Free Comics Week

CITY OF HEROES #10, Blue King Studios, March 2004
Here's a theme: Free comics. These days, as sales dwindle, they try to hook you as best they can. Free Comic Book Day. Mailed out freebies. Comics with cover prices ranging between 10 and 25¢. Stuff so cheap the comic book stores were just dumping them in your week's purchases free of charge. (And STILL, some people would refuse them. During the time I was only buying trade paperbacks and graphic novels, I was ready to do the same.) Anyway, I've got a lot of these, mostly unread, so let's call this series Part 1, with more to come down the line.

First up isn't a comic store stowaway though, it's the free comic you get monthly when subscribing to the City of Heroes online game. It's a fun enough superhero game in the World of Warcraft style, and the comic respects its video game tropes, like teleportation to a hospital when you "die". It's got similar powers, costumes, cityscapes and the same criminal organizations. It could be pretty dreary.

But it's not. It's got some frankly dynamic superhero action, and a fairly interesting cast of characters. The "history" of the game world is well exploited, and it informs the game in an interesting way. One of my favorite things is when sorceress War Witch goes to the astral plan to talk to her "sisters" and they've all got a third eye.
This is cooler than a computer game tie-in ought to be. Of course, one thing the City of Heroes comic book promises is to sometimes use actual players' characters from the game. What an honor! And you can tell these characters from the rest because 1) they're unnecessary guest stars, and 2) their costumes have features that seem very random and/or gay. Case in point, this issue's guest duo:
On the right is the Director (or something like that, I've misplaced his name). You can tell he's a player creation because he's got those awful theater masks on his chest, one of the gayer emblems in the game. See, to prevent players from committing copyright infringement, CoH doesn't have bats, spiders, or anything cool like that. Theater masks, flowers and card suits are fair game though. To be fair, the Director is a pretty cool Controller. The player designed him in black and white and made him speak in movie terms (I'm sure "Lights, Camera, Action" was his warcry). Gets tedious after a while, but for a one-off, it's cool.

But speaking of copyright infringement, how about that Weevil character on the left? As you may or may not know (and as chronicled in the excellent online comic strip, PvP), Marvel Comics has sued the makers of City of Heroes over the idea that you simply could create trademarked characters. CoH disapproves of it, and I've blown the whistle on enough copycats to know that after one second chance, they take your account away (which may be why there are about a million fewer people playing it than Warcraft). And yet, Marvel is pissy about the possibility of kids making characters that look like theirs. Who needs the extra exposure, eh?

To Marvel, I say: If you didn't want people making facsimile versions of the Hulk, you shoulda made him harder to draw. But when I look at the Weevil, handpicked and rewarded by being in the comic, it makes me wonder what Cryptic Studios were thinking. He is such an OBVIOUS copy of Wolverine, it's not even funny. Besides the claws, he's very short, he doesn't shave, and he's got the 'tude. Oooh, the twist? Instead of calling people "bub", he calls 'em "jack". Wow. Not the same character. At. All.

Hey, it's a fun enough comic, it looks good, has some funny strips at the back, and an effective shocker ending. But for sending us mixed signals, you get the Shark, CoH!


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