Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 13

I'd like to start off this lucky numbered edition of Waiting for with some ridiculous comic book news. Another copy of Action Comics, issue one, featuring the first appearance of Superman, has sold at auction.

And it went for super silly money, too.

Shattering a record that's already been broken twice this year, this copy brought in $1.5 million. Check out the article over at Comic Book Resources, and then try wrapping your head around that kind of money.
It's been a crazy year so far in terms of the vintage comics market, and I suspect that the economy has a lot to do with the insane numbers we've seen thus far. People with big-ticket items in their collections always put certain things aside for "rainy days," and it's been pouring these last couple of years.

So it's no surprise, really, that people are letting go of big books. It also helps that the prices of these blue chip books have reached levels that no one could ever have dreamed of, even as recently as five years ago.

And when it comes to people buying these books. Well, let's just say, if you have $1.5 million to spend on a comic book, then it's a safe bet that you're recession proof.

Speaking of stupid money, it looks like this week's list of new product will be healthy, and costly. It's the last Wednesday in a month with five of them, so publishers are going to get as much product out as possible before the month-end cut-off date of April 1.

So, naturally, there are a lot of books shipping today.

Out of the hundreds of new issues, though, there's one book especially that has been on fans' radars for the past several months. From DC Comics, writer Geoff Johns' epic event, Blackest Night, comes to a conclusion this week with issue eight.
This is the big one, folks. This issue will wrap up what has become arguably comics' best event book of the last decade, and it will lay the foundation for DC's next year-plus of stories in the "Brightest Day" landscape.

Personally, Blackest Night has probably been my favorite mainstream comic of 2009/2010, and that's saying a lot, since I tend to skew towards Marvel's line of books.

But Johns' writing and the incredible (and uninterrupted--as opposed to, say, the legions of artists on Final Crisis) art of Ivan Reis have made for a new classic DCU story.

Here's the solicitation information for DC's biggest release of the past five years:

The extra-sized conclusion to the most talked-about event in comics is here, and the results will change the course of the DC Universe for years to come.

Earth has become the final battleground for life versus death, but how will our heroes fight back against the darkness of sentient space itself? And what does the future hold for Green Lantern, The Flash and the rest of the world's greatest heroes and villains? Find out here as the stage is set for the next epic era of DC Comics!

I'm looking forward to this book--though I'm not looking forward to the series ending, since I've enjoyed it as much as I have--and this one is definitely on my pull list for today.

Across the street, Marvel has a a few interesting offerings today, but there's one book that stands out for me. And, while it might seem like it's out of left field, if you've followed the blog for a bit, you know I'm a big Peter David fan.
Add Peter David to the 30th anniversary issue of She-Hulk, a character he's written with great success, and you have a book I'm looking forward to.

It's flown a bit under the radar, but here's the solicit info for She-Hulk: Sensational, a one-shot anniversary offering:

You NEVER ask a woman her age...especially when she can bench press tractor trailers! But She-Hulk’s big secret is out, because Marvel’s celebrating 30 years of the jade giantess and you’re invited to the party!

Join acclaimed Shulkie scribe Peter David for an anniversary tale unlike any other! And if you’re still feeling savage, writer Brian Reed (MS. MARVEL) and artist Iban Coello are hosting an after party in honor of the buff bombshell and her most fabulous friends!

With a classic John Byrne She-Hulk reprint as the nightcap, you’re guaranteed to have a gamma-gamma good time! One-Shot/Rated T

The price tag is a bit steep, though, so I'd suggest flipping through the book on the stands before committing to purchase.

And that's where I'll wrap things up for this morning. Enjoy New Comics Day, everyone, but first--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sad News

I really hate to follow up yesterday's wonderful photo post (which I have since officially dubbed the Best Blog Thing to happen in our one-plus years of Exfanding) with something that's as sad as what I've got for today.

But that's life, I suppose.

Over the weekend, the comics industry lost one of its all-time greats as editor-artist Dick Giordano passed away at the age of 77. Giordano was a legendary figure in comics history, and served as DC's Executive Editor for 13 years in the 1980s and early 90s.

He worked as a prominent penciller and inker before his time as an editor, and he was known for his good nature and for his role in the changing landscape of comics. Perhaps most significantly, Giordano played a major part in the emerging role of the creator as we know it today.

To clarify, what I mean is the following. Today, fans follow writers and artists, and not just characters. Books gain and lose audiences according to the creative team attached to a certain project, and comics creators enjoy more respect now than did their predecessors. Giordano was an important part of this recognition of creators' talents.

I have two very minor connections to Mr. Giordano, and I'd like to mention them both here. First, I own an original piece of art that was in part produced by the artist. It's from Detective Comics , issue 529, and it was pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Giordano.And the second connection I have is actually through a friend, but I think it's appropriate to share here. While I attended NYU, I hung around with a bunch of crazy writer friends, and when I graduated, I hung around with a bunch of crazy comics-writer friends.

And one of those crazy comics-writer buddies actually had the opportunity to work on a project with Dick Giordano.

It was an independent thing, and I'm not even sure if it's ever been published (though I have a feeling it was, but on a very small scale), and I didn't see much of the project as it was completed. The pages I did see were just what one would expect from an artist of Giordano's caliber.

But the thing that stuck with me is how my buddy talked about Giordano.

He always told me how nice of a person the artist was, and even though he was working with a then-unpublished writer, Giordano always treated him like he was Denny O'Neil.

I just thought that was pretty cool, and I wanted to share the story.

For anyone who might want to read more about Giordano's life and his impact on comics, there are two links I'd like to point you all towards. The first is from Mark Evanier's always-informative blog. When a comics creator passes away, it seems to fall to Evanier to write about the person. And every time, Evanier does a wonderful job of it.

Here's the link .

And the second link is to Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter site. This one's a bit more in-depth and it's well worth a read.

-- -- -- --

We'll be back tomorrow with another edition of Waiting for Wednesday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Coolest Picture on the Internet?

Wil Wheaton at PAX East 2010 holding a sign saying Hooray for Exfanding Your HorizonsYeah, buddy.

Join us later this week for the full scoop on my trip to PAX East! It's a tale of pity and whoa.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Con Madness: The Redux

Holy Smokes.

It's that time of the year again, folks. The cold, short days of winter have finally succumbed to the long, warm days of spring. And soon (very soon), it'll be summertime, and there will be baseball games and and cookouts and afternoons spent sitting outside with a cool glass of iced tea, listening to the sound of crickets as you--okay, fine.

So who cares about the crickets thing, right? Sure.

And as comics/anime/gaming/whatever fans, we all know what summer's approach really means. Yep, it's Con Season again!

While all those fitness-types spend the beautiful afternoons of spring and summer outside, running and biking, and all those nature-lovers go out nature, any self-respecting fanboy or girl will be inside, pasty-white, and sweating as they fight for position in the battle-or-die arena that is a convention floor.

And this year is shaping up to be the mother of all con seasons, since it's not so much a season as it is a 12-month grind. Seriously, from here on out, there will be at least one major comics convention every, single month. And, in most months, there will be two or three.

Most significantly, the world-famous Comic-Con: International in San Diego won't be the last major show of the year. And the ramp up to San Diego--which usually entails a slow bleed of one or two semi-major shows a couple of months beforehand--is simply staggering.

There's C2E2 in Chicago (a show that will rival the New York Comic Con in size and creator presence), the Emerald City Con (which happened last weekend and was met with tremendous praise from fans and creators), HeroesCon in Charlotte (a fan, retailer, and creator favorite, year-in and year-out), the Boston Con in April (in a new, larger space this year)...

And that's not even to mention the 12 (I'm not exaggerating) Wizard World Cons that are set to assault the comics landscape this year and into next.

But it doesn't end with the summer.

The big New York Comic Con--the show that many have labeled, "San Diego East"-- rolls into the city that never sleeps in early October. Which would usually be enough to get any discerning comics fan through the fall months.

But this year, during the same three days as NYCC, Gareb Shamus' Wizard World convention company has joined forces with the Big Apple Comic Con to put on their very own show.

Let me repeat that--it'll be during the same three days as NYCC.

Think about it for a second. That's like having another major, mainstream comics show in San Diego the week of Comic-Con. Sure, New York is bigger and better equipped to handle two shows (and they'll both be sold out, and they'll both see steady streams of people during all three days), but, c'mon.

As a fan, how do you decide which show to attend? As a retailer, how do you decide which show to attend? Why, as movies like Kick-Ass and Iron Man 2 and Scott Pilgrim are primed to make silly money at the box office, does the comics industry feel the need to compete against itself?

The emergence of the two big (read: massive) New York shows in October has forced the much beloved Baltimore Comic Con to the end of August. That show belongs in the early autumn, as the Orioles are ending their season. It just does. I'm sorry--that's tradition.

I love the Baltimore show--by far, it's my favorite convention. The location and its close proximity to Camden Yards, the amazing guest list, the fact that it somehow feels like a neighborhood show even though there are tens of thousands of people there.


That's really all I can say about it being forced out of its slot. Aaugh. Like Charlie Brown.

Now, on the surface, more conventions seems like a good thing. It means that more fans from different parts of the country will get to attend a show this year when maybe, in past years, they hadn't. That's cool, and I don't mean to sound like a jerk--especially since my hometown is in a perfect location for con-ing.

Really. New York, Baltimore, Philly, and Boston are all easy trips for me.

So, yeah, I'm spoiled when it comes to having good cons in my backyard. But with the schedule so jam-packed this year, something has to give. Just as the slow trickle of variant covers turned into a multi-faceted monster that tried its best to take down an entire industry, I think this whole convention explosion might bite us all in the backside.

Sure, it's cool now. But soon it'll be tiring, and conventions won't be "special" anymore. They'll be that place we go to every other weekend.

Oh, well. One thing I've learned from my short time around comics is that, eventually, when mistakes are made, the people in charge of things figure it out, retrace their steps, and try something new. Sometimes it takes a few years, and sometimes the very same people fall into the very same mistakes a decade down the road, but hey, that's comics.

We yell and scream for everyone to take us seriously and to pay attention to us because we're worth it, and then we make sure we never, ever go away. But not in the timeless-fashion kinda sense of a Rolex, for example. With comics, it's more like the buddy who asks to sleep on the couch one weekend and is still there three months later.


I really didn't want to get all worked up over this. It's Sunday, there are bagels. But that's comics for ya. Whatever the case will be, though, if you are planning on going to a con--and, really, with as many as there are, you have no excuse not to--enjoy yourself. They're fun and different and weird and wonderful.

And, seriously, you do have to give me some credit, though. This topic afforded me a good way to discreetly mask a Sunday link post.

So there's that.

We'll be back soon with some more inane ramblings. Until then, enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Random Link Saturday: Retro Console Pics

Retro video game systems have never looked so pretty:

Retro Console Pics

You'll either think this is super-cool or super-weird.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Ideal Comics Shop

A little while ago, I wrote an almost-completely ignored post about what an ideal comics shop might look like. It garnered all of two comments (and one of them was from Nathaniel), so I just let it go and decided to never write the intended follow-up to that post.

But today, since I can't really think of anything else to write about, I figured I'd beat a dead horse, go back to the well, add one more cliche, and write about what my own, personal comic book shop would look like.

You know, if I had money to buy things like a store and product and all that.

Plus, since it's Friday, I'm in a pretty decent mood today and I feel like writing about comics. Tomorrow, I plan on going to one of my favorite comics shops in the afternoon and picking up a few things I haven't been able to find elsewhere. The shop is local, but it's not the shop I frequent every Wednesday for my new books.

This one's a little further away from home, and I don't have the same kind of personal connection to the store that I do towards my LCS. Still, the way this other store is set-up is pretty close to perfection in my eyes when it comes to how a comics shop should look, so I figured it'd be a good model to use when constructing an ideal store.

First of all, this shop has a lot of space. Which, I know, is not the easiest thing to come by these days. Rents (especially rents in the New York City Metro area) have climbed to near-impossible rates, and getting a decently-sized store in a good commercial area is easier said than done. And it's closer to Fantasyland than it is to Frontierland.

If that makes any sense.

But we're talking ideal here, so let's forget about silly things like practicality and money.

To me, the number one requirement when opening a comics shop is size. (Insert joke here.) There needs to be plenty of room for customers to walk around freely and to not bump into one another every time someone reaches up to grab a toy on that top shelf, or bends down to dig through a back issue bin.

A close second to the size of the shop is the amount of light the shop has. And this is incredibly important, especially when it comes to drawing non-comics-reading "civilians" into the store for the first time.

We've all been to the stereotypical, dark, dingy comic book store, right? There's that eerie, florescent track lighting with one or two panels out or flickering, and making that weird electronic noise just above your head somewhere in the back of the store.

And that's kinda creepy, especially when material, let's say, at the back of most comics shops is inherently creepy.

Lighting is crucial to the success (or, at least, un-creepiness) of any comics shop. Beyond the obvious curb appeal of looking into a bright, friendly-looking store, good lighting makes it easy to read the books that you're going to be buying. And the thing I always think of when I look into a new comics shop for the first time is, "would I let my kid go in there by himself?"

Now, clearly (and thankfully), I don't have a kid, but I'm close enough in mental stability to a twelve-year-old that I know what I'm talking about. If a parent can walk into a comics shop with their child once, look around, and be immediately at ease with the surroundings, that parent is more likely to let that child return to the store on his or her own in the future.

Which could lead to a life-long love for the comics medium.

After lighting comes smell. Smell is crucial. Smell is so important that it should be a non-factor. As in, there shouldn't be a smell. Other than the faint, musky odor of old books, there's no smell allowed. And ya know what? There shouldn't be a faint, musky odor of old books, either.

So, to clarify and to summarize--no smell in the store.

Okay, so, after size, lighting, and smell, comes product. Wait, no. That's not right. Um, let's go back a minute, can we? Before size, lighting, smell, and even product line, my ideal comics shop has a friendly, knowledgeable staff of people working on the floor and behind the counter.

Which, put simply, means, No Trolls Allowed.

Unfortunately, we've all had that experience with a guy (it's always a guy, so I'm not being sexist here) behind the counter who doesn't even bother to look up when a customer enters the store. He's rude and distanced, and when he rings up your books, he doesn't look you in the eye or say "thank you," and he stuffs your brand new comics into a bag carelessly.

In short, he's Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, and while that character is hilarious and kinda whimsical on the show, in real life that person is terrifying. But like many stereotypes, this one is rooted in a half-truth, as there are certainly people like him in our hobby.

So, yeah, friendly staff that actually reads (and likes!) comics is a must for any store.

But after all that, a store is only going to be as good as the product it sells, so selection is key. Personally, I think a store owner needs to be familiar with the product he or she sells. More than that, I think a store owner needs to be passionate about the product he or she sells.

Sure, you need to know what's hot and what the fanbase is currently into, but you also need to add your own style to the selection. Which for me would mean a quality section of horror comics and an Eric Powell/Goon display.

Passion is contagious, and whenever a shop employee has honestly recommended something to me, I've given it a shot.

I also think a shop needs to have a nice balance of old and new. For example, if you have the current Ed Brubaker run of Daredevil trades in the store, you better also have the Frank Miller run from the 1980s.

Same goes with Batman. If you have Hush and RIP, it would only make sense to also carry multiple copies of The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.

Now, while I think the speculator sector is a scary one, I think back issues are a key factor in any good shop. Comics collectors come in all types, and a good number of folks are dedicated solely to vintage books.

So a nice selection of back issues is key, and I think every discerning shop needs to have a smattering of "Wall Books," or titles that sell for a premium. Sure, they're a large initial investment, but just having a blue chip book up on the wall can draw a crowd.

And that's always a good thing.

Finally (since I need to get to work!), I think adding a personal touch to a store is important. It shows you care, and it allows you to stand out from the rest. For me, adding a coffee bar, a couch or two, and some original art would make my shop like a home.

And that's about it. Nothing too fancy. How about you guys? What would your shop look like? Let us know, and in the meantime, Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Because I Must Be Insane

This is why I don't play modern games on my PC: They don't work. Usually it's an issue of insufficient hardware specifications, but in this case, it's that the technology doesn't yet exist to play the game I want to play. Which game, you ask?

Mega Man 10.

Wait wait. You're saying that you can't get some dinky little 8-bit Nintendo game to run on your computer?

Yes, inner monologue. That is exactly what I'm saying. But it's more complicated than that: Mega Man 10 couldn't possibly run on an old-school Nintendo. It looks and sounds like an 8-bit NES game, but blowing on it doesn't make it work any better, therefore it's not. I mean, uh, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes than you'd realize at first glance.

Okay, so the game is a little more system-intensive. But you can play Super Nintendo and PlayStation games on your computer, so Mega Man 10 should be a cinch to get running, right? No! Any time I pose a hypothetical question ending in "right?" the answer is always, "WRONG!" Have we learned nothing?

Obviously we haven't, because I've spent three weeks trying to get MM10 to a playable state anyhow.

The problem is twofold: First, emulation of current-gen systems is far from perfect; as I understand it, developers essentially have to recreate these intensely complicated video game hardware as software, with little or no documentation as to how that's even possible. Second, Mega Man 9 and 10 in particular are designed in such a way that, even though many other games are perfectly playable in emulation, configuration settings need to be absolutely perfect for the game to run at all.

Compounding these problems is the fact that certain versions of an emulator may be more compatible with specific games, and the fact that it's often unclear whether it's the emulator or your computer that's having trouble running the game. Beyond that, there's no definitive guide to emulation troubleshooting; there's just a few discussion threads dedicated to specific games, and YouTube videos that show you that it's possible to run the game without ever explaining how.

The best part is that, even if you do manage to track down exactly the right emulator revision, figure out exactly what settings need to be applied, and have a top-of-the-line computer that can run absolutely anything, there's still a chance that something inexplicably won't work.

After three weeks of trying out every possible setting and numerous revisions of Dolphin, the Wii emulator, I finally got Mega Man 10 to work. After countless hours of frustrating toil, I finally had two different options for playing the game: I could play the game with virtually perfect graphics and sound... at roughly 40% of the regular game speed. Or, I could play at almost full speed, but with semi-sloppy graphics (which is really saying something for 8-bit) and constant screen flashing that would send me into an epileptic seizure in a matter of minutes.

Game Over, right? Give up and forget about this silly endeavor, right? Why did I even need to play MM10 on my computer in the first place when it works just fine on my perfectly functional Wii?

Well, you see... I wrote this beefy review of Mega Man 10 not too long ago, and stock screenshots from GameSpot aren't good enough for me. First of all, the screenshots that are currently available hardly capture the parts of the game I wanted to illustrate; second of all, I had plans of posting the review to as well as to this blog, and the comedic potential of picture captions is much greater if I get to set up the screenshots myself.

And I always provide funny captions with the pictures in my reviews. (Whether anyone else thinks they're funny is beside the point.)

Because there was no indication that I'd be able to properly run MM10 any time soon, and because I wanted to post the review to GameCola while the game was still remotely relevant, I took action: I began to play through Mega Man 10 in slow motion.

Slow. Motion.

Even without dying or incurring any significant amount of damage (dodging is much easier in slow motion, and it also looks more cinematic), it took me nearly three hours of continuous playing to reach the second castle stage. That's enough time for me to beat the game at least twice at regular speed!

Fortunately, there are built-in sanity breaks after you beat each boss: the length of time it takes for Mega Man to automatically run to the center of the screen and absorb the boss's power, teleport out of the level, visit the "Weapon Get!" screen, and return to the menu screen is more than enough time for a bathroom break, a snack break, or a brief-yet-meaningful phone call. Just be sure to never let Mega Man get knocked off of a platform or get killed, because the amount of time it takes to get back to where you were can be intolerably drawn-out.

Why am I subjecting myself to this? Well, I'll get some dandy screenshots for my review. And I'll load up GameFAQs with a pile of cool-looking screenshots, beyond the ones I'll use in the review. I'll be an Internet hero.

Also, because I must be insane.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 12

Welcome back to our regularly-scheduled time slot. After a week of basement floodings, power outages, job interviews, and who knows what else, here we are again: Wednesday morning, anxiously awaiting that sliver in the day when we can slip away to our favorite local comic book shop and forget about things for a while.

For me, that time has been getting later and later in the day, with my trip last week taking place all of ten minutes before the shop closed. It was me, the owner, and another raggedy-looking fanboy who rushed in just after I did, also in an effort to beat the clock.

Because, you know, the world might end had I not gotten my comics on a Wednesday.

Still, as long as you pay the man, the visit counts, and I got all the books I was looking for. Which is all that actually matters. Of course, because now I've managed to not read my new books for just about three pile of unread comics is on its way towards being stupid once again.

Luckily, I'll have some time this weekend to chill out, sit (or lay) down, and just read. I might even head to another local comics shop that I haven't hit up in a few weeks, just because.

Just because last week I had about 15 minutes to myself. Just because my basement was flooded and smelly. Just because I had to turn down coaching a youth baseball team not ten minutes ago due to time restraints.

So, yeah.

Today? I'm buying comics. And this weekend? Yep, I'm buying comics. The question, however, is--which comics will I be buying?

And thus it will be with that seamless transition sentence that we will get started on this week's Waiting for, the Internet's shortest-running and littlest-known weekly feature about comics and comics byproducts.

This week, we have a nice combination of mainstream, indy, and kinda-mainstream titles, including two new number one issues and a discovery of a great, new artist.

First up, we have a book that I know nothing about, save for the fact that it's written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven--the same creative team that brought the comics world sales juggernauts Civil War and Old Man Logan.

At the moment, anything Millar touches is white hot, but since this is one of Marvel's mature readers, some shops might under-order the title. Which is exactly what happened with Millar's last book, Kick-Ass, and those issues are going online for a (stupid) premium.

With the theatrical release of Kick-Ass this April, expect there to be quite a bit of attention on Millar's latest project when the movie comes out. What will that be? A book called Nemesis, issue one of which ships today.
Actually, on Marvel's site, they've titled the book Millar and McNiven's Nemesis, so you know they've put a lot of stock in the team.

This four issue mini-series has had some Internet hype--though I've managed to avoid most of it--and I think it's a safe bet that stores will sell out quickly. Here's the (wonderfullly silly and hyperbolic) solicitation information from the publisher:

The Story: CIVIL WAR? Nothing. KICK-ASS? A warm up. What if the smartest, toughest costumed bad ass in the world was totally evil? Meet Nemesis. He’s systematically been destroying the lives of every police chief in Asia, and he’s now set his sights on Washington, DC.

Between you and me, the police don’t have a chance. Do not miss the book that EVERYONE will be talking about by the creative team that made CIVIL WAR the biggest book of the decade.

Now, while that solicit tells us next-to-nothing about the series, you can go in expecting a few things. First, it'll be violent. Second, there will be sophomoric humor. Third, it'll be violent. And fourth, it'll sell big.

Oh, and it'll be a good read and the art will be stunning.

Say what you will about Mark Millar, but he always delivers on these hugely-hyped projects and the impossible-to-live-up-to expectations that go along with them. And his stories are always well told, accessible, and fun.

Sure, sometimes it's big, stupid fun, but there's no denying that Millar is a great comic book writer. And that's due in large part to the fact that he's a great writer, period.

He gets pacing and characterization, and even though some will blast him for the over-the-top action and sheer unbelievability of his plots, the man knows how to write a compelling story.

So check this book out on the stands.

Next up, we have another title I know pretty much nothing about. From Dark Horse Comics, The Guild, issue one, hits stands today and looks to be a crowd-pleaser for the gaming community.
Aside from the fact that The Guild is a very popular Web series that I've never heard of, the only other thing I can tell you about the series is that, from previews I've seen online, it looks like a good read. Plus, it's published through Dark Horse, and I trust their editorial team to always put out interesting, quality product.

Here's the blurb from the publisher and a preview on their site, though, so you can make up your own minds.

Internet phenomenon The Guild comes to comics, courtesy of series creator, writer, and star Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)!

Chronicling the hilarious on- and offline lives of a group of Internet role-playing gamers, the Knights of Good, The Guild has become a cult hit and is the winner of numerous awards from SXSW, YouTube, Yahoo, and the Streamys.

Now Day brings the wit and heart of the show to this three-issue miniseries. In this origin tale of the Knights of Good, we learn about Cyd's life before joining the guild, how she became Codex, and how she began to meet the other players who would eventually become her teammates.

This storyline fills in details never before revealed on the web show, making it a delightful new chapter for existing fans as well as a perfect jumping-on point for new fans!

It looks interesting, and I know there are a good number of Exfanding readers that will be into the premise. So, check it out, and check out the Web site, as well.

And finally today, we have a book that's run the gamut from excellent to, well, pretty much the opposite of excellent over the course of its 70 issues. From DC Comics, Superman/Batman was a title launched several years ago by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness.

Their first arc was so successful and popular that DC Entertainment turned it into a successful and popular animated DVD that was released last fall. And, while the Loeb run had a few head-scratch-worthy moments in it, his 25 issues were memorable, fun, and breathed new life into the Supes/Bats team-up story.

That, and in the writer's second arc, he reintroduced Supergirl to the DC Universe, a move that has made the publisher a considerable amount of money in the last five years.

After Loeb left the title, however, arcs became very hit or miss, with some stories that were plain tough to read, cover to cover. But every couple of arcs, there's a great creative team, and in the current arc, a new artist has blown me away.
Ardian Syaf is the latest artist on the book (this is issue three of his run with writer Joe Casey), and his stuff is pretty amazing. To be able to draw a mythic, heroic Superman and a frightening, dark Batman in the same panel is a tremendous skill, and Syaf excels throughout the first two issues of his run. I expect more of the same with this week's issue.

Instead of giving you the blurb for the book, please do yourselves a favor and check out the preview art at DC' site.

And with that, I'll leave you with this. What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weighty Matters

Americans, in general, are overweight, or so they say. Over what weight, I'm not sure, but it's always been difficult for me to determine whether the media is more concerned about physical health or physical appearance when they talk about America being overweight.

Personally? I don't care. Alright, so I do care when a person's weight creates serious health problems, but I've been around people both big and scrawny my whole life, so I really don't pay too much attention to people's weight.

I've also been eating sugary cereal and salty potato chips my whole life, so I pay close attention when they mess with the formula of my food and "adjust" things so that my Cinnamon Toast Crunch is powered by Splenda.

There's been a push in recent years to reduce the amount of flavor in my food by lowering the sugar and fat content, and I find this trend to be downright unpalatable. Some of my favorite snacks and breakfast cereals have fallen victim to the vengeance of companies that have succumbed to the pressure from lawmakers and grumpy parents and health-foodified their clearly not-intended-to-be-healthy products. PepsiCo, which includes the likes of Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay, Quaker, and Tropicana, will soon be the latest victim.

Ostensibly, this movement to create healthier pre-packaged store-bought food stems from a concern for the nation's children: How can we possibly keep America's kids from getting fat if so many foods are unhealthy? If only we could control what kind of food we feed our children, and how much! Clearly, the best solution is to make the food companies change so that we don't have to alter our lifestyle at all! Well, except for Nathaniel, who has to stop eating Fritos and Trix because now they taste like mildly salted cardboard.

If this is how we solve our problems, what's going to happen when people start to fear that video games are too addictive, or that children are reading books that are intended for more mature readers? Will a federal regulation require that all video game systems shut themselves off automatically after one hour? Will mature themes be banned in adult-oriented books because children might try to read them? Where are we going to draw the line?

There are two kinds of solutions: one kind resolves the cause of a problem, and the other kind removes the negative effects of a problem. There is a time and place for both kinds of solutions. However, if we address the root of the problem of childhood obesity, we all get to eat delicious, sugary cereal until our parents or our own self-control cut us off. If we continue to slap bandages on our problems, it won't be long until we're all swallowing flavorless pills with just the right amount of nutrition to keep us functional.

Do Americans have their priorities straight? Honestly, which is more important: the thirst-quenching taste of a fully sugared Pepsi, or the health and welfare of your child?

Don't answer that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

For What It's Worth

We take many things for granted in today's world of ever-improving technology. I know I sure as heck do. Just last week during the big East Coast rain storms that brought downed trees and power outages all over my hometown, I realized how little I ever really think about electricity as the magical, modern miracle it is.

The simple act of flipping on a light switch, or clicking the power button on a television is pretty much black magic to me.

And that's not even to mention that the television I turn on each day is a razor-thin, High Definition flat screen that weighs a few pounds, at most, and beams somewhere around 800 channels into my home.

Like I said, I take many things for granted.

And this past weekend, I realized that there's one other thing I used to take for granted, but wouldn't dream of doing so now.

And that's the game of baseball.

It was such a huge part of my life when I was growing up--heck, even into my early 20s, the game pretty much consumed my every waking hour.

Practices and games and swings in the batting cage for ridiculous hours at a time. Afternoons spent in the weight room, and mornings spent on the track, sucking in the frosty, biting air of a December cardio session.

Game days were the best, of course.

The smell of the fresh cut grass, and the leather glove at my side. The sound of bat on ball--better in the summers, I have to say, since I played in wooden bat leagues most of my life.

Nothing can beat the crack of a wooden bat--the piercing, sometimes sickening, ping of the aluminum bats we played with in high school and college just wasn't the same.

Baseball was always there for me. Until, of course, it wasn't anymore.

When I was injured in my Sophomore year of college, I decided to give the game up. I remember the night before I had to tell my coach--the coach who gave me money for college because I could swing a bat and throw a ball.

More than that, though, I stayed up all night and I thought about my father.

My Dad, the man who never missed a game, no matter what he had to do in order to get there. My Dad, with whom I still go out in the backyard and play catch. My teacher, and my biggest fan.

Since I stopped playing, this time of year always has a funny effect on me. It's the weather, and the anticipation of a season that used to mean so much. Years ago, January and February meant preparation, and March meant tryouts and practices.

Today, it still means those thing...just not for me.

And that's fine, because I spend my pre-baseball season coaching and teaching and trying to help out any players who call me up and ask to work out. And this past weekend, I had my first such practice with a player who is hoping to make his high school team.

And just being in the cage (even though I was on the other side of the pitcher's screen) and being on the field (even though I was the one hitting the ground balls, instead of fielding them),was enough for me.

Saturday was a beautiful day, and I was on a baseball field. And I'll never take that for granted.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Linking

Since my previous Sunday posts have been a I plan on keeping it short, sweet, and to the point. Which is to say, I will post a link, talk about it for a paragraph or so, and leave you all to enjoy your Sunday.

And today's must-see link is a site that I'm sure at least a goodly number of you are aware of, since it's had a large online presence for years now. iFanboy is one of the very best comics news and discussion sites on the Web, and their columns, forums, and podcasts are consistently some of the best in comics fan culture.

I discovered the iFanboy guys through one of their many podcasts, and it wasn't long before I realized that these guys are good. And they have a huge, thriving community of fellow fans on their site.

So if you're in the mood for some well-reported stories, thoughtful reviews, and fun podcasts, check their site out. And tell them Exfanding sent ya!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Discovering Buried Blog Treasure

From time to time, I dedicate an hour or two or three to tinkering around with this blig. I mean, uh, blog. Didn't mean to write "blig."

Anytypo, when I do finally sit down to spruce up our layout, clean up the sidebar, and go back through the archives to proofread posts and check on search tags, I like to take my time and make a real project out of it. Most recently, I found myself skimming through every single post we've done since mid-December, around which time I started getting a little lax on keeping up with all the consistency and technical stuff.

Do you know what I discovered? One-and-a-half posts that I had never read before. I mean, it's possible that I've seen them and don't remember them, but as far as I'm concerned, this was all brand-new to me! Thankfully, the posts in question belonged to Alex--if they were mine, there'd be some real problems.

Perhaps I was away for the weekend, or maybe I was just busy enough that I didn't have time to read anything of any length, but Alex wrote a post about coffee that I simply don't remember, and the entire first half of one Waiting for Wednesday didn't ring a bell, either.

And it was wonderful.

To me, it's a joy to discover a previously unknown installment of something you love. It's that one episode of Star Trek that, somehow, you didn't see when you watched through the entire series all those decades ago. It's that one obscure Mega Man game that was never released in your country, and even though it's awful, at least it's more Mega Man. It's that one action figure with such a limited run that you didn't realize it was missing from your otherwise complete collection.

Instead of closing with some heartwarming lesson I learned from all this, I'll leave you with a challenge: Pick one of your favorite fandoms and search around for an installment you might have missed. Go back through the archives of your favorite blog (read: Exfanding Your Horizons) and see if there are any posts you've missed. Choose something you know everything about, and discover a little bit more.

Will you take my challenge?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 11

Well, here we are--two days late and just a little bit useless--for the latest edition of the world-famous (not really) Waiting for Wednesday. My lights are back on, the basement is un-flooded, and the Internet is alive and well on all of my computers.

From what I've heard on the news and by talking to people in my hometown, there are still plenty of families without power, and the rumor is that the electric company won't have everyone up and running again until the weekend.

Which, in today's world of iPads and Droids, seems staggeringly unacceptable. We can put the Internet in the palm of a human being's hand, but it still takes us six days to turn the lights back on.

And that leads me to my next point. While the world was dark for a few days, I couldn't help but think about a few things.

Like the situation in Haiti after the earthquake that killed thousands of people, shattered the infrastructure of an entire nation, and left countless families homeless. They've been living without any semblance of modern life for the past two months, living in tents and battling against the elements every single day.

After 48 hours without heat and television, I had had enough.

I can't even begin to imagine the resolve it takes to live through what those people have lived through--and continue to live through--every single day.

The other thing I thought about while the lights were out (the other, way less significant thing) was the fact that it's a good thing I'm such a voracious reader. Otherwise, there would have been many hours of staring blankly at a wall in between all those trips down to the basement, making sure the generator was doing its thing and keeping the water outside.

By Sunday morning, I decided to crack open a large, somewhat intimidating fantasy novel written by Patrick Rothfuss, entitled The Name of the Wind. I say somewhat intimidating mostly because of the size of the novel--it's a huge book with big pages and small words, and it's heft is enough to knock a person out.

Not that I tested that theory or anything, though.

The other reason I say it was a bit intimidating is because I rarely read fantasy books. Sure, I've read the entirety of Neil Gaiman's bibliography, but save The Lord of the Rings, I tend to stay away from the fantasy aisle in the bookstore.

Let me rephrase that--I always check out the fantasy section, and peruse the titles and the authors, but I rarely purchase a book from its shelves. I guess I just always felt that many of the books are part of a larger series of books, and if I buy that first one, I'd need to buy five or ten more in order to get the complete story.

So when I spotted The Name of the Wind, I was struck by a couple of things. First and foremost, the title and the cover leaped out at me. Beautiful jacket design, compelling cover image, and just the right balance of summary and recommendations provided on the back cover.
Second, I was glad that this was the first--and, thus far, only--book with these characters and this world. So I knew I'd start at the beginning, and by the end of the novel I'd be in the same boat as all the other readers of the book.

I picked it up, flipped through the first chapter, and decided to buy it.

That was back sometime in May, and the book has pretty much sat on a shelf at home ever since. When I sit down to read, I want the conditions to be ideal. For example, I like reading my comics on Sunday mornings, when I know I have nothing to do.

The same goes with books, and when it comes to something as long as Name of the Wind, I wanted to be sure I'd have adequate time to delve into the lengthy, intricate story.

And so, with nothing but time on my hands for the foreseeable future, I grabbed the book from the shelf and dove right in. I'm a little over a quarter of the way through the book, and since I started reading it, I have placed an Amazon order for a couple more fantasy books, and I plan to re-read The Lord of the Rings in the near future.

Wind, I've learned, is a unique entry in the genre because it features the main character telling his own story. While there is an omniscient third-person narrator to start things off, the bulk of the text is told by Kvothe, the book's hero, in a story-within-a-story style. And this makes the novel something different in the world of fantasy literature.

And...uh...I thought that was interesting, and I figured I'd share it with you.

Right. Back to comics. Even though new comic book day is squarely in the rearview mirror of this week, it just doesn't feel right to skip the feature altogether. Instead, this week's Waiting for will be a very special "here's what I bought" edition as opposed to a "here's what I plan to buy" edition.

The biggest book of the week is probably Siege, issue three, from Marvel. Writer Brian Bendis and artist Olivier Coipel are delivering on this series and the four-issue story has been action-packed and well-paced.
By "well-paced," I mean, there's actual action and fighting in the book, which is something that usually takes time to get to in these event comics.

If you're a Marvel Zombie, then this book is high on your list of things to read, but if you haven't been following the publisher's books, I'd suggest finding issue one and giving it a shot. It's a pretty accessible story and it's told just as a big, honking event comic should be.

It's fun, it's quick, and people get punched in the head. Repeatedly.

Here's the solicit information from Marvel:

THE MARVEL BLOCKBUSTER OF THE YEAR!! In the halls of Asgard and on the streets of small town America the entire Universe is gripped in the greatest battle ever seen: SIEGE!!

Lives have been lost! Lines have been drawn! And the battle for Asgard is in full force.

The moment for revelations and life-changing moves is here, and for some, this will be the last choice they ever make in this world. What happens next is so epic, so historic, that it changes the entire dynamic of the Marvel Universe. You're gonna want to be there for this us.

Ah, there's just nothing like that good old Marvel hype, in the grand tradition of The Man himself, Stan Lee. They really do know how to write a promo, don't they?

Now, while Siege will most likely be the week's best seller, the book I'm most excited about comes from Vertigo and writer Scott Snyder. Oh, and Stephen King. And it's about vampires.

So let's run through that again.

Vampires? Check. Stephen King? Check. Vertigo quality? Check. Throw in some incredible art from up-and-comer (he's going to be huge) Rafael Albuquerque, and you have a book that was seemingly written just for me.
This series germinated from an idea by writer Scott Snyder and, from what I've read online, Snyder asked Stephen King to write a promotional quote for the series. King was so taken by the story that he instead asked to be a part of it. So now we have a book co-written by one of the most recognizable names in fiction.

Issue one (and, I'm assuming, each subsequent issue) will feature two stories--one by Snyder and the other by King. Here's the blurb:

Witness the birth of a brand new species of vampire in this new ongoing series that begins with five extra-sized issues featuring back-to-back stories by exciting new writer Scott Snyder and the master of horror himself, Stephen King!

When notorious outlaw Skinner Sweet is attacked by an old enemy (who happens to be a member of the undead), the first American vampire is born...a vampire powered by the sun, stronger, fiercer, and meaner than anything that came before.

Plus...Pearl Jones is a struggling young actress in 1920s Los Angeles. But when her big break brings her face-to-face with an ancient evil, her Hollywood dream quickly turns into a brutal, shocking nightmare.

Looks good, sounds good, and I am definitely on board for this series.

And, since I've been talking way too much today, I'll let you all go. Happy Friday, everyone, but before you go--what are you Waiting for?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sure, I Remember Electricity

Well, today was supposed to mark my triumphant return to blogging from a computer. Instead, here I sit, plucking away at the pseudo "keys" of my iPhone because my brand new wireless Internet thingy does not work.

Instead of being the new, wonderful, sleek contraption that magically beams the Web to my laptop, it is now a new, wonderful, sleek contraption that sits on my desk.

And doesn't do much more than that.

Well, actually, it has managed to cripple my DSL completely, so at least there's that. It should be fixed by tomorrow--or so I'm told--so fingers crossed.

The good news, though, is that my electricity has been turned back on, I've showered, the basement is clean, and I am warm and tired. But the good kind of tired. Sure, I'm on my way to work on about 10 hours of sleep over the last four days, but at least there will be tons of stuff to catch up on.

So much, in fact, that there's a good chance I won't even have enough time crash completely.

Still, since this phone makes my soup-bones-for-hands ache whenever I type anything more considerable than an email or a text message, I'll need to postpone this week's Waiting for Wednesday for one more day.

So it'll really be a list of things I bought, instead of a list of things I want to buy. Perfect for all you weekend comics shoppers, not-so-perfect for the vast majority that is everyone else.

And today's post is pretty much to be considered "vamping" while I count down the minutes to the return of my Internet.

I did want to mention a humorous (well, I thought so, at least) aside from all the storming and power outage-ing this week. Because the power was out, the sump-pump in my basement obviously did not work.

And because there was just so much water from the torrential rains Saturday and then the steady rains of Sunday and Monday, the water from the backyard backed up in the curtain drain, and started coming into the basement.

We have two portable sump-pumps and a portable generator--all bought specifically for the frequent power outages--but ensuring that those components work properly and efficiently takes some time and (constant) effort.

The biggest problem we faced was the fact that our portable generator was certainly not meant to remain on for days at a time. Nor was it supposed to be out in the rain, or so the directions warned.

So there were some interesting problems that needed to be solved interestingly.

And they were.

I found myself thinking a lot about Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and about how I felt a lot like Robert Neville, stocking up on supplies and food during the day, and preparing for the onslaught at night.

Right. Back tomorrow (hopefully) with a proper post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Waiting for--Hey, Waittaminute!

Well, hello there. Good to see you all again. It's been way too long. And, um, sorry for the extended absence. I've had a bit of an interesting week so far. Well, actually, that's not really true. I'm still having a bit of a week here.

Mostly because the super secret location of Exfanding HQ sits high atop water table.

Not exactly stately Wayne Manor, or the Hall of Justice, or even Peter Parker's one-room apartment, for that matter. But, hey, it suits our purposes. Until, of course, it doesn't. Suit our purposes, I mean. Apparently, when one adds a ridiculous amount of rain to widespread (and days long) power outages to a high water get a flooded basement.

Who knew?

Anyway, while the basement situation is still an ongoing annoyance, the weather has turned quite nice. So not having power isn't as bad today as it was yesterday. Plus, my home phone has finally been repaired, and my iPhone now makes and recieves calls and can connect to the Internet.

Which is something it couldn't do the past three days.

And since Nathaniel has kindly taken over thus far this week, I figured it'd be a nice gesture on my part to ignore the fact that my giant fingers were not built for iPhone typing and take over today's posting.

Of course, since I now want to throw the phone out the window, I'm going to wrap up by saying that I hope to be back tomorrow with electricity in my home and with a post from a computer.

Hopefully it'll be a Very Thursday edition of Waiting for Wednesday, and not some angry rant about portable generators backfiring.

Right. See you soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Exfanding Review: Mega Man 10

Mega Man 10 is the greatest Mega Man game of all time.

One of the statements in the sentence above is a lie. Mega Man 10 has the potential to be the greatest Mega Man game of all time, but while the core gameplay constitutes one of the finest Mega Man experiences to date, Mega Man 10 falls short in a few critical areas. The game's primary undoing is that it is being reviewed by a guy who has played waaaay too much Mega Man, a guy who gets annoyed whenever Capcom replaces something that worked perfectly in one game with something appallingly inferior in the next game.

Classic Mega Man games aren't renowned for their gripping plots (unless you count gripping the controller while watching the cutscenes), so complaining that Mega Man 10 has a hokey plot is like whining about how your Game Boy doesn't make toast. Robots everywhere are coming down with a robo-flu and going berserk (in the game, though; not in real life--no need to panic). Evil scientist Dr. Wily is totally not responsible for the outbreak because he shows up begging Mega Man for help. Wily tells Mega Man to go after eight boss robots to recover his "stolen" invention that will help him cure this so-called Roboenza, which sounds more like a prescription drug. Ask your mad doctor is Roboenza is right for you.

It's not my favorite Mega Man story ever conceived, and the few minor plot holes along the way don't help, but I give it credit for allowing character development to have a cameo. However, anything I like about the plot is nullified by the presentation, which can either be classified as "probably rushed" or "inexcusably lazy," depending on my mood.

Story sequences feature either a bunch of sprites who mostly stand around and talk at each other, or close-up illustrations with as little animation as possible. Perhaps I'm overly judgmental after being treated to nearly two decades of interesting and action-packed cutscenes involving allies teleporting in at the last minute, about-to-collapse castles falling apart at the seams, skull-shaped mushroom clouds, and scientists frantically waving their arms about, but the cutscenes in MM10 tend to resemble a slideshow with only about seven slides, two of which are missing.

You see, the ending is the worst offender; not only are things wrapped up quickly and slightly illogically, but half of it is told through text and sound effects against a black screen, followed by end credits that can only be described as a glorified Windows screensaver. The visual feast that was MM9's ending is a hard act to follow, but MM10 could have at least tried to compete by... I dunno... actually having visuals.

The rest of the game looks quite nice, for the most part. The faux 8-bit look suits Mega Man quite well, and the level of graphical detail surpasses most other Mega Man games in the same visual vein. There are vibrant brown waterfalls, flashing wall panels that indicate the presence of SCIENCE!!! and even cute little robots with baseball caps and an attack pattern that makes me want to hate them forever. Most everything is visually appealing... except for the bosses, who were all rescued from the Island of Misfit Robot Masters.

Solar Man looks like a regular stage enemy, the wimpy cousin of the fireball-tossing robots in Quick Man's stage from Mega Man 2. Chill Man looks like he was uncreatively assembled from the remains of Cold Man and Dynamo Man from Mega Man & Bass. Nitro Man transforms into a cool-looking motorcycle, but his regular form looks to me like Bloated Man. Sheep Man is... actually, I kinda like Sheep Man. Blade Man is a purple banana with swords. Pump Man... okay, I sorta like Pump Man, too, even though he's mildly disturbing. Commando Man is just... there.

It's a bad sign that my favorite boss is Strike Man, a sports-themed robot master with a sports-themed stage. I barely even like sports! How can Strike Man possibly be my favorite boss when I can barely identify a football!? (That's the round ball, right?)

Part of my unfavorable opinion of the robot masters stems from their special attacks; MM10 manages to capture all the most annoying boss abilities in the same game! Projectiles that deflect your shots. Getting knocked down whenever the boss falls to the ground. Getting frozen in ice until you can mash buttons enough to break free. Having bosses hang out at the top of the screen where you can't reach them. There's more, but now I'm getting whiny.

Happily, Mega Man 10 isn't all boss battles. For the most part (again, with the "for the most part), the stages are well-designed and offer diverse and fair challenges--raging sandstorms flood the screen and obscure the ground beneath you; running on a treadmill temporarily energizes platforms you can stand on; and an unfriendly conga line of fireballs leaps back and forth out of the walls. I can't think of a single kind of enemy or platforming challenge that is overused or underused, save for a major section of Blade Man's stage that just goes on forever (hop up and down on a seesaw for about five minutes while being shot at and tell me if you're having fun). Success depends almost entirely on skill and practice... and also special weapons and items.

The special weapons in this game are, once again, rehashes of weapons we've already seen throughout the original and X series, but at least they're creative rehashes. The Wheel Cutter is an upgraded version of Wheel Gator's weapon from MMx2 that you can hold in front of you and then launch across the ground and up walls; Rebound Striker is a less-embarrassing version of the Mega (soccer) Ball from MM8; Commando Bomb is an exploding version of whatever the heck Izzy Glow's weapon is called from MMX5.

What's unusual is that most of the weapons do more damage depending on how you use them: Chill Spike, for example, freezes enemies in place while dealing a minimal amount of damage to them; if Chill Spike hits the ground or a wall, it'll turn into a mass of jagged ice that does much more damage to anything that comes in contact with it. It's a nice idea, but there's just a little too much strategy involved for my taste.

Once again, there is a shop feature that sells an array of helpful items such as Energy Tanks and one-use doohickeys that protect you from instant death when landing on spikes. I'm pleased to report that the shop interface has been cleaned up since the last game; no longer will you fumble with the controls and accidentally buy five extra lives, a bird whistle, and a new dress for your sister. I can't speak as highly of the in-game menu system, however; there's a lot of wasted space on your inventory screen, and navigation is clumsy until you've acquired all the special weapons and can count on your cursor moving the direction you tell it to.

Now that I've unintentionally segued into the subject of controls, allow me to interject that I've had repeated difficulties with the controls. It's likely that this is all the Wiimote's fault (that's what I said about the broken TV, too), but I've found myself casually strutting off the edge of multiple cliffs because jumping was not happening. Beyond that, there's a button that allows you to cycle through your weapons without visiting the menu screen, which would be great if my twitchy finger didn't inadvertently tap it at the worst possible moment at least once per stage.

There's also a weird pause before the start of every boss battle--normally, as soon as a boss's health meter fills up, it's clobberin' time. In MM10, there's an unusually long delay where everybody just stands there. In fact, there are a few timing issues that only throw me off because I've been playing Mega Man for so long; enemies who pop out of bottomless pits don't respawn as quickly as I expect them to, and Hard Hats feel rather unpredictable concerning how long it takes them to emerge from under their helmets to shoot at me. There's nothing major, but it's enough to bother me, like moving all of the furniture in my house an inch farther away from the wall.

I've pointed out several flaws so far, but rest assured that there is a good deal of good in Mega Man 10. Between thoughtfully placed powerups and a range of special weapons that are handy in a variety of situations, it feels as though the designers were truly conscious of what players would need in order to have any hope of making it to the end of the game. To that end, the designers also threw in an Easy Mode so that people who have no business playing Mega Man will feel compelled to give Capcom their money.

Easy Mode makes a number of alterations to the normal game, such as toning down the boss battles so that the wailing and gnashing of teeth is kept to a minimum, giving powerups away like beads at Mardi Gras, and adding some platforms to catch you from falling to the doom that you completely deserve for missing that jump.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hard Mode, which is unlocked when you announce that Normal Mode is too easy for a Mega Man expert like yourself. Hard Mode then proceeds to weave your words into a fashionable rope and chokes you with your own arrogance. Hard Mode ramps up the difficulty of the bosses by giving them a top-secret super attack and/or making their regular attacks even more difficult to dodge. Hard Mode also messes with the quantity, placement, and type of enemies found throughout the stages so that each and every screen requires a specific strategy to survive.

Easy Mode is designed to make sure you succeed. Normal mode is designed to be a challenge, but one that can be surmounted with enough skill and practice. Hard Mode wants you to fail. Being the Mega Man nut that I am, I greatly enjoyed the increased challenge of Mega Man 9's Hero Mode, and I somewhat enjoyed the even-more-difficult Superhero Mode; except for two situations where a challenge actually became easier for me because of how I'm configured to play platformers, Mega Man 10's Hard Mode is not fun. Period. You can trust my judgment here, because I consider jumping from platform to platform with only a single pixel between me and instant death to be fun.

Well, it could be worse. At least Mega Man can charge up his weapon and slide out of the way of danger, right?

Wrong. Wrong like Oreo Fun Barbie.

After nearly twenty years of Mega Man games featuring a slide and charge shot, it is very difficult for me to go back to the primitive simplicity of run, jump, and die because you can't dodge or kill an enemy quickly enough. The challenges of the Mega Man series have grown more complex over time, requiring greater mobility for success, and it's just plain tedious to take down a boss with a primary weapon that's a dinky pea-shooter.

This diminishes the replay value, too: fewer abilities means fewer possible variations on how you might tackle a stage, and doing only one damage at a time to bosses with your regular blaster is a strong deterrent to fighting the bosses out of sequence, unless your idea of replay value is getting blown up and replaying a boss fight over and over.

However, there is a glimmer of hope: From the very beginning, you have the option to play either as Mega Man or his ultra-cool brother, Proto Man. Not only does Proto Man have a shield that can bounce projectiles back at the enemies that fired them, but he can slide and charge up his blaster, and he's got a jet sled item available from the start. Plus, he's got those awesome shades and his own whistle theme. Why would anyone ever not play as Proto Man?

Oh... I dunno. Maybe it's because Proto Man can only shoot two bullets at a time instead of three, which makes accuracy that much more important. Or maybe it's because his charge shot is the weaker version from Mega Man 4, but with the drawback from Mega Man 5 where you lose your charge when you get hit... a drawback that was supposed to balance the fact that the charge shot was more powerful in that game. Another possible reason is that the shop doesn't offer Proto Man as many items, and everything is more expensive.

Ooh, I know! Maybe it's because enemy projectiles coming from certain angles bypass Proto Man's shield and instead get blocked by his pretty, mysterious, highly flammable face. Or it could be that Proto Man gets knocked back twice as far as Mega Man when he gets hit, usually resulting in him falling backwards off a ladder and into another enemy, which knocks him back again, toppling off of a platform, and plummeting into a bottomless pit somewhere back at the beginning of the stage. Or, possibly, it's because Proto Man takes twice as much damage as Mega Man.

So... in an effort to balance Proto Man's three useful abilities with Mega Man's utter mediocrity, they deluge him with drawbacks that make it almost impossible to win, let alone have any fun. This is like giving one child a melted old chocolate bar, and showing fairness by giving another child a decadent triple-layer molten chocolate lava cake and then cutting off his arms.

What is the payoff for this suffering? Is it a new storyline with an alternate ending? No. There are approximately two cutscenes that star Proto Man instead of Mega Man, and that's it. Fortunately, the dialogue changes to fit Proto Man's aloof nature. Unfortunately, thanks to the dialogue changes, the ending (which is the same for both playable characters) no longer makes any sense whatsoever. Surely there must be something to justify playing as Proto Man.

I admit that a few sections are more fun to play through as Proto Man, but those are almost exclusively limited to boss battles fought without the proper special weapon on Easy Mode and a few places where Proto Man's ability to deflect multiple projectiles with his shield turns him into a Jedi. Along with the slightly different cutscenes and the fact that Proto Man is one hip cat (when he's not being bullied around by enemies half his size), that's enough to warrant playing through Mega Man 10 at least once as him... but not on Hard Mode.

There is no sane reason to play through Hard Mode as Proto Man. I'd say "bragging rights," but that's like being able to brag that you slammed your head against a brick wall for three hours. No, you get nothing. But, because the developers tried to fairly balance Proto Man, you get nothing and a big headache.

However, it might be worth your while to beat Hard Mode as Mega Man, at least if you're driven by achievements. Just as robots have been infected by Roboenza, Mega Man has been infected by the achievements craze, and you get a little blip of recognition whenever you do something special such as clearing the game on Hard Mode, beating all the robot masters without using any special weapons, and playing as Proto Man for more than ten minutes without screaming any obscenities.

Wait; scratch that. You can't earn any achievements while playing as Proto Man. Clearly, his superior abilities would make it far too easy to earn that coveted "beat the game without dying" achievement.

In addition to a limited number of achievements--and they do deserve the name "achievements," as none of them requires random busywork for a pointless pat on the head--there's a beefy lineup of challenge scenarios that serve to hone your skills and aggravate the heck out of you. Challenges include the likes of hitting a bunch of targets with a certain special weapon, surviving a platforming-intensive stretch of level with deadly spikes everywhere, and squaring off against the various bosses and minibosses on each of the three difficulty settings.

If you can beat the game, you can beat these challenges. The tricky part is meeting the additional criteria for bonus points: Don't just beat this mini-stage; beat it without getting hit. Don't just defeat this boss; defeat him without taking damage... and don't use any special weapons. These challenges contribute greatly to the replay value, and you'll spend literally minutes trying to properly complete some of them before deciding that you'd have more fun playing through Hard Mode as Proto Man for all eternity.

Also adding to the replay value is the inclusion of multiple paths through many of the levels; totally linear stages are so last sequel. Apparently, good music is also so last sequel; Mega Man 9's soundtrack is easily one of my favorites in the original series, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that Mega Man 10's soundtrack is easily one of my least favorites, and that includes the ear-rending "music" of Mega Man II for Game Boy. (I kid because I love. And because it's awful.)

The crux of the matter is that the music is not actually bad: the instrumentation is good and not as relentlessly retro as MM9's, and there's not a single obnoxious jingle in the bunch. It'd be a good soundtrack... for a Mega Man RPG. For a series renowned for its high-energy soundtracks, the music of MM10 is comparatively slower, more introspective, and more subtle. In other words, it's not very memorable. Although, once I got good enough at the game to focus more on the aesthetics and less on keeping myself alive, I started to gain a greater appreciation for the music.

Still, after hours upon hours of playing, the only tunes I can actually remember enough to hum are the intro ditties to the main themes of some stages and a few of the shorter tunes, like the long-overdue remix of the old "Look! You're selecting a boss!" theme. I like a lot of the music well enough, but it's not sticky enough to adhere itself well to my brain.

The music does improve in the castle stages in the second part of the game, as does my opinion of the bosses. There are some positively brilliant throwbacks to previous Mega Man games in the castle stages, and it's worth it to play this game just for their sake. Whereas Mega Man 9 heavily and obviously references Mega Man 2, this game brings back elements both subtle and overt from all over: the shrimp enemies from Bubble Man's stage in MM2 have returned with a new look; the weapon acquisition screen resembles the one from MM4; and the time bombs from Blizzard Man's stage in MM6 are in abundance, just to name a few.

While it's possible to reference other games in a series while coming up with plenty of new material, Mega Man 10 doesn't take too many risks; in a way, it's essentially a continuation of Mega Man 9 (clicky for my review) with more fine-tuning than outright changes. More of the same is never really a good thing or a bad thing with Mega Man games; unless there's a serious problem with some aspect of the game, there's no need to stray too far from the proven Mega Man formula for most fans to be happy enough.

That's where I stand: I'm happy enough. On the one blaster-for-a-hand, MM10 has possibly the highest replay value out of any original Mega Man game, scads of fantastic throwbacks to previous games, a good assortment of weapons, an improved shop system, enough challenges to satisfy gamers of all kinds, achievements that are worth bothering with (for a little while, at least), enjoyable castle bosses, a bit of character development, and the option to play as Proto Man. On the other, Proto Man is mostly awful, the soundtrack is largely forgettable, I don't much like the robot masters, the controls are a little iffy, a few of the weapons are a little unusual, I still want my charge and slide back, the story sequences leave much to be desired, and the ending is a letdown.

As a longtime fan who's played almost every original Mega Man game out there, I was disappointed by Mega Man 10 at first. I'm enjoying it more as I play it more--after all, the core gameplay is highly satisfying--but the negative points I mentioned are too important for me to overlook them enough to give MM10 the rating I want to give it.

Despite their similarities, MM10 is unquestionably a better game than MM9; yet, at least in the short run, I've enjoyed playing MM9 more. That's what I keep coming back to: This game is fun (well, except on Hard Mode and/or in the off chance that you ever get hit as Proto Man), but I've complained less and smiled more with plenty of other games in the series. Mega Man 10 is a very good game on its own, but when put alongside its predecessors, it's the negatives that make it stand out more than the positives. And the fact that one of the bosses is named SHEEP MAN.

Suggested additional reading: A review of Mega Man 10's downloadable content.