Batman: Arkham Origins was a pleasant surprise. I had heard mixed things about the game, especially since it was made by a different developer. Some critiqued how scaled down it felt from Batman: Arkham City or the lack of marquee villains, like the Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. What I found, instead, is a game that was closer to what I liked about Batman: Arkham Asylum, both is size and tone.
Arkham Asylum had a focused story with a dark atmosphere, that also made the player feel claustrophobic. Batman wasn’t trapped per se, but he had to go deeper into the worst place in the world, sort of like the aggressively lonely catacombs found in Tomb Raider Anniversary. With it’s mixture of eclectic villains, crumbling architecture and plot twists, Arkham Asylum had all the makings of a classic Batman story, in any medium.
I found Batman: Arkham City to be bloated and nowhere near as intriguing as the first game and I thought I was done with the series. But, Arkham Origins brought the scale back and refocused the story, with villains that work well in the same plot. The smaller scale of Gotham City means less flapping around with no purpose. The streets themselves are emptier than in Arkham City, but the game is set during Christmas Eve and it helps contribute to the feeling of being alone on the holiday. In fact, I played it over the Christmas season for that reason, as the snow and frequent use of Christmas tunes makes this game one of the best holiday titles out there. Combine this with Batman Returns and you have a pretty great Christmas lined up!
The stealth, gadgets and combat all function as they have in previous games. Detective mode is a bit dull, as it has been throughout the series. But all the different gameplay elements work together to make something easy to play and enjoy. I’m not great at big fights in the game, but I can feel great with the mechanics. And, I’m left to wonder why Batman doesn’t have those electric gloves all the time.
I know not everyone enjoyed this entry in the series, but I found it to be my second favorite of the three I’ve played. It has real boss fights against villains I was happy to see, such as Firefly, Deathstroke and Deadshot. Heck, this game even reminded me of why Bane is such a great foe for Batman, as the character and his troupes are accurately translated from the comics, much better than in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, I’m a big sucker for a strong Batman/Joker conversation.
In fact, I enjoyed this prequel so much, I finally purchased Batman: Arkham Knight, a title I have been avoiding due to my lackluster response to Arkham City and the PC port in general. We’ll see how that fares to my disdain of large open worlds, as Arkham Origins reminds me of how much I prefer focused, story driven games. And the viewers that stopped by all seemed to have a soft spot for this title, many of them feeling this game get’s underrated. I’m right there with them now.
Rumors are going around that Disney is going to buy 21st Century Fox, at least, it’s entertainment side of things. I normally don’t care to write about such things and, besides the fact that it’s scary to imagine Disney owning even more properties and franchises, this isn’t my field of expertise. However, like anything worth talking about, the X-Men are involved.
I’ve written about the X-Men and their movies time and time again. This entry will not be the last. They hold a special place in my heart with their characters and stories. The movies, especially, have been an important part of my life, never rebooting and telling a constant, although convoluted, story as I’ve grown up. And Disney owning the rights to make those movies could ruin everything.
I don’t mean that I’d hate to see the series start over. I liked X-Men: Apocalypse for a number of controversial reasons, but one of them was that it had a crew of big name X-characters; Storm, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Psylocke, ect. If the movies rebooted, we could see a team of first class (pardon the pun) mutants headlining a film that hasn’t really happened since X2: X-Men United. Heck, that’s partly why I wish Gifted was a real X-Men show, giving us a Rogue that gets into the mix of things. And a reboot could even have a better prepared timeline, though, I might argue, there’s charm and artistic viability in not letting past films completely dictate new stories.
No, the reboot isn’t what I’m worried about. It’s the mixing of the Marvel Universe with the X-Men. Disney/Marvel’s Cinematic Universe would benefit from having a Wolverine, sure, but the X-Men, at their core concept, would be diluted. And this has been a problem since the very beginning.
Back in the 60s, when there were very few mutants on the scene, the idea of people hating and fearing the X-Men made sense. The few they knew about were some teens who wore funny costumes and a madman who could topple every city with magnetic powers. Of course they were scared. Even with Iron Man and Captain America, there was something different about mutants. Not everyone was going to survive a gamma bomb or get hit by cosmic rays, but anyone, even your neighbor or, worse, your own children, could be a mutant.
But, as the Marvel Universe grew, the differences became less important. There were so many non-mutant superheroes on the scene, how could you even tell who to hate anymore? Except, in the comics, as the general populace grew more tolerant of heroes, they still retained their bigotry towards mutants and the X-Men. And it made less and less sense. The core concept, of mutants being a minority and treated with fear, became less plausible, which watered down the X-Men. They still tried to tell X-Men stories like they always did, but, you had to start asking why Captain America wasn’t getting involved in protecting mutant teens from Sentinel attacks or why Doctor Strange let mutant massacres happen.
Another problem is that, in a shared universe, the X-Men could never attain their ultimate progression. Mutants are supposed to be the next stage in human evolution. Part of the fear humans have towards them is based in the fact that they will be replaced by this next step. Unfortunately, you can’t tell that story with Spider-Man around. Mutants can’t take over the world, or even come close.
Grant Morrison tried to tell that story in the early 2000s. He fast forwarded a bit but his X-Men stories were about mutants becoming a dominate force in the world. And Marvel retconned it as fast as they could and yelled, “No more mutants” and sent that number to under two hundred. They claimed they were bringing the X-Men back to their core concept, of being a minority, but, more simply, they couldn’t let the status quo get out of hand.
The X-Men movies are flawed, I get that. Even the second movie, as fantastic as it is, has issues. Fox has made great X-Men movies and bad ones too. And now, with Hugh Jackman gone and three separate trilogies wrapped up, the movies are in a weird state of flux and uncertainty. But, with Fox retaining the rights, they’ve kept the X-Men in their own separate universe and have been allowed to explore concepts that wouldn’t work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea of a cure wouldn’t matter if mutants could join the Avengers someday, the world building in Logan would never make sense with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner on hand and can you imagine Captain America letting X-Men: Days of Future Past happen? Like in the comics, the X-Men stories would be set to certain guidelines and limited in their scope.
Also, look at Inhumans and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How in the world would a company that makes those types of shows make something like Legion? Aren’t we at least a little better off in this world with a show like Legion on TV right now?
If Disney does buy up the whole world and owns the rights to make X-Men movies, I hope they would keep them separate from the Marvel films. Bring the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom over, but leave the X-Men alone. At the end of the day, however, I have to remember I’m not in control of this stuff, that whatever will be, will be. I’ll learn to live and let go of the X-Men movies I grew up on and hold my breath as a new wave comes to pass. There would be some great benefits. Disney and Marvel would be more likely to put the X-Men in their comic book costumes and have a fan favorite team that doesn’t just focus on Wolverine. And they’d get the love in the comics that they’ve been missing over the years and maybe a new video game! Also, new films under the House of Mouse wouldn’t negate and erase the movies I’ve loved for so many years. Heck, if it happened today, I’d still have nine X-Men movies (and Deadpool) and that’s something fantastic. I just believe, as the animated series and movies and even games have proven, that the X-Men work when they don’t have to fit in a world of super heroes and can just be themselves.
I just finished reading the third volume of Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange series and, so far, so good. Chris Bachalo’s art is a great fit for a Doctor Strange comic and he and Aaron made a good team while working on Wolverine and the X-Men a few years back.
But, what surprises me the most about this Doctor Strange comic is that we’re three volumes in and a fourth is on it’s way in October. While reading the first trade paperback, I assumed Aaron would be around for a least a second volume. After all, most series at least last for twelve issues to get that one-two-punch setup of two single volumes of trade paperback and, then, the later released “definitive” single edition.
Three volumes, though? With a fourth on the way? What’s with this extended storytelling? Who does Aaron think he is? Chris Claremont? (Chris Claremont is a comic book writer who wrote X-Men comics for seventeen years straight. You can get the joke now.)
Of course, I don’t really think of four volumes as an extended run but it’s not far off. Twelve issues seems to be the magic number for most series before they get the reboot and a new first issue. I’m sure that helps sales, as most people would be more willing to pick up a first issue rather than a thirty-second. But, I’ve begun to have setup fatigue.
See, with every first or second issue, we need a setup. The writers have to explain why this new series is different than the previous series, even if it’s just one Hulk book from the next. Yes, last year’s Uncanny X-Men was about our heroes on the run in Antarctica, so we needed to reboot the series so we could place our heroes on the run in London. It’s different. And we have to spend forty four pages explaining why it’s different.
With DC Comic’s Rebirth event, it hit me harder than ever before. Wonder Woman: The Lies was fine and entertaining, but I’ve read so many first volumes and origin stories of Wonder Woman that I just couldn’t care anymore. The same thing goes for the new Justice League comic. Instead of a new story, I have to read six more issues of introductory action and be reminded who these characters are again and why Batman chooses to fight crime dressed as bat.
Team book, like the X-Men and Justice League, are the worst for this because each incarnation of the team has to have a reason to exist and a new lineup of heroes. I can’t count how many X-Men comics I’ve read that are just characters walking down halls, welcoming back Iceman for whatever new direction they’re going with. But, solo heroes still get annoying, with constant first issues of Batgirl leaping from buildings, talking about how much she loves being a hero. All reminder, no momentum.
What happens, with this setup fatigue, is I stop caring and I don’t let myself get invested. It’s partly because these stories have little overlap and almost none of them carry over. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men comes back to mind because that lasted for a while, filling up eight volumes. That’s one heck of a run in these days. But, as soon as the series was over, almost all the work that he was doing with Wolverine as a character was ignored. Series that run for less time are even worse investments. Iron Man is obsessed with rebuilding his company’s name in one series, two months later he couldn’t care less in the reboot. Why should I care for one setup when the other is one the way?
What we lose is a sense of purpose, that these stories matter. Villains no longer have plans, they simply attack because it can fill two issues with action. Subplots are largely ignored. Not to keep singing the praises of Wolverine and the X-Men, but over the course of that series, Jason Aaron was able to tell lots of small stories throughout. There was a time, such as with Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, where you could have Mastermind working in the background for a year and still not reveal is full plan to drive Jean Grey insane.
Maybe superhero comics aren’t going to be that type of story anymore. Brian K. Vaughan rarely writes comics that don’t last ten trade paperbacks. Fables, by Bill Willingham, lasted for twenty two volumes and spin-off titles. Sure, Scott Snyder wrote on the New 52’s Batman for the whole run, but he’s also been writing American Vampire for years.
Times have changed and I don’t mean to sound like I want “the good old days” back (I least hate thinking I sound old). I just want good stories. Comics are episodic with many having no end in sight. But, when we’re constantly starting over, that lack of ending is getting exhausting. It has to do with the fact many comics used to run hundreds of issues, so we just went along for the ride. Imagine going on a road trip for two days and how enjoyable it could be with no traffic and some great music. Now, imagine being on that road trip and the driver keeps stopping the car every hour, turns around and goes back twenty minutes and pick a new route. You have to repeat the music too. Also, I think he keeps slamming on the brakes for no reason. Dad’s are the worst.