A BLIZZARD OF CONTROVERSY: Activision Blizzard––makers of such hit games as World of Warcraft, Overwatch,and Hearthstone––have hit a geo-political wall as they take a stance over controversial statements made by the winner of a Hearthstone tournament about the protests in Hong Kong against the People’s Republic of China. Andrew and D. Bethel investigate the complicated relationship between popular American entertainment and China.
E3 2019: This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been a strange one with big players absent and new hardware on the horizon, but it’s still bringing announcements and trailers to make our jaded hosts excited.
Games discussed: Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Fallout 76, Pokémon Sword/Shield, among others.
MARVELLOUS DEBUT: A quick check-in with the toxic male comics fandom to start the show. A few weeks ago, Andrew and D. Bethel talked about how proponents for ComicsGate and their robot army were trying to tank Captain Marvel well before it released into theaters with negative scores on Rotten Tomatoes. The hosts just wanted to recognize that Marvel Studios’ newest movie debuted to record-breaking ticket sales, thoroughly debunking and neutering the latest efforts by those who try to gatekeep and, honestly, destroy comics fandom and its associated medium.
A LOT OF GREY AREA: A new trailer for the live-action adaptation of the classic Disney animate feature, Aladdin, went live this week and while the first trailer made Andrew and D. cautiously optimistic, this new one got both of them fully on-board. They talk about adaptations again, specifically from medium to medium (like, in this case, animation to live-action) and why it’s a good thing for adapters (is that the word?) to break with tradition and say something unique even with a beloved property.
Shortcast 74 – Texas the Rabbit: Where Andrew and D. Bethel talked about ComicsGate’s first attempt to show how comics should be made (and fail at doing so). Also, the RELEVANT EPISODES in the show notes have a comprehensive bibliography of other episodes where ComicsGate was discussed.
21st Century Mouse (22 Feb. 2019): Where D. Bethel discussed the live-action adaptation of Battle Angel, focusing on the choices the filmmakers made to bring the story of the manga and anime to a live-action film.
“Boasts of Bethel: Getting to the Point“: Going into the wayback machine, D. Bethel wrote down his thoughts about adapting stories from one medium to another, using the relationship between A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones as a reference point (spoiler free).
HIGHER, FURTHER, FASTER (THAN THE TROLLS CAN FOLLOW): As with many nerdy movies lately that have been labeled as being damaging to the field, Marvel’s upcoming tent-pole film, Captain Marvel (the first from Marvel Studios to have a woman in the lead role), aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes have been targeted by these organized hate campaigns by getting “review bombed.” This means people have taken the steps to make sure sites like Rotten Tomatoes––a site many people visit to see how upcoming movies are trending and reviewing––show a low anticipation or review score with the hope of scaring off potential viewers and condemning the film to low box office receipts. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was victim to this as was 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot and, in possibly in a successful campaign, Solo: A Star Wars Story got hit hard. However, Captain Marvel is on track to break records with ticket presales and be a big smash at theaters.
Andrew and D. Bethel investigate this continuing trend, how Rotten Tomatoes is actually, finally, doing something about this habit, and discuss how and why Captain Marvel seems to be beating the odds.
A brief overview from Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics‘ episode about Milestone Comics:
POST-APOCALYPSE NOW: After D. Bethel talks a bit about the California fires (he’s safe albeit drenched in smoke from the Camp Fire––please donate money over supplies to help most during this time of containment and rebuilding), Andrew discusses his hour or so playing Fallout 76.
#IRONSHITES: Richard Meyer and the ComicsGate controversy has been covered many times before on the show, and the latest installment has Richard Meyer aka “Comics & Diversity” putting his money where his mouth is. His 120-page graphic novel, Iron Sights, (written by Meyer, art by Ibai Canales) has been released (it cost $20 for a copy of the book if you contributed to its Indiegogo campaign) was summarily criticized by Twitter user, Jafleece, in a spectacular and validating fashion. The 60+ thread starts here:
Andrew and D. discuss not only what they saw from the thread, but what this says about the claims Meyer and ComicsGate have been levying toward the industry for awhile now.
END BITS: Also, they spend some time at the end to discuss the death of Stan Lee, below is the clip that D. mentioned was his favorite Stan Lee cameo, from this year’s Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.
And, for good measure, the Pokémon: Detective Pikachu tralier:
Shortcast 49 – The Sweet Beats (30 Mar. 2018): Where Andrew and D. Bethel talk about Fallout 4, also the RELATED EPISODES of the notes contain a comprehensive list of the other times Fallout 4 was discussed on the show.
MEYERED IN CONTROVERSY: Richard Meyer and his “Diversity and Comics” YouTube Channel have been no stranger on this podcast with his leading the charge of the abhorrent ComicsGate dissention among comic book fandom. After gaining notoriety with his “Dark Roast” YouTube video (since deleted) that accused various popular industry creatives of committing sexual, devious, and illegal acts to get their way to the top, Mark Waid––among others––reached out to Antarctic Press to voice concerns with their decision to publish Meyer’s comic, JAWBREAKERS. After hearing those concerns, Antarctic Press terminated their contract with Meyer and went to the internet to spew bile in response. At the end of September, Meyer sued Waid for “tortious interference with contract” and “defamation.” D. Bethel and resident nerd lawyer, Andrew Asplund, dive back into this cesspool to navigate what exactly is going on throughout this new development.
NOTE: No comment made by Andrew during this episode constitutes legal advice or establishes client-lawyer relations.
TWILIGHT RETURNS: It was recently announced that the previously announced Jordan Peele-produced reboot of The Twilight Zone will actually star Mr. Peele himself as the host for the digital-only streaming service CBS All-Access. Andrew and D. talk about their excitement––and fears! (to make it spooky for Spookytober)––for the upcoming show.
With the first day of StocktonCon completed, Kyrun and D. Bethel begin the second day by getting in the car and driving down the 99 to Stockton. It’s early, they’re tired, they’re going wherever the conversation takes them.
While this morning conversation doesn’t touch on conventions or marketing strategies, they dive deep into a major aspect of comics culture: continuity. It’s at the heart of a lot of stories and in the hearts of a lot of fans, often to the point of taking despicable actions when a creative team makes changes that they don’t like.
They examine their own thoughts about the importance of continuity as well as why, it seems, so many people hold continuity with the highest possible value. Also, for some reason, the conversation dives deep into D. Bethel’s own biases when it comes to mainstream comics and how––and if––he overcame those biases.
Con Artists #01 – StocktonCon, pt. 1 : The drive home from the first day of the show. Kyrun and D. discuss making sales, confidence, and the comics they grew up reading and enjoying.
“Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift”: An episode of A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents andPurposes where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund have a long conversation about the necessity of (or problems caused by) continuity in fiction.
“Shortcast 68 – Swinging Gates”: An episode where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund discuss “ComicsGate”, the vitriolic (and dangerous) reaction of some fans at attempts by the industry to include more diversity and modern sensibilities in mainstream comic books.
Special thanks to Kyrun Silva for agreeing to this experiment (and for driving us to and from the convention). Thanks to Ben Schwartz of Empire’s Comics Vault for hosting the table.
STOP BEING MEAN: Of the many “-Gates” that exist in the nerd world right now, some ticks in the “good” column happened recently in the fight called “ComicsGate”, an online harrassment campaign against diversity and representation in both the fiction and creation of mainstream comic books (meaning, mainly, books made by DC and Marvel).
OBI-WAN KE-NOPE-Y: It was made known that Lucasfilm has put its anthology series, subtitled A Star Wars Story, on hold after the lower box office of The Last Jedi and, most recently, Solo. While the cause hasn’t been confirmed, there are a few factors to look at, one of which could be the box office performance of these films. Another, more sinister, reason has to do with the cultural backlash to Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo. A segment on the internet is convinced that Lucasfilm has a political agenda it wants to push and it’s using the Star Wars series to do so. These dissenters have responded in a few interesting ways: some have banded together and made an official decree to “destroy” Lucasfilm, others have started a crowdfunding/social media campaign in order to remake The Last Jedi. Either way, it’s a complicated issue that Andrew and D. Bethel try to find the knots of.
E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.
Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.
With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.
The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.
Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.
And what they showed of Ghost is fire.
In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.
Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.
Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019
Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.
I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.
Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.
My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.
Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019
As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.
I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.
While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes andwhat they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.
A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).
The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.
Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.
Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.
E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.