Without whipping out the chart, there’s a clear geek hierarchy out there. Sure, I play a lot of videogames, but at least I’m not one of those nerds playing MMORPGs and letting their lives be dictated by party raids and random character nerfs. Ha ha! Those nerds! They’d never have time to write about three separate videogames a week and then do a yearlong Let’s Play of a decade old videogame franchise nobody likes! Losers! Everybody hold up, I have to go put the finishing touches on my Allen Ridgley cosplay.
Things get even weirder when you examine the nerd hierarchy in the comic book world, though (or, maybe, as a videogame nerd, I just think it’s weirder because it’s not my specific fandom). Batman, for instance, is always going to be popular. Superman, too, for that matter. Then you get into some of the lesser heroes, but, good news, many of them have movies coming up. Get ready for Aquaman aquaing around Aqua Town! … But real nerds don’t like those movies, because they’re too serious, or not serious enough, or Oedipal complexes are too complex, or whatever. No, the real place you want to see your heroes is… on the CW? No, that can’t be right… though I did once encounter a perfectly normal woman at the DMV excitedly telling her friend, “Oh my gosh, Flash is a new episode tonight! That’s awesome!” Yes, I suppose there are literally thousands more (popular) people that could identify Felicity Smoak than Oracle. But then you get into the animated nerds, that learned everything they need to know about Batman from Batman The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, or maybe Teen Titans Go. Hey, Dr. Light appeared in 66% of those productions, so they’re all valid ways to learn about superheroes and superteens randomly yelling. But then, there at the bottom, the nerdiest of the nerdy, are the geeks that actually, ya know, read comic books. Can you imagine? You have to use your hands! Like a baby!
Also… obviously… I’m one of those nerds.
But I know it’s crazy! I’ve discussed it before, but following “comics continuity” is basically a never ending trap. Here’s how it goes down: You’ve got A-Man, champion of the letter A. A decent writer and artist combine in some mystical fashion, and write one good comic series for A-Man. Everyone, yourself included, is talking about A-Man, and check out this great run, and A-Man is doing what A-Man has never done before; and it all gets bolstered by the fact that A-Man comics drop once a month, so this “one story” gets magnified by half a year of speculation and discussion. By the time the inevitably disappointing A-Man #6 hits the stands and finally ends the arc, everyone is disappointed, but that anticipation of “what’s gonna happen next” lingers, so, naturally, you pick up A-Man #7 with a brand new creative team. Here’s your Goggle Bob sports metaphor for the year: If a soccer team wins the World Series, and then everyone involved quits or gets reassigned to other teams, do you expect the “new creative team” to score enough touchdowns to win that Stanley Cup again? No, that would be silly, but comic book fans follow that “same” A-Man over and over again, until, finally, A-Man’s reputation is so terrible, “he” is selling about two issues a year. So then it’s time for a reboot! Toss out everything that doesn’t work (which is usually something like a decade’s worth of stories), start all over again, and maybe get someone half decent on the writing staff. Hire Alex Ross for a cover, and we’re back in business. A-Man is reborn (in an issue likely literally called “A-Man Reborn”), and we’re right back at the start of the cycle.
This is fun and all, but it can create some… hiccups. For instance, with the exception of the titans of the industry (not the Teen Titans, to be clear), it’s very difficult for a superhero to hold on to a supporting cast. Let’s use CW’s comics shows as an example here: can you imagine The Flash without Cisco? How about Legends of Tomorrow without Gideon? That disembodied voice is an integral part of the cast! Meanwhile, most comic books identify this “we need a supporting cast” problem, fill the hole, make some of the supporting characters more interesting than the boring hero who has to save the day every week, and then… well, sorry, there was a reboot, so that character doesn’t exist anymore. Oh, she was your favorite? Sorry, time to move on. Heck, Powergirl can barely hold on to her cat (and people love cats!), so I wouldn’t get too attached to her superhero understudy with the rock powers that gal palled around with her for like ten issues.
And this kind of “hiccup” can really annoy fans. And, to be clear (and I hate that I have to be clear about this), I’m not talking about “fans doxxing every women in the tri-state area”, I’m leaning more toward “unlikely to ever read a new issue pertaining to a previously beloved character ever again”. If you’re reading Blue Beetle because you really like his close family ties and friends that remind you of real friends you have in your life, and then, next month, those friends don’t exist anymore… that gets kind of annoying. And, again, it’s not like a fan is putting their foot down and demanding a boycott (which, of course, does happen), simply that when you enjoy something for a particular trait or cast member, and then that thing you loved is completely dropped, then why read it anymore at all? Reboots are feared by comic nerds because they have taken so much from us!
This winds up being an exclusively comics problem, too, because, unlike other entertainment mediums, comics aren’t allowed to end. Somehow, some way, there must always be the Batman. He’s the hero we deserve. And there’s going to be a Joker, a Robin, and maybe purple gloves somewhere in there. Batman is always going to be “Batman” in the comic book universe. There is no “NuBatman” or “80sBatman” to differentiate, no, Batman is just Batman, because if he’s being identified as a “Batman variant” then that means this story isn’t important, and if the story isn’t important, then why the hell are you reading it? To enjoy it? Bah!
And then something like Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure comes along, and it’s salt in the wound.
Scribblenauts Unmasked contains an incredible DC Comics glossary. You want John Constantine to fight Swamp Thing? Cool, we got that. You want the NU52 Agents of S.H.A.D.E. (featuring Frankenstein and an immortal Asian schoolgirl)? We’ve got that, too. Want every damn Green Lantern concept that Alan Moore sneezed into existence? There’s Green Lantern Groot right there. All of your old friends are here: Wonder Woman (with or without pants), Batman, Superman, and Doctor Midnight. If you can name a DC comics character, they’re likely in here, and possibly with variants.
And it’s a damn shame, because it reminds the player of all the toys available to DC Comics that just aren’t being used. Depending on the week, the entire Justice Society, the heroes that fought in World War 2 and are the “grandpas” to the heroes of today, may or may not exist. And the Justice Society is a great concept! And they’ve got kids! And I like those kids! Mostly just Jade! But, nope, those toys are stuck in the closet, because DC determined it would be more interesting this week if Superman was the first superhero ever, and he’s macking on Wonder Woman for some reason. Oh, wait, no, he’s dead, now there’s the old Superman who loves Lois, and he’s got a kid of his own. Wait… does he remember the Justice Society? Can he bring them back? Please? Oh well, at least I can still pit Alan Scott against Larfleeze in Scribblenauts, a game that has no impact on anything.
And that’s what really gets my goat about Scribblenauts Unmasked: I want to see these toys be free. Maybe I’m at the bottom of the nerd ladder for this, but I believe that, when you’ve got the potential for unlimited interesting stories, you take that potential and grab it. Don’t limit yourself to one universe, don’t limit yourself to one fandom, and be more like Scribblenauts, and include everything available. You’ve got nearly a century worth of interesting toys to play with, so play with ‘em all.
FGC #265 Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure
- System: WiiU, 3DS, and Steam. Really? That’s it? I’d expect a greater range here, but I guess the stylus/keyboard part is kind of necessary.
- Number of players: Just the one. Which is also surprising, as the whole “plot” is basically about dueling scribblenauts, so you’d think they’d find a way to make that more playable.
- Favorite Adjective: Moist. Moist for days. Mooooooist.
- Favorite DC Hero: Matter Eater Lad popped out without so much as a suggestion. I mean, ya know, Mon-El had a problem, so I had to summon the luminaries of the Legion of Superheroes, right? Bouncing Boy was my second choice.
- Did you know? John Constantine once got a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend hooked on hallucinogenic magical sand that nearly destroyed the entire universe. And here he is in a Nintendo WiiU game about randomly summoning Tomorrow Gal. Go fig.
- Would I play again: I prefer the less story-driven Scribblenauts games. As much as I love a toy chest containing the entire DC universe, I still like solving problems exclusively through T-Rexes more.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy for the Atari Jaguar! That… can’t be good. Please… look forward to it.