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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Super Smash Marvel 4: What Would the Newest Super Smash Marvel Game's Roster Look Like?

With three down and only one more to go, we’re almost through with the Super Smash Marvel series. There’s plenty left to go, though, with our biggest roster expansion ever in the fourth game.

Super Smash Bros 4 was released just over a year ago, in late 2014. 4 added more characters to the series than any other game, starting with 51 characters (12 more than were in Super Smash Bros Brawl); then, through downloadable content, the game added seven more characters (the last two of which, Bayonetta and Corryn from the Fire Emblem series, were announced just last week). Meanwhile, in the Marvel world, the comics were gearing up towards the huge Secret Wars event while the studio was moving from the unexpected success of Guardians of the Galaxy to their biggest release yet in Avengers 2 (meanwhile over at Fox Studios, the X-Men had just had their own huge release in the form of Days of Future Past). This is where we pick up our Smash Marvel series.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Super Smash Marvel Brawl: What Would the Third Super Smash Marvel Game's Roster Look Like?

We’re halfway through with the Smash Marvel series, so we might as well finish it off. In case you need to get caught up, here’s the original, and here’s the sequel.

First, the context we’ll be dealing with. In real life, Super Smash Bros Brawl in early 2008, the same year that the first Iron Man movie was released kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My suspicion is that this would have had a small impact on the roster, but a definite one. I imagine there would be some extra consideration given to characters expected to be movie leads in the near future, as a way to help build them up (it also helps we’re starting to go a little deeper into the Marvel character list; without this, it might be a little harder to differentiate who would get preference). It’s also worth noting that, with a seven-year gap between games, there was actually time for new characters to be created and popularized in between installments, unlike between the first two.

Also, Smash Bros Brawl was where Nintendo began introducing third party characters to their roster, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog and Snake. I really struggled what to do with this information. In the end, I decided to ignore it, because there’s just not a particularly satisfying direct comparison, and there are still so many Marvel characters to choose from.

If you’re interested, though, I had a few attempts at mirroring this move. My first thought was to copy it literally, with other comic companies’ characters appearing. However, while that would be somewhat manageable for the two slots we’d need here, we’d be pushing it come the next installment. We’d need four (or five, depending on how well I kept my “no cutting characters” rule) different comics companies represented, and while we could do this* (say, Batman from DC, Spawn from Image, X-O Manowar from Valiant Comics, Hellboy from Dark Horse Comics, and Scott Pilgrim from Oni Press, for one set), no configuration feels like it has the same impact as “Sonic, Pac-Man, and Megaman” does. If you truly wanted to get characters that most people would know and not small cameos for hardcore comics geeks, you’d be better off sticking with to just picking DC characters; Justice League vs the Avengers gets a lot closer to that “Sonic vs. Mario” feel I’m aiming for. But again, you’d eventually be giving five to six slots out of about fifty just to DC characters to guest-star in what is ostensibly a Marvel fighting game. At that point, it feels like you might as well just make a straight-up “Marvel vs. DC” fighting game. And I thought about letting Marvel borrow other characters from within Disney, but they weren’t purchased until 2009 (and Star Wars, the Disney franchise that could most readily lend characters to this concept, wasn’t purchased until 2012). If you’d like, though, feel free to use any of those scenarios as the basis to your roster if these explanations aren’t doing it for you. 

Anyway, Smash Bros Brawl had 39 different playable characters (although several were combined into single characters, there were 39 distinct movesets). Of the 18 new characters (5 characters were cut from Melee), we had a good-character-to-evil-character breakdown of approximately 15:3 (I’m counting Wolf, King Dedede, and Wario, although I feel like you could argue with the status of the last two as well as Meta Knight). The gender makeup (which I’ve roughly matched so far as well) was 14 to 3 to 1 (ROB is a robot, so I guess genderless? Plus the Pokemon, which could be either, although I suppose all of the new additions have gender ratios that skew male, so summing those odds up probably comes out below 3…this is more complicated than I hoped). And lastly, one franchise (Pokemon) added four characters, but three of them were combined into one, plus they lost two representatives from the last game… These breakdowns seem to get more complicated with each game. I’ll try to keep each franchise to two representatives max, since there are so many mitigating factors there, although maybe there is a franchise that can justify four new representatives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Problem with "Secret Identities"

I’ve been reading more and more Image Comics series the last few months. I love the freedom their model allows to creators, and it pays off in a big way; series like Saga and The Wicked + the Divine are some of the best things I’ve read, comics or otherwise. Which is why I got excited when I saw the series Secret Identities (written by Brian Joines and Jay Faerber, art by Ilias Kyriazis and Charlie Kirchoff). The story is about a superhero team (think an alternate universe Justice League) who accepts a new member who is, unbeknownst to them, a mole working to learn their dark secrets and bring the team down from the inside. And boy, do they ever have dark secrets.

That sounds like a hell of a story to me. A superhero story with the political intrigue and backstabbing of Game of Thrones or House of Cards? Sign me up! And while the comic itself is solid, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it after I finished. If you need a simple recommendation, I’d say it’s worth checking out if you like superhero comics and aren’t expecting some intricate political gamesmanship/Avengers mash-up. As a heads up, the rest of the review will include spoilers, so if you want to preserve the twists for when you read it, this is your last warning.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Super Smash Marvel Melee: What Would the Second Super Smash Marvel Game's Roster Look Like?

When we last left our Super Smash Marvel series, we had assembled a roster of 12 superheroes to serve as the hypothetical series’ initial installment. But where would this series have gone from there?

In the real world, Super Smash Bros Melee was released in late 2001, just shy of two years after the initial game. That’s the smallest gap between any games of the series, although in both the Nintendo game and our Marvel equivalents, there were enough characters who were near misses from the first game to tide us over without having to break into newly-created characters. The roster consisted of 26 playable characters*, meaning that we have fourteen new slots to work with for Super Smash Marvel 2.

*I’m counting Sheik and Zelda as separate characters here, partly since they were eventually separated anyway, partly because they are just one move short of being fully distinct characters. If there’s a Marvel character who had an especially compelling reason both to be on the roster and to employ this mechanic, I’ll definitely use them in this role, but don’t count on it.

One difference I would like to try and make from the real world is with removing characters between installments. After Melee, each Super Smash Bros installment would see some number of characters not return for sequels. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll try to avoid that when picking this roster; deciding who to kick off would be it’s own challenge, not to mention figuring out reasons they wouldn’t make the cut would be a little strange given how specific the reasons have been for getting rid of characters in the real games. In other words, the characters I’ll be adding here are in it for the long haul.

What are some different ways of looking at the additions to the Smash family that came about in Melee? Well, the fourteen newcomers were spread across seven different franchises, three of which were totally unrepresented in the original (and one of those three got a pair of people). The other four franchises saw three (Mario), two (Pokemon), four (Legend of Zelda), and one (StarFox) new members. I won’t be matching those figures exactly, although I tried at first; I eventually realized that Video Game franchises and Comic Book franchises are just a little too different for a direct one-to-one translation. But they do give us a good baseline to work with, though. We probably shouldn’t add more than three or four characters for any one franchise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Super Smash Marvel: What Would Smash Bros Look Like if it had been a Marvel Game?

There are few things that I enjoy more on a conceptual level than combining two very different things that I love. It was this reason that, when I stumbled across the idea of re-populating the Smash Bros roster with Marvel characters, I ran with it. What started as me idly thinking about the Marvel vs. Capcom series slowly spiraled into me building an entire roster of Marvel’s biggest heroes and villains over a series of four games in an attempt to mirror the real-life Super Smash Bros games. In the end, I liked the result so much, I decided to write down the fruits of my labor.

Let’s start from the very beginning; if we were building an original edition Super Smash Marvel, what would the roster look like? Well, the first thing to start with would be the size; we should probably stick with the twelve character roster the original game used. What’s more, they’d probably have to be a who’s who of the Marvel universe, more or less. And while Nintendo’s choices were all All-Stars of gaming, it’s also worth looking at where they were pulling their stars from. Super Smash Bros covered only ten different series, with Mario and Pokemon being the only franchises with repeats. Also, DK and Yoshi were called their own franchises, even though they’re both spin-offs of the Mario series to different degrees, so if we need to, we could pull three or four characters from one series without it being too unbalanced.

Also, since the game we’re was released in early 1999, we should probably account for which characters were popular at the time to match up Super Smash Marvel’s release date. This will be a little more relevant later in the series than with the first release, since we’ll mostly be dealing with the most timeless of characters this go-around, but it’s worth considering. Let’s go from there.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Music Mondays: "Pierre" by Ryn Weaver

For this week’s Music Monday, we aren’t moving too far from the subject of the last few columns. I actually first heard of Ryn Weaver through the news that Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos would be co-producing her debut album. Upon checking her stuff out, her first single “OctaHate” was enough to hook me.

But while “OctaHate” is a wonderful song (go check it out if you haven’t heard it), I’m not going to be focusing on that one this week. Maybe some other time. Right now, I want to focus on a song that came of her debut album back in June, “Pierre”.

I’ve always had a soft spot for songs with more narrative structures, and by those standards, “Pierre” is a near epic in scope, covering a major string of events of its narrator’s life. Each stanza of the verses comprises a vignette from the singer’s past, all describing the different lovers that she’s found herself with in recent memory. Tying them all together are the choruses, focused on “you”, the second-person one-that-got-away. The disjointedness of the narrative actually took me a little off-guard at first; I was expecting a much more standard love song, and didn’t catch on that they were each their own self-contained stories until the second verse. Also, it’s almost surprising how much Ryn manages to flesh out these supporting characters; each gets just enough detail to make them feel like real people that you can picture.

Musically, the song very closely matches Passion Pit’s style (as you might expect). I have trouble picking my favorite part; there’s the opening, a sparse arrangement that focuses on Ryn’s striking voice with claps and a atmospheric breeze underneath; there’s the big piano chord that rings out at the start of the second stanza; there’s the glassy guitar riff that kicks in halfway through that stanza; and of course, there’s the huge, emotional chorus. The chorus probably deserves its own focus; there’s an incredible forcefulness to it, with Ryn Weaver selling the hell out off its emotion. The words hit on downbeats with the drums, adding punch. Ending each line is a vocal sample that sounds straight out of Sleepyhead.  Finally comes the frantic, crashing end, a rush in and of itself.

And then, the second time through, it just gets bigger and grander, adding a sense of majesty to it all. And just like that, after two cycles, we get a short outro where the song just sort of fades into the sudden nothingness that it burst out of. For as strange a finish as it initially seems for a song of this scale, I have trouble picturing a better conclusion. It’s a perfect bookend to a larger part of a never-ending story.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Music Mondays: "Five Foot Ten (I)" by Passion Pit

Okay, finally, here’s the third part of my Music Monday series covering Passion Pit’s new album Kindred (parts one and two). And this one covers the song that I’ve come to think of as the best song from the album, “Five Foot Ten (I)” (The weird punctuation refers to its matching song “Ten Feet Tall (II)”, with each song closing out a half of the album).

Structurally, it shares a lot with “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”, starting with a fade in until and building into synth chords that form the backbone of the song, before swelling into a big chorus. However, where “Until We Can’t” thrives on its large scale, “Five Foot Ten” feels a lot less anthemic and more intimate. “Five Foot Ten” makes up for the lack of huge climax with a much more interesting texture, with it’s synthesizers feelings much more sharp and puncturing than the alternating crashing hits and calm atmosphere of “Until We Can’t”’s. And while I appreciate the relative simplicity of “Until We Can’t”’s arrangement, “Five Foot Ten”’s intricate arrangement feels much more exciting, with puncturing chimes, bells, wood blocks, vocal samples, strings, and all manner of things giving a frantic feeling.

Lyrically, it’s about equals with “Until We Can’t”; both deal with various anxieties singer Michael Angelakos is coping with. “Five Foot Ten” feels a little darker, though, dealing with his simultaneous frustration with and dependence on his wife, needing both his own space and companionship. Like their earlier “Little Secrets”, it’s a very personal song with somewhat dark lyrics behind a very bright façade (although here, the lyrics aren’t quite as dark, but a little more anxious). Unlike “Little Secrets”, this one offers more of a sense of resolution, with Michael reaching out and trying to work through his issues.

While I enjoy the lyrics, I think the music is far and away the highpoint. There’s just so much going on, and it carries on to the choruses. While the verses are sharp synth chords with more sounds as punctuation, the choruses build to the sizes of the choruses in “Until We Can’t” by just layering sound after sound. It’s a big and fitting conclusion to the rest of the song, complete with vocals as catchy and easy to sing along to as the latter without as much grandiosity. After much thought, I’d definitely call it the best song on the album.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What Does Runaways Do Better Than Young Avengers?

I’ve been going through the backlog of comics I’ve been meaning to read lately, and I’ve hit a wealth of good stories in the process. So far, they’ve all been pretty great, but some have definitely been better than others. So, in my never ending quest to pick apart the things I like and figure out why I like them, I’m going to try and do that with two of the stories I’ve been reading.

Runaways and Young Avengers are thankfully two of the easiest comics to compare. The pair share a lot of themes-a group of superpowered teenagers brought together to combat the ills of the older generations-and even crossed over a few times. And as a heads up here, when I talk about the Young Avengers, I’m talking about the original run, written by Allan Heinberg in 2005 (I’m still working through Kieron Gillen’s 2013 run, which I may write about later).

In either case, upon finishing the first volume of Young Avengers, I was left feeling…a little empty, I suppose. It was a fine run, don’t get me wrong. But seeing it crossed-over with Runaways had me hoping that it was as good as the latter series, while it was…not quite. I would actually say that it was about on par with the crossover issues, which I had always found to be a little weaker than the main Runaways stories. Which made me wonder: where did Runaways go right, that took it from “pretty good” to “one of my favorite things that I’ve read”?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Music Mondays: "Until We Can't (Let's Go)" by Passion Pit

After something of a break, I’m coming back to finish up my promised three-part series on Passion Pit’s Kindred. Today’s song: “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”.

(Also, this was supposed to actually go up on Monday, but then I fell asleep working on it two nights in a row, so that didn’t happen.)

“Until We Can’t” was the third song revealed from Kindred, and it brought my excitement even higher than “Lifted Up (1985)” or “Where the Sky Hangs” had, which was not an easy task. The song just feels immediately big, with a slow, shimmering build into crashing synth chords. Those chords essentially form the backbone of the song, returning for all of the huge choruses and giving the song a sense of purpose. The contrasts with the relatively restrained verses only serve to emphasize the highs and lows.

The lyrics are their own kind of special. They lack the poetry of “Where the Sky Hangs”, but they do feel like a lot of other Passion Pit works. While they’re a lot more direct than songs like “Little Secrets”, the lyrics do the same great job conveying a sense of unease and anxiety. Frontman Michael Angelakos has publically struggled with a variety of mental health issues, and his songs seem like they have been one of his ways of working through them. He’s great at conveying those emotions lyrically as well. Thankfully, “Until We Can’t” (and really, a lot of Kindred) feels like it finds him in a much better place than he’s been in the past, still confronting those issues but coping with them. There’s a sense of restlessness to it, feeling uncomfortable with where you are and wanting to start over; but also the sense that it’s not really the location causing the problem, but yourself, and you jut don’t want to address it. But through it all, there’s a definite sense of optimism to it-that you will find your way out of it eventually, and not stop trying until you do. This one might be my favorite song on Kindred (well, it’s either this, or the next one that I cover).

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Disappointing Case of Tomorrowland

If I were to boil down Tomorrowland to a single phrase, it would be “Meet the Robinsons’ dumb younger cousin”. I’ve long found Meet the Robinsons to be a solid movie, and an underrated entry in the Disney canon, but it took Tomorrowland for me to appreciate how the former does the concept of “optimism-powered, look how awesome the future is!” right. Spoilers ahead, although I’ll specifically mark big ones.

I think the biggest problem is that Tomorrowland is very self-assured that what it’s saying is intelligent without being able to back it up, instead offering up references to smarter things or pining for better times or attacking strawmen or just straight up not doing anything to cover up its problems. For instance, there’s a character named Hugo Gernsback (played by the extremely underutilized Keegan-Michael Key*). Like many things in Tomorrowland, I at first smiled when I discovered that the owner of the science fiction memorabilia store was named “Hugo”; it’s a cute little throwaway gag. Then it goes deeper and reveals that his last name is Gernsback, immediately becoming straight-up cheesy (and as if daring the audience to pick up on its reference-“are you one of the smart ones who will catch this?”). And then, it reveals that it really doesn’t have anything for Hugo to do, and he becomes a plot device before exiting the movie for good, no real impact on the story so to speak of.

 *Also underutilized is his partner Ursula, played by Kathryn Hahn. Based on the rest of the movie, I'm assuming they just didn't have the space to drop that her character's last name was "Le Guin".

Monday, May 4, 2015

Music Mondays: "Where the Sky Hangs" by Passion Pit

I swear I start these things on Mondays, but I need to get better about actually posting them on Mondays. Anyway, I’m going to try and make up for my lack of Music Mondays posts with (hopefully) three this week, and to keep it feeling like a single post, they’ll all be from a single album: Kindred, Passion Pit’s new album.

I’ve long been a fan of Passion Pit. Manners was an all-time classic album, and Gossamer topped even that (although it admittedly took me a few listens to come to that opinion).  I don’t know if I would call Kindred better than the latter, but I liked it to start with, and it’s grown on me as fast as Gossamer did, possibly faster.

I started getting excited for the album as soon as it was announced, and almost right away, Passion Pit added photos to Facebook of upcoming lyrics. All of the lines were great, and two of them came from one early-release song, “Where the Sky Hangs”. “I put my hands in the air, and my knees to the ground” (in Morse code), and “I get caught up in your heart strings”. I can’t really say why I got as excited for those images as I did; after all, they are just words. There is something beautiful about them, though.

Thankfully, the song itself lives up to the beautiful poetry. I’ve heard it compared to “Constant Conversation”, and I can see the comparison, but I feel like “Where the Sky Hangs” is the mature cousin of “Constant Conversations”, if anything. It feels so much smoother. The opening bass line sets this mood, and is a thing of wonder. Michael Angelakos brings his usual falsetto down a little for verses, which makes the jump up for the chorus feel that much grander. The whole thing is the usual lush and intricate arrangements of a Passion Pit, but at their best, with swirling synths over the funky bass groove and a smooth rhythm guitar. The bridge is broken up with beautiful staccato string sounds.

But still, there’s just something about the chorus that really, really makes the song for me. “I get/Caught up in your heartstrings/Way up/Where another sky hangs” is just such beautiful imagery, and with the sounds gives a soaring sensation.

Man, just writing about it again is making me reconsider my initial ranking of Kindred. There’s more to come from this album later, though.