a storytelling technique that was very powerful and affecting, and that could only ever be used in the medium of video games.
The game was the recent released Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Not based on Michael Bay’s unwatchable yet popular movies nor specifically on the cartoon from the 80s, Fall of Cybertron borrows a lot of style from the former while still being familiar enough with the movies that poor culturally-starved millennials who don’t know any better won’t be confused.
I could swear I used to have a face. Oh well, back to being pointy.
The game follows pretty traditional Haloish linear running-and-gunning with levels acting as chapters in an overall narrative arc. You get to play as a different Transformer in each level, switching back and forth from heroic Autobots to fascistic Decepticons in such a way that you might spend a level as the good guys trying to build something only to play as the bad guys trying to blow it up in the next.
The effect of this on the player is exactly the same effect you felt when you were three and picked two toys out of a box to have them growl at each other for a minute until you gleefully smashed them together in an epic battle with the fate of the world at stake. If fun is the point of video games, and it sometimes is, this game is a spectacular success.
Part way through the game you inevitably take control of Megatron, the egomaniacal leader of the Decepticons. At this point (mild spoilers?) he has been disabled for some time and has just been reactivated by his loyal servant Soundwave to find his faction under new leadership. You, as Megatron, must face wave after wave of the Decepticon horde as you claw your way back to the top.
The player has at this point already encountered many of these common enemies, but never more than a manageable handful at a time. Now you must deal with dozens coming at you with alarming frequency and speed, always stronger than the last. And, as Megatron, you obliterate them.
Every now and then in the game up till this point a character will mention just how powerful Megatron is and how a frontal assault on him would be pointless. Even the mighty Optimus Prime is trying everything he can to not fight Megatron directly, and now we see why. As wave after wave of Decepticons die under your fusion cannon you feel like an invincible god.
Megatron speaks of the inevitability of his victory, and though the fight isn’t an easy one, the challenge is largely in the number of attackers as no single one of them could match him. And when the fight ends, and we leave Megatron crowning a pile of metal corpses, we become one of the Autobots again and can only stare at the screen thinking about how totally screwed we are.
You aren’t even mostly screwed, you’re really most sincerely screwed.
It is the fact that you were the antagonist of the story, even briefly, that lets you know just how big the challenge is. Megatron is impossibly powerful and you can feel it when you play him. You know that the Autobots are no match for him because you have played them too. It elevates the urgency of their story and their need for escape, but also drives home how the characters feel because you are, in fact, temporarily them.
It’s easy to empathize with yourself, and even more to fear what you yourself were capable of while playing for the other team. I can’t imagine a story told in any other medium doing what this game does and it suggests incredible future possibilities not for the interactivity of stories but for the communicative power of interactivity.
Promotional ad for Eclipse Comics, 1985.
This ad is awesome, and it would’ve been pretty cool back in ‘85, but in 2013 when you couldn’t, in good conscience, give a kid a copy of Batman to read, it seems kind of sad.
Imagine this same ad trumpeting how great these mature new Legos are, or how she thought she was done with Furby, but now there’s this new adult version.
Yeah, the original ad was a tongue in cheek take on the “comics aren’t just for kids anymore” attitude that was coming out of the new wave of indies and graphic novels. New, more mature and complex work was coming out and everyone was scrambling to make people respect the medium.
But in the interim the medium was mistaken (as it always has been) for the genre, and the idea became to prove that Superhero comics weren’t just for kids. The idea of mature work was replaced with mature themes.
Ask anyone working in superheroes what their favorite hero stories were and nine times out of ten I bet they’d say something by Stan and Jack, by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, Roy Thomas, etc. Guys who made great books that were accessible for everyone.
Every time I read a modern comic where they creative team has decided that “everything you know is wrong!” about a character, it just reads to me like these guys are sick of their hero and have moved on but don’t know it.
The good news is that more complex, mature comics have come out and found a small but passionate audience. The indie scene is better than it’s ever been in terms of the quality of the work, but does that equate with the general public’s respect and interest?
There’s a difference between “comics aren’t just for kids” and “Superhero comics aren’t just for kids” which they mostly are and pretty much should be.
Oops, who left this amazing cover lying here? Gosh, this book sure does look awesomely readable! :)
Possibly my favorite splash page. An incredible piece from Fantastic Four #7 in b&w glory by Jack Kirby.
I had something close to a religious experience when I encountered this art on a bizarre dayglo poster that Rand Hoppe of the Jack Kirby Museum had on display at MoCCA.
The extreme angle and architecture pull you in and confuse you at the same time. It’s like visual poetry; it’s hard to tell what’s going on here on your first pass, but you can kind of feel it.
After this I devoured every book of Kirby I could get my hands on, and it’s profoundly changed the way I think about the work.