Superhero games based on the wrong source material

July 29, 2016

By Avi Green

A few years ago, I spoke about how I didn’t think video games based on Marvel’s stable of characters were helping any. More recently, I did some research, and discovered that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. Some of these games were based on the crummiest, most pretentious crossover events published in the 1990s, or even now, since they base them on the newest possible stories. Here are some of the revelations I made:

X-Men: Children of the Atom. It’s based on the Fatal Attractions crossover from 1993, supposedly intended to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the mutant superheroes, but with such otherwise non-talented people as Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell at the helm, how could it possibly work out? Some of the most irritating parts of this tale – about Magneto unleashing an electromagnetic pulse upon the Earth in one of his conquest attempts – include the removal of Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, and Colossus joining Magneto’s Acolytes after his mind was corrupted by a bang to the head. Thank goodness that Illyana Rasputin, whose death came around that time in Uncanny X-Men #303, only died as a result of the Legacy virus and not by ways of a villain’s attack, although even that didn’t work particularly well given that Lobdell was the one who wrote the story where her curtain call came about.

A most notable problem in hindsight is that Lobdell turned out to be guilty of sexual harassment, as he admitted in 2013, so the crossover could be tarnished by how one of its scriptwriters was, most sadly, a scoundrel. And think about how this might affect the game too, if the players connect the dots and learn about how this began.

Marvel Super Heroes. This was based on the Infinity Gauntlet crossover from 1991 – and come to think of it, also the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade within the following 2 years – and I’m willing to say this much: thank goodness that tale had a more talented writer, Jim Starlin, even though he’s had his own share of pretentious stories. But I still think there’s some mistake to be found in relying on a story that was already told, rather than just thinking up your own.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super-Heroes. This, if anything, certainly does feature a final boss character who was the focus of a crossover: namely, Onslaught. To think that this game would rely on such a terribly written idea from 1996, where Professor Xavier and Magneto are somehow merged into a single entity that goes berserk, and sees the Fantastic Four/Avengers shunted off into a different dimension, where they end up being written and illustrated by Rob Liefeld, alas. Sorry, but I don’t think this being a video game excuses how awful their choice of source material happens to be. It seems these days, we have a brand new form of business model – adapting badly written concepts all for the sake of video games, and particularly movies (IMHO, Captain America: Civil War does no favors by relying on the awful 2006 company wide crossover to build its premise).

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Indeed! What disgusted me about this particular game was the casting of Jean Grey in Phoenix guise. The de facto change of Jean into a planet killer in 1979-80 means that game players who choose her as presented here are controlling a de facto murderess! More to the point, I am repulsed at the notion of stuffing Jean back into this repellent role long after it was retconned into being an entirely different entity in 1985, and a lot more successfully than DC ever managed to make Hal Jordan and Parallax separate entities in 2005. If this is the only way they can think of marketing Jean, then they're only damaging the source material's reputation even more.

The query here is: even if a video game isn’t judged by the quality of the story it draws from back in comicdom, and works better as a game to play than a comic to read, does that make the adaptation justified? I’d say no, and it’s disturbing to think how many bad comics have been written merely as a wellspring for video game developers to base their games upon. Most of which I don’t have a high opinion on these days. Do I care if X-Men: COTA and its followups had excellent graphics, pixel frame movement and audio? Not today, that’s for sure.

It simply underscores how bored I’ve become of those games, and feel glad to have distanced myself from them since. I don’t consider them worth the play today any more the crossovers they were based were worth the read. In my mind, commercialism ruined superhero comics, and it’s not getting any better now.

Copyright 2016 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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