Friday, October 21, 2011

Arkham City and Twisted Mirrors

So I started playing Arkham City this week. Well, I started trying to play Arkham City at least. Save Points are the bane of the Dad Gamer's existence. You never know when you'll have to deal with your kid getting his head stuck in a shoe, waking up in tears from a previously sound sleep, and so on. Toss in the constant looming threat of Mom commandeering the TV for required teenage vampire viewing, and you're left with 15 minute play sessions.

And when the game only saves after/before long cut scenes, that really, really blows. I may restart the game on Easy just so I can move quickly through the beating up mooks portion of the game.

But as a video game interpretation of a comic book? The game's pretty good. I like that villains left out of the first game, presumably because they were not insane enough to be locked up in Arkham, are out and about in City. I admit a fondness of The Penguin. There's been some complaints about the treatment of women in the game, namely Harley's horrible outfits and Catwoman being called 'bitch' a lot. I agree that Harley's introduction was sad - look, the camera is going to be pointed at your outfit, Harl, so there's no need to draw attention to it via dialogue. I have not progressed far enough to encounter the Catwoman stuff in bulk.

It's strange going from Arkham City to watching an episode of Batman: the Brave and the Bold. The switch happens when the toddler is unleashed (head freed from shoe) due to violence concerns, but I dunno about that. City is so dark, I doubt he could tell if someone was hitting someone else. Meanwhile, Brave and the Bold punches are often in slow-mo, back-lit by a primary color halo. Still, there's the whole bitch thing and given the rate West is picking up new words, that's one I'd rather he not start busting out.

The dread responsibility of a parent, I know.

Anyways, after finishing Season 1 of tBatB, my mind is currently wrapped up in thinking about The Injustice League or Crime Syndicate or whatever the heck they call the Evil Versions of DC's main heroes. I still think about that old Chuck Klosterman piece about Archenemy vs Nemesis and it makes me wonder - are the negative versions of heroes better archenemies (flat out foes) or nemesi (dark reflections too close to home)? Basically, archenemies would never encounter each other without a fight while nemesi could have a super-awkward HBO-style dinner together.

For example, I think Batman and Owlman would get along. I mean, they would be seething at each other the entire time, but I suspect they share enough common traits that a few hours together would not be a horrible debacle.

On top of that, I wonder if the negative reflection characters should simply have the same powers as their primary, just used towards nefarious ends, or should they be entire reimagings? Basically, should we just be slapping a goatee on these folks, or should we allow them to have developed along another path? If we do the latter at what point do we diverge? What details do we change?

Let's use Superman as our example as he already has a few evil versions. There's Ultraman, the gangland style Boss of Bosses evil Superman from Earth-3, Bizarro, a twisted caricature of Superman, and even to some extent the various totalitarian Supermen like the leader of the Justice Lords or even Red Son Superman. Each of these versions have similar powersets but differ in origin. Heck, the Justice Lords version has the same origin as regular Superman, except that he went through some tragedy that lead to a major rethink.

So if I had to come up with an Earth-3 'evil' Superman, what would I do? Tricky. Baby Kal-El being found by different people who do not inspire him like the Kents did has been done to death. So instead, I'd have our Kal-El come to Earth fully grown from a non-exploded Krypton. As a baby, Kal's dad indeed thought Krypton was going to explode and loaded his firstborn into a rocket. When Krypton didn't blow up, though, the baby was recovered from orbit, Jor-El was locked up in an asylum, and Kal grew up in an orphanage, the Balloon Boy of the planet.

Growing up, Kal entered the Science Academy, determined to wipe the stain of his father's name from his family's legacy. Except he wasn't working in the physical sciences. Instead, he became a sort of sociologist-psychologist with a focus on studying how people react to calamity. So when he discovered the existence of Earth, a world of no import populated by people who were psychologically very similar to Kryptonians, he went out to "run some experiments." The fact he developed superpowers when bathed in the light of Earth's yellow sun was just a happy accident - Kal had come with a bevy of deadly Kryptonian devices.

Rather than an evil Superman who cares about material goods and power (Ultraman), is a unfocused force of destruction (Bizarro), or a misguided zealot (Justice Lord/Red Son), we have a Superman who cares more about himself and his theories than anything else. He is divorced from humanity the same way a research scientist is divorced from her lab rats. He operates with a secret identity so as not to affect the outcomes of his experiments, not because he wants to live any closer to the people. He is, pretty much, an uncaring godlike figure who tests man for his own ends. Contrast this with Luthor, who for all of his crimes, at least has a faith in humanity (his). If anything, this evil version of Superman is closer in spirit to Brainiac.

Would this version join an evil Justice League? I doubt it. But that's because I don't think an alternate Earth where the baddies are winning would ever create such an organization. Sure, after they won they might (ala Wanted), but I can't see the Villain of Tomorrow signing up with a bloodthirsty Amazon who wishes to wreak vengeance on a Man's World that responsible for aeons of oppression or a guy who dresses like an owl out of hatred for his parents' weakness in the face of a gunman. I can't see them wanting to join up either, let alone the tyrant that lives beneath the ocean or the intergalactic mercenary with a Power Ring.

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