We are finally living in an era where comic books and video games can co-exist peacefully. While the days of the uninspired and mediocre movie tie-in have not yet come to an end, we haven't seen anything comparable to Superman 64 in terms of awfulness in quite some time. In fact, we've been given some great superhero games in the past few years.
Probably the best example is Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game which succeeded by placing the focus on Batman's unique skill set, incorporating both stealth and high-tech gadgetry. The game was so popular that its sequel, Arkham City, is one of this year's most anticipated titles.
This year also saw the launch of DC Universe Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in DC's unique universe. The game includes cameos by fan favorite heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern, as well as villains we all love to hate, like Joker and Lex Luthor. While not earning the nearly unanimous praise that Arkham Asylum has managed to earn, DCUO still provides a fairly deep superhero experience.
Marvel has seen some great titles as well. Most notable is Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which pits Marvel heroes and baddies against characters from various Capcom games in a 3v3 brawl. Of course, the addition of Capcom fighters means this isn't purely a Marvel experience, but MvC3 still proves that Marvel has a license that can be mined to deliver great gaming experiences.
Also on the Marvel side is the upcoming Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Edge of Time is being developed by the same studio that brought us Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, which was perhaps the best Spider-Man game to date.
Of course, the popularity of comic book-based video games can be partially attributed to the boom we've seen in the comic book film scene. Superhero films are more popular than ever, and have delivered some incredibly strong movies in the past few years, raking in some serious cash.
So the future of the comic book game is looking pretty good, right?
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Moviegoers are already beginning to predict that the whole comic book movie thing is just a passing trend. With the massive quantity of superhero films we've seen arrive just this year, it's beginning to look like the market runs the risk of being oversaturated with all things comic book-related. As is bound to happen during oversaturation, people may soon grow tired of this trend.
Another contributing factor in this ordeal is the death of Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man #160. While the death of any superhero should theoretically increase the comic book buzz and get armies of non-comic book readers interested in them, it actually tends to do the opposite. For those of you who don't remember, there was a major comic book crash back in the early-to-mid 1990s.
What happened in the comic book world in those days? Well, DC ran two major game-changing story arcs. First of all was The Death of Superman in 1992, which showed us a dark Metropolis without its Man of Steel to watch over it. In response to this, Batman had his own personal tragedy in the Knightfall story. In this arc, 'roided-up villain Bane broke Batman's back, putting Bruce Wayne out of commission.
It's always been a personal theory of mine that the comic book crash of the 90s was a direct result of the Death of Superman arc, particularly the Superman #75 comic in which this "death" took place. How are the two even remotely connected? Well, back in the 1980s, particular comics were gaining value ridiculously fast. Most of the extremely valuable comics were those that were most important in the continuity of the series. The first issues of any series, as well as origin stories, tended to be worth a lot of money. Collectors who could get their hands on these issues saw this as an investment. You could buy a comic book for under a dollar and see it skyrocket in value later on. When Superman #75 came out, the world expected this to be one of those "must-buy investments."
Of course, the hype that surrounded Superman #75 made it one of the best-selling comic book issues of all time. That had the negative result of making this particular issue the one that everybody had a copy of. Superman #75 was not rare by any stretch of the imagination, and that diminished its value greatly. Even almost ten years later, Superman #75 is not worth all that much. My theory is that the "comic book investors" felt burned by this transaction, and everyone began to realize that buying comic books as an investment was sort of a raw deal. Sales began to decline drastically.
Of course, it's hard to deny the impact of Image Comics, which formed in 1992 and stole some of Marvel's best-known talent, including Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee. Marvel stocks plummeted after this.
The comic book industry has never fully recovered from the crash, but the recent explosion of superhero films has given the industry a new opportunity to make money off of these trademarked characters. A comic book movie crash, though, could do a lot of damage.
So where does that leave the comic book video game?
My prediction: The comic book movie is setting itself up for failure by oversaturating the market. I'm not alone in this thought; several film critics are making this same prediction. If there is indeed a crash in the comic book film industry, this could have negative repercussions on superhero video games.
However, the comic book market was able to survive the crash of the 1990s, and it will most likely be able to survive any upcoming superhero movie crash.
Secondly, comic books and video games have gone hand-in-hand for a long time. A good comic book video game can be a massive success even if the comic book movie market is floundering. In fact, the most successful comic book games are those that don't come from films. Arkham Asylum wasn't based on any movie, though it's undeniable that the success of The Dark Knight contributed to the success of Arkham Asylum. Likewise, Shattered Dimensions wasn't based off any films, but Spider-Man's presence on the big screen most likely helped its sales figures.
Regardless, there is one key element in this equation, and that is quality. If the comic book video game wants to survive the movie crash, games are going to have to go that extra mile to bring us experiences that are satisfying. Arkham Asylum did an excellent job of raising the bar for superhero games, and is something of a "golden standard" by which we can measure similar games in the future. If we see more games shoot for this undeniably high level of quality, the comic book video game has nothing to fear. A good game is a good game, after all.
Let's just hope we don't see any more Superman 64-type disasters along the way.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*