Results tagged “comics”

Lego Batman 2: the best interactive essay on Superman

BruceBeyond being a surprisingly well-written entry among Traveler’s Tales’ more recent Lego-Whatever titles, Lego Batman 2 may contain the most poignant expression I’ve seen of Superman’s perhaps most obvious narrative problem: how does one make a literally omnipotent character dramatically interesting? What does it mean when there’s this one guy always front-and-center who can outdo any individual, super-powered or otherwise, at whatever thing they feel makes them special?

Lego Batman 2 shines a spotlight on these questions in the very best way a videogame can, purely through play mechanics, and with reserved brilliance. Much like the first (much weaker, far buggier) Lego Batman game, the first few acts of the story mode lend Players One and Two the unsurprising respective roles of Batman and Robin. At the start of the second act, the plot twists in such a way that the latter finds himself bumped into the wings when Superman swoops into the Player Two spot. And then things get interestingly weird.

Speak with Monsters

Screen shot 2010-06-22 at 11.39.46 PM.pngAs a palate cleanser after the previous eye-rolling meta-post, allow me to offer a link to Lore Sjöberg’s Speak with Monsters, a gameish webcomic I admire for its doing a lot with a narrow subject space. Specifically, Sjölberg wanders up and down the pages of 1977’s original Monster Manual from first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, adapting its uneven but unforgettable artwork and Gary Gygax’s far-out descriptive text and and rules into a series of four-panel comic strips.

It starts out on a high note with a cartoon starring that mustachioed dude from the original book’s “Rot Grubs” illustration (who quickly becomes a recurring character), and continues to explore other oddities of the Gygax era like Shambling Mounds, Bulettes, and, er, Herd Animals. If you’re like me (where “like me” might mean that you burned all the original Monster Manual illustrations to memory as a child), you’ll gulp down the whole mad menagerie in a sitting, and then subscribe for more.

What I bought at PAX East 2010, Part 2

9780810984233.jpgThis week I complete my writeup of the stuff I hoovered off the merch tables outside the very first PAX East expo hall last month. As I mentioned last time, almost everything I bought at this game expo was some kind of printed matter.

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga

I don't understand how I haven't run into Jason Shiga's work before last month[1], where two of his self-published books lay among the Printed Works of Interest on display at the PAX IF Suite. One of them, a black-and-white, intriguingly dogeared comic book called Meanwhile, caught my attention immediately, and I was delighted to discover that a brand-new full-color hardcover edition had not only just been printed but was for sale at the expo. For my money, it is a best-case scenario of print-based interactive fiction.

The Silver Age

3680301979_4de6bcc232.jpgI wish to make an extended footnote on last Monday's post, regarding further similarities I see between the comics and video game markets. When I was in high school I went through a profound comics-geek phase where, beyond the typical obsessive book-hoarding, I undertook to learn everything there was to learn about that medium's history (a full decade before Wikipedia came 'round, my son). I've long since sold my longboxes full of Mylar-bagged pulp, but that knowledge remains, and I can't help but get very tangential when I have reason to compare comics to any other medium. Having thus further established my nerdboy bloviation credentials:

I see Valve Software today holding the same position in the overall media landscape that Marvel Comics occupied in the early-mid 1960s. In both cases, we have two experienced studios, neither the mainstream-recognized giants of their fields, who made an unusual decision: they chose to spend the creative capital gained from prior commercial success to quietly revolutionize their respective medium's dominant genres, rather than take the safer path of grinding out more derivative sameness.

Shelf Space

2920993639_173d82738e_o.jpgOne of the more memorable chapters of Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics - his somewhat obscure followup to the paradigm-shifting Understanding Comics - is a critique of how much of the comics market (outside of Japan, anyway) is given over to superheroes. While acknowledging that he'd launched his own career with superhero tales, McCloud described the frustration that a comics creator faces when they wish to tell any other sort of story: that a graphical medium of boundless possibility should fail to have significant sales for anything other than the ripping adventures of flying musclemen in longjohns.

This came to mind for me as I recently started exploring multiplayer online games. Leaving aside certain Facebook games and other capital-c casual exercises, the space seems clearly dominated by either first-person shooters or MMOs. Wandering through discussions on web-based forums, or browsing the games that people were playing together on networks like Xbox Live or Steam, I found very little activity that didn't involve a picture of a gun poking out of the lower-right of the screen. This leads me to think about connections between these games' predominance and the consistent rank-and-file of men in tights on the walls of the comic shop.

Digital nonlinear CYOA comic

...or, digital nonlinear CYOA comic with dinosaurs?

I know which one I'd choose.

(Fortunately, they're the same choice. I mean there's only one link there. Narrative forced choice for the win!)

Seriously, this is brilliant on about six different levels. It's digging into CYOA structure, the way players react to CYOA structure, the way videogames react to the way players react to CYOA structure (by putting friction into the lawnmowering process). I could relate it to my current favorite topic, the way online multi-authored multi-threaded text has grown beyond the traditional notion of text as a medium, into some kind of performance -- something that can only be followed in real time, see?

It also riffs on "camping", a familiar notion from multiplayer shooter games. And, on top of that, it's got dinosaurs. So that's six levels right there.


If you haven't read Order of the Stick, I highly recommend that you go read it (it will likely take you at least a few days to get through the 600+ pages that currently exist). It's a stick-figure comic about a group of Dungeons & Dragons characters. It's hilarious, and it's also a really good story.

A few years ago, the creator of Order of the Stick started hosting a new comic, Erfworld. It takes place in a world where a turn-based strategy wargame is the reality. People think in turns and how much move they have left. People can see other people's stats. The terrain is divided into hexes. And everything is cute and pulls in references from all sorts of things from our world (games, movies, Internet culture, etc.). In the beginning, one of the sides needs a new warlord, and they end up summoning someone from our world, someone who plays turn-based strategy games (apparently tabletop ones, as shown in the comic, rather than video game ones), who is obsessed with them, in fact. The comic is all about how he learns how the world works and tries to come up with a winning strategy.

I stopped reading it after the first several strips, because I found it really difficult to keep up with a comic with a continuing story (that doesn't have a gag every strip) that had a new page come out once per week. However, the 150-page (plus a dozen bonus pages) Book 1 has come to an end, so I went back and read the whole thing in the past couple of days. It's a very different experience from Order of the Stick, but it's also a really great story, and getting to know this game world is pretty neat, too. Apparently they encourage fan works, and there is a fan-made video game project in the works.

Erfworld now has its own website, and Book 2 is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Comics about digital games

A cheap topic, perhaps -- there are web-comics about everything. But I stumbled across two of these this week, and was reminded about the third. So let us venture forth.

(Links are to the first strip of each comic.)

To be honest, the binding thread across these three comics is my reaction: "Why... would somebody... be writing a comic... about that?" (Picture plaintive gesticulation of at least three limbs.) I plead guilty to the freak show. In each case, however, there is an answer to the question.

+EV is written to the audience of a great and powerful online gaming industry -- of which I know practically nothing. (I even have friends who work in that industry! But the all-seeing eye of Zarf is really pretty nearsighted and parochial. I stick with my non-third-person adventure games. It's a life.)

Clockwork Game concerns a piece of gaming history. It's too young a strip for the plot to be apparent, but I'm intrigued.

And My Name is Might Have Been is self-justifying. I won't spoil it.



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