Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I remember getting my Nintendo Entertainment system back in 1987. Times were simpler then: you only needed a few minutes to actually finish a game, but that was after hours and hours of practice. Indeed, video games were much shorter when we were younger, but also much harder.

There is no real challenge to the games of today, if you simply sit in front of your PS3 with enough time and a hint guide you will finish whatever cookie-cutter sandbox GTA clone is newest, hottest thing. I am not saying that games today aren't good (many are destined to become classics), but our ability to accept a challenge from video games has been greatly diminished.

This bring me to today's review: a first look at Mega Man 9 for the virtual consoles on the Wii, XBOX360, and the PS3. With this game Capcom ushers in what will surely be a new genre in gaming: the Nouveau-Retro. That's right folks, Capcom has created a brand new 8-bit game for you all to enjoy and attempt to conquer.

The story is standard Mega Man fare; Dr. Light has been framed by Dr. Wily and Mega Man must clear his name by battling 8 stages of robots and gaining new and interesting weaponry.

I was reminded right away at just how difficult a Mega Man game can be as in the Concrete Man stage I was hit by an enemy and fell to my death. 5 seconds into playing the game. Undaunted I tried again and made it past the first jump, only to die due to extensive damage about 1 minute later. I finished off my third life (another horrible robotic death), and then decided to change levels. I tried each and every level and was met with a grisly end time and time again.

Here I should mention something for those new to the Mega Man series: there is actually a "correct" order to complete the levels. Certain weapons will help you defeat bosses with greater ease. It is an extended paper, rock, scissors type set up. Further to this you should never keep trying all the different levels as I did. You really should stick with one level and attempt to master it (I would suggest starting with the Galaxy Man stage as I actually made it to the boss on that one).

The problem is that in today's era of hint-books and online cheats we as gamers really don't have the patience to die continuously in the same spot over and over again. When you are 7 and have nothing better to do it seems like a good idea to contest a level ad nauseam until we eke out a victory, but now we are older and fear death and, as such, do not want to use up too many of our remaining hours being impaled by spikes in the Splash Woman level.

You might think that I dislike the game, but you would be wrong. The game is fantastic, and a great throwback to the golden age of Nintendo. But should you buy it? Well, at $10 Mega Man 9 is pretty cheap, but they aren't giving it away either. This will be a must have for any Mega Man fan, and you will get a great per hour return on it, but if you haven't ever played a Mega Man game before I would suggest you do a little research first. Find some older Mega Man games and see if you can handle the continual parade of death; if not, I am sure that Rockstar Games is working on something nice and easy just for you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spectacular Spider-Man

Adaptation from one form of media to another always brings with it a series of challenges as the interaction between audience and art is also changed. This difficulty can be seen no more clearly when comic books are adapted to other media such as television or film. More often than not adaptations using comic books as source material evolve into eye-candy with little substance or, in some cases, resemblance to the original. For every successful venture (Spider-Man, Iron-Man) there have been countless other failures (League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Electra, Howard the Duck, need I go on?). One area where comic books have seen some degree of continual success is an adaptation into an animated television show.

The animated medium allows for much of the character design, exotic locals, and stupendous super-powers to remain intact when such elements could break the bank in a feature film. A weekly television show also allows for a more episodic mode of storytelling, and this results in a longer narrative that is conducive for fleshing out the characters (a feature film often has to cram 30 years of comic book history into 2 hours). It is then the challenge of the writers and directors to use decades of source material to come up with a new set of stories that will do justice to the character, appease legions of ravenous fanboys, and bring in new viewers. No small task, but one done with great aplomb in the new animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man, the 7th animated series to feature our friendly neighbourhood wall crawler.

The series takes place in the modern times with Peter Parker in high school. In fact everyone is in high school. And I mean everyone as Gwen Stacey, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, Glory Grant, Kong, Hobie Brown, Rand Robertson, and Mary Jane all go to the same school. This does not divert too much from the source material, and it does give the viewer in the know a little wink wink to what may be coming.

Peter volunteers with Dr. Conners, whose workman is Max Dillon (Electro), and whose lab assistant is Eddie Brock. Eddie's parents dies in the same plane crash that killed Peter's folks. Tombstone is a crime boss, Norman Osborn makes super-villains for him, oh, and Dr. Otto Octavius works for Osborn. The point I am trying to make is that the show nicely ties everything and everyone together. As strange as it may seem this does not come across as contrived; the storytelling is just that good.

The series gains it strength from being able to rely on all of the good things that every other comic book, movie, or television show has ever done about Spider-Man. The final product is a mix of Amazing Spider-Man (concept, characters), Ultimate Spider-man (setting, updated timeline), the Spider-Man movie (several action sequences pay homage), and even other animated series (the symbiote comes to earth on John Jameson's shuttle). There is also a continual nod back to Ditko's original visuals with each episode ending with Spider-Man's eyes and red and black webbing appearing over the New York skyline.

So should you watch this show? The answer is a resounding yes. It currently runs on the CW and started September 7th in Canada on Teletoon. So if you have a television and cable I would set aside ½ hour each week to check out Spidey. However, I would advise against purchasing anything just yet. The first season is broken into 4 story arcs that are being released on DVD separately at $14.99 each. You will end up paying $60 for a 13 episode season. B.S. When the CW finally gets there money grubbing head straight a complete season will be released. Normally a 13 episode animated season goes for around $30 and has lot of extra features. For shame CW, for shame.

One last thing: the theme song is great. Not as good as the 60s theme song but then again what is. Is he strong? Listen bud, he's got radioactive blood. Why that didn't win a Grammy I'll never know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Retro Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

The Infinity Gauntlet TPB

Cost: $28

1991 was an interesting year for comic books: the industry’s biggest artists were poised to leave Marvel Comics and form Image; the tsunami of die-cut-holo-foil-wrap-around-cover issues had not hit yet; Superman wasn’t dead yet; and there were no Spider-man clones. Yes, in many ways 1991 was the calm before the storm that was the mid-nineties, in which the industry self-imploded. There is a lot of horrible stuff from this time, but some of it was good back then, and still can hold its own now.

One such storyline is The Infinity Gauntlet, a six issue mini-series written by Jim Starlin that chronicles the tale of the super-villain Thanos who uses infinite power (by obtaining the titular gauntlet) to destroy half of the sentient life in the universe. Opposing him are a host of Earth’s heroes, cosmic entities, and even Dr. Doom (who despite being a megalomaniacal despot himself, doesn’t want to see his own people erased into oblivion, a pre-cursor no doubt to him crying in the ASM 9/11 issue).

The storyline is tight and accessible for new readers (a year of special issues and Silver Surfer books led up to this, but they are not required reading for the miniseries), something that current big event books could learn from (I’m looking at you Final Crisis). The art by George Perez and Ron Lim is masterful storytelling and the change in artist does not disrupt the flow of the artwork. Legend Perez’s abilities as an artist were celebrated even back then but Ron Lim is no slouch. Lim has since fallen into obscurity but he is a consistent, quality artist that always was just shy of the recognition that he deserved (even back then he was always pegged at the #7 or 8 spot in the Wizard Top Ten Artists page).

This team can tell a story, a skill that many of the “top” artists of today are sorely lacking. If I have one minor quibble in terms of continuity I have always been bugged by the Hulk jumping out of Thanos’ way on page 10 of issue #4, only to completely disappear until issue #5. Many of the other heroes are killed or defeated by Thanos, but the Hulk never is, suggesting that the creative team simply had too many characters to think about and forgot to follow up on the Jade Giant’s appearance.

Viewed alone the story is a great big-event-cosmic-crossover, however, it is weakened in some ways that its sequels, Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, are vastly inferior and, in some cases, nigh-unreadable. So should you rush out and purchase this 17 year-old super-battle? Well at 6 issues it takes about 2 hours to read and costs $28, well worth the price of admission, however, you should know that you could probably do some digging and find the single issues on ebay for much cheaper. Also be well warned that if after reading this you feel the need to purchase Infinity War or Crusade; you might as well light your money on fire. If you are really curious to find out what happens next just read the Wikipedia entries.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Essential Godzilla

The Essential Godzilla

Cost: $20

On occasion my frequent forays into the world of pop culture nerdom reveal that of the most unexpected and happy of circumstances: a true surprise. I was met with just such a surprise this week when I decided to read Marvel’s Essential Godzilla. The trade paperback is part of Marvel’s Essentials line: a cheap, black & white way to read some great (or in some cases no so great) old stories.

The Essential Godzilla is a complete collection of the 24 issue series that ran from 1977-1979 and tells the story of the gargantuan monster’s rampage throughout the Marvel Universe. My first surprise in reading this was that it actually takes place in Marvel continuity. I was fully expecting this to be some kind of half-assed adaptation of Godzilla vs. Monster Zero or something, but was instead treated to a compelling story of Dum Dum Duggan and S.H.E.I.L.D hunting the king of the monsters through 24 jam packed issues of smashing.

S.H.E.I.L.D is aided along the way by Japanese scientists, a giant robot controlled by a 12 year old boy, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and Spider-man. The series touches on several genres as well, with a series of giant monster throwdowns, a wild west yarn, and a time travel story all completing Godzilla’s tale. The hidden jem of the series is a sad and gripping tale of a compulsive gambler who happens to be in Vegas when Gojira strikes. I will not reveal more, but sufficed to say it is not your standard 70’s monster fare.

So, my intrepid readers, if you are asking if this bit of comic book history is worth the price of admission then the answer is a resounding yes. At $20 for 6 hours worth of entertainment you would be hard pressed to find anything on the comic shelf this Wednesday that comes even close. And if you are a Godzilla fan this should be on your shelf right now, or you should be hanging up your Mothra underoos in shame.