Game Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is out. But is it a game? Or is it the most brilliant money making scam in internet history?

Movie Review: The Avengers

Okay, okay, I posted my Avengers review. Get off my back already, geez.

The Most Important Comic Book You've Never Heard Of

Action Comics #1. Detective Comics #27. Why is All-American Men of War #89 as important as these great comics -- and why have you never heard of it?.

Tales From the Vault: Lois Lane #93

If you thought Superman was a total tool before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Mass Effect 3: The Official Review

Mass Effect 3 isn't the end of the world, it just portrays it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Episode 10

It's been quite a while since the last update about my quest to break into the comics business as a writer, so I thought I'd get you all up to speed today. When last we met on this field of battle, I was discussing some theories on how to craft a competitive submission for Zuda Comics. One of the reasons I was interested in the topic is that I believe that Zuda may currently be the best opportunity for new creators to break into the field and as a result I have spent my time since working on developing a few Zuda projects of my own.

That, however, has its own pitfalls, in that I've discovered an industry secret that you probably aren't aware of, but which I am now going to share with you free of charge. You ready for this insight? Okay, here it is: comics need artists.

Yes, amazing as it is to think, comic books do require artists in order for them to have art and thus be comics instead of scripts. This is actually the next phase for me anyway, as I have already been sending out scripts and pitches to the few publishers that still accept them. But with those avenues in play, it's time to look to other venues, i.e. those that require completed art to accompany (or, more accurately, replace) the script.

Now, finding an artist isn't my strong suit. Many of the people I have spoken with about this subject have recommended certain online venues for meeting artists, but to be honest, none of them hold a lot of appeal for me. I have spent a decent amount of time reviewing art on these sites and checking out possible collaborators, but it's a pretty random and off-putting process that is not altogether unlike internet dating. Without being able to meet face to face and really talk about the concepts and ideas, it's hard to judge whether an artist would be a good fit for the project or not, or whether they would be enthusiastic about the project or not. And when it comes to art for my stories I am a bit of a perfectionist; comics is a visual medium and thus the art makes or breaks a story. No matter how awesome my script may be, bad art -- or simply art or an artist that doesn't suit the story -- will invariably undermine it. If something is going to be submitted professionally with my name attached to it, then it has to be professional and the best effort that can be put forth.

In terms of finding an artist, then, this means basically one thing: pay. The only way to really be sure about what you're getting is to hire a professional who has samples to prove both their suitability and their professionalism itself. And, of course, many of the artists available even through these online meat markets are freelancers looking for pay as much as portfolio credits, so when you do find someone good, chances are they are going to want some action up front. While many Zuda contestants have back end arrangements with their artists (i.e., if it gets accepted, then they get paid), that's not going to fly with your better, more experienced and more desirable artists.

So where does that leave me? Well, for now, I'm still looking for artists, but I'm also concentrating on making some money so that when I do find an artist I can actually pay them for their work. This has meant a bit of a break from actively pursuing comics work as I get other, paying jobs, but in thelong run I think it will pay off once I can find that elusive artist. And in order to do that I am currently exploring membership in the Comic Book Artists Guild, which will likely be opening a Boston chapter early next year; it is designed specifically as a networking organization to help up and coming creators develop their works and skills, so hopefully it will be a good way to meet a like-minded artist.

Until then, I will likely be sitting on my hands more or less. But that's okay. In the meantime I can still read comics, study Zuda and hone my craft until the time when I can actually take the next step and work with an honest-to-god, living, breathing artist.

And when that -- or any other development -- happens, you, my beloved readers, will be the first to know.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Great Moments in Comics: Sgt. Fury's Casablanca

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be able to watch the all-time film classic Casablanca on the big screen. Like most film fans, the scenes and lines form this movie have been ingrained in my mind for decades, even before I had actually seen the movie. Watching it up on the big screen with an enthusiastic crowd proved to be a far superior experience to huddling at home around the tube, and like most of us in attendance, I left the theater thinking about Bogart, Bergman and, of course, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

Okay, so maybe not everyone was thinking about Sgt. Nick Fury and his ragtag crew of mismatched war heroes. But that's only because not everyone has had the unique (and perhaps dubious) pleasure of reading Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #72 which features a storyline sure to be familiar to fans of Casablanca because it... er... is a complete rip-off of the plot of Casablanca.

Maybe rip-off isn't the right word, but even if you call it an homage, it's still a downright bizarre story, the strangest part of being that it doesn't actually star Sgt. Fury or his Commandos at all. Rather, taking the lead for this issue is Fury's commanding officer, Captain "Happy" Sam Sawyer. The story starts with Happy Sam and the Howlers enjoying a little R & R; a certain tune is played on the piano, sending Sam into a wistful flashback where he recounts an experience in Marrakesh from the early days of the war.

What follows is a heavily edited, but still painfully obvious, rehashing of the Casablanca storyline. Sam, it turns out, has been sent to rescue a defecting German scientist by the name of Professor Steubens who was stranded in Marrakesh. Arriving in the Saharan city, Sam makes his way to "Mike's Chicago Bar", where he meets Mike, an American ex-pat who has no interest in the war and is only out for himself.

Without Mike's help, Sam has to fend for himself, and soon is attacked by the shifty (and obvious Peter Lorre stand-in) Charly Ming, who was sent by his employer, Pasha Bey, to eliminate Sam. Sam escapes this trap, but is arrested by the local French police commandant, Eric Leroux, who mistakenly believes that Sam is actually in Marrkesh to rescue a certain Danish resistance leader by the name of Josef Van de Groot. Van de Groot, you see, is also stuck in Marrakesh, along with a female companion.

Well, to make a long (and really complicated) story short, Sam rescues Professor Steubens from Pasha Bey (who, I might add, is a double for Casablanca's Signor Ferrari), but the professor won't leave without also rescuing Van de Groot. Bey, switching sides when he sees a good deal, arranges to help Sam out by putting him in contact with Van de Groot. But there's a twist: it turns out that Mike, the owner of Mike's bar, is in love with Van de Groot's companion and so he also joins forces with Sam.

Just in time, too, because Leroux has decided to make a name for himself by bagging everyone at once. But Sam and Mike manage to turn the tables on the French captain and are able to help both Van de Groot and the Professor escape. Van de Groots companion, though, stays behind with Mike and we learn that she is, in fact, Van de Groot's daughter, not his wife.


Now, fans of the movie will notice some of the obvious differences, which are explained in a roundabout way by the credits for this issue. The art is, as usual, provided by the team of Dick Ayers on pencils and John Severin on inks, but instead of usual writer Gary Friedrich there's a note from editor Stan lee saying "Gary couldn't make it this time around, so practically the whole blamed Bullpen sat around workin' on this one!"

That, in fact, is only half true. Friedrich, you see, did write the original version of this issue, which is no surprise considering Friedrich was a well known Casablanca mega-fan; in 1972 he would end up writing "As Time Goes By" for an issue of Marvel's romance title My Love #16, where a girl is so in love with Bogart's Casablanca character that she can't be bothered with actual men. So it's pretty unlikely that he would not have been involved with this issue.

The truth, which was explored in some detail in Roy Thomas's fanzine Alter Ego, is that the original version of this issue was basically a scene-for-scene recreation of Casablanca, except with characters from Sgt. Fury written into it in minor roles. One problem: Marvel didn't have the rights to Casablanca, meaning this would be a pretty blatant copyright infringement. When Stan got a look at the finished product just a few days before it was to be sent to the publisher, he apparently hit the roof and ordered that the whole thing be re-written to cover their ass against a lawsuit. This is where the "whole blamed Bullpen" came in, as everyone feverishly worked to re-write the story over a weekend. Thus, while the story and characters are still obviously inspired by Casablanca, it's just different enough to keep the lawyers at bay.

Next up: A look at DC's version of It's A Wonderful Life starring The Spectre. Okay, just kidding, but that would be pretty cool, right?

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Tales From the Vault: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #89

Welcome to another edition of Tales From the Vault, where we read and review random comics from our back issue file. Today's selection: Journey Into Mystery #89. Some of you may recall that the cover for this issue appeared at #7 on our list of the Top 70 Marvel Covers, a decision that split the internet community nearly in half. Some dedicated fans, such as those here at the Vault, believe this is the iconic Thor image and is a picture of grace and power from the unparalleled pen of the legendary Jack Kirby. Other uncultured mendicants disagreed, voicing contrary opinions that are barely worth the words it takes to acknowledge them. But since we clearly welcome debate, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to review the actual contents of that issue. As a bonus, these early Journey Into Mystery issues feature a number of non-superhero short stories from a legion of classic comic writers and artists, which gives an interesting time capsule look at the development of early Marvel.

So what are we waiting for? Let's get right down to it!

Details: This issue swings to us with a cover date of February, 1953. This puts us roughly 15 months after the first issue of Fantastic Four kicked off the Marvel Age of comics; this is the seventh issue of Thor, who first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #83. Plots by Stan, pencils by Jack, but we also get credits here for inker Dick Ayers and scripter L. D. Lieber, who is, of course, Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber and who probably doesn't get enough credit for his contributions to early Marvel; he also scripted the first appearance of Iron Man, among other key comics. These are the credits for Thor; some of the back-ups have other creatord, who we'll talk about when we get to them. So hold your horses, jack.

Story One Synopsis: First up is, of course, Thor. The story starts out with Thor flying back to his office after his latest adventure, whatever that was; there's no footnote tying this to the last issue. Marvel must not have created their massive footnote archive yet. Anyway, Thor gets concerned that people will see him going into Don Blake's place, so he comes up with a quick distraction: he grabs a mannequin from a storefront, whips up a quick Thor costume using, I dunno, his amazing sewing powers, and then heaves the Thor dummy completely out of Manhattan and into the ocean. This fools onlookers into thinking Thor is flying overhead, and while they are distracted, Thor turns back into Don Blake. Wow, nice one, Thor. It's not quite as good as the "fake vomit" trick from the 80's Captain America movie, but it's pretty good.

This is followed by a quick recap of Thor's origin for people new to the series (which at this point was pretty much everyone) and we get a bit of early Marvel character stuff; Don Blake is thinking how much of a sap he is and that Jane could never love him, while Jane is thinking... that Don Blake is a sap. Well, sort of; she's just irritated that he won't hit on her, so instead she goes into a daydream of how awesome it would be to work for Thor instead (and, of course, be his girlfriend). This involves her ironing his cape and giving him a haircut so he won't be so hot during the summer. Ah, the 60's.

Meanwhile, famous mobster Thug Thatcher busts free from the feds and escapes into the country after a shootout. I don't get too much into nature vs. nurture here, but naming your kid Thug is probably not the best idea. He's in a bad way, so his gang rushes back into the city to find a sawbones. You guessed it, they end up picking Don Blake. After tying up Jane, they drag Blake off into the countryside, where Thug's doting moll begs Don for help. Don gets to work saving Thug, due to the Hippocratic Oath, but is in a real fix when the goons take his magic cane away. This really presents a problem because, after he finishes the operation, Thug orders them to kill Blake. Uh-oh!

Luckily, Blake is in possession of a giant deus ex machina. Or, in this case, a deus ex thought balloon: Blake sends a prayer to Odin for help, who zaps the goons with lightning. Nice one. Why does he even need his hammer if he can just ask Odin to zap everyone? In fact, what do we need Thor for at all?

Regardless, during the minor confusion, Blake grabs his stick and becomes Thor even though he's technically useless. Then he.... uh... well, he uses his super breath to blow a tablecloth so hard that it wraps all the goons up in a giant bundle that they can't break free from.

As if this wasn't enough, Jimmy's signal watch then goes off and... oh, wait. Got confused.

Anyway, next, Thor cuts off escape by knocking down a whole row of trees with his hammer, blocking in the cars, which would really piss off Al Gore if this wasn't 1963. But it's too late; Thug and his moll have already escaped. Naturally, they rush right to Blake's office, where, after all, they already have a tied up hostage waiting. Sure enough, when Thor flies in, Thug forces him to relinquish his hammer or else the girl gets it, see?

But Thug failed to consider Thor's super ventriloquism! Personally, I don't blame him, since Thor doesn't actually have that power. Yet, somehow, he uses it anyway, throwing his voice out into the hallway to convince Thug that the cops are there. Thor takes this opportunity to create a whirlwind with his hammer that whips him and Jane right out the window to safety! Nice job, Thor. Add precision tornadoes to Thor's arsenal.

Thug and his moll (who is named Ruby) flee on foot to a construction site. At this point, Thug ditches Ruby, jumps onto an elevator, and proceeds to fire a hail of bullets back down at the doting Ruby. Jeez, dude, way to be a total prick for no reason. Luckily, Thor saves her, then fires a lightning bolt at Thug, which blasts the girders Thug is standing on.

This seems to be a miscalculation, though, because it superheats a bucket of rivets, which Thug then threatens to dump on the crowd below. Whoops! Not sure why the bucket isn't also superheated, but whatever. Thor pretends to give up, but that's because he can see that the girder has been compromised by the super-heat, and sure enough, it collapses. Thor catches Thug in midair and delivers him to the police.

After quickly mind-wiping Jane to make her forget the whole thing -- why he needs to do this, I have no idea; maybe he's just a fan of the Justice League -- Thor flies around bemoaning his fate like an emo whiner.


Story Two Synopsis: Next up is a one page text story with perhaps the most original title in the history of science fiction, "From Outer Space". Seems that the UN built a space station and suddenly, an alien spaceship appeared. A commission was sent up to meet the aliens, who turned out to be humanoids with weirdly shaped lips. They explained that they were going to conquer Earth and enslave everyone if humanity couldn't give a good reason why they should be spared. Luckily, the head of the commission had a secret weapon: he used his wonderful human lips to whistle, something that the aliens couldn't do and were shocked at. Yes, turns out that, due to the shape of their mouths, the aliens never developed music at all. Soon, dumbfounded by our amazing composers, they agreed to spare Earth in exchange for a steady supply of music.

This craptastic non-story doesn't have any writer credited, for obvious reasons.


Story Three Synopsis: Next up is a short story with plot from Stan, script from Larry and art from Sol Brodsky. It's called "Barker's Body Shop!". Seems that Barker (not Bob Barker, unfortunately) is a shady mechanic who uses shoddy materials and bilks people at every opportunity. Seems it's his lucky day when he gets two strokes of luck: the richest guy in town drops his car off, and a mysterious drifter stops by looking for work. The drifter turns out to be a brilliant mechanic, so Barker has him fix up the rich guy's car. When he's done, though, Barker refuses to pay him. So, the guy jumps in the car and flies off into space; turns out he was an alien looking for a car to modify for spaceflight. Now the joke's on Barker, who is going to get put out of business by the rich guy. Moral: don't screw aliens.


Story Four Synopsis: Lastly, we have a story called "When the Switch is Pulled..." By Stan and Steve Ditko. A guy makes a time machine, but his colleague is skeptical. So they jump in it and activate it. When it finishes doing it's thing, they step out only to find themselves in the exact same place. Devastated, the scientist smashes his machine. The joke's on him, though, because it turns out that the machine works -- it just did a complete circuit of all history and ended up back in the same place when it was finished. Whoops!

This story is mostly interesting for the Ditko art, which shows some hints of his later techniques; he uses a lot of colored circles here in a way that suggests Dr. Strange or, more embarrassingly, Speedball. But it's kind of interesting from an art standpoint, anyway.


Extras: Wow, that Thor story was lame, huh? But despite the fact that it is lame (or perhaps because of it), this issue is a perfect example of why Journey Into Mystery is one of the most interesting early Marvels for comics historians and fans. People often have an idea that the Marvel Universe sprung fully formed from the minds of Stan and Jack, but in truth there was an evolution process that took place over the psan of several years. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pages of Journey Into Mystery, because unlike other creations such as Spider-man or Hulk, Thor was pretty much a cipher when he first appeared, little more than a Superman rip-off with some vague mythological trappings. It wasn't really until they added the Tales of Asgard back-up feature that Thor began to round into shape, and so these early stories are a perfect glimpse of how Stan experimented and almost fumbled his way from the initial germ of an idea to the polished, fully realized version of Thor that eventually would emerge and become a fan favorite.

That would take several years; while there are glimpses here and there, things don't really begin to resemble the Thor we know today until the mid 110's; for my money, the fight with Destroyer that begins in #118, combined with the introduction of the Warriors Three in #119, really ushers in the classic Thor we all associate with the character. To see him use weird-ass powers like super-ventriloquism in #89, then, is a real shock to the system for Thor fans and speak to how much work went into the gradual development of the character.

Also of interest in this issue are the appearances of Ruby and Thug Thatcher. Other than Stan and Jack's epic tenure, the most famous and acclaimed run on Thor belongs to Walt Simonson, and it's clear that he did his homework, as he frequently brought back obscure characters from these early issues that had been forgotten for decades. One of these was the dragon Fafnir, who played a fairly prominent role in the build-up to the Ragnarok storyline during the mid-340's, but he also later brought back Thug Thatcher and Ruby during an odd two-part storyline in Thor #371-372. In this story, Thug gets out of jail only to be consumed by the Zaniac parasite (itself a fairly obscure reclamation), which transforms its host into a misogynistic serial killer; in this guise, he hunts down and murders Ruby. This actually becomes an important plotline later, as Thor takes Ruby's orphaned children under his wing and finds a surrogate family for them, leading to them becoming supporting characters in the series for years to come.

My Grades: The Thor Story gets an A for historical interest and a C- for the Action Comics plotline (though even so, there's more humor and Marvel-style "we're all sort of in on the joke" touches than DC had in the entire decade); the backup stories likewise get a B+ for existing and a C- for actual readability. But the cover gets an A+++++.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Special: 1602

Today is Thanksgiving, so it seemed like an appropriate time to take a short look at Marvel's own series about the colonization of the New World, 1602. We were going to instead bring you a list of our favorite Thanksgiving themed comic book covers, but we discovered that someone else has already done that. So feel free to check out their list of covers, then come back here for a look at 1602 (with spoilers, by the way).

Back? Okay, cool. As we said, this will be a fairly brief look, because we have a couple pies to put away before the night is done and we're sure you're about ready to fall into another tryptophan coma anyway. For those who don't know what 1602 is, though, you're in for a treat that will likely rank somewhere above the Detroit Lions and only barely below a well-basted drumstick, because 1602 is one of the coolest alternate universe stories ever printed.

It's also just about the only series ever drawn by Andy Kubert that I can look at without the use of massive sedatives, because normally both he and his brother Adam make me grind my teeth into powder in irritation. But for whatever reason, it works here, as does, of course, the story by Neil Gaiman. Basically, in this universe, the "Marvel Age" of superpowered beings didn't begin during World War II, but instead in 1587, when England sent their first settlers over to America to try and colonize it.

As we eventually discover in the final issue of the series, this historical distortion was caused by a time-displaced Captain America, apparently from the regular Marvel Universe; with most of his memory missing due to the trauma of time travel, Cap, called here by his new Native American tribal name of Rojaz, spends his time working to protect both his young charge Virginia (a girl, not the state) and the new American frontier itself (okay, so the state too; the name is symbolic, all right?). He is aided and opposed by other counterparts from the Marvel Universe who have been re-imagined by the damaged time-stream, including Nick Fury (here the head of Queen Elizabeth's spy network), Magneto (a Catholic inquisitor sent to destroy the superpowered "witchbreed" who instead decides to take the church down instead) and the Fantastic Four (legendary adventurers who vanished on their ship Fantastik while exploring new lands).

In the end, Fury manages to prevent the destruction of all reality by returning a reluctant Captain America to his correct timeline; for his part, Cap wants to stay, in part because in the past he is basically the same as he is in the present: the spirit of America, which takes on a whole new significance when the whole idea of America is literally just forming. Fans of comics are given a real treat with the skewed but somehow spot-on characterizations of such favorites as Dr. Doom and Daredevil, while history buffs get a fun look at the past through the lens of superheroes. It may not be Shakespeare, but it does feature Shakespeare as a character (at least, in the sequel mini-series 1602: Fantastik Four).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect for today's fans is the (still viable) possibility that 1602 will end up tying into the current Captain America: Reborn event going on. For those not following that series, Captain America was shot to death at the end of Civil War, but it was later discovered that the Red Skull used a special "time gun" to do the deed, trapping Cap at the moment of his death; for the past few issues, Cap's spirit has been bouncing around the time-stream, until the end of #4, where the Red Skull kicked Cap out completely and apparently took over Cap's body. The question now is, where did Cap's soul go at that point? We'll likely find out in Captain America: Reborn #5, which comes out on December 9, but one possibility is that his soul got sent to 1602. The method of Cap's death, after all, is eerily similar to Rojaz's fractured memories of his death in 1602: he told Fury that, as best he could remember, the government cracked down on heroes and arrested him. Then, they strapped him to a table and shot him in the head and the next thing he knew, he was in 1587. In Civil War, of course, the government did crack down on heroes and arrest them, and Cap, while not strapped to a table, was shot a close range by a brainwashed Sharon Carter, who was holding him down at the time. Based on how confused the semi-amnesiac Rojaz was, and how we have seen in Captain America: Reborn that the time-jumping has been causing Cap to begin to lose touch with reality, it's altogether possible that he ends up in 1602 and the discrepancies are simply due to the strain of the time jump.

If they do tie Reborn to 1602, it would not only make sense from a storytelling point of view, it would also be one of the coolest crossovers ever, tying together dangling plot thread from the entire decade into one company-wide mega-epic. And, of course, it would bring back the real Captain America to the world of the living.

And that's something we can all be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Web Review: The Guild Season 3

Now, I know what long time readers are thinking: didn't he already review The Guild? Isn't that the web series about weirdos who play video games all the time and stuff? Firstly, gamers aren't weirdos, they are just like you and me, though probably more like me than you if you get what I mean. Secondly, that review was only for the first episode of season three. Now that the entire season has aired, however, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and review the whole darn thing if for no other reason than to give you guys all a nice sense of closure. You're welcome.

So how was season three? Actually, it was pretty good. It did start off a little slowly; the first two episodes contained a lot of (necessary) exposition that progressed everyone from the dramatic confrontations at the end of season two and set up this season's major conflicts, both within the guild and without. While these first couple episodes did have some funny moments, mainly thanks to the appearance of the new rival guild, the Axis of Anarchy, they were a bit of a slow go, which is too bad considering the series was bringing in a ton of new fans thanks to their viral music video hit "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" (which actually topped some Eurpopean download sites when it was released over the summer as a tease for season three).

Once the setup was done, however, the season really hit its stride, deftly showing the breakdown of the Knights of Good as internal pressures reduced the guild to almost nothingness before Codex (the alarmingly awesome Felicia Day), thrust into an unfamiliar and unwelcome leadership position thanks to Vork's soul searching walkabout, managed to start pulling things back together, rallying the tropps from their individual meltdowns for an epic PvP faceoff in the final two episodes.

While the individual plotlines for each character were interesting, though, the scenes were routinely stolen by the deliciously evil Axis of Anarchy members during their brief times onscreen. Led by geek king Wil Wheaton as the smarmy and obnoxiously self-satisfied Fawkes, the Axis added a new level of awesomeness to The Guild, particularly in episode four when Codex wanders into their vent channel in the middle of a raid and gets ripped into.

That may be a little bit of inside baseball for those who don't play MMOs, but then again, that's the audience the series is designed for. Another in-joke that kills is episode five's application process, which features clips sent in by fans of The Guild as they apply to join the Knights of Good.

Overall, then, I have to say I thought this was the strongest season to date despite the slow start. The climax nicely ties up the individual plotlines for each character while setting up next season and -- thankfully -- leaving open the door for more Wil Wheaton and, even better, breakout star J. Teddy Garces, who plays in your face cop and in-game healer Bruiser.

More Axis vs. Knights? That's one raid encounter I think all fans of The Guild are looking forward to seeing.

My Grade: The slow beginning was well worth it; as a whole the season gets an A-. You can check out the cathartic final episode for yourself here:

<a href="" target="_new" title="'The Guild' season 3 finale">Video: 'The Guild' season 3 finale</a>

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Presidents in Comics: The Modern Era

All week we've been taking a look at how presidents have been portrayed in comics. We've seen how the respectful use of presidents was subverted forever due to the presidency of Richard Nixon and how this led to political satire during Ronald Reagan's terms and sly humor at the end of Bill Clinton's. Now we've caught up to the present with the final installment, which will examine how the way Clinton was treated set up the modern era of Presidents in Comics.

Prior to Clinton, there were still two basic ways presidents were shown: the original, where the president cameos as himself and the Nixonian archetype where he appears in the form of commentary or satire on the politician or his policies. As we saw yesterday, though, towards the end of Clinton's term and in the years afterwords, a third archetype began to develop: the president as a character rather than an icon. In other words, it wasn't necessarily "The President of the United States" appearing, it was Bill Clinton.

This would eventually have a dramatic effect on the depiction of presidents in comics, but first something would intervene that would temporarily halt that development: September 11.

As we saw yesterday, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, had a direct impact on Marvel's editorial stance regarding politicians; instead of placing New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a compromising storyline, they opted to replace him with former president Bill Clinton, which presumably was a more acceptable target. This sort of thinking extended as well to the depiction of President Bush. Upon entering office, it might have seemed that Bush was ripe for parody, what with his malapropisms and the voting controversy in Florida. However, following the attacks, Marvel -- and comics in general -- rallied behind the President, instead showing him in a positive and sympathetic light almost exclusively.

Examples of this can be seen in early issues of Alias, where Jessica Jones has to stop a Democratic conspiracy to malign the president. Bush also is shown in a fairly stand commander in chief role in Ultimates, where he becomes friends with the newly revived and decidedly right-wing Captain America. At Marvel he was also shown many times in the traditional comics role as benevolent leader of America, with cameos designed to impart the importance of the events, such as his appearances in World War Hulk and at Black Panther's wedding to Storm in Black Panther #18.

It's interesting to contrast Marvel's hands-on editorial policy towards President Bush and other leaders during the early half of this decade with the anything goes mentality of the 1970's, when writers were often given free reign to have Nixon show up as villainous wizards or use Gerald Ford as a deranged alternate-universe overlord.

As the decade progressed, however, and Bush became an increasingly divisive figure, other companies stepped in where Marvel refused to go. In Savage Dragon #119, which has never shied away from political commentary, the President is shown as an archvillain looking to wage war of superheroes. However, he does turn out to be an impersonator rather than the real president. Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis weren't quite as coy with their commentary, if you want to call it that, as both wrote sequences which depicted the president being murdered (Ellis in Black Summer, Ennis in 303).

And DC, of course, might have had the most pointed commentary of all when they decided not to depict George Bush at all in their comics and instead had Lex Luthor elected president. This has led to the strange and gradual distancing of the DC Universe from real America, as Luthor has now had three successors, all of whom are fictional, a stark departure for the company that once worked with the Kennedy administration to develop educational comics.

In all, then, the Bush era was in some ways more of the same: most of his appearances were either as a presidential icon (Marvel) or political commentary and satire (everyone else). The emergence of the president as a person and individual character which seemed to be in the offing with Clinton did not end up quite materializing. That is, it didn't materialize until the emergence of Barack Obama onto the scene.

It's just stating the obvious to say that Obama has been a pop sensation, and comics have been no different. But because this cult of personality exists, he's jumped right from being a president to being a character. Yes, there have been requisite appearances in traditional -- or psuedo-traditional -- roles, such as his famous cover appearance on Amazing Spider-man #583, but Obama has also become a bit of a cipher or muse for many creators either inspired by Obama or looking to cash in on his fame by featuring him.

Barack the Barbarian is one of the more prominent examples of this (showing Obama as a Conan-esque swordsman), with President Evil also being a prime offender (this time as a chainsaw wielding zombie-killer). The tidal wave of Obama covers and crossovers began, fittingly, with Savage Dragon endorsing him for president on the cover of #137, a use that the series had probably earned, but since the success of that book and the popularity of Obama himself has soared, copycats and other opportunists have come out of the woodwork hoping to grab a piece of the Obama pie.

Because of this, it's hard to say just what Obama's long-term effect on comics will be. He's already brought some media attention to the struggling industry by being a high-profile, self-proclaimed comic geek (hence his appearance on the cover of Spider-man, according to Marvel EIC Joe Quesada; sales might be a factor too, as the title previously featured Stephen Colbert on the cover as a stunt). But until the hype settles down, as it has now begun to do, it's impossible to tell whether Obama's presidency will end up being a traditional one or, as seems possible, whether it will finally fulfill the promise of Clinton's terms and usher in a new era where presidents are, like Wolverine or Batman, just one more comic character to be used as the plot -- and character -- dictates.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Presidents in Comics: The Clinton Years

Welcome back to the latest installment of our weeklong look at how American presidents have been depicted in comics. So far we've touched on Roosevelt forming the Justice Society, Nixon using the powers of entropy to bring about wold destruction and Reagan turning into a mindless snake-man. Today we're up to the 1990's and that means, of course, Bill Clinton.

Of course, there was a president in between Reagan and Clinton, but like other one-term presidents, George H. W. Bush didn't have a huge impact on the comics scene; he didn't even manage to have that one bizarre story like Gerald Ford to etch him in the public consciousness. Perhaps his highest profile appearance was in the pages of Mike Grell's hot button issue series Green Arrow. In the pivotal arc "Blood of the Dragon", culminating in Green Arrow #24, readers discover that Green Arrow has (unknown to him) fathered a child with his occasional rival, the expert archer assassin Shado. This comes to light when Shado is blackmailed by the Yakuza to assassinate President Bush when they take her son hostage. Green Arrow, however, saves the boy, freeing Shado from her obligation; Bush, meanwhile, is also saved just in the nick of time as a back-up assassin is about to finish him using a poison pen.

Otherwise, though, it's Clinton who has the larger legacy as a comic character. This is in some ways fitting because Clinton is also the first president to be an admitted fan of comic books. Unlike Barack Obama, who appears to retain some appreciation of the medium (which we will discuss more tomorrow), Clinton got out of comics early, eventually turning his collection into a source of income when he sold it off as a teen. For some reason this story came to light during a conversation with the Russian media, but I've tracked down a YouTube clip where Clinton himself explains his comic book connections to... Calista Flockhart for some reason.

As far as his actual appearances within the comics, as with most of his predecessors, the majority were of a ceremonial nature, with presidential cameos acting as a way to ground stories in the real world while also adding weight to them. If the president is in the comic, after all, then something important must be taking place. One example of this type of use took place when President and Mrs. Clinton appeared at Superman's funeral following the character's death in Superman #75.

Like his post-Nixon predecessors, however, Clinton also was used for parodies and for a broader artistic expression than merely showing up in his normal capacity as presidential figurehead for comic events. In Supreme: The Return #1, for example, an alien warlord named Korgo lands on Earth and formally issues a challenge to Bill Clinton as head of the free world. Clinton is defeated, but Korgo ends up throwing the match to escape Hillary Clinton, preferring exile. This cutting edge commentary was written by legendary comics genius Alan Moore, for whatever that's worth.

While the use of Clinton as a character was in many way similar to the presidents that came before him, it differs in one major way: Clinton, for whatever reason, has remained a viable comic book character even after leaving office. There have been some instances of presidents being used after their term was up, of course, but these are almost entirely cases of stories being set in the past, such as the near universal use of President Roosevelt in contemporary stories set during the Golden Age.

Clinton, however, is different in that he is still being used for current roles as both an ex-president and as a broader character in general (and sometimes both). Just this past September, for example, it was announced that Marc Guggenheim was planning to add Clinton as a regular cast member in his post-apocalyptic action series Resurrection, which may be the first time that a president has actually become a regular character in his own right rather than a stunt guest star. As Guggenheim told Comic Book Resources, "I believe we're charting new territory."

Perhaps the most infamous use of Clinton post-presidency, however, was his odd appearance in Uncanny X-Men #401. In this story, which was part of a special silent month at Marvel where no words appeared in any of their titles, Wolverine confronts a mutant hooker named Stacy-X. In the course of his encounter with her, Logan stumbles across a client of hers, flopped on a bed; thanks to photos on the bedstand, it's clear that her client is none other than former President Bill Clinton.

What makes this so curious, of course, beyond the obvious lame Clinton horndog angle, is the fact that the script actually didn't have Clinton in it at all -- instead, the original politician who was going to be pilloried was actually... Rudy Giuliani? Yes, originally Marvel was going to use the then mayor of New York in what was likely intended as commentary on Giuliani's marriage-destroying affair with Judith Nathan.

So what caused the sudden change? At first glance it might look like some sort of overt political decision to switch out the Republican mayor for the former Democratic president. And there's no doubt it was political, but in a different way: the story was (likely) changed due to the events of September 11. In the aftermath, Marvel, which of course is based in downtown New York, was quite prominent in efforts to raise money for survivors and probably felt it would be in poor taste to run this kind of commentary on Giuliani, who at the time was being widely praised for his efforts. Instead, an easy and seemingly benign new target was chosen as an acceptable stand-in for this scene: President Clinton.

Tomorrow: George Bush! Barack Obama! One wins, one dies! Okay, that's not true, but one does win in the world of comics. Hmm. I wonder which one comes out on top?

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Presidents in Comics: The Reagan Era

Welcome to the third installment in our week-long look at the depiction of American presidents through comics history. If you missed our first two days, you can get yourself up to speed by checking out our overview of the Golden and Silver Ages and how they treated Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson, and then take a moment to see how Richard Nixon's stint in office changed the way presidents were portrayed in comics forever. Go on, we'll wait. Dum dem dum.

Okay, back? Good. Because you're in for a treat, as today we're going to look at how another Republican president was treated in four colors: Ronald Reagan.

Now, you're probably thinking, but wait, mister Vault man, what about Ford and Carter? Have no fear, we haven't forgotten them. However, after the firestorm of Nixon's presidency and the explosion of commentary it triggered in the comics world, the terms served by Ford and Carter were relatively benign (with one big exception which we'll get into momentarily). Yes, there were a few cameos here and there; over in Marvel Two-in-One, for instance, cyborg killer Deathlok crossed over from his future alternate reality to assassinate Carter, only to be thwarted when it turned out his target was actually the Impossible Man. And Carter also had a brief cameo in the Super-Villain Team-Up crossover with The Champions when he, along with the rest of the world, was mentally controlled by Dr. Doom's brain gas.

But for the most part, these few appearances were fairly benign in nature. Whether it was the politics of the men or their brief stints in office, for whatever reason they managed to avoid the kind of treatment that plagued Nixon. The most famous appearance by Carter, for example, is his tiny cameo on the cover of Superman vs. Muhammed Ali. That about says it all.

Of course, we did mention that one glaring exception, which is the crowning moment in the fictional comic book life of Gerald R. Ford. It's too bizarre and complicated to fully get into here, but suffice it to say that in the pages of Iron Man, a long, drawn out epic called "The Battle of the Super Villains" took place over the course of more than a year from #69-81 which involved the machinations of a mysterious new villain by the name of Black Lama. At the end, in one of the bigger non sequitors in Marvel history, it was revealed that the Black Lama was actually... an alternate universe version of Gerald Ford. Turns out that King Jerald, who claimed the throne of his homeland when the previous king abdicated (yet another weird Nixon appearance), traveled to our world and was overcome by some sort of mental force that transformed him into a vessel of pure evil. Once he returned to his own reality, though, the madness lifted and Iron Man helped him regain his throne from that world's shady analogue of Vice President Rockefeller, Baron Rockler.


Anyway, other than that bizarre blip, like we were saying, most of the appearances by Ford and Carter were pretty tame, a trend that would swiftly come to an end thanks to the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

That's not to say that Reagan's inauguration returned comics to the days of Nixon; in fact, for the most part, Reagan's two terms in office more closely resembled the Golden Age standard, with the president appearing mostly in cameo roles where he decorated heroes for their work, gave them missions or delivered resounding monologues about the importance of freedom. Or all three. The main difference between the majority of Reagan's appearances and those by, say, Roosevelt or Johnson, is that a new level of political sophistication was added without necessarily becoming political commentary. In 1986's Legends, for instance, the president is shown pragmatically discussing with Superman the effects of Desaad's anti-hero smear campaign, a use that gives the president a fairly sympathetic, classic treatment while also allowing a more nuanced view of the president's role than might have been possible prior to Nixon.

That was pretty much par for the course during the Reagan years, but there were two major exceptions that would prove to be the most influential and buzzed about Ronald Reagan appearances in comics and go on to define his presidency for many comics fans. The first of these appeared in one of the most famous comics of all time, The Dark Knight Returns.

This series, which featured Reagan in a small but prominent role, is particularly interesting in contrast to (or conjunction with) his appearance in Legends, which was running concurrently with The Dark Knight Returns. In both books Reagan and Superman have a close working relationship, with Superman consulting with and deferring to the president in both series. The Dark Knight Returns, however, shows the potential dark side of such a relationship, as it portrays a Superman who has become less of a superhero and more of a government agent, taking orders from Reagan and going on covert missions to support the American power structure rather than the American people. As you might expect, the Reagan in this series is more of an ideological mummer, dressing up in star spangled suits and taking his "aw shucks" brand of senility to the American people on the airwaves to gain support for his military actions. It's a biting commentary on both Reagan's policies and American society in the 80's and has become, along with Captain America's Nixon, probably the most important use of a president in comics.

Somewhat less serious but almost as infamous is Reagan's appearance in Captain America #344. This took place during a long storyline where Captain America was ordered by the government to become an agent under their command (you may sense a bit of a theme here) and instead quit the role of Captain America in protest. The call-back to Englehart's famous Nixon storyline was both obvious and intentional, so it's only fitting that the story would involve the president. For most of the run (which lasted an impressive 19 issues), Reagan had just a bit part; it was shown more than once that Reagan was not aware of what his government commission was doing, with the implication that he probably didn't know much about what any other part of his administration was doing either. This had the double effect of making him seem both incompetent and sympathetic, because he clearly was on Cap's side but just didn't know anything was wrong to begin with, otherwise he would have stopped the whole mess (which eventually he does, in Captain America #350).

That's how Reagan was portrayed through most of the story. In issue #344, however, writer Mark Gruenwald took it out a whole new door as part of the culmination of his arc-within-an-arc about the Serpent Society. In this case, the evil nihilist Viper had seized control from the more pragmatic businessman (and founder of the Society) Sidewinder with the aim of toppling American government by poisoning the District of Columbia water supply. Cap and his friends are too late to stop this, and all of Washington is tainted by the supply. The poison doesn't kill people, though -- it turns them into mindless snake-men.

This led to the classic cover for #344, showing Steve Rogers (in his new identity as The Captain) standing in the Oval Office as a mutated, snake-man version of Ronald Reagan (shown in sinister silhouette) swoops in from the shadows with on goal in mind: to KILL! This great image from Ron Frenz is accompanied by the classic and pointed blurb "The Captain vs. the Deadliest Snake of All!"

In keeping with the tone of the series, the contents of this issue actually portray Reagan in a somewhat more benign fashion. With the populace of the city all turned into mindless snake people, Viper is able to waltz unmolested right into the Oval Office, where she stands around for a while, drinking in the sight of the president reduces to a nearly brainless animal state. Just as she is about to shoot him, however, The Captain shows up. Viper then gets to just about laugh herself hoarse as Cap is attacked by the mindless Reagan. Cap manages to fend him off without injuring him, Viper gets captured and the antidote is administered. Reagan, however, is still not made aware of the fact that it was Steve Rogers who saved the day, as by this time the government commission is in full cover-up mode and doing their best just to eliminate Cap and push it all under the table.

Overall, the Reagan era both returned presidents to their usual role in comics and also established a new standard going forward. While the days of Nixon appearing as a supervillain in every comic under the sun were gone, so too was the feeling that the president should be treated with kid gloves. Instead, a new, more nuanced and informed style of depicting the president emerged, one that allowed for commentary without needing to devolve into outright parody. But those times when it did, of course, invariably proved to be the most memorable.

Tomorrow: So how would seemingly liberal mainstream comic writers deal with a two-term Democrat in the White House? We'll find out tomorrow when we look at the 90's and the Bill Clinton era. See you then.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Presidents in Comics: The Nixon Effect

Who is the greatest supervillain of them all? Is it Lex Luthor? The Joker? Dr. Doom? The Red Skull? Magneto? The Headmen? The Tetrarchs of Entropy? Turner D. Century? The debate has raged on for decades, but above all of these fictional villains towers an all too real arch-villain on a scale unprecedented in comics: President Richard M. Nixon.

Yes, Richard Nixon, who would, of course, go on to resign in disgrace after Watergate, became a target for comic book writers almost immediately upon his ascension to the presidency. Though the bulk of the attacks didn't get into full force until the Watergate scandal broke, even before that it was clear that the respectful kid gloves usually reserved for treatment of presidents in comics had been set aside. Part of this is due to the changing political climate in the nation, and part of it was due to a more direct source: a changing of the guard in the ranks of comics creators, especially at Marvel. Out were the older generation of creators who had grown up with the industry, right from its World War II roots, and in was a new generation of post-war creators who had grown up on both comics and distrust of the government. This new generation of writers and artists, including those with noted political stances such as Gerber and Englehart, were quick to seize on Nixon as a foil -- a decision that forever altered the way presidents were depicted in comics.

Things didn't start too badly for the president, of course. One of his earlier appearances, in 1970's Fantastic Four #103, was of the more traditional variety, with Nixon calling upon the FF to save New York from an Atlantean invasion (though even here, Stan did manage to slip in a little snipe about the direction of the Vietnam War). And this sort of thing also took place over in staid DC titles like World's Finest, where Nixon appeared in the usual presidential cameo role.

The tide was turning, though, something that can be seen in comics like Incredible Hulk #139. As we saw yesterday, a few years earlier Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had also dealt with the Hulk in Tales to Astonish #88, seeing right to the heart of the tragic beast and giving Banner a full pardon. Not so much with Nixon; in #139, Nixon prevaricates while discussing options with General Ross and finally decides to delegate authority to his hand-picked liaison Spiro Agnew. That, as history has shown, was usually not a good idea and the predictable ensued.

Thus the long-standing principle of always having the president be an honorable, upstanding guest-star was slowly being chipped away at. Gone were the days of "If I can't trust the president of the United States, who can I trust?" and in were the days of sidelong, if still not too pointed, political commentary. In Fantastic Four #123, for example, Nixon (who even lands a guest spot on the cover) debates whether or not to turn matters over to the Fantastic Four, worrying that he "has an election coming up". And even more subtly, Jack Kirby drew a small bit of Republican ire when he supposedly modeled one of the kids in Jimmy Olsen's Newsboy Legion strip on Tricky Dick. Hell, even Richie Rich got involved, using Nixon as a lab assistant named, for no apparent reason, after the band Uriah Heep.

But then Watergate hit and all bets were off. Jabs and snide remarks weren't enough anymore; with righteous indignation, the comic world began really venting its anger on Nixon. DC, for its part, was still fairly mild, simply going with items like a caricature of Nixon on the cover of From Beyond the Unknown #17 where aliens decide that Earth must be a myth because any planet that would have Richard Nixon as its leader is "scientifically impossible!"

Marvel, though, was pulling no punches. Steve Gerber, who would go on to create the politically savvy comic icon Howard the Duck, immediately cast Nixon as the villain in the infamously titled Giant-Size Man-Thing #1. In this story, Nixon appears as the leader of a cult of entropy; wearing a hood and spouting nihilist slogans, Nixon (who is known among his disciples as Yagzan) tries to bring about the end of, well, whatever is supposed to end; that's how entropy works I guess. Luckily Man-Thing is around to save the world, even if real-life America wasn't so lucky.

But the most famous Nixon story of all time, and one of the most infamous storylines in Marvel history, has to be the Secret Empire story that ran from Captain America #169-176. In events specifically designed to parallel Watergate, Captain America uncovers a vast conspiracy by a shadowy organization called the Secret Empire. Following the paper trail, he discovers that this plot to covertly control America leads right into the White House itself and in the #175 he is shocked to find that the leader of the Secret Empire is none other than President Richard Nixon.

Confronted with evidence of his misdeeds, and faced with America's fighting legend himself, Captain America, Nixon does the only thing that he can do: he commits suicide in front of the shocked hero. The entire episode leads to Cap questioning both America and his role in the nation and results in Steve Rogers deciding to quit as Captain America because he no longer believes in the government.

Eventually, of course, he decides that he does not represent the American government, but instead the American dream, something that is stronger than any one politician, no matter how corrupt. This was a defining storyline in the history of the character, as it crafted a specific new role for Cap that he has maintained to this day, showing how the character can still be viable in a nation that no longer trusts its own government. Because of that, it remains perhaps the quintessential Captain America storyline of all time, which means that in the end, Nixon's presidency ended up getting at least one thing right.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't also briefly mention the other most famous Nixon story in comics, which was printed over a decade after the president left office: Watchmen. Everything in the story is informed by the Nixon years, as it takes place in a world where Nixon not only never stepped down, but was in fact re-elected several times, becomes a de facto president for life. Alan Moore and partner Dave Gibbons were commenting on the Reagan era as much as on Nixon, but the images of Nixon calmly discussing how much of the nation was an acceptable loss in case of a nuclear strike is still among the most indelible graphics from that most famous of comics.

Once that cat was out of the bag, of course, it was impossible to put back in. Nixon had changed the way presidents were treated in comics; instead of across-the-board respect, individual presidents were now treated as just that: individuals, to be lauded or ridiculed based on both their actions and the political leanings of the creative team depicting them.

Tomorrow: We'll be looking at the biggest target this side of Nixon, Ronald Reagan, as we look at how the new rules established in the 70's paved the way for one lampoon after another in the 80's. Featuring, of course, the famous "Reagan literally turns into a giant snake" story. Be there!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presidents in Comics: The Golden Age of Politics

Welcome back to our week-long overview of American presidents in comic books. Yesterday we gave you just a tiny taste of some of the juicy excitement to come, but today we're ready to jump in with both feet as we start our examination right at the beginning -- with the birth of comics and the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

From the get-go, comics began featuring Roosevelt in cameo roles, dropping him into titles like Action Comics #15 (1939) and other patriotic themed books, such as Captain America (where he makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it psuedo-cameo in #2 that was expanded years later in a long retcon that explained Cap's new round shield). In those early days, the president was as much a symbol as the heroes he was interacting with, such as when he formed the Justice Society, an event that, again, has been greatly expanded upon in the decades since. During the war years, when our nation's enemies such as Hitler and Hirohito were frequently appearing in comics as villains for the bad guys to defeat, appearances by Roosevelt were an obvious counter, with the president usually commending the heroes, bestowing some sort of thanks upon the hero for their good service or providing them orders for their next mission.

This kind of benevolent view of the president as the nation's paternal protector continued mostly unabated through the rest of the Golden Age and into the Silver Age, and in turn, the presidents themselves often used the popular medium as a way to speak directly to their constituents. Starting with Roosevelt, presidents and presidential candidates alike took to issuing comics depicting their life story and communicating their platform and record. Truman and Eisenhower, for example, both issued comics telling their life stories.

While Eisenhower perhaps lost a bit of popularity in the comic world thanks to the government inquiries that nearly destroyed the medium, comics still treated presidents as special, untouchable guest stars, almost always taking pains to show both the president himself and the presidency as a whole in a positive light.

Perhaps the most famous example of this, and probably the most famous appearance by a sitting president in comics history, took place in Action Comics #309, when John F. Kennedy showed up for a guest spot in the lead Superman story. In the story, not only does President Kennedy team up with Superman, he also becomes one of the only people in history to know Superman's secret identity. But, as Superman says, this is okay because "if I can't trust the president of the United States, who can I trust?"

That's a question that would become tinged with with irony less than a decade later, but at the time it was just par for the course. Also ironic (if that's the word), and the reason for this comic's lasting fame, is the fact that it hit newsstands a week after Kennedy's death; DC claimed that it was too far along in the distribution process to hold up release. Whether or not that is true, DC did hold back release of a planned physical fitness issue that the publisher had developed with the Kennedy administration, though they did finally issue it in the pages of 1964's Superman #170.

Following Kennedy's assassination, and thanks in part to the rise of Marvel, presidents began to take a larger role in comics. Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, appeared as his predecessor had in the pages of Action Comics among other places at DC. Over at Marvel, though, he was a bit more active than past presidents had been, issuing a full pardon for the Hulk in Tales of Suspense #88, for example, and personally calling together the legendary Howling Commandos for a special Vietnam missing in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Special #3.

Even then, though, and despite the growing clamor over Vietnam, the president still commanded respect, and these appearances hew pretty close to the established norm for presidents in comics. That would all change, though, in 1969 when a new supervillain appeared that would eclipse even Dr. Doom or the Joker: President Richard Nixon.

Tomorrow: Nixon! Has any other president ever been as influential in the comic world as Richard Nixon? From his appearances in Kirby's Fourth World to the commentary in Watchmen to his legendary appearance as a Captain America arch-villain, Nixon's the One... tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Presidents in Comics Preview

November is best known for holidays like Thanksgiving and Veterans Day, but around these parts, it's also notable for Election Day. What better time, then, for us to take a look at one of the more interesting phenomenon in comics: appearances by U. S. Presidents.

Some of these appearances, of course, are headlining star turns; since the days of Harry S. Truman, bios of presidents have been common fare in the comic book world, either printed by independent companies or by the Presidents themselves as propaganda tools. As we go through the decades this week, we'll certainly take a look at these.
And we'll also have a look at Presidential retcons, such as the way that FDR has increasingly played a role in the formation of the Justice Society and DC's Golden Age.

Of more interest, though, are guest appearances by sitting presidents in mainstream comics. Whether played for laughs, for the press or as social commentary, guest spots by then-current presidents have been increasingly in vogue since the heady days of Nixon, when just about every comic being published seemed to have a new spin on the controversial president. In the years that have followed, presidents have frequently been used as foils and mouthpieces for the creator's viewpoint, with some presidents even appearing as out-and-out supervillains.

So this year, as you sort through the aftermath of yet another Election Day gone past, take a few moments to join us as we look at Presidents in Comics all week long. Because it's one ting to call a politician a snake, but it's something totally different to actually turn him into one.

Tomorrow: The Golden Age meets the Silver Age as we take a look at presidents from the 40's to the 60's, back when comics and their readers were more politically innocent. Cast a vote... for The Vault!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Game Review: Tekken 6

Over the past 15 years or so, the Tekken franchise from Namco has established itself as one of the premier fighting games in the world, rivaled only (and debatably) by Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur (don't even try to say Virtua Fighter). So when the programming company announced that their latest version, Tekken 6, would be available for the first time on consoles other than PlayStation, we were curious to see the result.

Well, now the answer is in and it's official: the newest version of Tekken is the best yet.

What makes it so good is the increased depth across the board. First off, just about every character in Tekken history is available to play; while there are some omissions for story reasons, such as Jun Kazama or Doctor Boskonovitch, the game offers a whopping 40 playable characters for enthusiasts to choose from.

The depth is also apparent within each character as well, with most of them possessing over 100 unique moves or combos and some characters boasting over 160 moves. Mastering the playstyle of one specific character would take dedication; figuring out how to play every character to their best capacity would be borderline insane.

As in previous games, each of the 40 characters also comes with their own cinematics and unique storylines, but Tekken 6 adds to the individuality by allowing players to customize the characters with dozens of different outfits and accessories. From cowboy hats to swords to extra chest hair, you can pimp out your character in multiple ways, none of which affect game play but all of which add a layer of fun and interaction for the player.

This is especially helpful when trying out the game's new online mode, where you play against any of the tens of thousands of Tekken enthusiasts around the world. Normally you'd run into hundreds of other, identical characters, but thanks to this customization you can ensure that your Yoshimitsu is unique among the crowd.

Of course, most casual players might be a little fearful of dipping their toes into the online waters where Tekken sharks are likely waiting to pound them into oblivion; nobody enjoys getting stomped in a one-sided game. Lukcily, though, the developers took this into consideration, implementing a ranking system that tracks your wins and losses and what rank your opponents are to ensure that you end up getting matched with other players in your skill range. Better, the game tracks all 40 character separately, so if you've gained a high rank with Lee and want to switch to King, you don't have to worry about being overmatched; with King you'll start back off as a newb and get to build rank with each new character as you learn.

Online mode isn't the only option available, though; the game also offers a story mode, which takes you through the game's storyline in a combination side-scroller/rpg that allows you to gather in-game currency to buy different costumes for your character and also allows you to unlock those items through drops and fight rewards.

Of course, the game isn't perfect and even with so many innovations it does fall flat in a couple areas. The biggest of these is a unusually long load time between battles, which can lead to some frustration and boredom at times; why it takes so long to load each fight is beyond us. The game's story mode also has some issues with game play, as the camera angle (a 3/4 overhead shot) doesn't perform well with moves designed for a side-view fight system. Since the game doesn't allow you to rotate camera angles during story mode, this can lead to some issues when trying to fight mobs.

Overall, though, those are fairly minor nits to pick. If you enjoy Tekken, or fighting games in general, Tekken 6 is a fantastic addition to the genre and one of the most in-depth fighting games ever made.

My Grades: Overall the game gets an A-. That's an A+ for the actual fighting and the customization of the characters; a B- for story mode, which should be awesome but is hindered by linearity and weird controls; and a C- for the stupidly long load times.

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