Self-Importance

I’m about to ruin someone’s day with this post.

I complain about things when I feel they’re worth complaining about. I sometimes speak strongly and passionately on things I care about. For some people, they take that to mean I consider myself to have outsize importance.

I don’t. I’m just one person in a world of billions. I’m not special. I’m just willing to say things that I feel need to be said while other people too often hold themselves back.

If I boycott something, my wallet isn’t any more important than anyone else’s. But it’s still my wallet. It’s my voice I get to speak with. Even if it’s a paltry dollar, it’s my dollar. I can use it however I wish. If I’m going to be alive, then I’m going to say things I need to say, and feel things I need to feel.

I recognize the value of what I put out there. Other people should too, but sadly, they often don’t. They often speak and act without thinking, never weighing even once how their behavior affects everything else around them. Or thinking they do, but never really understanding just how far that reaches. Spatially. Chronologically. Emotionally, psychically, and on levels we can’t even perceive and never will.

No, I’m not important. I’m not special. I’m simply me. And for people who have an issue with that, all I have to say is much can be learned from self-reflection. And experiences, but self-reflection is the easier (if longer) route that I sincerely hope as many people as possible follow. Because the experience route blows.

Games I need to play (again)

You may not know it from the things I most often talk about online, but my main interest is actually video games. I’m currently on Wolfenstein: Youngblood (badass Nazi-hunting sisters, wooo!), and continuously on Granblue Fantasy and Fate Grand Order. I’m waiting for Control, Death Stranding, Code Vein, and Man of Medan to name a few. And I have a backlog.

But that’s not what this post is about. In this post, I’m going to talk wistful about old games I haven’t played in a long time that I really want to play again. Or for some, games that I haven’t played yet and have on the side waiting to be played.

Chrono Trigger

It’s literally impossible to overstate how awesome this game was and is. It has so much heart and soul in every pixel and line of dialogue. You get to travel across multiple times and see how humans lived in those (fictional) times. Acquiring magic powers feels special. Like it’s not just randomly thrown out there, the characters awaken those gifts, and they have an affinity specific to who they are.

Reaching Zeal is always the most amazing part of the whole game. How can it not be? It’s an amazing magical island! Of course, there’s some very vile corruption at its heart that leads to its downfall. Queen Zeal herself always seemed pretty amazingly wicked. And like all Squaresoft games of this time, getting a flying vehicle just blows the mind. And this one can be used to travel through time! Though I remember being sorely disappointed that I couldn’t use the lasers that Dalton added to its wings.

It’s also a wonderful touch how you can do things to change time periods all over. Leaving Robo in the past to work on a desert, come back centuries later to find a whole forest from his efforts? Awesome.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

This game got so much hate, and it really didn’t deserve any of that hate.

What I understand of the hate it got is that it was “too easy.” Final Fantasy games brought over from Japan tended to be made much easier. But I think people who hated it for that reason didn’t spend enough time looking at it to see its beauty.

The main map is a bunch of points you walk to – no airship. When you use a point, unless it’s a battleground, you can walk around the town/dungeon. UNLIKE other RPGs from this time (that I played), your weapons can do different things on the map. They’re not just for fighting. A claw will let you climb up certain walls, or grapple and cross gaps. An ax will cut trees to open new paths. For its time, it was very advanced.

You have two playable characters (though one can be set to auto). The second character changes depending on the place in the story. It was great to have that dynamic, to imply closeness between the two journeying together.

Each section has a sort of elemental theme – earth, fire, water, wind. And the landscape backs it up. This was also one of the Final Fantasy games where crystals actually meant something. They weren’t just a prop. They had power and wonder to them. You could see how they impacted the world. It also may be just me, but for some reason I get a sort of “Biblical” vibe from the game. I’m not religious. But I can appreciate a game that gets a cool atmosphere to it.

Vandal Hearts

The last time I played this game was so long ago that I honestly can’t say much about it. What I remember most is using Gameshark to get the Vandalier class, which could do absolutely everything. It’s a strategy RPG in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics, and it has character classes (though not as robust as FFT).

Lunar: Silver Star Story + Eternal Blue

This is another game that I honestly don’t remember very well. I may not have gotten very far into it. At the time, it was a rental.

What I remember is that completing the main dungeons awarded dragon equipment, which provided special abilities to the main character. It also had anime cutscenes, which was new and innovative in the PS1 era.

I only played Lunar: Silver Star Story. I never played Eternal Blue.

Thousand Arms

I haven’t played this game in ages, and probably nobody remembers it or knows it even existed.

Like other entries, I don’t remember a hell of a lot. I remember a bit more than the others though. The most memorable part of the game for me was the dating sim element. You have the typical fighting, moving story forward, etc deal. But the dating sim is used for improving your weapons. The better relationship you have with a female character, the better you can improve what you have. It’s sort of a predecessor to Ar Tonelico in that way.

Shadow Hearts

Shadow Hearts is a franchise that reeeeeaaally got a raw deal. It arrived toward the end of the RPG era, and never took off like it should’ve. If people know it, they likely know it because of Shadow Hearts: Covenant, which was published by Midway (since purchased by Warner Bros. and changed to Netherrealm Studios).

This franchise had plenty of amazing new concepts and approaches. For one, it was set in the “real world,” in the past. Shadow Hearts and Covenant were set around World War I, settings mainly in Europe and China, with some Russia and Japan in Covenant. From the New World jumped ahead to Prohibition era, and changed its setting to America.

Its setting was sort of gothic horror. The main character was a “Harmonixer” who could absorb monster souls and shapeshift into them. Throughout each game, the gothic horror ties into the history in one way or another. For example, energy released from a tower became the reason for all the bloodshed of World War I. You also run into Rasputin as an enemy, and Roger Bacon (a 12th century philosopher) is a supporting character.

The game was finding its footing with Covenant, which moved it a little further from being as rigidly serious as the first game and introducing more fun and sometimes silliness. By From the New World, your party includes a mariachi-playing gunman who uses his guitar in attacks, and a goddamn cat.

Right now, Shadow Hearts is sadly dead in the water. The company that owns the rights to it doesn’t seem to give a damn about doing anything with it. From the New World got a lot of flak as well, but I think that was due to people thinking it had to rigidly stick to a more serious tone, whereas I always saw FTNW’s sillier tone as the franchise evolving as it gets closer to the modern day.

And that’s all I have at the moment. There are certainly plenty of other old games I COULD play, but they aren’t part of my sweet spot feelings of games I want to go back to.

Hell, Heaven and Earth

Everyone knows the phrase “It’s better to serve in Heaven than rule in Hell.” I’m changing that, and adding something as well. “Would you rather rule in Hell, serve in Heaven, or be free on Earth?”

Of these options, for my Polaris fandom, I would rather be free.

For the past little while, I’ve said things about Lorna’s exclusion from House of X and Powers of X. How indicative it is of bias against her at Marvel. How other characters in the exact same situation as her would get oodles of use and support, but she doesn’t get that because of bias. How integral various things she’s been through would make her for this event if bias didn’t factor in.

All of that is still technically true. But there’s a new layer. That’s changed my thoughts entirely.

Something happened lately, tied to the fandom. I saw the darkness fed by House of X and Powers of X. I also see those tied to HoX and PoX saying nothing counter to that darkness. Not using their power to bring about better behavior. They aren’t encouraging bad behavior, but they’re not trying to minimize it either. They’re just letting it go.

Remember Secret Empire? Remember how it twisted Captain America into a Nazi? Then when there was a massive uproar about how obviously wrong that was, Marvel spun a tale of that being a fake Captain America all along… but they never really tried to set things right? Never said they did anything wrong. Just kept at it to completion, then went silent hoping time would lead to everyone forgetting and giving Marvel a pass for it.

HoX and PoX in itself is obviously nowhere near as bad as that. But the things I’ve seen in the fandom, and inaction on the X-Men office’s part concerning it, lead me to the same general feeling.

They’re not wielding their power responsibly. Because wielding power responsibly isn’t only turning a blind eye. It’s also stepping in when something’s wrong. Otherwise the famous Spider-Man catchphrase of “With great power comes great responsibility” would lead to him sitting at home watching TV all day.

I’ve said elsewhere many times before that when (not if; when) Polaris gets what’s due for her, it’s gonna be done clean. My focus in saying that has been on not seeing other characters mistreated for her benefit. Other characters should not be put through what she was.

But it applies beyond that too. Previously, I stopped watching Gifted after Dreamer’s death because of how poorly they handled character death, despite my loving the show’s season 1 depiction of Lorna. Some things transcend seeing her in a prominent place.

Which brings me back to House of X and Powers of X. Until a few days ago, I felt Polaris needed to be in it. Then I saw what I saw. Now? I think it’s better for her if she’s nowhere near it. Just as I wouldn’t have wanted her anywhere near Secret Empire.

Polaris will get her turn. With an event that’s good. That brings out the best in fandom, not the worst. That doesn’t lead to people getting so absorbed in hype that they lose sight of the shore.

While I’m waiting for that day to come, I’ll continue to support and promote Lorna where it counts most. Help the character reach people that need her. Do what Marvel won’t. I’m taking the third route of freedom here. And I’m looking forward to where it’s going.

I’m being deliberately vague and omitting certain details as I write this. At least one of the people involved appears to want the issue I’m about to discuss to be laid to rest. They have a right to that. And the details aren’t necessary for me to make this post.

A certain franchise has a big release. A development in that franchise led to a creator raising concerns that they may have been plagiarized. This is an issue worth being concerned about because matters of creative conduct aside, the company which owns the franchise could do a lot with it. They could make movies, and video games, and whatever else, if it turns out to be a hit.

What’s the reaction of the franchise’s fandom been to date? Of what I’ve seen… attacking the concerned creator. Editing their Wikipedia page. Accusing them of trying to exploit franchise interest for quick fame and money. Assuming they’re entitled and self-important for not only raising the concern, but that creator’s fans raising the concern first.

I don’t think I saw anyone pause to consider that they may not know enough to judge. In fact, just a simple hinting that I was going to be keeping an eye on reactions led one person to attack me with their overly broad assumptions about me.

And when things came to an end? And the issue of potential harassment of that other creator was raised? Justifications. “You don’t just say that stuff on social media.” “That creator embarrassed the one we like.” “Accusations rub people the wrong way.”

This is… not a good look. At all.

There are components I can go into, but I think doing so, at this juncture, would give away what I’m talking about even without details.

What I will say is that I have seen these kinds of attacks and justifications many times before. This case has a much narrower scope. With, as far as I’m aware, less dangerous outlets pursued. But it’s still the same bad taste.

Even still, I’ve learned a lot of things from what’s transpired. Insights I never would’ve gathered otherwise. Some of these people remind me of me pre-2013 when I fell for the justifications used to harass a female Bioware employee for daring to suggest a “skip gameplay” button. Others… not so much.

I hope the other creator will do okay following this, and that the outcome is from that creator’s actual feelings, not cause a bunch of people harassed them into dropping it.

What would surprise me?

A common theme of currently activities surrounding Hickman on X-Men has been “He’s gonna completely revolutionize everything!” “He’s gonna blow your mind with a sudden reveal you never saw coming!” Remarks along those lines.

Nothing I’ve seen thus far has surprised me. I anticipate nothing that comes will.

Here’s the thing. As I’ve said before, Marvel has a corporate culture. The people they hire fit that culture one way or another. If they did not, Marvel would not have hired them. They obey Marvel dictates, or function in ways that Marvel considers in line with their brand and viewpoint.

When you know how Marvel thinks, you can predict what they would consider surprising and innovative. You know the limits of their creative movement. You know they can’t, or won’t, go beyond that movement.

None of this is new from me. What is new, and the purpose of this post, is what would actually surprise me. Things that I would see and think “Wow, I never thought Marvel or anyone who worked for them would go this way.”

This is not an exhaustive list. This is what arrives to my brain in the moment.

#1: Exploding his own world-building

One of the organizational staples created by Hickman is a redefinition of Omega classification. I have stated before: this kind of classification system is garbage. It artificially limits story potential and creates needless arguments. The only way such a list could theoretically work is within the confines of saying it was made off of one specific fictional character’s biased POV.

But what if Hickman just plain blew up his own classification?

What if he introduced this redefinition, only to then tear it to shreds, ripping apart all justifications and rendering the list meaningless?

There’s an ego in comic book fanboy thinking, and traditional Marvel culture. Seize the creative reins, and you can transform the hierarchical structure to slap your own name on it while elevating your favorite characters. You can point to the hierarchy and say “See that? I own that. That’s me. I had the power to do that and I did it.”

It takes a much more self-aware, conscientious perspective to look upon such an opportunity and not give into such temptations. It takes respect toward the pool of characters, and the fiction’s potential as a whole, to turn away. And it’s far more humble to present one’s “genius” in crafting such a hierarchy, only to then dismantle it in favor of whatever benefits the fiction and its characters regardless of personal drives. And as a backdoor way of calling out past behavior in this vein.

#2: Priority on fixing past mistakes

This is an evergreen problem, across multiple companies in multiple mediums.

Companies hate to admit when they were wrong. Unless they’re backed into a corner, they won’t do it. They’ll pretend garbage is gold. Keep terrible past treatment intact, either by staying radio silent or actively doubling down on it.

When I say “priority on fixing past mistakes,” I do not mean mistakes made by Hickman. I mean mistakes made by Marvel. And I mean “obscure” things. Things that don’t “have” to be fixed but are anyway. Things that are fixed not just because it’s one of his faves, but because it’s right and responsible to do it.

Not rare situations to look good, either. A regular, consistent, devoted effort.

Remember when a character got treated like a punching bag to make another character look good? Set things right. Call it out. Tear down what might be decades of mistreatment over some past writer’s hate bias, or fanboy puffing of a fave at other characters’ expense. Go against the grain of what Marvel culture has traditionally said is sacrosanct in cases where it was garbage but nobody “cared” enough to fix it, or thought it was too important to change cause of their nostalgia.

#3: The Big Picture

One of the titles is a reference to an art film which goes from a spot, out into the entire universe or galaxy, then down to a microscopic level. The idea being, looking at everything at every level.

What would surprise me is if this captured the big picture. The TRUE big picture. Every single thing I’ve seen to date has been all about details. Even the stuff that appears “big” is just details. It’s all been very small. “World-building” in a form that’s about loading up with superficial elements.

That’s as far as I want to go in describing it. One, because I think if someone is going to grasp it, they need to grasp it for themselves. Two, because I’m doubtful what I’m getting at can be expressed in mere words outside of story. I’ll just say that my over a decade of fic writing has attuned my sense to when something is truly big – and this hasn’t been it. It’s just been the motions with some tweaks.

That is all I have to say for the time being. If I think of anything more, it will be added to this list.

My Polaris 10th Anniversary

Yesterday, I realized that while last year was Polaris’ 50th anniversary, this year is my 10th anniversary of finding out Polaris exists.

And she’s in the same basic situation with Marvel as she was 10 years ago.

As I’ve said many times, I discovered Polaris by randomly link-hopping around the Marvel wikia site. I had to find her for myself. It amazed me that I hadn’t heard about an awesome character like her for 20 years, and at the time, it made me wonder what other great things might be at Marvel that I didn’t know existed. I was eager to dig in.

… But this was a period of Marvel killing her opportunities. This was about when Disney bought Marvel, and subsequently, when they started the process of tearing down the X-Men franchise in their spat with Fox. Lorna was collateral damage.

Wolverine and the X-Men, which gave Lorna a significant role (without Havok and with her family, no less), was canceled after only one season despite plans going into season 3. Exiles volume 2, written by Jeff Parker and featuring AU Lornas with AU Wandas (including a House of M alt reality), was canceled after only 6 issues despite him having already written the script for issue 7.

All that remained of Lorna was… being stuck in space. With Havok. Mainly as his girlfriend, with only rare moments of cool feats or dynamics with Crystal and Luna. Then she got sent into space limbo for about a year, alongside Rachel and Havok.

I’m not going to go into every single part of the past 10 years. There were lows and highs. Origin story told, but Marvel never really supported or promoted it. Led All-New X-Factor, but Marvel never really supported or promoted it. Popular live-action version of the character on Gifted, but Marvel’s acted like that popularity either didn’t matter, or should be exploited only to promote Havok rather than actually use and support Lorna herself for a change.

In 2009, everything Lorna could have been was killed off with a Disney merger. Marvel mainly used her for Havok’s benefit. Then they sent her into limbo.

In 2019, everything Lorna could have been was killed off with a Disney merger. Marvel mainly used her for Havok’s benefit. And now, she appears to be in limbo again.

There is a reason I’m jaded and pessimistic about Marvel. In ten years, Marvel has not changed. They show no signs that they plan to, or even want to, improve unless they’re forced to do so. Lorna is vivid proof that Marvel is cyclical and regressive at its core. At least, that’s what they’ve taught me. That any appearance of progress will not last. They’ll undo or ignore it in less than 10 years.

My first 10 years were spent thinking Marvel could improve. My next 10 years will be spent knowing they cannot, and aggressively will not. And that the only place I will see good things happen is from fandom outside Marvel.

Nothing’s changed

Yesterday, the X-Office at Marvel announced their post-HoX/PoX books and rosters. And…

Nothing’s changed.

The “new era” touted with Hickman is the exact same as everything that came before. I can say this before HoX/PoX even come out for one reason: their treatment of Polaris.

This is where a typical fan in typical fashion would typically assume the only basis I have for making this remark is fanboyism. Allow me to explain.

Marvel has an established corporate culture. Outsiders need not apply. Marvel would like people to think that they are very open-minded, willing to try new things, accepting of different perspectives and suggestions. But the reality is that they are not. Sina Grace recently outlined his struggles with Marvel while he was working there, as one concrete example. And that was with a high-profile character recently touted and publicized in media for his recent reveal as being gay. It’s worse when you dig deeper down to characters traditionally looked down on at Marvel… like Polaris.

In the past, I have seen countless forms of dickery out of Marvel. To go through every single one of them would be (and has been) a post in itself. Today, I am going to focus instead on the biases against Lorna that have been reflected in people who work at Marvel.

A year ago, a fan asked Gail Simone about a Polaris solo. Her response? “Polaris might be a hard sell, but I think a few lady mutants could carry their own book…”

I want to stress that we do not know how Gail feels about Lorna with this – whether she likes or hates Lorna. What we do know, is that as an employee working at Marvel, she thinks a Polaris solo would never happen at Marvel, or that it would be an excruciating uphill climb.

This is echoed in remarks from Jordan White last year.

This came out of a back and forth I was having with him at the time. In his (mistaken) belief, Lorna doesn’t have enough fan demand to sell a book.

Lastly, recently, I found out a Marvel artist viewed Lorna as a “third tier character” from the 90s, in response to a Lorna fan cosplaying as her at a local convention.

That’s three comments from people who work for Marvel that all converge on a central perception: that Lorna is worthless, has nothing to offer, and shouldn’t get much (if any) use – especially not as her own character.

Here’s why this is a problem: Polaris is one of the most high profile underrepresented, underappreciated, misunderstood characters within Marvel’s entire roster of X-Men characters. No, she’s not the only character where these descriptors apply. But unlike other characters, she has a LONG history of mistreatment to go with it, and she has the Gifted version of her breaking out in popularity recently despite all expectations.

When Gifted was first coming out, majority focus of advertising and promos was on Blink. During that time, Marvel put Blink on a team book AND released a new volume of Exiles with her as the leader. But when Polaris became the breakout star instead, they… used her to promote Havok. Twice. Including this cover that makes her look like a trophy for Havok and Magneto to fight over.

Since 2017, most of her use has put her in lesser roles, building up other characters – so far, all of them men. But the main beneficiary has been Havok. In all her appearances except the Uncanny X-Men event (NOT ongoing book), she has been used to promote him in some way. Whether it’s her return to comics getting hijacked, or a kissing image forced into Prisoner X, or releasing a Marvel Tales book with Lorna on the cover but the actual story inside is of Havok.

This treatment of Lorna is traditional. It’s how she’s been mistreated for decades: as if she has no value whatsoever except as a man’s (Havok’s) pet/status booster/helper. If she’s not being used to support Havok, then she goes into limbo, because that’s the only “worth” Marvel culture has seen in her for most of her existence.

And that is the crux of my argument behind why nothing has changed with HoX/PoX and what comes after. Lorna’s absence.

If Lorna was unhampered by old time bullshit biases, her newfound popularity via Gifted would have resulted in not only a meaningful presence in coming events, but a big spot of some kind (leadership, or a solo or mini, etc) to at least test the waters and make a bit of extra cash. Marvel’s argument for not giving characters books has been “they wouldn’t sell,” but Marvel has had no problem giving books to characters like Lockjaw, or Multiple Man, or Chamber, or countless others. Even Strong Guy got a oneshot in the 90s. Lorna has been given nothing.

More importantly, if the X-Men books were going through any kind of real change, part of that process would involve seeing where they have done poor work in the past and making amends for it. Spotting characters long overdue for a fair shot and giving them that fair shot. Finding important events and history that have gone ignored for far too long, sometimes decades, and bringing them back and revisiting them.

Polaris has all three in spades. The negative attitude toward her at Marvel alone is proof of this. The poor treatment she’s received across decades has become so ingrained in Marvel’s corporate culture that they can’t see her potential, and dismiss and downplay fan interest. Interest, I will add, that has led to countless pieces of fanart, fanfic, cosplays, full-fledged game mods, and so on. I even made a Polaris minicomic (commissioned Mlad for art, written by me) for her 50th anniversary. A character with no fandom does not get this level of fan activity.

It is also important to add within this that both Matt Nix for Gifted and Chuck Austen on Uncanny X-Men in the 00s originally planned to put Lorna in a “token girlfriend” role, but radically changed their plans when they actually got to know her. When they put some real thought into Lorna, really dug into who she is, Lorna’s popularity soared.

So this is the summary. The lack of any meaningful presence for Lorna in HoX/PoX means they haven’t put any thought into her. If they haven’t put any thought into her, it means they haven’t done so for the franchise as a whole either. Putting deep thought into the X-Men franchise as a whole would’ve inevitably turned up the need for a serious overhaul in how they view and treat Lorna given her history and recent events. She would not have been the only character to come out of the woodwork with this need, but she would’ve been one of the big ones.

If nothing is changing for Lorna, then nothing is changing for X-Men. It’s that simple.

This is not a prediction of the success or failure of HoX/PoX or what comes after. It’s an assessment of what will come regardless of the outcome.

My final point. There has been a hell of a lot of hype surrounding HoX/PoX about how it’s supposedly a huge revolution for the X-Men franchise. How it’s supposed to change everything we know. To which I have two things to mention.

It’s evident that X-Men is intended by Marvel to make a huge comeback from the past decade of Marvel undermining it due to their spat with Fox over the film rights. In video game terms, this makes HoX/PoX the equivalent of the most important AAA game being released by a major video game publisher for the year.

You know what happens in Japan with such games? Famitsu gives it near-perfect scores. Doesn’t matter how good or bad it actually is, Famitsu will score it highly because they know it’s too important for the company to assess properly. The same goes for most publication style reviews. Only exceptions are cases like the original FF14 release, where they’re so bad that calling them out is a near necessity.

Writers, artists, etc working in the industry also have a vested interest in going along with what Marvel wants people to think. Play nice, and you stay on Marvel’s good side. Stay on their good side, you have a higher chance of getting gigs.

Of course, not every reviewer, writer, etc is going to behave this way. It would be asinine and insulting for me to say that. Many will speak highly and genuinely believe it. This is where hype comes in. Hype has a tendency to make feelings stronger than normal. I’ve seen it countless times, as initial hype for a game gives way to apathetic response once the hype is gone. Huge Marvel fans who want to believe Marvel is the best will see what Marvel releases exactly how Marvel wants it to be seen. Actual response by non-hardcore fans will be much different, and even hardcore fan attitudes will change somewhat once the shine of hype is worn away.

I’ve seen this play out with various Marvel comics already, by the way. Where fans of a writer will say bad depictions are perfect, or haters will say great depictions are awful, but when it’s been out for a while, the real views rise to the top.

In the end, I could always be wrong. I might be missing something and not realize it. I don’t know what I don’t know. But this is what I expect based on all the evidence I’ve seen – and my sense of Marvel has gotten much keener in the past 2 years than it was any time before.