round and around

Comics were huge in the Nineties. I’m not even sure “huge” is the word for it. They were really something else. Maybe a synonym can explain it:

Synonyms for huge

adj extremely large

  • colossalstar
  • enormousstar
  • extensivestar
  • gargantuanstar
  • giantstar
  • giganticstar
  • greatstar
  • humongousstar

  • immensestar
  • magnificentstar
  • mammothstar
  • massivestar
  • monstrousstar
  • monumentalstar
  • toweringstar
  • tremendousstar

  • vaststar
  • behemothicstar
  • bulkystar
  • cyclopeanstar
  • elephantinestar
  • grossstar
  • immeasurablestar
  • jumbostar

  • leviathanstar
  • lustystar
  • mightystar
  • mondostar
  • monsterstar
  • mountainousstar
  • outsizestar
  • oversize 

Regardless, it was a hell of an industry. Top 20 comics regularly sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies per monthVariants and other methods were exploited to exhaustion. Perhaps the single largest problem was the speculator boom–thousands, if not millions, of people were buying comics to collect. And the publishers catered to this mindset with comics sold specifically for collecting. Heavy duty mylar bags, rare variant covers with creators’ autographs, constant relaunches so everyone could own a #1 copy.

And they were priced to sell. Whereas a “common” comic might sell for $1.50-2.00, variants could command ten times, or a hundred times, or a thousand times that much. And this was purely at the whim of publishers like DC and Marvel, and the lone monolithic distributor that was Diamond (at least, after competitor Capital City was bought out and Heroes World folded). They created prices for these “special” comics, whatever they thought would sell, and sold it for that much. If it was successful, they increased the price a little bit the next time.

Brian Clevinger hits the nail on the head with a nuclear-powered railgun.

And buyers ate it up. Some people bought multiples of these “collector” variants, which were themselves printed in enormous quantities, expecting them to magically gain immense value. The long-observed mechanics of supply and demand were ignored en masse…at least, until around 1995, when reality finally started sinking in. Collectors realized their comics weren’t rare; their variant comics weren’t even worth what they paid for them. Thus, the bottom fell out. Publishers and distributors disappeared or were bought out, and comic shops across the country folded almost as one.

Fortunately, the comics industry managed to avoid vanishing overnight, though these days publishers still have something of an addiction on variant covers. One minor boon to collectors, or even those who just enjoy comics, is that it’s pretty easy to find comics from the 90s that haven’t appreciated much, or even depreciated–often I can buy said comics for less than cover price. It makes collecting easy and very low-risk. Someday my 90s comics may have some value, but I’m not banking on it.

This is a highly compressed and simplified account of events, but’s good enough to get a handle on what happened and why. The reason I bring this up is that it’s happening again. But in a different industry.

Video game publishers and developers have their own addictions. Games are constantly being parsed into smaller and smaller portions; buyers are paying more and more for less content overall. “Day One Editions” are rampant, masquerading as limited-quantity collectors’ items. What do players get for buying on day one? Sometimes a map and a sword. Sometimes a gun, a sword and a skin. Or maybe a few “exclusive” cars to drive around. Often the “exclusive” “collectible” box art that’s trumpeted so much is simply the standard artwork with a “Day One” stamp over it. At least in comics, variant artwork is actually different.

And that “exclusive” content that won’t be found anywhere else? Nine times out of ten, it’s published some months after release, often parsed into as many individual items as possible, to get as much money as possible out of the late adopters. Either you preorder, and risk regretting your purchase, or you don’t and pay more later for the full experience. Either way, publishers win.

It smacks of the exact same ignorance and greed that dominated comics in the early 90s. Players are happily paying out the nose for content that is trivial or cosmetic–and thus worth very little–or content that seriously threatens the balance of the game.

Of course, in the gaming world, things really can be rare. Or at least, rareified. Not “rareified” as in the current accepted definition; I mean to use the word to imply that something that isn’t rare now can be artifically made rare sometime down the road, usually by action of the publisher or developer. Games with centralized servers controlling multiplayer (or even singleplayer) can eventually be made unusable when the servers are permanently shut down. Or they can be removed from marketplaces, making future prospective players unable to buy them. There is even a situation not unlike a modern damnatio memoriae, in which the item in question is removed from the marketplace and made unavailable for redownload even by those who legitimately owned it previously. This case almost invariably results in wildly inflated prices, paid by those who desperately desire something that can’t be bought.

Of course, there are two easy ways to combat this. The first is to simply stop preordering. Stop showing publishers that their products can be sold before they’re on the shelves, or even finished being developed, or even been finalized in the concept phase. The second is to wait for “game of the year” editions. These are the best versions for the consumers. They typically contain all of the DLC and added content, and are put up for sale a year or so after initial release, at which point the publisher has long since stopped watching sales numbers, and are often sold for half or a third the price of the game with its DLC bought separately.

At least in the short term, neither of these options will be put to use by consumers en masse. The buying trends continue, preorders and reservations are still exploited ad nauseum, and DLC will still be the cash cow even for $60 AAA games. But eventually, someday, the system will collapse. Consumers will decide they’re fed up, and the bottom will fall out.

I can only hope the video game industry survives it.


I lack the necessary motivation and material to bitch about a particular piece of technology (though I may well have some fodder relating to a recent game), I’ll recap a few recent comics launches.

Moon Knight, now on its fifth issue, has been off to an interesting start.  The titular star of the book, Marc Spector, is a wealthy businessman in Los Angeles who makes his money financing big-budget films and the like.  In his spare time he uses his funds to fight crime as Moon Knight, along with his friends–Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine–who assist him in some usual ways.  Right off the bat, the Knight finds an interesting piece of technology in the hands of a local gang, which starts him on a cat-and-mouse quest that has yet to yield fruit.  So far I’m enjoying it, and I look forward to more issues.

Rating: 7.5/10

Planet of the Apes #6 hit shelves this month, as well.  Timed to coincide with the release of the recent film, the comic tells the story of oppressed humans living in a Hooverville of a town on the outskirts of Mak, an ape metropolis.  After the lawgiver, the supreme authority of Mak, is killed by a human, the two species stand on the brink of war.  The situation only gets worse when a cache of futuristic weaponry is discovered, some of which falls into the hands of the humans. It’s nice to see an original story that doesn’t attempt to rehash the Rise film, or Tim Burton’s now-forgotten piece.  It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Rating: 7.5/10

Two months ago, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles celebrated its relaunch.  This being the fourth volume of the comic since its original debut in the mid-Eighties, times have changed and so has the story.  The first issue begins some eighteen months after an accident in which the turtles and their master, Spliter, were exposed to toxic waste, at which time Raphael was separated from the group.  Now Raph wanders the streets aimlessly, searching for a purpose, while Splinter directs the remaining three Turtles in the search for their lost brother.  The art style gets some points for being a bit nonconformist, while not straying too far.  I’m liking it.

Rating: 8/10

DC Comics recently had the bright idea to “relauch” their entire line of comics, cancelling a large number of long-running series in the process and rebooting all continuity.  Batman in particular took a backward step–after months of Dick Grayson running around as the Caped Crusader, DC decided to put Bruce Wayne back in the suit.  While I’m not a fan of this decision (Grayson made a great Batman in my opinion), the first issue of this new run shows promise.  Scott Snyder was the writer at the end of Detective Comics‘ run, and his skill gives me faith.  I’m happy to see him working on this series now.

Rating: 8/10

Green Arrow is the one I am less than thrilled about.  Almost every aspect of the character has been tinkered with, to the point of violating a lot of the basic qualities he used to have.  While he was previously a Robin Hood-like hero stalking about the city, now he looks rather like Duke Nukem in a domino mask.  He has also been given a supporting team, not unlike Batman’s former partnership with Oracle, which is unusual for a character who has always been a loner.  The series has an action-oriented feel to it, rather than the dark brooding philosophy he used to have.  I don’t think I will be follwing this one for long, but I’ll give it a few months.

Rating: 3/10

fall-down comic

Amid minor news frenzies regarding Sony’s planned invasion launch date for the next PlayStation, something else slipped under the radar: the announcement that the PSP digicomic service will be coming to an end.

Personally, I’m surprised it took them this long to kill it. I don’t know a single person, even the most hardcore of PSP fans, who actually uses the device to read anything besides the occasional webpage. This is a wide-format 4.3″ screen, after all–it’s not exactly an ereader, and neither should it be used as one. I’ve read a few comics on my PSP, all of them promos issued with games I bought. I was never able to read more than a few pages, as it’s easily the most inelegant software experience of my life.
The first problem is the screen itself. It’s designed for playing games and watching movies, not reading. The wide aspect ratio doesn’t lend itself to reading comics that are designed to be printed on an 8.5×11 page. To reach a point where text is readable, the image must be zoomed in considerably. At this level, it then becomes necessary to use the analog nub to scroll around and read the entire page. Think about it. Scroll right, then scroll back left and down, scroll right, then scroll back left and down–who wants to do this for more than a minute or two at a time? This can be avoided by fitting the page width to the screen width, and thus only needing to scroll vertically…if the comic’s resolution allows this, which isn’t likely.
But this is a minor gripe, really, as it leads to my next complaint…
The designers. Why? Why are the people making these comics designing them for the printed page and then awkwardly forcing readers to view them on a screen not meant for it? Why did Sony allow this to happen on a device that was so loudly trumpeted as a portable multimedia machine? Apparently it didn’t occur to anyone to produce the comics as a set of images sized to fit the screen as one or two panels at a time. This might actually lead to an improvement–the different aspect ratio allows for visual and cinematic effects that otherwise would not work on the conventional page.
All said, I won’t miss the comic service. I doubt anyone will. But who knows, they might relaunch it with the PS Vita. At least scrolling around a page with a touchpad is fairly intuitive, even if it is on the wrong side of the product.

blown away

Just finished the last part of the Space Oddity story arc in Deadpool #33-35. While I was amused by the parallel with the characters of the sentient moons Id and Ego, I’m left wondering why there was no Superego. Seems like Marvel missed out on an opportunity to make a much more expansive story arc.

In awesomer news, Moon Knight is getting a relaunch, and PunisherMax has been resurrected. This gives me a slight modicum of faith in the Disney-Marvel relationship, that maybe they will see what their great products are (of which PunMax was one) and stick with them.
And on an aside, playing through Spirit Tracks I’ve just picked up the Whirlwind, similar to the Gust Jar and a couple other mechanics from previous games. To use the Whirlwind, one blows into the mic to generate wind and blow things away. While this is inventive, I wish there was an alternate-use option, as just the first boss battle left me short of breath.