Depression and comics

(So this post my be a bit all over the place, so sorry in advance.)

The last time I went to get comic books on my trip into my local comic store the always affordable and brilliant comicsetc I got into a brief chat with the owner about how great the medium of comics is. A comic like Four Eyes, by Joe Kelly, about a depression era world in which people bet on dragon fights is some thing that would be incredible difficult to pull off in the realm of TV and it would be a harder sell for a 2 hour movie. But comics is perfect because you don’t need to worry about acting against a CGI dragon or the sets. It’s all done on paper, which makes things a far easier sell and cheaper over the long run. In fact ideas that would be hard sells are perfect for the world of comics. And comics sort are the perfect analogy for depression. Allow me to explain.

See comic books to those in the know, are more powerful then people think. They can teach kids to read, give them positive role models and can often challenge preconceived notions. Not only that but they teach right from wrong and in the best cases, your actions have consequences. But to those who don’t read them they can often be dismissed as childish, dumbed down literature and not “real books” despite being a valid medium.

Depression is a tricky beast. There is no physical symptoms except perhaps a change in attitudes and temperament and asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness. Much like comics there is a lot working underneath the surface. Some dismiss it as it being all in a persons head, and they should walk it off. The fact is, if people could stop feeling like they are the worst person in the world, do you think they would? Do you think people enjoy having thoughts of suicide fill their heads as they fall sleep? No person in their right minds would. And if you do, then go get help please.

See depression manifests itself differently in everyone and not every can adequately explain their symptoms to anyone who asks “what’s wrong?”. Don’t get me wrong, the sentiment is nice and it is better than nothing, but some times explaining why you’re upset is just met with “well get over it?” Again, if it was that simple they would. Some times the stresses of life wear a person down, and they don’t know who to turn to for help. The fact is, any friends a person may have all seem so far away, and some times aren’t really the best company. Even getting out of the house can be a chore, whether or not you’re going to a place you want to go to.

When you have depression, it’s hard to see things for what they are. Feelings of isolation and loneliness just wash over you and you can feel like your drowning in a sea of despair, and suicidal thoughts can attack from the shadows with no warning. At work is particularly bad, because there is no where you can go, and you’re expected to perform at the top of your game, and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. You can’t win, you show up, feel lonely and then you leave feeling like crap.

If you take some thing away from this please be mindful of your fellow people. Even a simple greeting and the basic level of communication can and will go along way in helping a person not feel so alone. For me comic books is a chance to escape for a few hours of my life and dive into a kick arse world. Comics will always hold a special place in my heart as they are the sword and shield in which I use to fight the beast of depression. Like people who dismiss comics as childish, people who dismiss depression as real are missing the point. Just because you don’t understand some thing doesn’t mean it’s not valid to the person. In the end, people need the strength and friendship from others if they’re to get through whatever is holding them down. Getting over depression, in what ever form it takes isn’t as easy as shouting “Avengers Assemble” although truth be told, I wish it was.

Advertisements

A calm and measure response for the airing of grievances is preferred.

Trigger Warnings

When David Bowie passed away the band Smash Mouth released their cover version of the song “Under Pressure” that David Bowie had co written with Queen. The original is a classic song by all rights, and the decision by Smash Mouth to cover it is a head scratcher. The only way a remake or cover should occur is if the person, band, director etc can make it their own in a meaningful way. Shout 2000 by Disturbed is far edgier then the Tears for Fears and Gary Jules’s version of Mad World is far more haunting than the original. Much the same way Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt is an amazing song and just as good as the original. Is Smash mouth’s version a good cover? Well, I didn’t mind it, and I can see what they were trying to do, but it was as unnecessary as having three desserts. The worst part was a twitter user who tweeted that he’d wish Smash Mouth had died instead.

Even if it was a joke then it’s still in poor taste. When some one dies it effects multipile people, even famous people have families. It seems a day doesn’t go by without some one making a joke about a celebrity they don’t like dying. Those “If you give us 2-Pac we’ll give you Justin Bieber” is not only in poor taste, but a horrible mark on humanity. You’re not a fan? That’s okay, but there is no need to wish some one dead. Nothing is gained, even if it is a joke, you just come across as jerk. While some will say that any thing is fair game in comedy and it is to a degree, those kind of jokes are just horrible. What is even worse is when people choose to voice their displeasure with death threats.

Now lets be honest here, I’m not saying you can’t get angry at some thing, or express disappointment and fire off an angry letter to those who are responsible, but for goodness leave the threats of violence or wishes of ill will to the people out of it. I am honestly baffled by it. Do people generally think that it is an acceptable way to get their point of view across? I don’t like what you did or you ruined some thing for me so there for I want you dead is hardly an appropriate response. Do they think that people with power will disregard their plans if some whack job threatens to tear them a new one? That is not how you get your point across.

Sending a death threat, or threatening acts of violence does nothing to further your cause. Some time ago, it was reported that the current run of Bat-Woman, the Nu52 version wasn’t going to be marrying her female partner and that caused outrage among fans. Fair enough, because the story had been building towards that, except DC editorial put a kibosh on those plans. Again it’s their company and people were unhappy about that, but then editors were reporting they had been getting death threats in the mail. Again what was that meant to accomplish? No reasonable or sane person could possible think that sending threats is in any way a good idea. Even the writers , JH Willaims had to get involved and tell everyone to calm down.

Look by all means if you see some thing genuinely upsets you then take action, write a sternly worded letter to some one in charge. If you don’t like the direction a company is taking then get busy writing off sternly worded letters but for goodness sake leave any threats of violence or rape out of it. If you can not get your anger across without threats, then you need to sit down sleep on it and then write it. They have no place in today’s society at all.

Venom Assault, or the closest thing to a G.I.Joe Board game we’ll ever get.

One of the facts of life that I have come to accept is that they may never be a G.I.joe themed board game, which to be perfectly honest about is quite baffling. I mean we have a game based around Chew, a comic series that is a personal favourite in the same way that Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Cannibal the musical is a personal favourite of mine, a great idea that is difficult to recommend. It’s not hard to see why there is a lack of G.I.joe games though, mostly because it is the flag waving patriotism that others perceived the series is about. If you sat down and read any of the comics, it’s not so much about patriotism and more about the value of team work, friendship and hard work over coming a snake themed cult. It’s less about flag waving and more respecting soldiers who fight on your behalf.

Then there is the logistical problems that go with designing a game. What mechanic do you go with, do you use miniatures, is it card based, will there be a board, or do you not need a board? It’s the same reason I suspect we haven’t had a Transformers or a G.I.joe board game since the late 80s, that games themselves have come along way and not getting the game right in terms of balance and quality is much harder then producing a bunch of toys and cartoons. Until now that is.

Venom Assault is perhaps the closet thing to a G.I.Joe board game we’ll get without it being a G.I.Joe Board game. The game by SpyGlass Games which can be found here on kickstarter is a 1-5 player deck builder where the good guys Freedom Squadron take down the villainous Venom. Both sides have their own vehicles and colourful characters that you can recruit that can help you turn the tide of battle in your favour. It does it’s own take on the deck builder, requiring you to roll dice to add a bit of a random factor with it as well. It’s well put together and the artwork is fabulous.

Truth be told it’s the type of game I’d want for G.I.joe. The deck builder mechanic is perfect for the fact that the Joes have 100+ member roster plus vehicles as well as Cobra has the same amount of characters and generic troops on their side. Instead of just letting us play with one hero, you’re giving us the ability to play with almost the entire toy chest. There was a TCG of G.I.Joe but it was mostly uninspired and there wasn’t much strategy to it and quickly died the death most poorly thought out TCGs.

Is Venom Assault worthy of your time and money? Only you can say that, but it ticks the right boxes for me and is the closet to thing to a G.I.joe Board game we’ll get. And before Hasbro shoots off any angry letters to the makers this is my own personal fan theory. So if you really want to get me some thing for my birthday Hasbro, either announce a new G.I.Joe board game, video game or movie. Failing any of those I’ll accept being able to buy G.I.joe figures in Australia without needing to sell a kidney or visit a bloke called Chad who is hiding in an alleyway in a trench coat.

Changing gears

My very first Xbox 360 game was Gears of War. I got it the same day I got my Xbox 360, and ever since then the franchise has had a special place in my heart. Much like Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil have. I even got the comic series that was produced by DC comics, breaking my self imposed rule about not buying comic tie ins as they are generally not very good. I say all this because I want to talk about how Gears of War Judgement changed the series, and not always for the better.

Gears of War, for those of you who don’t know is set on the planet Sera, and has the last scrap of humanity fighting off an underground race called the Locust as they struggle to survive themselves. It’s dark, gritty and introduced the world to the joy of cover based shooting. Everyone is impossibly big, the size of walking fridges basically, and the weapons are kickarse. The main weapon has a chainsaw bayonet for instance. The best part in my mind was the improvements made throughout the games, and how each one had a decent story to play through. Gears 2 for instance has the best campaign in my mind, mostly that it breaks up the monotony of run cover shoot with each section having a different theme.

As I said, the changes between the games were good, or at the very least understandable. The main problem with number 4 is that it changed too much. The developers were “People can fly” who made the kickarse Bulletstorm game, and instead of delivering more of the same, they changed the basic premise of the game into a more of an arcade shooter. Change isn’t always bad, but as the old saying goes if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Gone were the tactical options of your weapons, you could only carry two now instead of 2 mains and a sidearm. The campaign did have a great story admittedly, Damon Baird is on trial and the game is told via flashback and the levels difficulty changed depending on how truthful you were during the trial. It’s a neat little narrative trick.

In my mind Gears has the best multi-player, and while I don’t play online as most people, I’ll explain why I enjoy it. The playing field is level, everyone starts off with the same weapons, a rifle and a shotgun and what makes the most difference is getting to the weapons on the map and being able to use them the best. The levels are big enough to run away from enemies without needing to send out a search party to find them, unlike other multiplayer games, I’m looking at you Call of Duty Ghosts. Yes comparing 1st and 3rd shooters isn’t really fair because they’re both different beasts but my comments still stand.

Gears Judgement’s multi-player suffers in that it tries to copy Call of Duty too much, the levels are rather bland, and instead of fighting against Locust you’re fighting against other humans. That said, they did introduce a game mode “Overrun” which is basically the gears version of Assault from the Unreal Tournament days with the Locust attacking and the Gears defending, and it is the best. Considering Gears gave us Horde mode and then other people started copying them, I’m surprised the “overrun” hasn’t come full circle and we’ve gotten another Unreal Tournament game, but I digress.

Change isn’t always bad with video games, Resident Evil 4 change the format to give us a game with great game play and a hokey story, which continued the fine tred of having action horror games that Resident Evil 5 improved on before 6 ruined it for everyone. Much like Call of Duty 4 brought the games out of the WW2 market and gave us a brilliant tactical shooter before it drowned itself in patriotism. The problem is when you take a beloved franchise and try to mold it after another. Gears of War Judgement is molded after parts of Call of Duty and it failed because of this. It’s still a great game, the story line is decent and the overrun mode is great but it doesn’t feel like a Gears of War game. It’s like taking Mario Kart and removing the weapons and zany levels. It’s still a racing game, but it’s lost what made it special. Gears of War will always have a special place in my heart, yes all four of them. But just because it’s not broken doesn’t mean it needs to be fixed. That said they did try some thing new and it didn’t work out, which is a lot better then that Mario has been doing lately.

A short history on G.I.Joe Vs. Transformers

G.I.Joe and Transformers have had many crossovers over the years that I’m sure if it were a loyalty card for a coffee shop, they’d be due for a free coffee or perhaps a free muffin. So what started it all then, and why are the two franchises forever linked together like Batman and the Joker or Spider-Man and the Green Goblin? My guess is that one day back in the 80’s when both licenses were owned by Marvel comics, a memo flew into the office by way of carrier pigeon requesting that the franchises have a crossover, no matter how awkward that might be. I say awkward because there isn’t really a way to shoe horn a 30 foot tall robot that can transform into a car in a story where a crack unit of the U.S. military fights a snake themed cult, but I digress. Unless that is you set it outside of established universes.

The series which was a four issue limited series saw the introduction of an energy creation device that the Autobots thought was a Transformer. Spoilers for a 30 year old comic book, but Bumblebee gets destroyed, Cobra teams up with the Decepticons for about a cup of coffee before turning on them and offering to help the Autobots who then team up with the Joes to destroy the device that had been stolen by the Decepticons who were going to destroy the Earth with it for power.

As far as crossovers go, it’s fairly tame. There isn’t any major changes, except for Bumblebee’s new body that is, and it was completely ignored in the G.I.Joe and Transformers titles after it finished. The series did reference things that happened in it’s parents books, such as the death of Optimus Prime but that’s about it. The next time the transformers show up is G.I.joe 138 when Megatron gets his new Generation 2 body by way of Cobra, and after taken over the town of Millivile the Autobots show up to stop him. These issues end up dividing fans the most because there is no escaping the influecne here. Some accept it for what it is, an effort to shoe horn in an ad for Generation 2 comics, while the others, who wanted a realistic take on G.I.Joe hated it because, well 30 foot transforming robots. I myself didn’t mind it, but then again I liked Serpentor, and when you accept a clone that is a mix of the 10 most influential leaders, plus the ninja Storm Shadow you can generally accept anything.

After that the franchises ended up with Devils Due Publishing and Dreamwave comics who embarked on their own “else-world” type crossovers. Dreamwave’s first story was set during WW2, and featured murky artwork and a semi coherent story. Their second act, lasted only one issue before Dreamwave closed it’s doors forever. Devils Due had a total for four outings, the first of them had the Transformers as Cobra vehicles, such as Prime as a HISS tank, or Star Scream as a Night Raven jet which was pretty cool, but the story written by Josh Baylock felt rushed in places.

Devils Due’s second act suffered from Dreamwave closing it’s doors, and so a 6 issue series was then crammed into 4 issues. The series was uneven in tone, and set around the idea of Transformers being trapped in time and the Joes having to go find them. The second issue had them going back to the 1970’s in what was mostly a comedic tale, then the third comes around and it’s set in an apocalyptic future where the Decepticons rule and Ratchet was the last Autbot standing, which I’m sure we can agree is a bit jarring. While the ending is rushed, it did serve to tie up some loose ends surrounding some of the Transformers who had been stuck on Earth.

The third series by Devils Due, subtitled “The Art of War” introduces Serpentor as an organic robot which gains sentience and escapes to Cybertron and unites the warring Decepticon factions for an all out war on the Autobots. As it stands, it was my favourite of the DDP era Joe Vs. Transformers tales. The fourth and final outing is perhaps the strangest of all, featuring the Pretenders and Cobra La, and was generally regarded as the dying gasp from a franchise that surprised everyone lasting as long as it did.

The final outing is the Transformers Vs. G.I.Joe by John Barber and Tom Scioli currently on offer from IDW Publishing and it is a treat to read. They’ve basically taken the basic concept, and created their own spin on both franchises. If you go in with any preconceived notions of what to expect, you’ll be disappointed because it’s not how you remember them. Snake Eye talks in this, Metroplex is really just a crawling starfish etc, but the ideas and the story that flow through it are amazing. It feels like an imaginative story and fresh, unlike almost anything else that’s currently out on the market, and worth your time if you like both Transformers and G.I.Joe.

There was talk of the movie franchises crossing over at some point, but honestly, I don’t think that should happen. They should be kept as far removed as possible, because when you read the Transformers Vs. G.I.Joe comic then nothing they do on screen could match the frenzied work that has been produced already. Still if they did crossover, I’d rather it be in the toys. Think about how awesome it would be to have the Combaticons turn into Cobra Vehicles? Now that is some thing I can get behind.