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Eric: On the plus side, this month's cover art was pretty cool.

sisterpsychepanel.jpgSo. Not that I think anyone hasn't figured this out yet, but I love City of Heroes.

I. Love. City of Heroes.

I love the game. I love the heroism. I love the ideals. I love the fantasy. I love running through the streets of Paragon City and fighting the good fight. I love the immersive environment that the game has put together. I love the powers. I love the silver age aesthetic. I love the modern age edge. I even love the "grand evil" that they seem to be putting together for City of Villains.

This is convenient, because the City of Heroes comic book is actively trying to cure me of this fact.

You know I have a general policy of not reading webcomics I don't like. The question is, why do I read this comic book I don't like. The answer is very simple: it comes free to my mailbox as part of my game subscription. You can "opt-out" of having them send the comic to you, but you don't get a bump of subscription time that corresponds to your opted out. In other words, you save them a little money, but get nothing in return.

Well, I don't like the comic, but I'm also from Maine. I'm paying for it, so by God they're going to send it to me, and I'm going to read it.

Being from Maine is not the same thing as being rational, just for the record.

The old comic, by Blue King Studios, had its share of problems. It had art issues and was rife with situations that our own characters couldn't get involved in (I for one would have liked to see them push to keep to the same style of missions and costuming that the game... you know, actually provided), but it was goofy fun nonetheless. Most of all, you got to like the lead characters -- Apex, War Witch and Horus -- and the dynamic that formed between them. And you believed in them. They actually felt like yeah, they were in fact super heroes, for all the right reasons.

And they had the same relationship we the players have to the Surviving Eight -- the Justice League/Avengers analogue of City of Heroes -- who are (mostly) members of the Freedom Phalanx. These were legends to them. The heroes that everyone looked up to. The heroes that we heroes believed in.

Well, Blue King lost the license. Top Cow got it. And they hired Mark "excellent in the 90's" Waid to write a three issue arc. And unlike the last series, this one focuses on the Freedom Phalanx.

And in Waid's run, we learned A) that the citizens of Paragon City hate super heroes and are just as glad when they all lose their powers, despite packs of Skulls still running around terrorizing them, B) the Freedom Phalanx are a pack of miserable whiny bastards, not a single one of whom (except maybe Manticore) is in this game for anything that resembles heroic reasons, and C) Statesman is the largest jerk who has ever lived. It was like reading Kingdom Come without the emotional attachment or sense that the Justice League actually was doing what they thought was best.

There were... complaints... on this theme. And assurances that yes, our heroes would rise up, better than ever. And they did rise up more powerful than ever in the third issue.

We're in the fourth issue now. The writing is being handled by Troy Hickman, the scribe of the justly critically acclaimed Common Grounds. And there was reason to hope.

At the end of this issue, I've decided that Paragon City is probably right for being just as glad these miserable bastards lost their powers. Frankly, I wouldn't have them in my house. It's just, now we know they hate low level heroes, too.

They hate low level heroes.

sisterpsyche2.jpgSister Psyche snarks about how glad she is low level heroes get torn apart running through the Hollows -- "serves 'em right," she says. Statesman brushes off a star struck young hero who has worked up the nerve to talk to his hero. Synapse resents the implications that they should watch out for civilians (while clearly not watching out for civilians) because they're superheroes, so duh.

Sister Psyche in particular has the line of the issue. A fourteen year old boy walks up and asks her for an autograph. She sees in his mind the kid's imagining her in her underwear. So she screams bloody murder and kicks him away from her.

For reference's sake, I enclose a sidebar featuring Sister Psyche on this post, as well as a second picture right here to the side.That's right. She wears translucent clothing WITH LEATHER STRAPS OVER HER NIPPLES AND OUTLINING HER BREASTS, along with strategic cutaways for navel and cleavage. Look, I'm no believer in "she was asking for it," but this is a woman who gets offended because a kid going into puberty sees her dressed like that, and despite walking up and speaking respectfully to her, dares to have sexual thoughts about her?

Later, Sister Psyche and Statesman compare notes on how utterly miserable it is to have to have super powers and be looked up to. Statesman is sick of being a patriotic hero, because it gets him into political debates. Sister Psyche can't tune out peoples' thoughts and she pretty much hates all people. Is it worth noting both of these heroes have been active for over sixty years in this chronology? They've had over six decades to get used to this, and neither of them has ever thought "well, maybe if I just change my name and costume I can get away from people" or "gosh, maybe something that covers my tremendous rack would do something about all those salacious thoughts?"

I don't like these people. Manticore has been consistently characterized as the only one who gives a damn about anyone outside of the Freedom Phalanx, but they also saddled him with an "early Avengers Hawkeye" attitude that makes it sound like he just bitches for bitching's sake. Synapse has all the charm of JLU Flash without any of the humor. Positron is obsessed with technical minutia, with occasional repetitions of the exposition that he can't take off the Iron Man armor lest his heart stop his powered suit or else his antimatter powers will destroy Paragon City.

If this comic book is supposed to be a reward to players, then they're failing. The Freedom Phalanx gets to have clothing and missions and lives we don't get to have in the game, and the Paragon City described in this comic book is a hostile place where the superheroes don't care for the people they protect and those people resent their presence in the city. If this comic book is supposed to be an advertisement for the game, then it's also failing -- I can't imagine anyone picking up this comic book, reading it, and thinking "I wanna play this game, where I can be a young hero the top heroes of the world are disdainful of and amused at even after he gets crushed by a boulder."

Is it so utterly hard... is it so utterly wrong in the twenty-first century... to put forth the idea that maybe being a super hero is a good thing, maybe it's rewarding on its own merits, maybe the people you save might like you, and maybe wanting to be a super hero makes sense?

Apparently so. Apparently so. This won't "cure" me of the game City of Heroes. I love that freaking game.

It just has me convinced all my characters are better than these jerks. And when I earn the mission sequence where I have to save Statesman's life, I figure I'll just skip it. Paragon City's in better hands without him.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 22, 2005 2:36 PM

Comments

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at August 22, 2005 3:29 PM

All the news on i5 is rapidly diminishing my enthusiasm for the game. As for the comic book... well, let's just say that I thought the Blue King Studios version was stupid but fun, and the current version is missing about half of that equation.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at August 22, 2005 3:30 PM

Yikes. I remember thinking "man, these War Witch and Horus stories are so hokey. I wonder what Waid will do with it." (I quit the game before I could find out.) This is completely the wrong arena for these stories. I'm sure we will find that Statesman is having gay sex with Back Alley Brawler on top of Atlas' sphere, and that Sister Psyche secretly draws her power from eating syphilis-infected brains. And raping babies or something.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank posted at August 22, 2005 3:35 PM

Is it so utterly hard... is it so utterly wrong in the twenty-first century... to put forth the idea that maybe being a super hero is a good thing, maybe it's rewarding on its own merits, maybe the people you save might like you, and maybe wanting to be a super hero makes sense?

This reminds me of what Peter David wrote in a "But I Digress" column in 1992 about heroes... http://peterdavid.malibulist.com/archives/003105.html

To answer the question, no, it's not hard. Some sources do just that. The central question of "Spider-Man" was always what I call the Zodiac question: Is it worth it to be Peter Parker if you get to be Spider-Man too?

The CoH comic, however, sounds like it's trying to substitute forced and unfounded drama for real story, full of angst and misery. And we all know what that means...

Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 22, 2005 3:41 PM

Will: It means that they're writing a post-Evangelionesque anime about it?

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 22, 2005 4:27 PM

But its edgy, you see, they're trying to be edgy and cutting edge. Because comics aren't just for kids anymore, you see...

Sometimes I really wish Alan Moore hadn't written Watchmen.

Of course I've never acctually even seen this book, much less read it, but it sounds familiar.

Acctually, it sounds a lot like Rich Veitch's book Bratpack.

Comment from: Elvin posted at August 22, 2005 4:55 PM

Hmmm. Not the first Top Cow comic to sacrifice characterization for "edginess." That's a disappointing trend. However they do have some good cover art for many of their series, for all the good that does them.

*shuffles back to lurkerdom, grumbling about the treatment of BotP*

Comment from: Robin Z posted at August 22, 2005 5:06 PM

The CoH comic, however, sounds like it's trying to substitute forced and unfounded drama for real story, full of angst and misery. And we all know what that means...

First and Ten Syndrome! A textbook case!

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at August 22, 2005 6:00 PM

A friend asked me to review #4. Last week was insanely slow, so I got it and reviewed it. My reaction was about as bad as Eric's. Here's a cut and paste of the review:

City of Heroes v2 #4: Image/Top Cow - Well, it's a really slow week, and a friend asked me to pick this up and review it, as there's no reviews up that she (or I) could find. I'll start by saying that I'm about as far from the target audience as you can get while still being interested in superheroes. I don't play City of Heroes (won't play Massively Multiplayers in general, can't play CoH in specific because I own a Mac), and while I can't help but pick up a few things here and there about the setting from friends who do play, I really have no interest in the setting. That said, Hickman does a decent job of setting things up for new readers, although it takes a bit longer than I'd like (a roll call on page one is ALWAYS a good idea, and would have been in keeping with the pseudo-Silver Age story and Neal Adams homage art). Hickman did a good job of making it feel like a comic of the game. Unfortunately, I don't consider that to be a good thing, although your mileage may vary. There's also a lot of angsting and stuff that makes you feel like most of these heroes are just sick and tired of the whole business and would rather be chartered accountants or something. In other words, it reads like dialogue between players who just wanna beat stuff up and find the whole "mission" and "protect innocents" things to be an imposition. There's also some text pieces and fanfic in the back, which didn't really interest me, and a pseudo-Nodwick strip by Aaron Williams that was good for a chuckle. All in all, this isn't going on my pull list. (And no, I'm not in a pissy mood and taking it out on this comic, I genuinely don't like it.) $2.99/$4.60Cn

Comment from: JackSlack posted at August 22, 2005 8:25 PM

For what it's worth, I think this situation is just /crying/ out for a fan-comic. The best way to criticize a comic, ala Godard, is to make a comic. :)

Comment from: Rick Jones posted at August 22, 2005 9:42 PM

Yeah, I got the same reaction from the issue. Now, I'd have understood if the lowbie was asking Psyche to be powerleveled.

And yeah^2, about her reaction to a guy imagining her in her underwear, considering her costume looks like a Victoria's Secret outfit.

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 22, 2005 9:55 PM

Speaking of the lives that heroes within CoH can have, how much does the game allow you to give your character a backstory, civilian life, and such? I've just come up with a really great superhero character, and while I'd like to use her as my first CoH character, I'm not sure if it would be worth it. (Also, I'd probably have to come up with a better name for her, since I'd wager Valkyrie is already taken, if it hasn't been used by an existing comic book hero.) Eric, any insight here?

Comment from: gwalla posted at August 22, 2005 10:13 PM

Matt Sweeney: I'm with you there. Watchmen was utterly brilliant; too bad it ruined superheroes forever.

Comment from: Merus posted at August 22, 2005 10:26 PM

For some reason, the first thing that comes to mind is that this is City of Heroes: Shrugged. That is, without the literary merit.

Comment from: BZArcher posted at August 22, 2005 10:37 PM

I was really disappointed with the change to Top Cow, and at the end of issue #2, put a fairly detailed rant up onto the CoH forums about why I was so unimpressed with how Waid was putting his usual "sudden destruction of the team, continuity be damned" style of writing into it.

(Why can't he write a team book aside from LEGION, by the way? Does he pour all his good ideas into it and just throw crap at the wall for the rest?)

To my surprise, Troy actually PM'd me and commented in the thread several times addressing my concerns, and saying that he was listening to the feedback to the Waid run as he wrote. Cheif among them being the way that Waid was totally missing A) the rich backstory of the game and B) the entire feel of Paragon City.

This is a city that makes 60' statues of its' heroes at the drop of a hat, for crying out loud! You can't spit in Atlas Park without hitting a tribute!

As disappointed as I was in the issue, I'm even more disappointed in how flat Troy's claims of "understanding the material" fall so far. I had genuine hope for this.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 22, 2005 11:09 PM

I don't think I blame Troy, per se. I think he's working from a bible.

I think, for whatever reason, they want the Freedom Phalanx to be miserable bastards. At least for right now.

Maybe that's why there's mammoth statues to Atlas and Galaxy Girl et al, but not Statesman. Maybe no one likes him.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at August 22, 2005 11:35 PM

I know why they're miserable! They all got nerfed in Issue 5!

... sorry. I'm a little bitter...

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at August 22, 2005 11:50 PM

Hmm... That's odd.

The supers hate the people and vice versa, right? So why the heck are they doing this?

Honestly, that's probably my least favourite part of some comics. Characters who hate what they do but don't just stop doing it because it wouldn't be a story of that genre if they actually did.

Honestly, that's probably my least favourite part of some comics. Characters who hate what they do but don't just stop doing it because it wouldn't be a story of that genre if they actually did.

Honestly, that's probably my least favourite part of some comics. Characters who hate what they do but don't just stop doing it because it wouldn't be a story of that genre if they actually did.

Honestly, that's probably my least favourite part of some comics. Characters who hate what they do but don't just stop doing it because it wouldn't be a story of that genre if they actually did.

I mean, the only super who can't really walk away from it is Positron. So why don't they? The thing about sticking with heroism is you have to explain why they're still doing it. So the question is, what the heck is keeping them going?

Comment from: McMartin posted at August 22, 2005 11:52 PM

Hey, Positron gets buffed in Issue 5...

... though really, after he sent us fetching coffee for him and such for four hours back when I was a level 12 Ice Controller, I can READILY BELIEVE he hates low-level heroes.

Eventually getting to encasing the guy who looked just like him in a giant block of ice while he got the @&#& beaten out of him was really quite satisfying.

Yeah, that goes for Synapse, too.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at August 23, 2005 12:29 AM

I seem to recall Moore himself regretting the effect Watchmen had on superhero comics. (I forget whether Miller has expressed similar feelings about Dark Knight Returns and the wave of toneless "gritty" schlock that aped it.)

On the other hand, without Watchmen and DKR, bad comic writers would be making bad Claremont and Byrne ripoffs instead, so I for one wouldn't make the trade.

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 23, 2005 12:30 AM

Hey, Eric, would you mind telling the Top Cow artists that Jennifer Garner called, and she wants her hairstyle and costume back?

(You know when your superheroes are bad is when their costume is sponsored by Victoria's Secret.)

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at August 23, 2005 5:58 AM

Sometimes I wish I could see the comic book just to have some idea who these people are supposed to be. I mean, with the Task Force commanders you get a short blurb when you "ask about this contact", but the trainers are a complete mystery. Ms. Liberty, Mynx, Swan... I have no idea what powers they have or where they got them. Heck, the game throws the phrase "Surviving Eight" around, but I only have a vague idea who those eight are.

There's no bios or short write-ups anywhere on the CoH site. I can get better data on the Praetorians (their evil doubles from an alternate universe), since they get a short blurb in their description which is quoted by several sites (including nofuture.org).

In short, there are these great heroes that I'm supposed to look up to, and there's no way for me to learn the baisic things about them that my character is supposed to know even before she dons the tights.

Comment from: Remus Shepherd posted at August 23, 2005 9:27 AM

I'm hoping that the current storyline is supposed to start with the Freedom Phalanx being bastards, and end with them appreciating the public and the newbie heroes. Not sure how they're going to get to that point, and it may be a little heavy-handed, but I think that's the subplot they're going through.

Oh, and as for there being statues everywhere -- I'm pretty sure someone in Paragon has the super-ability to shape concrete into statuary, so getting a statue in the town square is no big deal. :)

Comment from: Rick Jones posted at August 23, 2005 10:08 AM

Oh, I suspect that the heroes will learn a valuable lesson about having respect for newbie heroes as well as the old fella Stateman and Psyche tried to rescue.

And to answer the question from above, you don't have "normal ID" tasks like getting medication for Aunt May or dodging a reporter who wants to learn your secret ID. That said, some folks use one of their four costume slots (folks can eventually earn 4 different costumes) for a "secret ID" and roleplay secret IDs and such. But the makers of the game said that "you are their secret ID."

Comment from: marlowe posted at August 23, 2005 11:22 AM

Hehehe... Someone's running around Paragon City practicing "Armstrong hereditary style aesthetic alchemy!" (Sorry for the FMA reference...) But setting the CoH comic-specific issues aside for the moment-

Perhaps what the superhero comics world needs is it's own version of B.R. Myers' "A Reader's Manifesto" - something that tries to call the Establishment on its pseudo-literary bull. Myers' argument, as I understand it, is that a lot of modern "literature" stumbles by emulating the form of good prose without the content. I don't agree with everything in the Manifesto, but that does seem to be what we're encountering here - creators imitating the form of works like Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta and Watchmen without trying to dream up original emotional or philosophical content of their own.

But I feel there's a more fundamental problem with the superhero genre today. One of Isaiah Berlin's big theses was that, if we believe any idea to be the summum bonum, the highest good, then that idea is worth anything to attain. If I envision a perfect world, and believe that it is perfect, sustainable, and attainable by human effort, then (according to utilitarian ethics) anything I do to realize my perfect world on Earth is justified, even if that means killing millions. For Berlin, the problem is not in the logic that leads to the mass murder, it's in me believing that something can possibly be the summum bonum to start out with.

Now, superhero stories are, in Chad Underkoffler's excellent summation, the stories of "mad, beautiful ideas" - the same kind of ideas, I think, that Berlin is talking about. After the events of the 20th century and the early 21st, I think a lot of folks find "mad, beautiful ideas" deeply troubling.

Look at the opening blurb Underkoffler provides for Truth and Justice. I think it highlights this problem - are both hero and villain just madmen in "crazy pajamas"? Is the only difference between them one of the degree to which their mad, beautiful ideas coincide with societal norms? This problem is at the root of the genre, and regardless of whether it's treated on well or poorly by comics writers, it's not going away until we either answer it (comedically or seriously), or pose another, deeper question.

Thoughts?

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 23, 2005 11:45 AM

Having never read the comic, my guess would be that Rick is right. This may be a transition story line trying to clean up Waid's storyline with out having to jetison continuity. Which would also make sense, what are comics if not one writer trying to destroy/clean up the work of previous writers?

I didn't mention Miller, because I don't think he is as much to blame. Dark Night and Born Again both took things in new directions, but both also played with in the boundries of the medium. One could acknowledge his work, while still doing the same old stories. Dark Night was about Batman, the story wouldn't have worked with any other charecter. Born Again was such an isolated incident that its effect on other charecters would be minimal. Sure Miller's work lead to the "gritty" feel of comics, but it was something that could have simply been a fad.

Moore's work, on the otherhand, attacked the medium itself. The fact that he wasn't allowed to use established charecters, which he wanted to do, extended the reach of his work. After Watchmen, there was no turning back. You couldn't do the old stories, not with out coming off as nostalgic. Suddenly the medium had all its cliches put on the table, and there was no dening that they existed.

Miller was like having to put your dog down, Moore was like being told there is no Santa Claus. Miller's work had a more obvious impact on the surface of the medium (the whole "gritty" thing) but in the end, it is something you can get over. Moore's work had a more subtle effect, but it is one that can not be ignored, and the fundamentals of the medium must change to address it.

As a side note: Shame on Eric and Wednesday. I just looked through the entire New York Times/Fantagraphics discussion and not a single plug for the great Drawn and Quarterly, perhaps the most important Candian publisher out there. Eric, you have read Its A Good Life If You Don't Weaken, haven't you? If not, I think you of all people, really should.

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 23, 2005 12:46 PM

marlowe: the problem with the, "they're both madmen" question is that it has become its own cliche. Morrison's Arkahm Asylum book addressed this directly and Ellis/Millar's Authority addressed the side issue of the facist underpinnings of the whole superhero idea. And of course there have been several other stories in a similiar vein, most complete crap. It isn't a question that can be answered, and I'm not sure how much more needs to be spent on the question. Can it be taken any further then it already has? Is there any life left in that horse?

In my opinion, the only way for comics to get out of this tale spin is to have a writer of the caliber of Moore, who can counter the work that Moore has done. There needs to be a counter-point to Watchmen that balances things out and gives writers permission to ignore the self awareness that they are now suffering from.

I doubt this counter-point will involve a return to the old stories and forms though. Instead, it will likely be something new. A new way to see the medium and play with it. You're seeing this to some degree with folks like Morrison and even Moore, but I doubt that either of them are capable of pulling something like this off. It will likely be someone who has acknowledged what Watchmen did and represents, but who has also rejected the central thesis of the book as limiting and useless from an artistic standpoint. Acknowledgement of the importance of Watchmen as a thesis on what the medium has become is almost universal. What is lacking is the understanding that Watchmen represents the past, not the future. The only hope comes from escaping the shadow of that work. And I don't think even Moore is capable of that.

It took 30-40 years for Watchmen to come along. It will probably take another 30-40 years for the responce to come.

Comment from: Prodigal posted at August 23, 2005 12:51 PM

Aerin: Valkyrie is IIRC a trainer in one of the zones, so no matter which server you pick, it's taken.

As for the comic, I'm glad I decided to opt out before Top Cow picked up the license. I expect that I'll probably wind up reading it at a firned's place sometime, but it'll be more of the draw a car wreck has than my usual excitement at either Waid or Hickman's name being attached to something.

And now for my own side note - my submission to "Dial S For Superhumans" was an adaptation of my CoH character, and the bits Chad came up for Decibelle will play a large part in how I write up the version of her I create when Issue 5 goes live, and I can finally have actual sonic powers.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 23, 2005 1:23 PM

In my opinion, the only way for comics to get out of this tale spin is to have a writer of the caliber of Moore, who can counter the work that Moore has done. There needs to be a counter-point to Watchmen that balances things out and gives writers permission to ignore the self awareness that they are now suffering from.

I think you're absolutely right, Matt. For the record, Alan Moore agrees. Most of his ABC Comics output (particular Tom Strong, Tomorrow Stories, and Top 10) was designed to return to an earlier sense of storytelling (ranging from 40's comics through 70's comics). His series 1963 had these same explicit goals. And his work on Supreme was thinly disguised "counterprogramming" to John Byrne's Man of Steel revisions (Moore had wanted to write the post-Crisis Superman, with updates but without rebooting. He felt that stripping Superman of his sometimes absurd past would denude the character and the character's legacy. And he's largely been proven right -- up to the point where almost all of those pre-crisis elements have been restored to Superman, somewhat ham-handedly.)

So Alan Moore himself wanted to be the person to write the counter-stories to Alan Moore's work. Similarly, John Byrne's Generations stories are intentional efforts on Byrne's part to play with the tropes that his own Man of Steel and other 80's and 90's influences helped wipe from the canon. And Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Back is a very clear repudiation of the grim and gritty tone The Dark Knight Returns ushered in. Miller's All Star Batman and Robin series, due out soon, is likely to continue in that vein.

In all these cases, we see the very creators who subverted the medium realizing that with everything gained by their groundbreaking work... something ineffable has also been lost. Something they would like to have back. And... given the relative lack of splash those later comics have had on the medium, it seems none of them can put the djinni back into the bottle. As you say, it'll probably take a creator who hasn't even started publishing yet to do it.

One just hopes there's still a superhero comics medium to publish in when he or she does.

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 23, 2005 2:30 PM

Before I get any further into this, I should probably point out that it has been several years since I actively read comics. All my discussion is based mostly on conjecture. Feel free to point out instances when I'm mistaken. Now with that out of the way, let's get down to business.

Eric, I think you nailed the fundamental issue in all of this. Attempts to address the issue so far have centered around the idea of recapturing the medium's lost innocence, in effect to simply go back to the way things were.

I still say that Moore is, more then anyone else, responsable for the current state of things. And creating a real responce to Watchmen is the hurdle that must be addressed for the medium to finally move forward. Trying to recapture the past is not the way to address the issue though. It forces the reader to become willfully ignorant of things that they already know.

Watchmen is not the seminal work that it is because Moore told us anything new in it. Instead, he took the unspoken issues that we all knew were there and brought them out onto the table. To simply tell us to ignore those issues and pretend that Watchmen didn't happen, isn't going to help anyone. The only way to really address the issue is to acknowledge what is known, but to move forward and create something completely new.

Now, how to go about doing that. A couple of years ago the former PARC researcher, Alan Kay, caused a little flutter in some circles when he pointed out at ETECH that the printing revolution did not occur in Gutenberg's time. That the real revolution was performed by people who had grown up with Gutenberg's invention and took it for granted.

Similiarly, I think the real responce to Watchmen will likely not come from someone who yearns for a return to the old days, but from someone who has no idea what the medium was like before Watchmen, who takes Watchmen and the issues it raised for granted. It will take someone who is this immersed in the post-awareness style to finally hit a point where they can move beyond these issues and create something new. And it is only something new that can ever hope to be a real responce to Watchmen.

Comment from: PatMan posted at August 23, 2005 3:43 PM

"A fourteen year old boy walks up and asks her for an autograph. She sees in his mind the kid's imagining her in her underwear. So she screams bloody murder and kicks him away from her."

Did you also notice this is likely to drive away their core audience, adolescent boys? Not to mention that violating his mind and beating him could probably be considered sexual abuse. What was she doing in there? Why did she set him up to think that and then peak at it? Is she some kind of sicko? She should be locked away where she can't hurt Paragon City's children anymore.

I should point out that in Excalibur, Phoenix experienced this on multiple occasions. She was always good natured about it. When she informed someone that she would be reading his mind, and he thought of something dirty, she explained to him that that was a common reaction. However, one time she did go nuts on someone, but that was a really obcene incident. And she was wearing a ball gown at the time, not her normal trampy clothes.

Please note that we never know just what any of those guys were thinking, which is another plus to Waid's work.

Comment from: PatMan posted at August 23, 2005 3:44 PM

That last line should read, "another plus over Waid's work".

Comment from: siwangmu posted at August 23, 2005 4:15 PM

One side thought on the (entirely fair) "how dare she wear no clothes and be mad if he thinks of her sexually" front: it's a little hard for me to blame superheroines for wearing no clothing when they have no freaking choice about it. That's always bothered me, as a character element. We have to take their images as part of their characterization, while we simultaneously know that, in addition to its physical impossibility, virtually no woman ever would wear something like that, especially when she had a job to do and didn't want to be sexualized.

But they're superheroines. Ergo, naked.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 23, 2005 4:25 PM

True, siwangmu, but there are degrees.

In that same issue, the heroes encounter the spiritualist Numina, who wears a rather modest overcoat/dress atop a fully covering bodysuit.

Sister Psyche, on the other hand... well, if her outfit weren't that shade of green, it'd be obvious Goth Club wear, and very clearly designed to overly sexualize.

Wonder Woman wears a bathing suit to fight crime, which is patently ridiculous. However, she doesn't specifically highlight the location of her nipples under that bathing suit as part of the design, in other words.

Even within the limited range of choices for superheroine fashion, Sister Psyche has elected to go for Teh Hotness.

Comment from: Rick Jones posted at August 23, 2005 4:54 PM

I don't think that this arc will "clean up" Waid's work, as he, didn't really leave a mess. The only thing he did was upgrade some of the Phalanx, which is either a dooft way of saything they leveled up or the latest Issue buffed their powers. ;->

As for super-heroic costumes, Sister Psyche is definately wearing one of the more objectifying ones. Sure I've seen worse in comics and in-game, but I really don't get the need to both objectify the character with a peek-a-boo costume and then try to cover it somehow by having the character gripe about it.

Girlfriend needs to go to Icon and buy something to cover up. She's got to have 4 costume slots by now.

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at August 23, 2005 10:03 PM

Admittedly I don't read many comic books, but I think that the new City of Heroes suffers from an excess of post-modernness. We're apparently supposed to be "past" the idea that superheroes are people who should be looked up to. Why, just the fact that people dare look up to them must mean that there's actually something wrong with them.

Sometimes I also think that this kind of hero-trashing is a reaction from smaller comic presses against the hero tropes promulgated by DC and Marvel. Sort of tromping all over them in effigy by making heroes from the same mold but making them nasty.

I tell you what, if City of Villains gives me the chance to kick Statesman's butt? I am so there.

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 23, 2005 10:25 PM

So I spent a good chunk of my afternoon reading through the CoH website. (I'm debating joining up to play, but since I'm also likely going to buy a couple of Apple products in the near future, my bank account will probably be too anemic to join for another couple of months.) There was lots of stuff about the history of Paragon City, some of which talked a little about the various characters. But as far as straight-up bios of these guys? Not a damn thing. Also, I'm wondering why they didn't make a comic about WWII, or the Rikti invasion. I mean, perhaps this stuff is covered in enough detail in the game, but the basic synopsis was a damn good read, and that would probably have made for a more interesting comic than just hearing superheroes bitching.

Comment from: marlowe posted at August 23, 2005 10:36 PM

Matt, Eric - Good points all, although what I was saying is less "We need works that ask these questions" and more "We need works that respond to, and build upon, these questions." The usual existentialist "it is thus because that is how it is" response satisfies to some extent, but existentialism rarely provides transcendent endings. I think, in classic Zen fashion, the only answer to the question of superheroic insanity that Moore, et.al. originally raised is to ask another, better question - top a mystery with a more profound mystery.

When confronted with the prospect of returning to 1970s hero comics to recapture that "ineffable old", though, I find myself reminded too much of retreating back into the shell. What we need is development - consider the analogy to music. The old romantic movements (Wagner et.al.) are largely dead, and have been since 1945 or so, when people realized that the Nazis were listening to them and that Nazi-ism was not something to be tolerated in any form. So, in the aftermath of WWII, European music became arhythmic and aharmonic in the extreme, to the point where people who didn't know what was going on couldn't find anything aesthetically appealing about it. At its root, this was all a reaction to World War II; there's a quote by Adorno that goes something like: "[Modern music is difficult to listen to because] Europe can no longer abide music to which it is possible to march."

Now, fast forward another forty years or so and you have people like Samuel Barber writing the Adagio for Strings, or Kryzstof (sp?) Penderecki writing his Credo. While music scholars would be shocked at me putting these two guys in the same group, the point applies, which is: they have created aesthetically appealing music, which imparts its power directly to even an uneducated audience, without retreating to the fascist/romantic overtones of something like Wagner. They created a new aestheticism, because retreating to the old aestheticism was repulsive and, indeed, impossible.

Now, I'd say that the same thing needs to happen here. We can't move back to the 1970s, or whenever we would like to believe the "golden age" existed. We've got to move forward - forge a new aesthetic sensibility on the ashes of the old. If we don't, we're going to get stuck, either in an overly dark, hyper-psychoanalyzed world, or in some sideshow pastiche of old heroic themes.

Okay, that said, I've apparently got some comic scripts to write :)

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at August 23, 2005 10:39 PM

Aerin: If you can find someone who's pre-ordered City of Villains, you can get a 2-week free trial code from them and try the game out that way.

Comment from: Prodigal posted at August 23, 2005 11:47 PM

All-Star Batman and Robin has been out about a month, and oi, what an unholy mess. The retelling of Robin's origin was kind of interesting, but the overwhelming overload of T&A at the start of the book soured me on it. Not that I don't like well-done drawings of women in their underwear, but given that the All-Star line was meant as DC's answer to the Ultimate line at Marcvel (which at least presumably meant that they wanted to draw in more young readers,) it was a bad, bad choice.

Comment from: BZArcher posted at August 24, 2005 12:51 AM

I think I finally figured out why I hate how the Phalanx is being portrayed, both by Waid or by Hickman, regardless of whether Troy is trying to clean them up or not:

They're disfunctional for the wrong reason. If you think about the backstory of the game, these surviving 8 watched, what, 99% of their friends and peers die during the Rikti invasion? Not counting anyone who'd retired or otherwise left by that point?

I would have no problem of them having a bunch of shell shock from the War that even several years later is still haunting them. In fact, a lot of their behavior in the comics, Statesman's especially, could easily be chalked up to that.

And yet we have none of this. Not even the slightest nod to events that might just explain a ton about these Heroes personalities.

Which is really, really sloppy.

Comment from: gwalla posted at August 24, 2005 1:00 AM

Matt: Moore's ABC comics weren't so much an attempt to return to the past as to rewrite it. Tom Strong in particular was an attempt to see what could have happened if the pulp heroes hadn't developed into superheroes, but had gone more in the direction of Doc Savage, which Moore called "science-heroes".

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 24, 2005 1:07 AM

Actually, "Science Heroes" gets used in all the ABC books, from Promethea through Tomorrow Stories through Top 10. It's their house name, and an implicit comment on "Superhero" being a jointly held trademark of DC and Marvel.

And Tom Strong very much hits Superheroic tropes, from the Pulps through many other styles. I remember a really neat -- and somewhat disturbing -- TS where "Young Tom Strong" comes from the past and the art style and dialogue is shifted wholly over to C.C. Beck. (It was disturbing because the teenaged Tom and Tom's teenaged present day daughter were very clearly sexually attracted to each other, though very much in the Beck/Marvel Family code for such things.)

Comment from: Karacan posted at August 24, 2005 6:47 AM

The two weeks trial for CoH is effective for a few months (I think two or three) now. However, it's hidden very well.

Goggle for CoH and free trial, and you'll be directed to the page you want... but beware. It's addicting to create new characters.

Comment from: KingAndy posted at August 24, 2005 10:23 AM

"the Paragon City described in this comic book is a hostile place where the superheroes don't care for the people they protect"

Is that honestly so different from the game world? I do remember feeling guilty for just gliding by people being mugged, because the muggers were simply too low-level for me to waste time on. Which, realistically, you have to start doing before too long. I used to console myself that there were low-level heroes around the place to clear up that sort of thing but, thinking back, the heroes of Paragon City can be a bunch of callous bastards at times.

And those signature heroes? They stand on their pedestals all day and all night, doling out missions to those less prominent than themselves, trapped in the middle management of the superhero world. I can believe they may get a little bitchy...

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 24, 2005 11:40 AM

"Sometimes I also think that this kind of hero-trashing is a reaction from smaller comic presses against the hero tropes promulgated by DC and Marvel. Sort of tromping all over them in effigy by making heroes from the same mold but making them nasty."

While there have been small press books that have taken a critical eye to the superhero medium, I don't know if I'd say they've really had much of an effect. Esspecially when compared to the "inside" jobs that have been done by Moore, Miller, Morrison, etc. Basically, if you want to blame one man, look to Moore, if you want to blame a group, look to the first generation of Vertigo writers and throw in Miller.

Speaking of Moore, apparently I need to make some purchases and do some reading. And I was so proud of myself for not using my credit card much this month.

Comment from: Tice with a J posted at August 24, 2005 1:34 PM

I'm not a big believer in the Gospel of Scott McCloud, but in one of his books he made a nice two-panel summary of the recent major developments in superhero comics. He described The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as deconstructions of superheroes: taking the genre apart. He then described the nice comics that came after - Tom Strong and Astro City as reconstructions. Post-postmodern, if you will.

Speaking of Astro City, why hasn't anyone mentioned it yet? They should have hired Kurt Busiek to write this stuff. Busiek and his associates created a world chock full of super stuff that we wish our world had, but they filled it with real people, the sort of folks you might meet in reality. It's not gritty, it's not dark (except for Confessions), but it's real.

Comment from: Matt Sweeney posted at August 24, 2005 2:32 PM

marlowe: How exactly do you see writers responding to the madmen question? I'm not sure how more could be done with that theme, but you've piqued my interest.

Re: Moore's ABC line. I deffinetly need to pick up a bunch of graphic novels this weekend and do some reading, but I'm not sure if an affective responce to Watchmen can come from outside the big two (Marvel and DC) and I tend to think that it probably should come from with in DC. That said, I've been wrong in the past, so who knows.

I did have an idea though. I've been trying to develop it before posting, but I can't come up with anything, may be it'll spark some thoughts here though.

Watchmen was a book that basically summed up everything that had been happening to that point, and then took it to its logical conclusion. In many ways, it really is a backward looking book that doesn't really lead anywhere, hence why we've been treading water since. The 'British Invasion' writers fleshed some things out, but we're still looking for a vision forward. May be the responce will be a book that, more or less, ignores the past and is nothing but a forward looking statement. Something that is completely out of the box and revolutionary.

Or, I'm just smoking something.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 24, 2005 11:22 PM

Note to self: I really have to get working on the Wolf P.A.C.T. novellas... (a series of novellas I have planned of low-level "superheroes" (they'd probably be 150 point heroes using Champions, with the exception of Dawn; then again, Dawn is the one character who comes close to being a superhero in terms of overall power, though she's probably no more powerful than early X-Men's Marvel Girl), who tend to fight on a more local level and don't go around in costumes. You know, vigilantes. :D)

Actually, one of the problems I had with my co-writer is that he kept wanting to escalate the power of one of the characters (the one he created) until finally he *does* become a global threat. And the Wolf P.A.C.T. gang never becomes *powerful*... just skilled at working together.

Rob, who has a half-written first draft of the first story... on two notebooks somewhere...

Comment from: TroyHickman posted at August 30, 2005 3:00 PM

Wow, I think this is the first time I've ever been accused of trying to be "edgy" (ironically, the tiny handful of people who didn't dig Common Grounds tended to say it wasn't edgy enough...).

Thanks for the comments, guys. I appreciate it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 30, 2005 3:23 PM

Mr. Hickman --

I'd honestly be curious how much of the current run was mandated by the current story bible, versus... well, you. ;) When it was Mark Waid, I assumed it was all Waid's ideas, but the characterization carrythrough seems pretty specific.

For the record, I'm one of the guys who dug Common Grounds. So don't think this has put me off your comics. (Not, I expect, that you care one way or the other about that.) But... well. Yeah. See above.

Comment from: TroyHickman posted at August 30, 2005 11:13 PM

First of all, Eric, please don't call me Mr. Hickman. I won't even let my creative writing students do that!

Now, to your question, Cryptic absolutely oversaw how each of their characters would be depicted. It was this way with me, and I have no doubt it was the same with Mark Waid. The project is their baby, and I wouldn't expect anything less from them. My job was to take those characters and make the best story I could with them, not turn them into MY characters, or the characters someone else might have wanted them to be. When I wrote Turok for Acclaim, I didn't say "No, he's not a womanizer; I'm turning him into an Alan Alda clone"...when I did Witchblade for Top Cow, I didn't say "No, she's not a hard-nosed cop...I'm going to make her a peacenik flower-child"...that's the nature of the business. My main considerations in scripting were (A) telling a good story overall, (B) keeping the characters consistent with Cryptic's vision, and (C) giving my own take on the characters within the structure of A and B without ignoring everything that Mark had done in #1-3. An easy job? Ha! But I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.


I do have to correct some factual errors you made in your review, if I might:


* Sister Psyche, while possibly callous to the plight of newbie heroes going through the Hollows, never says "serves 'em right."


* Synapse never, and I repeat never "resents the implications that they should watch out for civilians (while clearly not watching out for civilians) because they're superheroes." I don't know if you just misunderstood or what, but Statesman says "Don't get overconfident just because they're trolls. There are people here to protect." Because Statesman has been his sometimes overly-zealous-leader self, Synapse responds "What? Superheroes protecting people? Give it up for Captain Obvious, ladies and gentlemen!" He doesn't resent the implication they should watch out for civilians; he resents Statesman telling him what he, Synapse, as a hero, already knows. It's the reason he's there, after all.


* Sister Psyche does not, at any time, kick anyone away from her. She yells at the teen-agers, making them run off, then kicks the dirt behind them in anger, much the way a baseball player kicks the dirt toward an umpire.


* Can you please tell me where the heroes are "disdainful of and amused at (Moodswing) after he gets crushed by a boulder"? He gets struck, and Manticore says "Sorry about that, buddy. Hang on, we can fix you up and---" and then Moodswing is automatically teleported to the hospital. Where does the disdain come in?


If you don't care for the story, that's certainly valid; I just wanted to clear up the record. I do hope you'll stick with the arc to the end, though, because some of your criticisms might be assuaged (or you may think I'm an even bigger doofus!).


My prediction for the arc, by the way: by the time it's done, most folks will have enjoyed it, but some won't. Of the folks that don't, about half of them will say "I didn't like it because it was too grim and dark; it was a deconstructionist superhero story, not the kind of more standard "superhero-y stuff I like." The other half will say "I didn't like it because it was too stereotypically superhero-y and not 'edgy' enough; I can't stand this silver-agey kind of crap." Ya gotta love this medium... : )


Thanks, Eric, for the question, the kind words about Common Grounds, and the cool reviews. Great site.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 31, 2005 12:26 AM

I will make a point of following the rest of the arc with an open mind. Promise.

Hey, I want to like these people.

(And actually, the old ex-hero riding the Monorails was a great character -- and I should have mentioned that above. This is one reason why my theory was Cryptic wants the Surviving Eight to be the way they appear to be; it's clear you grok the heroic impulse, from the way he spoke about why he did what he did.)

Comment from: TroyHickman posted at August 31, 2005 11:33 AM

Thanks. Hey, I forgot to ask, which servers are you on? I'm mainly on Virtue, but also play on Protector, Liberty, and Champion.

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