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Why There Aren't More Big-Budget Games Starring Superheroes like Wonder Woman

STARTING SCREEN | Superheroes dominate the movie screen, but they almost never star in big-budget games. Why?

Feature by Kat Bailey, USgamer Team, .

Wonder Woman hit theaters over the weekend, garnering strong reviews in the course of raking in more than $100 million domestically. In the gaming space, some sites wondered whether there would ever be a game starring Wonder Woman.

Game Revolution pondered what a Wonder Woman game might look like, citing Bayonetta and Batman, among others. Gizmodo's Evan Narcisse argued that it was way past time for a Wonder Woman game. "Wonder Woman is an important enough character to merit the same treatment," Narcisse wrote. "She’s one of the most meaningful superheroes ever, a global icon on par with Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man. And, like those characters, her publishing history and character mythos feature enough scope and depth to power any number of possibilities in the video game space."

Gizmodo and Game Revolution are right: It would be pretty rad to have a Wonder Woman game. But putting aside successes like Injustice 2 and the Arkham series, comic book games have been getting the comparatively short shift in the triple-A space over the past decade. Long gone are the days of video game adaptations for films like Captain America: The First Avenger. Much more common are games like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 and Gazillion's free-to-play Marvel Heroes: games that cash in on the license while aiming for the broadest audience possible.

Currently the main exception to that rule is Insomniac's Spider-Man, which is being positioned as a tentpole release in the vein of Arkham Asylum. When I asked Insomniac founder Ted Price why there aren't more games like it, he suggested that it's because developers are creators who enjoy working on their own ideas.

"[T]he opportunity to put our own spin on Spider-Man is an equivalent. Even though Spider-Man himself is a known quantity, having the opportunity to build an original Spider-Man universe and story is very similar to building an IP from scratch," he told me.

In the triple-A space, franchises are accorded every bit as much significance as they are with movies. But where movies are now dominated by Marvel, Star Wars, and remakes, games are owned by video game characters like Mario, Zelda, Halo, and WarCraft. For publishers, developing a wholly-owned IP is the ticket to building a sustainable business model.

Indeed, Platinum's Atsushi Inaba told me as much when we spoke last year. "[Platinum] doesn't really have a future unless we develop our own original IPs," he said in the course of our interview.

You don't see games like this much anymore.

In that light, working with an established license has come to be seen as mercenary work. When Platinum announced a game based on Legend of Korra, some industry observers wondered if they were in trouble. Silicon Knights took on X-Men Destiny in part to pay the bills (of course, they had other problems).

The instances of licensed properties being developed into major triple-A games tend to be the exceptions that prove the rule these days. Arkham Asylum was initially published by Eidos Interactive, but later taken back in-house by Warner Bros. when it proved to be a success (Warner Bros. owns DC Comics). Star Wars has a rich video game lineage dating back to the Atari 2600, which EA is attempting to continue. To the extent that they can be considered "triple-A," Bandai Namco owns all of their licenses and are still something of a weird outlier for continuing to put out console games based on Naruto and Gundam.

The change in the gaming ecosystem has ultimately made it more profitable to put licensed games on iOS and Android and gear them toward kids. Still, the fact that the mania for "cinematic universes" hasn't crossed over into gaming feels like a missed opportunity for Marvel and WB. Even Insomniac's Spider-Man and WB's Arkham and Injustice series are unrelated to their respective film incarnations. You'd think original MCU or DCU stories would be a natural fit for the gaming space given that a disproportionate number of comic book fans are also avid gamers; but Disney and WB seem to disagree, possibly because they don't want to risk their universes being damaged by bad games. Even Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy is kind of its own thing despite being broadly based on the film.

Kotori Yoshimura and Star Cruiser: How Twitter Revived a Piece of Japanese Gaming History

An unlikely Twitter campaign unearths a unique chunk of video game history.

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That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon, either. If Spider-Man proves to be one of this season's biggest hits, we could hypothetically see more games based on superheroes, but Wonder Woman is unlikely to be one of them. Only Batman and Spider-Man really get to star in their own big-budget action games anymore. Even Superman and X-Men, once popular subjects in their own right, have largely been sidelined in the video game space.

To tell you the truth, I'm not going to weep too hard over the absence of proper MCU and DCU games in light of how much they've dominated the movie screen over the past 15 years. It's actually kind of nice to be able to get away from them. But their relative absence in the game space has given me pause, and I wonder if Disney and WB aren't missing an obvious opportunity here. But for now, I think Spider-Man and Batman are the best we're going to get.

Sorry, Wonder Woman fans. But at least the movie kicks ass, right?

Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week

This week's obscure RPG is Legend of Dragoon, a game that still has some fans in a few quarters. I don't really understand it myself. It was a reasonably serviceable RPG for its day; but even in the throes of my extreme RPG fandom, I could tell how derivative it was.

Developed by Sony in answer to the JRPG mania that had seized console gamers, Legend of Dragoon was basically a much uglier Final Fantasy with the serial number filed off. Its main virtue was that the main characters could enter a superpowered Dragoon mode, which brought with it a pretty neat transformation animation and an expanded set of powers. It also had a timing based combo system, which was either a good or bad addition depending on your opinion of such things.

It's mostly forgotten these days, even failing to appear in PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale (Dart was planned but subsequently scrapped). I wish I could say that a quality RPG fell between the cracks, but... eh. I mainly find it interesting because it speaks to a time when JRPGs were so popular that Sony felt the need to introduce a franchise of their own. But I would still happily accept a sequel, if only because we need more big-budget console JRPGs in this world. Sadly, the success of Persona 5 notwithstanding, I think that ship has largely sailed.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Horror Fortress (Mega Man 7)

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is coming in August. Bad news: No Switch or Nintendo 3DS release planned at this time. SIGH. Good news: I get to prove to people that Mega Man 7 isn't as bad as its reputation suggests.

Mega Man 7 isn't the best Mega Man game by a long shot, and it's certainly clunkier than Mega Man X or X2. Still, I appreciate how Capcom divided the series' mechanics. Game critics were baffled over why X's wall-jump and dash were absent in Mega Man 7, but I understood perfectly.

I also loved—and still love—Mega Man 7's soundtrack. "Horror Fortress," the track for Shade Man's stage still rocks my socks. It's just so energetic and catchy, and not really what you'd expect from a theme dedicated to a robot vampire. And, hey, if it doesn't tickle your fancy, you can always opt for the Ghouls 'n Ghosts alternative.

Mike's Media Minute

Whew. For a while there, it felt like the DC Extended Universe film were flailing around in the dark, gasping for air. Man of Steel was uneven, but I had hope they could improve in the future. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were pretty bad. Not on a concept and casting level, but on an execution level. So everyone was looking towards Wonder Woman to pick the universe back up and stand as the first female-led superhero film in the modern era.

Wonder Woman looks to be up the task. Not only is the film, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, seeing an excellent series of reviews, it's also making that money. The opening weekend estimates vary a bit, but all of them are over $100 million. That's an excellent start and given the Saturday to Sunday drop, it looks like Wonder Woman will have some legs.

And that's good, because Wonder Woman presents a more heroic side of the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were mired in less than heroic portrayals of the characters involved. While Wonder Woman goes to some dark places—there's a whole semi-realistic World War I film smack dab in the middle of the film—the character herself remains firmly heroic. Everything Superman should've been was there onscreen. (Okay, she killed a lot of folks, which is definitely a Wonder Woman thing, but for the most part… heroic.)

I want the DC films to be great because I love the DC characters. I don't even need them all to be heroic, bright, and charming. But whatever WB does with the films, it needs to make good, competent movies. Wonder Woman looks like the first of those, so there's hope that perhaps Justice League will continue turning the boat around.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Years ago, Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz was once just a freeware game. But with its new release on Steam, Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz is more fully formed than ever before. The game is a standard light puzzle-platformer, where you, a snow-white pixel-human shape, frolic through your own dreams. Some dreams are pleasant, others disorienting, some even horrific. The new release features polish where the freeware game had blemishes, and adds new levels and features for players to explore. You can play Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz for $1.99 on Steam for PC.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

It was a Wonder Woman weekend for me. I started reading Jill Lepore’s fantastic The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a book that’s been on my reading list since it was published two years ago, but I never got around to. I got through just enough of the book before watching Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film on Sunday which was absolutely fantastic. I’d been pretty burned out on DC films after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, so to be honest, I wasn’t going into Wonder Woman with the highest expectations. I’m very happy to have been proven wrong and I’m excited to watch Wonder Woman again in theaters if I’m able.

The fight scenes in Wonder Woman were some of the best in any superhero movie I’ve seen (spoiler: I’ve seen a lot), and Gal Gadot and Chris Pine were awesome together. Wonder Woman might even be my favorite superhero film this year alongside Logan. Although, I have a feeling Thor: Ragnarok might be a sleeper hit for me given how big a fan I am of Taika Waititi. Either way, definitely go check it out if you’re a superhero fan.

This Week's News and Notes

  • I went to Portland over the weekend, which meant a stop at Ground Kontrol: probably my favorite arcade in North America. Ground Kontrol stands because it has a Killer Queen machine (a rare sight), a solid craft beer selection, and lots of authentic '90s arcades. Among others, it boasts both Turtles arcade games, X-Men, Raiden 2, The Simpsons, Third Strike, and even Captain America and the Avengers, the last of which is a surprisingly rare sight these days. If you're in Portland sometime, make sure to check it out. It's nice being in a barcade where the games actually work.
  • A rare sight these days.
  • As I expected, Pokemon Stars will most likely be confirmed for the Switch (and possibly the 3DS) in tomorrow's Nintendo Direct. That will give the Switch both of its killer apps, with Monster Hunter XX having been confirmed last week. At the very least it sure seems like the Switch is on track to dominate Japan for the forseeable future.
  • In case you missed it, Matt wrote this excellent story of developer Kotori Yoshimura's attempt to revitalize Star Cruiser.
  • "What I am interested in is human character," Nier: Automata's Yoko Taro told us in an interview that went up today. "The mysterious acts of humans, where we perceive murder and oppression as 'bad' and talk about peace and love, but in actuality we love games that have killing and find pleasure in predominance over others, such as with sports. Additionally, even if we cannot escape the warped sense that humans have, I constantly think that at the very least I want to be aware of it."
  • It's strange that Capcom opted to Mega Man & Bass is missing from Mega Man Legacy Collection 2. It's weirder still that it's not on the Switch. But I'm okay with having easy access to Mega Man 9 and 10 again outside of last-generation consoles. Mega Man 9 in particular might just be the best game in the series.
  • I was recently on Retronauts to talk about The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Link's Awakening is probably my favorite entry this side of A Link Between Worlds, making my discovery of the artwork below doubly delightful.
  • Sony sees PS4 and Nintendo Switch "side-by-side." Their comments of the old "Wii360" days, when gamers were picking up a 360 for triple-A and a Wii for Nintendo exclusives. To be honest, it's not a terrible position for the Switch to be in, especially with Nintendo continuing to try and tap a mainstream vein outside of the traditional gaming market.
  • Axe of the Blood God: In this week's episode, we discuss where I Am Setsuna went wrong and where Elder Scrolls Online has gone right. I also talk about the days when I loved fighting games, which feels long, long ago. As a postscript to that conversation, though, I played Third Strike at Ground Kontrol and actually had a lot of fun despite knowing that I was playing terribly. It was nice.
  • We're less than a week away from E3 2017, which is actually kind of terrifying when you think about it. That begs the question: What are you looking forward to most out of E3 2017? Are you looking forward to it at all? Let us know in the comments!
  • As always, if you have tips for us, or if you just want to drop us a line, you can reach us at usgamer@usgamer.net.

This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Comments 24

  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 3 months ago
    If Wonder Woman is a character that is less punchy like her male colleagues, I would like to see a video game that has the dialogue trees of a Bioware game. I mean, you will be required to do the feats of strength like saving people, pushing giant bodies of mass, and stuff, but it would be quite interesting to see a big budget game not resort to violence. Diana is smart, beautiful, kind, graceful, and persistent. It's about time we see a protagonist that's not Tomb Raider.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 3 months ago
    @riderkicker I would be interested in a proper superhero RPG.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #3 touchofkiel 3 months ago
    That Cap arcade game is one of my favorites, and I've blogged extensively about it in the past. It's pure dumb superhero beat-em-up fun that doesn't fall into the same traps as many of its contemporaries.

    It's a shame we don't see more superhero-based games... but then, most of them were pretty bad, mostly because of a rushed development to coincide with films, usually. Still, we sometimes got gems like Wolverine Origins (based on an atrocious movie, strangely) and the serviceable Captain America.

    I think another factor is that, because of the instant-franchising of the films, the plots have slowed down and feature less sustained action, which is even more difficult to adapt. Both Avengers movies felt like 2 hours of bickering leading up to an overlong climactic fight scene.

    Personally I'd just be happy to see some of the old licensed titles re-released (X-men Legends, Spider-man 2, Ultimate Spider-man, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) on the "PS2 on PS4" series. It's probably impossible due to rights issues, but hey, Activision did re-release the MUA games after all...
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #4 Kat.Bailey 3 months ago
    @touchofkiel I'm less interested in a straight adaptation and more interested in a standalone MCU story that doubles as a big-budget game. Spider-Man could have been that, but Insomniac is doing their own thing with it.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove 3 months ago
  • Avatar for riderkicker #6 riderkicker 3 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey There's your next episode!

    Though, I really wished there was a Jump Stars style game for Marvel Superheroes, but we are so beyond 2D Superhero games. :(Edited June 2017 by riderkicker
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #7 Kat.Bailey 3 months ago
    @riderkicker A Smash Bros. style Marvel game would be fun.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #8 Tetragrammaton 3 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey Have at it. http://solestgames.com/game/master-of-the-wind/

    If you meant RPGs with licensed superheros, we both know it's unlikely. All games in the AAA space are expensive and have a lower ROI because they go on sale relatively quickly after release. RPGs are especially hard sells since the zeitgeist has moved on. You can build a brand and an audience, but that would take a decade and it's cheaper to buy in... except the only AAA Western RPG studios are Bioware and CDProjeckt and one is already owned and the other is famously independent. I guess you could buy out a MMO studio and have them make a single player game, but 1. at that point you might as well make an MMO and 2. DC Universe online is already a thing and I'd forgotten about it until I wrote the last sentence, which suggests unkind things about demand for superhero RPGs.

    Closing thought: Disney owns Marvel and recently exited the gaming business in favor of licensing deals. This despite getting back IN a few years ago after getting out once before.

    PS Wonder Woman was great, will see it a second time in theaters.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #9 donkeyintheforest 3 months ago
    I think the problem with a wonder woman game is that she's close to as powerful as Superman (and actually trained at fighting) and that means the player is wither over powered or the game falls outside familiar lore and is disappointing.

    However, I think it would be cool to have a wonder woman or superman game as they explore the world and learn about their newlyfound powers. Like start off as normalish people, going from leaping barns to sky scrapers to flying, dodging bullets to deflecting them to not even caring about them, etc. You couldn't have any sequels though haha

    Also, if you all wanna see a movie with cool fight scenes, check out Baahubali 2, in some theaters now. It's a bit over the top, but pretty great. I think King Arthur had some amazing fights but the story was real bad. Wonder Woman had ok fights (the best were prob the ones in the trailer, plus maybe one or two other bits) and a great story.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #10 Roto13 3 months ago
    I'd love to see more superhero games with actual talent behind them. I'm not sure how interesting a Wonder Woman game would be, given her power set, though. It'd pretty much just be a lot of punching or slashing.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #11 Tetragrammaton 3 months ago
    @Roto13 Ever play Bayonetta? Replace the hair with a whip. You're now playing a Wonder Woman game.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #12 MetManMas 3 months ago
    On the subject of superhero games, I'm really surprised that there's never been a Marvel or DC themed Musou title. Whether you're Chinese warlords, Japanese daimyos, Zelda NPCs (and Link), Dragon Quest heroes, Gundams, or the cast of One Piece, the premise is basically the same: Superpowered forces of destruction taking down tons of mooks and other superpowered forces of destruction.

    Like, cross out the 'Dynasty' part of Dynasty Warriors and write 'Batman', 'Spider-Man', 'Justice League', 'The Avengers', or 'X-Men' in its place and you've got a new million seller.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #13 Roto13 3 months ago
    @Tetragrammaton Wonder Woman is nowhere near as crazy and stylish as Bayonetta.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #14 Captain-Gonru 3 months ago
    @MetManMas I hadn't thought of it before you mentioned it, but it does totally make sense, even more so given the climaxes of the Avengers movies. A hero, or seven, battling hordes of disposable baddies, with a "boss" character (Loki or Ultron) at the end.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #15 Tetragrammaton 3 months ago
    @Roto13 Crazy:

    Stylish:

    I think she's got this.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #16 brionfoulke91 3 months ago
    I have a different outlook... I like the lack of superhero games. Personally, and this is just me, but I'm irritated by the complete domination of our movies and TV that superheroes currently have. It just seems like it's always the same movie, and not a movie I'm crazy about. I was okay with it when it was stuff like Raimi's Spiderman, Nolan's Batman, or the Robert Downey Jr fun times aka Iron Man. But there's just too many of them now. I saw Wonder Woman today and it was so typical and generic... I don't know if I can stand to watch anymore of them.

    So, the fact that they aren't totally dominating the video game world as well, I'm a-okay with that.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #17 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    Wonder Woman was a nice movie. Overall, I'm just glad that it thrust WW back into the spotlight for awhile. She's a classic character for an era that needs some class and, quite frankly, we could use the diversity. I like how much of a success story the movie has been and, while I don't like how gender politics get attached to something as benign as a popcorn movie, I am super happy that it might mean that opportunities could be opening up for more people.

    As for the games, I love the DCEU, but I'm fine with keeping that to movies. I prefer that WB creates stand alone games like the Injustice series or the Arkham Games. I don't need them trying to connect it to the movies and complicating them further. Eff that noise. Keep them separate. Nobody gives a shit about playing the movie. Just give them a good game starring the character. I'm glad WB gets this.

    Finally, since Mike Williams is wrong on everything DCEU related, let's do rankings!

    BvS >>> MoS >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> WW >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> SS
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #18 Ohoni 3 months ago
    There could certainly be a game featuring Wonder Woman, someone just has to make it. You can already build almost an entire team of Wonder Women in the DC Legends Mobile game, since they launched with two different Wonder Women, then just added the movie version, and you could also add Hippolyta to the team. There's only one Flash so far.

    You can also play as WW themed heroes in DCUO, most of my roster ended up on "team Wonder Woman" since she was the magic type and I found that more interesting as an origin. The character I ended up maining even worse her gauntlets (although she was an electric type named "Biribiri"). There have also been several Justice League games with her in them.

    The thing is though, solo superhero games are few and far between, and the good ones MUCH fewer. Superman's one of the biggest heroes ever, and he's never gotten a truly great game. I really do think that DC and Marvel should be forcing more games into the marketplace, hiring the talent needed to make them great, but from the game developer's perspective, why make a game about Wonder Woman when you can make one about Aloy?
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #19 VotesForCows 3 months ago
    @usgmattkim I know its a bit out of scope for this site, but I'd be interested in a mini-review (or just your stray thoughts) on the Secret History of Wonder Woman.
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #20 Nuclear-Vomit 3 months ago
    I'd like to see a Movie where Samus Aran kills a bunch of Space Pirates, Ninjas and Nazis.... but only if her Commanding Officer "allows" her to.... because she follows the chain of command and is a true soldier and Patriot.Edited June 2017 by Nuclear-Vomit
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  • Avatar for Talraen #21 Talraen 3 months ago
    Doesn't a lot of the blame for the lack of superhero games rest on the fact that Disney hasn't focused on making any? Most of the popular superheroes these days are from Marvel movies, after all.

    Also, totally agree that Mega Man 9 might be the best game in the series. That game has the best weapon selection, bar none, and that really makes it a ton of fun. The only real flaw, if you want to call it that, is that it's so hard. Most of my friends, who aren't as into Mega Man as I am, gave up on the game pretty quickly for that reason.

    Finally, regarding Legend of Dragoon, the game is fine. It's not great, it's barely even that good, but it wasn't bad. Yet people talk about it like it was the worst RPG of the era. Clearly not - I'm convinced that honor goes to Legend of Legaia. I hate that game. ;)
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  • Avatar for yuberus #22 yuberus 3 months ago
    I think some kind of time attack Wonder Woman game could work, ala 2600 Superman. Nothing is really a threat to him in that game, but you're trying to achieve all your goals as fast as possible. Alternatively, something like God of War where she's up against gods and supernatural creatures.

    If you're ever in Chicago, check out the Galloping Ghost arcade. nearly 600 cabinets spanning the entire history of arcades, all pretty darn well maintained. It is probably the best arcade on the planet.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #23 Tetragrammaton 3 months ago
    Small public service announcement, but GOG's started its summer sale. Also there are new GOG.com/connect games for those with both GOG and Steam accounts.

    Already grabbed Trails SC for 60% off the list price.
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  • Avatar for Thad #24 Thad 3 months ago
    There's a story Mark Evanier likes to tell about Jack Kirby.

    There was a press release, or an article, or something, which quoted a new writer or artist taking over one of Kirby's characters (Mark says he thinks it was Captain America, but he doesn't remember for sure).

    The new guy was quoted as saying that he hoped to do the book "in the Kirby tradition."

    Jack read that quote and said, "The kid doesn't get it. The Kirby tradition is to make a new comic."

    Game publishers who'd rather make something new are upholding the Kirby tradition.
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