Superheroes and Lateral Wins

So thanks to a combination of back issue collections released on DVD and my iPad (and the ComicZeal app) I’ve been spending some time in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics, notably the early issues of Avengers and Fantastic Four. While reading Avengers #22 (wherein “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” breaks up and Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch try to find work in a circus — and that’s just the “B” plot!) I was struck by something.

Captain American is up against Power Man, the Enchantress’ latest plaything, with all the powers of his predecessor, Wonder Man. In short, he’s super-strong and invulnerable. Really invulnerable. Cap quickly realizes nothing he can do can hurt this guy, even though he’s got it all over him in the fighting skills department. What’s more, when the rest of the Avengers arrive, none of them can hurt Power Man either: he shrugs off Hawkeye’s explosive arrows and Quicksilver’s super-fast punches, even the Scarlet Witch’s hexes (as this is long before other writers decided she was a certified Threat to Reality™ able to do almost anything).

How do the Avengers win the day? (Spoiler warning if you haven’t read the issue): They hold out long enough for the Enchantress to realize her scheme to frame them and break them up has failed. She takes a magical powder and vanishes, leaving a heartbroken Power Man behind, who surrenders, deprived of his motivation for fighting any longer!

Scenes like this one make me aware of how often in the comics heroes manage to overcome challenges, including “unbeatable” foes, through cleverness, determination, and other “lateral” means rather than the RPG-favored “beat on the villain until he’s out of hit points” (or “at incapacitated condition” to use Mutants & Masterminds vernacular).

I’ve heard many times that putting a villain into an RPG scenario “the heroes can’t possibly beat” is “unfair” and “cheating” on the part of the GM, as if every challenge in an RPG should and must be able to be overcome by a good roll of the dice and a straightforward application of the characters’ abilities. While I have nothing against an old-fashioned super-powered slugfest, from time to time I think it’s healthy for a game and an ongoing series to introduce challenges—and foes—the heroes can’t just punch or blast, but force them to come up with a lateral win.

Why 50-cent Comics Should Return

In his column “They’re Selling Comics on the iPad the Wrong Way”, Stephen Totilo sums up my feelings about how comics buying on the iPad platform has not lived up to its potential.

I’m a near lifelong comics reader. I have the dozens of long-boxes in my basement to prove it. Still, given the right opportunity, it would make the jump tomorrow to reading all (or at least nearly all) of my comics on my iPad. What are the components of that right opportunity?

Cost: Right now, e-comics cost essentially the same as print comics. That’s insane. If I’m going to pay the same price, I might as well get the collectibility of the printed comic. Funny thing is, at this point in my life, I’d much rather not have to find storage for more printed comics. The possibility of having my entire comics collection available from a single e-reader at the tap of a button is tantalizing, but not worth paying the same price for the physical product. Now, I’d gladly pay under a buck for an e-comic. I like 50 cents because it harkens to the prices when I first started collecting (yes, I’m old) but I could potentially go for 75 cents, maybe 99 cents for the new books, with reasonable deals on the back issues, which brings me to…

Bundles: Even worse in terms of cost, I can actually get printed comics cheaper than the electronic versions if I wait and pick up a trade paperback collection for a bundled price. There are no options for bundles, or discounts for picking up a whole arc, miniseries, or even entire run of a book for e-comics. When Marvel first ventured into electronic comics, they were selling DVDs with the then entire run of books like Fantastic Four or Spider-Man—forty-plus years of comics—for fifty bucks! I would totally pay something like that to, say, download every issue of Avengers to my iPad. Thing is, presumably, the back issues have already earned out. Hell, I already own many of them! Why should the publishers be charging full price for them all over? And why am I going to pay full comic store prices to pick them up piecemeal? Three hundred back issues for $600? I could buy a new iPad! On the other hand, three hundred back issues for $59.95? Hell yeah, sign me up!

Convenience: The interfaces on apps like ComiX (and the official DC and Marvel apps) make you hunt-and-peck for individual issues. I want to pay my flat-fee and start whole collections of comics downloading to my iPad or Mac.

Choice: If I knew, for certain, that all of the week’s new comics would be available for download on my iPad the same day they hit stores, I might still make the switch in spite of the above concerns. But instead, only a few select comics show up as e-books each week, along with a confusing mix of seemingly random back issues.

I honestly hope the major publishers figure out how to do it right, because I think they’re leaving money on the table with their current half-hearted approached to e-publishing now that the near-ideal platform for their media has emerged and is continuing to develop (with the production of competing tablet devices).

In the meantime, I’ve got my long-boxes…