Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Power vs Flavor...

...Or why we'll probably never see a unique never before figure made by a HeroClix World Champion.

Power gamers. Min/Maxers. They go by many names, but the definition is roughly the same: players who capitalize on all the strengths of a particular game and avoid the weaknesses of certain strategies, (character builds, deck builds, team builds etc). Power gamers usually don't give a whit about flavor - by which I mean theme teams, unique character builds, or tactics that are otherwise average but evoke a lot of fun to play, but a player using flavor without Min/Max tactics usually gets steamrolled by a Power Gamer.

Power Gamers like to win. Playing to win is fun for them, and if they don't win - odds are they don't have fun. I've watched in disbelief as grown men throw tantrums over lost games like they were the John McEnroe of plastic toys. Flavor Gamers also play to win, but more importantly they play for fun. It's entirely possible for a Flavor gamer to go 0-3 and unlike a Power Gamer still have a good time at the venue.

HeroClix has an interesting mix of Power Gamers and Flavor Gamers due to the rich history from which the game draws its characters. Unlike Magic the Gathering (a game that tends to skew toward the Min/Max set) which built a universe from the ground up and populated it with characters that first appeared on cards and later appeared in novels. HeroClix has nearly 80 years of comic book, radio, television, and movie stories to fascinate its players, a built in audience to draw from. Thus, HeroClix players break into two main groups, fans of the characters and fans of the game mechanics. This isn't to say everyone who plays the game is one or the other, rather think of it like a Venn Diagram where a large subgroup is composed by the two types.

I've gotten to know many Power Gamers through the years, and they almost always have one thing in common - they don't know a majority of the "second tier" characters in the game. They aren't drawn to the game to see if the Serpent Society can beat the Detroit Justice League, they show up to see if their team can beat everyone.

Certain power combinations thrill Power Gamers the way some character combos can excite Flavor Players. If the figure isn't headlining their own movie or spotlighted in their own comic, and if the figure doesn't break the game or inject a winning strategy element they don't care.

Cypher: from zero to hero with 1 trait.

It doesn't take much to connect the dots then. Power Gamers like to win. They use figures that are easy to win with (Bullseye, Nightcrawler, Batman, Thor). They follow iconic characters that always win in their own medium. Wolverine. Punisher. Green Lantern. Superman.

At a championship level, the entrants are people who are playing for a prize, whether it be an actual physical prize, or a title to prove their greatness. Any time you have a high stakes competition some people will use whatever they can to get an advantage to win. Following this logic World Championship events will always skew toward Power Gamers, or at least Power Gamers will have the edge in these events over Flavor Gamers who may make a sub optimal game mechanic decision to maximize theme.

Over equipped or prepared for everything?

It's a given then, that with more Power Gamers competing than Flavor Gamers, a Power Gamer will win the World's Championship. And because a Power Gamer's favorite characters are A-listers, it's just as likely that the winner will pick another Wolverine, Ironman, or an already made five times over figure. As proof, I submit Ben Cheung's Nightcrawler, a character who had 5 separate HeroClix figures before Ben chose to update the Blue Elf.

George Massu, last year's winner picked Black Adam, another character that had 6 figures, two versions of which were already World Championship figures.

And that's why Vibe never stands a chance of officially getting made into a HeroClix.

In truth it would be smart of a Championship winner to pick a un-Clixed figure, one that was obscure and unlikely to get remade in the future due to the unique nature of that character. After all, if the game continues for a few years more, these A & B list choices like Nightcrawler and Black Adam will get remade in regular expansions. A Champion who picks the Rainbow Raider can rest assured that his is the one and only Rainbow Raider anyone will ever use.

Wolverines, Supermen, and Hulks will come and go, but a Rainbow Raider is forever. The one and only definitive version. EVER.

I'd love for someone to prove me wrong and that a character like Angle Man would be the next winner's chosen piece,

but somehow I get the feeling we'll be stuck with another version of Hal Jordan or Tony Stark.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Who is Donna Troy?

There's really no easy answer to that question, which has been asked time

and time

and time again.

Donna Troy has an impressive comic book resume: Wonder Woman, Justice Leaguer, Teen Titan, Amazon, Titan of Myth, Black Lantern, White Lantern, Dark Angel, Challenger from Beyond, Darkstar, and so on. At just a glance it appears writers don't know what the heck to do with her. Has it always been this way? How did it get this way?

Donna Troy has about as much of convoluted history as it gets so I will try to make what follows as simple as her original (Golden Age) origin. As a girl whose parents were killed in a fire, Donna was taken by Wonder Woman to Paradise Island to be trained by the Amazons and given powers by the Purple Ray. Amber Alert creepiness aside, this is a walk in the park compare to the updated (Post Crisis) version which goes something like this.

Donna was indeed rescued from a fire but by the dying energy of one of the Titans of Myth, who were banished into deep space by the Olympian gods (cementing a connection with the Amazons). Donna is a imbued as a "seed" of power and is transported to the Titans pimped out moon headquarters where she learns to use her powers and is sent back to earth an amnesiac, a fate many readers wished on this storyline.

Those reader's wishes came true with the Post-Post-Crisis origin, which I'll get to in a minute.

But first, I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the whole "Team Titans" arc, which featured groups of Teen Titans (with iconic members like Prestor John and Kilowat!) from the future traveling to the past to kill Donna Troy before she could give birth to her son,

a human baby born with the omnipotence which drives him mad to the point where he ages himself to adulthood calls himself Lord Chaos and throws the biggest tantrum of all time.

To prevent this Donna willingly forgoes her powers and becomes a normal human so that her baby is also normal, which is a shame when the baby, and the father die in a crash a short time later (off panle no less!). This event leaves Donna powerless and alone, and she eventually hooks up with Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)

and joins the Darkstars (an intergalactic police force like the Green Lanterns). For about 3 years Darkstar Donna Troy policed the galaxy as an officer of the peace. Before the Darkstars got their butts handed to them by Darkseid's son, and disbanded. Somehow she got her original powers back...

As it was revealed in the Post-Post-Crisis origin where things get even weirder. Donna Troy is no longer human but a simulacrum of a golem, as she was created by sorceress using a magic mirror to create an reflective identical image of Wonder Woman intended to be a playmate for young Diana on Themysciria.

There's more to it than that - but involves even more time travel, space travel, the cosmic multiverse, and whole bunch of headache inducing plot devices. What you really need to know are these highlights. Donna rejoins the Titans,

only to be killed by a Superman robot

and then when brought back to life by the Titans of Myth where she learned she was also once the Anti-Monitor's version of Harbinger (as Dark Angel).

Later she became Wonder Woman for a short time during 52...

and was killed (again) in Blackest Night by Nekron...

and brought back to life (again) with a White Lantern ring,

Joined the Justice League

and is now likely to get another layer added with the DC Universe Flashpoint reboot.

She's like Marvel's Phoenix, a character that keeps dying and combing back new to the point of parody. Hopefully the reboot will get her origin right and drop the humdrum Space Opera origin for one as streamlined as this costume.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He's back, and ready to dance!

No, I'm not talking about Felix Faust.

Vibe (and Steel) returns to the DCU this summer as the DC Retroactive event resurrects the greatest incarnation of the Justice League:

For the uninitiated DC Retroactive is a company wide event preceding the much ballyhooed Flashpoint reboot. It's too early to tell if Retroactive will be retconning some history in the new DCU, or if it is just an attempt to tell stories "Lost In Time." Here's hoping that Felix Faust travels back in time, and somehow prevents the death of Vibe, so he's alive and well in the DCnuU.

Each Retroactive issue comes packed with a new story from that era as well as a reprint from that time, so readers can understand the context, dialogue, and fashion choices.

Whatever the case may be, I don't care about the specifics because I get another chance to follow the Detroit League in an all new adventure. I'm curious to see what the reprint adventure will be, as there weren't too many one shot issues that didn't focus on a single character, that were not also double sized issues or Annuals.

The initial story arc that introduced the JL:D (in JLofA #233) featured the Cadre and was several issues long, featuring connecting covers that spotlit the whole team as a giant poster.

Other highlights were also two or four parters like when the League took on Amazo, or when Despero was upgraded from a weakling who played mind games to a musclebound powerhouse.

There were a few solo issues featuring Steel in a Crisis crossover, Vixen facing her evil uncle, Zatanna with her ascent to the God-head (a tale best left forgotten) so for the most part I can't imagine the "definitive" Justice League Detroit tale to be reprinted, but it may be this:

A story showcasing that the JL:D were better than the Trinity's combined powers. Whatever the case may be, I'm looking forward to spending money on this issue and diving headfirst into the shallow end of the nostalgia pool.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why the World Needs A Superman

How I Became a Die Hard Man of Steel Fan:

Over the years I've heard many Marvel fans complain that DC characters just aren't human enough, that do-gooders like Superman are just... boring. Boring? How can that be? This is a guy who moves planets after all, an act which makes children's eyes wide with excitement opening a universe of possibilities to their imaginations.

That same planet moving is less inspiring to a jaded adult who might merely roll their eyes at the thought of a person shoving a world through the universe. Children cling to heroes like Superman because they still believe in magic, and don't yet know the science of physics and the boundaries that adults take for granted.

So I understand the "Superman is boring" mindset, as I flip flopped from DC to Marvel in my early reading years. DC grasped my attention early on with its headlining larger than life four color characters - heroes who rarely struggled with control of their powers or asked themselves if they did the right thing.

Marvel Comics, to my young eyes were about as much fun as reading a newspaper because they were so wrapped up in the real world, presenting social issues and moral dilemmas that were too complex for a seven year old.

As I grew older, my tastes changed and as I started to question the science behind the heroes and my suspension of disbelief started wavering. "Flying in Space? How does Superman breathe? He has all these powers and he only helps others, not himself? Yeah right...." and so on. Add to it that there was no Gotham City in my universe that I could visit, no Metropolis to take a field trip to and this lack of reality helped further the divide, cementing the line between fact and fiction and pushing me toward "realer" Marvel.

Around the time that I started becoming more conscious of myself and others (Junior High) I switched over to be an almost exclusively Marvel reader. Stan Lee was a genius, making characters ordinary readers could relate to - kids with real world problems (Spider-Man, the X-men), adults with disabilities (Daredevil, Iron Man), and in truth, to my teen eyes the world of DC, where heroes wore their colorful underwear on the outside of their pants, and had few (if any problems) seemed silly to me. So I gravitated to someone I could relate to.

I even got to that point where I had to wonder why the Batman never just killed the Joker and ended the menace there once and for all, the way the Punisher used a rifle to solve all his problems. If nothing else following a darker, grittier hero in those High School years at least made you feel like less of a geek for reading comics.

As I've grown older my world view expanded and my tastes have changed again. I've come to view my comic reading as an escape from reality and unfortunately Marvel has always been excellent at merging the real world with its "616" canon universe. In short, I want a world full of bright colorful heroes that aren't fighting a Civil War, a world where teen heroes aren't persecuted by the public or adults are climbing into bottles. After all, I live in a world where people are persecuted, fighting, and alcoholic every day.

The real world is already full of misery, suffering and imperfection, why would I expose myself to it any further than I have to for entertainment purposes? That would be like watching the news rather than going to the movies. Politicians resign in scandal, sports stars have affairs that destroy their careers, and other role models are equally flawed. Which is why I like the do-gooder Superman.

I never have to worry about Clark Kent taking a bribe to bury an expose on big oil, or getting killed because he was investigating a mob enforcer or covering a war torn region. As a Kryptonian journalist, the truth will prevail, mostly because Kal-El is bulletproof.

It's that same immunity to ballistics that has many adults rolling their eyes at the Man of Steel, and it always makes me wonder if they see the hypocrisy of their distaste when combined with other forms of entertainment. People enjoy a good Superman story for the same reason that people go see Die Hard movies.

We all know Detective John McClane isn't going to die, we all know he's going to triumph over the villains even if it means leaping off exploding skyscrapers and bouncing off the top of F-16s Wile E Coyote style while chasing the villain. The audience shows up for the explosions and for the action, not because we really believe it could happen. Newsflash: it doesn't get much more explosive action than with Superman.

I mean the guy doesn't even flinch when he gets shot in the eye with a bullet.

If that's boring to you than I feel sorry for your loss of childhood awe and wonder.

How awesome would it have been if Hans Gruber had tried taking over the Daily Planet? Sure the fight would have been over in seconds, but it would have been satisfying to see Superman just wade through the gunfire and crush their pistols while the terrorist-bank robbers stood awestruck and helpless. There's no greater satisfaction than watching as an oppressor suddenly realizes they have no power over the oppressed, a moment often denied in the real world thanks to brutal violence and intimidation, two things that won't work against Superman because he's the biggest, toughest opponent out there.

In closing, I want to live in a world with a Superman, a world where heroes don't solve problems with bullets, a better world where evil never stands a chance of winning. Is it corny? Yes. Unrealistic? Sure. If I want to wrap myself up in realism, I'll open the local news. In the meantime, leave me to my Action Comics where, when that blue and red blur shows up on panel you know the villain has no chance, and you can delight in the righteous victory so often denied in the real world.