There have been some amazing video games based on comic books over the years. In fact, comic books were one of the most commonly mined properties for videos games in the earliest days of the industry. Sure, there have been some terrible games, too, but games like Batman: Arkham City, The Wolf Among Us, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and various others, prove that comics are one of the best places to mine for ideas.
Part of the reasons comic games are great is that they are built from familiar properties. Developers don’t have to put a ton of work into establishing a character or the world since there is a degree to which people already have expectations. That doesn’t mean the games will be boring or without surprise, though. In fact, it’s the opposite.
This is largely consistent with the way comics themselves have functioned over the years. Some of the biggest comic events of all-time result from the breaking of expectations. Take, for example, The Death of Superman, which was written to break the assumption that Superman was invincible. Injustice surprised gamers by depicting a Superman who is far from the noble hero they’re accustomed to. Because we know comic characters can meet virtually any fate, we can’t ever have full confidence in our assumptions and that’s a good thing. We get to see beloved characters in novel circumstances.
Comics are also commonly over-the-top with their action and that means we are more primed to suspend disbelief when something absurd happens. So many games are grounded in gritty realism these days that it can be a relief to swing around New York City or fight in tag-team matches with insanely powerful superheroes in heated combat against Capcom characters.
And it’s true that print comics, as an industry, have struggled lately. But comic properties are booming across other media. That is because fans just want to keep seeing these characters in new stories. If we think of individual superheroes in the same way we think of genre, it makes sense. There are shared traits between different Batman stories, just as there are similarities between romantic comedies, but those categories can contain multitudes.
Then there’s the obvious fact that video games allow us to experience comics in a new way. We get to have agency over the story and we get to interact with these characters mechanically. Seeing how a developer takes Batman’s abilities and style and translates it into a unique, mechanical experience is part of the fun. The Arkham franchise is incredible at this. It is slow, tactical, tense, and brutal.
It’s probably not a controversial stance to say that more publishers should embrace comics, although I do understand that some gamers are tired of remakes, remasters, and the reuse of old properties. Hell, across television and movies we’re seeing the same franchises crop up again and again. I am not saying that we don’t crave novel, new experiences from gaming. I’m just saying that comics are almost always going to be a safe bet and that there is a lot of variety to be found in them as properties. That’s why comic games are amazing.