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Film Friday: October 2017

Business travel put a dent in my movie watching this past month. Such a hardship, having to go to London and San Francisco!

Once you are done weeping for my First World Problem, let me know what you think of the movies screened over the last thirty days at Longbox Graveyard HQ!

(Comics? — go here for that)

On The Airplane

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017): Gadzooks, what crap! An Arthur film entirely bereft of charm, wonder, romance, and drama. Relentlessly grey palette and deliberate anachronisms in dialogue and wardrobe leaves you pondering just what the hell they were thinking. How is an Arthur picture improved by taking nearly all the shields and armor out of it? Charlie Hunnam is a bag of potatoes, and Jude Law plays an ice sculpture. Aimed for cool at the cost of coherence, and wound up with neither. How can it be that after all these decades the best Arthur pictures remain Monty Python’s farce and the deeply-flawed Excalibur? Sheesh!

Sheesh!

On Cable

The Freshman (1990): Spent a day on the couch riding out my jet lag, saw this was running on cable, and decided some Marlon Brando would suit me fine. It helped that I knew this was a lesser picture — the perfect thing to run in the background while farting around on the web and trying to remember what your home time zone looks like. Brando was big as a house in this one (I love the rumor that in later years he showed up to the set without pants, so they’d only shoot him close), but he brought real warmth to his role as an aging godfather with an entirely unofficial resemblance to Vito Corleone. He had a nice fatherly rapport with Matthew Broderick, too. Pleasant enough to watch what amounted to cute Godfather outtakes but most of the jokes fell flat and the plot about illegally importing endangered animals — with a long and tiresome chase after an escaped Komodo Dragon — was a snore.

On Filmstruck

On The Waterfront (1954): After The Freshman it was only fair I gave Brando some proper attention. On The Waterfront is one of those universally-acknowledged classics that I’d somehow never seen, so when I woke up at 2:00 AM with an aching back, a head full of swirling work details, and a body that still thought it was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it made perfect sense to stream this one. And Brando was terrific, of course, in this very actorly drama of a palooka caught between his mobbed-up brother and the innocent sister of the mook he helped lead to doom. Even with Karl Malden or Eva Marie Saint on screen, you can’t take your eyes off Brando in this one. I love how he delivered his lines late, like a slightly-addled boxer who needed an extra beat to process. Some nice location work in this one, too.

Command Decision (1948): Based on a stage play, this is the kind of didactic, brow-beating World War 2 historical drama that I eat like ice cream, but can’t really recommend. Clark Cable was the hardest of hard asses as the bomber commander willing to accept hideous losses to ensure the Nazis can’t get their jet fighter program off the ground. Fascinating (for me and no one else) to evaluate the arguments made in this picture against the latest thinking about the dubious morality and uncertain efficacy of high-altitude saturation bombing.

Fallen Angel (1945): Second-rate noir, but man, could Dana Andrews wear a hat!

Gomorrah (2008): Harrowing and somewhat confusing tale of the mob in Naples. The locations are stark and the violence is sudden and ugly. Multiple stories run in parallel and sometimes intersect — I’d like to watch it again, now that I understand the structure and know where it is going. Full of despair and betrayal.

Nights of Cabiria (1957): Only Federico Fellini could bring so light a touch to the story of a luckless street walker who is continually robbed and nearly murdered by the shitheel men she falls in love with. Giulietta Masina was a face dancer of the first order.

Black Narcissus (1947): Nuns try to turn a Himalayan seraglio into a house of god, have their faith tested, go a little crazy (a LOT crazy in one case). Brilliant colors and moody atmosphere deliver an indirect and erotic charge — it was like watching Suspiria, but without all the murder. Vertigo-inducing matte painting work.

Plus Some TV

Briefly sampled several series on Netflix — American Vandal, White Gold, Five Came Back — but the only thing that stuck was London Spy. The story kind of fell apart by the end, but overall it was stylish and intriguing, and curious in that it was at least as much a gothic as it was a spy film. Also caught a bit of Star Trek: Discovery on Canadian cable. They sure splashed a lot of cash on this one, and if I had DVR privileges I might try to keep up with this on broadcast, but commercials are a drag so I will wait until I can binge it out on some sensible streaming service. It’s not like there aren’t way too many other things to watch …

Talk movies with me, in the comments section below! Thanks!

 

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Digesting The Avengers

Longbox Graveyard #171

I was in the supermarket check-out line the other day, and nestled among the tabloids and the inadequacy mags, what did I see?

Why, it’s the mighty Avengers! Into my cart they went.

I’ve been curious about the Archie Comics Marvel Digest program since it was announced earlier this year. This partnership seems promising. I’ve long wondered why Marvel doesn’t try to better leverage its vast content library in digest form, and with Archie already owning the checkout line thanks to their own long-running digest publications, Marvel couldn’t ask for a better supermarket distributor.

The cover design is clever. At a glance, I was convinced I was buying the very first Marvel Digest, but reading the indicia revealed this was the second issue. (I missed the Spider-Man digest when it streeted two months ago).

The spine design makes clear that this is Marvel Comics Digest #2.

I suppose this is mildly deceptive, but I think it is smart. Technically, this is a first issue, as it is the first time the Avengers have led Marvel Digest, and this volume does reprint Avengers #1. That lets them splash a “#1” on the cover, which can’t hurt sales. Meanwhile, the Digest numbering goes on the spine, where a non-#1 won’t turn off an impulse buy, but collectors will still wish to fill in every number, assuming they store their books spine-out on the shelf.

Less prominent on the cover is the price, which is also wise. At $8.99 Canadian, I thought this was a little expensive. Not because of content — in the weird world of comics, getting 220-odd pages of (mostly) comics for that price is just fine. But out here in the real world, where People Magazine costs about half so much, I imagine Supermarket Mom wincing a little when she sees this little digest rung up. She might not be so quick to reach for Marvel Digest the next time around.

So what do you get in Avengers Digest?

You get a lot of Avengers, from across the ages. The book leads off with Avengers #1-2, and I suppose you kind of have to lead with the origin issues, though I’ve never felt the early Avengers were Stan & Jack’s best work. (Donning my monocle and affecting an Alastair Cooke accent, I’d opine that Avengers doesn’t really find its footing until Hawkeye joins the team in issue #16). As the book launched with golden armor Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Hulk as charter members, this line-up will also prove a little confusing for any kids coming here directly from the movies, but hey, you get the Hulk in clown makeup juggling circus animals, and I find it hard to hate on that.

Next up is a reprint of Avengers #235-237, where the lineup is no less obscure (featuring Star Fox and She Hulk, among others) … but so what, really? She-Hulk is fun.

These are perfectly-serviceable, mid-80s Avengers stories, neither very good nor very bad. I would have reprinted something from the George Perez era, but that’s just me. There’s plenty of action and a whole whack of super-villains, so you get your money’s worth. There’s also a guest turn by Spider-Man, and I expect a bit of Spider-Man is wise for any Marvel Digest.

We also get a reminder that this was the Jim Shooter era, meaning that every issue needed to assume a reader was reading Marvel Comics for the very first time. No Reader Left Behind … even if it meant a ridiculously wordy series of expositional thought balloons …

The Digest rounds out with young reader-specific fare from Marvel Adventures The Avengers #9, #16, Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #6, and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble #1-2. I didn’t read these, but was pleased to see M.O.D.O.K., even if he was saddled with some crappy non-canonical name.

The rest of the book is cover reproductions and ads, both for Archie comics (such as this back cover) …

… and for Marvel books, such as this subscription ad for the Champions. (Curious choice, the Champions, unless Marvel thinks there is some youth appeal here? Dunno).

What I found more interesting was what was not included.

For instance, there’s no editorial material. No letters columns or “Stan’s Soapbox” — nothing that speaks directly to the reader. Marvel’s editorial “voice” was critical to winning me over as a kid — all those editorial pages and letters column replies made me feel like I was being invited into some cool, exclusive club. There aren’t even any calls to action for the weak sauce 21st century equivalent of editorial outreach (social media hooks) in any of the Marvel material, although the Archie house ads all include website URLs and Facebook & Twitter handles.

There also isn’t any contextual information. There’s no attempt to fit stories into specific eras, or as the work of individual creators. There are no summaries of what came before, or what was going on for the Avengers at this time, or why the roster looks the way it does at any given time. This all strikes me as a missed opportunity, particularly for appealing to new (younger) readers, who in my experience are mad for every detail of their new-found enthusiasms.

But maybe this is good enough. Maybe just putting old stories out there will be enough to entertain readers, new and old. Comics are pretty ubiquitous, now — they have their own section in the bookstores, and they are easy enough to find at Amazon, or on-line. If readers want more, comics aren’t hard to find. Maybe having the Avengers unexpectedly tumbling out of the grocery bag is enough to recruit new readers to whatever passes for today’s Merry Marvel Marching Society. Maybe these Digests are even enormously profitable for Archie, and for Marvel …

… and if that is the case, then maybe Marvel needs to take a look in the mirror. If comic sales really are in a death spiral, and if Archie can provide an outlet for decades of Marvel’s legacy material, then maybe Disney would be well-advised to pull the plug entirely on publishing comics in-house. Even if Disney wants to keep publishing new material, why not shop it out to a Dark Horse or an IDW? I don’t see where telling Marvel stories is inherently tougher than publishing Star Trek or Transformers comics. And even without new material, there’s no shortage of legacy stories for Marvel’s movie divisions to mine for years to come … with the added benefit of not having to sweat it out that Marvel editorial is going to poison the brand with some dumbass stunt that turns Captain America into a Nazi, or something.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I will toss this digest in the corner someplace, and look forward to discovering it again a time or two. I probably won’t reach for another digest in the checkout line — there’s just not enough here for long-time fans to enjoy — but I applaud this effort, and I am keenly interested to see what publications like Marvel Comics Digest portend for the comics business as we know it today.

What do you think? Is this a tombstone for Marvel, or no big deal? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, below!

 

Film Friday: September 2017

My inaugural Film Friday post didn’t draw a lot of comment, but that hasn’t discouraged me from watching lots of movies during my Canadian exile. To be honest, movies are kind of saving my life right now.

Here’s what was screened in August at my Secret Worldwide Headquarters. Comments welcome!

(And if you are looking for comic books — go here for that)

In Theaters

The Glass Key (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), and The Maltese Falcon (1941): Treated myself to a day in the dark at the Vancouver Cinematheque over a B.C. holiday weekend. Femme Fatales and hard boiled dicks. I’d seen all three films before, but not for awhile. Thoroughly enjoyed them all, but The Maltese Falcon still leaps off the screen. Stunning to realize this was John Huston’s directorial debut. Fun to watch The Glass Key, as it was the blueprint for my favorite Coen Brother Film (Miller’s Crossing).

On Cable

The Candidate (1972): Robert Redford, at the peak of his stardom, as a literal California Golden Boy campaigning for Senate. Sharp writing. Kind of depressing, to see that today’s campaigns use the same platitudes and deceptions as forty-five years ago. Redford is good, and Peter Boyle is great as the campaign manager. But Peter Boyle is always great. This movie is ripe for a remake, or better yet, a sequel, with Redford playing a six-term incumbent Senator entirely untethered from his youthful ideals. Has one of the better “70s Endings” of the 70s.

Foxcatcher (2014): True (weird) crime story about a couple of U.S. Olympic wrestlers. Little to recommend in this one, save the performances. Steve Carell disappears into his role but the movie takes us nowhere. We come into the movie knowing the main character is a creepy rich dude, and leave with little more insight than that. Plenty of wrestling along the way.

On Netflix

Bridge of Spies (2015): Sure, it’s a total “Dad Film,” but I’m a dad, and it scored with me. Pushed my buttons — nostalgia, spy stuff, cold war, Tom Hanks being Tom Hanks and making idealistic speeches about what makes Americans into Americans (spoiler: it’s The Constitution). Plus I was just in Berlin last year, and spent a cold afternoon tracing the ghostly remains of that damnable wall. Swept me away.

Elle (2016): Sexual assault and its aftermath, played for maximum outrage. A pretzel of a movie, in terms of its message, morality, and plot. It’s vile; it’s also entertaining. Paul Verhooven has lost none of his contempt for people. Isabel Huppert is fantastic. Glad I saw it and I might even recommend it but no desire to see it again.

Arrival (2016): The aliens are here, but they don’t know how to use Google Translate. Frankly a disappointment. Very much looked forward to this after seeing director Denis Villenueve’s Sicaro, but now I wonder if most of what I liked about that film owed to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay. Mostly I found this picture empty — some austere imagery, but little else. Could have used more linguistics! (You never want to see that in a review). I gather some jumped off this picture at the third act twist — that’s actually when I got on, but it was too little and too late.

American Hustle (2013): The best Martin Scorsese movie that Marty never made. Period piece where con men are forced to pull a con for the FBI. Christian Bale’s performance kept reminding me of someone, and I couldn’t put my finger on it … until Robert De Niro showed up, and then — oh, sure, he’s doing De Niro! Entertaining Scorsese homage but in the end it is like the paintings Bale’s character sells — an artful fake. Performances are uniformly great except for Jennifer Lawrence, who is perfect.

On Filmstruck

La Tête d’un Homme (1933): French detective tale filled with great faces and inventive camerawork. Drifts in and out of melodrama but memorable for an uncommonly detailed characterization of the bad guy. In the end, maybe as much about social class as crime.

Putney Swope (1969) and Chaffed Elbows (1966): A couple of independent, farcical, anti-establishment Absurdist films from Robert Downey (not that one). The first was nominally about the advertising industry, and the point of the second pretty much eluded me entirely. Many (but not all!) of the causes they lampooned have faded with time, and the films haven’t always aged well, but both stood as a reminder that movies needn’t be “good” or “relevant” in a contemporary sense to have worth. Both made me think a bit, and investigate an era of New York cultural life that I didn’t know much about. Was also fun stumbling on an odd inspiration for Boogie Nights in Putney Swope.

Jules and Jim (1962): Three friends, multiple romances, some weirdly pragmatic choices — unconventional, messy, authentic even when it is absurd. Honest. Watched this because it was on my list of unwatched classics; because I liked 400 Blows; and because it was a way to mark and honor the passing of Jeanne Moreau. And … I like Jeanne Moreau as much as the next guy, but I’m not letter her drive me off a bridge, KnowWhatI’mSayin’?

Elevator To The Gallows (1957): I wanted more Jeanne Moreau, so I gave this Parisian noir a chance, and it was much more to my liking. The murder plot and the young-lovers-on-the-run (pre-figuring Goddard’s Breathless) were just OK. Mostly it was Moreau wandering around Paris while Miles Davis improvised a musical score … but that was fine.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973): Grim and low-key crime story “staring” Robert Mitchum, though it seems Mitchum is scarcely in it. Damn, but that man had presence — a genuine movie star. Mitchum’s character complains that he is nearly 51 in this picture (Mitchum was 56 when he shot it) and I think … hmm, I’m half a lap past that one. Uh oh. Another strong performance by Peter Boyle as the standup guy bartender who is really the rat that no one notices.

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953): Gentle slapstick as a pleasant everyman goes on vacation. An effervescent champagne bubble of light physical comedy. Just the tonic for distracting myself from the looming threat of thermonuclear war. Followed up with Playtime (1967), where creator Jacque Tati reached for something beyond comedy, and came up with an opulent visual ballet of people caught up in the sterility of modern life, before they knock the corners off their world and recover their innate Parisian joie de vivre. Tati spent years on this film, built a little city to make it work, and lost his fortune when it failed … but it is beautiful, in all its plotless, affectionate, optimistic glory. Might have been my favorite film of the month.

The Party (1968): A studio “wild party” movie from the sixties, pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Here’s the thing. I love Peter Sellers, but don’t think much of his frequent partner Blake Edwards. So I tune in for Sellers and hope for the best. In this case it also means looking past Sellers playing an Indian caricature in “black face.” But Sellers’ character is such a harmless fool that it is hard to resent him. If it wasn’t so silly it would have been the worst movie I saw all month. (Still was).

Bigger Than Life (1956): Sumptuous melodrama where James Mason gets hooked on cortisone, chews out the mailman, bounces a check at the dress shop, and gets in a fight with Walter Matheau. Oh, yeah, he also goes Bible Crazy and tries to kill his kid. Phew! Mason was Executive Producer on this picture so it must really have been a story he wanted to tell. Bad James Mason would have made a Good Doctor Doom!

Sunrise (1927): Beautifully-composed, audience-pleasing melodrama. Just an everyday story about realizing how much you love your wife after you fail to murder her. The misty lens of time makes every setting look so careworn that it is easy to overlook this is supposed to be about the stark conflict between the wicked city and rustic country virtues. Emotional. And sure, the sun rises at the end … but that dude still planned to kill his wife.

In A Lonely Place (1950) and Straight Time (1978): Unrelated films that I group together because they feature appealing leads (Humphrey Bogart and Dustin Hoffman) playing shitty human beings. Star power and charisma makes us buy in with both leads, taking us on a journey of abuse with the lesser cast around them. Bogie is an abusive screenwriter while Hoffman is a guy who pretty clearly needed to remain behind bars. Both end up ruining the lives of everyone they touch. Neither film lets their star off the hook, either.

White Material (2009): Wanted more Isabel Huppert after seeing Elle, so I tried this film about a woman trying to hold her family and business together during an African civil war. At first I thought Huppert was fulfilling the headstrong-woman-with-indomitable-will trope; later I saw that her willpower was closer to delusion, and began to dread the price it would make her pay. Watching characters you like willfully ignore danger is tense.

The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974): Beloved swashbucklers of my youth. I still love them, though I have long since memorized every line in these films. Even as a young man I most identified with Athos. Now I see Oliver Reed’s blarney for what it was. (But I still identify with him). Very good screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, which I doubly appreciate having struggled to adopt Dumas myself.

Germany Year Zero (1947): Italian neorealism goes German. Shot in Berlin right after the war, and filmed kind of as they went along with many who were not actors at all. Can’t imagine how this story of civilians scrambling to survive the ruins of war could be more authentic. Goes to the darkest place.

Stagecoach (1939): Peak Western from John Ford and John Wayne (in the movie that made him a star). An accompanying interview with Peter Bogdanovich helped isolate what made this movie so remarkable, beyond its entertainment factor. Bogdanovich pointed out how the script used stock characters to subvert genre norms — how the disgraced drunken doctor and woman of ill repute are the heroes of the piece, while the upstanding banker is the bad guy. Native American stereotypes aren’t so deftly handled but hey, it’s 1939. Bogdanovich also repeated the tale of Orson Welles watching this movie around-the-clock while working on Citizen Kane.

Insomnia (1997): Stellan Skarsgård is a half-bent cop trying to solve a murder above the arctic circle, where the sun never sets. The crime is solved easily, but Stellan messes it up, and soon he’s planting evidence and getting blackmailed. Didn’t really get on board with this one, sadly; Stellan seemed to go off the rails too far and too fast, insomnia or no. Didn’t expect this of someone who so easily accepted the existence of the Mighty Thor

Sudden Fear (1952) and Daisy Kenyon (1947): Someday I will look back on this era in my life as the time I had so little going that I binge-watched Joan Crawford movies. I don’t much like Joan Crawford, and Sudden Fear was in line with expectations.When Joan discovers her husband is plotting to kill her, instead of … I dunno … going to the police or running away, she instead concocts an impossibly-complicated plan of pre-emptive revenge (the least bizarre component of which involved throwing herself down the stairs). There was some noir-ish punch to the chase scene at the end, but I had long since checked out. But Daisy Kenyon was an unexpected pleasure. It was every inch the romance melodrama as Sudden Fear, but here the Joan Crawford/Dana Andrews/Henry Fonda love triangle is propped up by a twisty, messy plot, with some biting dialogue from flawed and damaged characters. It was good enough to make me look at Joan Crawford a whole different way, and to read up on her a bit. Still not a fan, but for the first time I understand why some people are.

Battles Without Honor And Humanity (1973): Brutal Yakuza exploitation picture. Based on true events, but the names and faces fly past so fast that I had to give up on following the plot and just enjoy all the angry Japanese dudes flying into a rage and killing each other. There are four more movies in this series, but I kind of feel like I’ve already seen them all.

Plus Some TV

GLOW, true binge snackfood, already forgotten much of it but fun while it lasted; Defenders, slow and predictable with trite dialogue, I prefer these guys; The Tick didn’t impress me much with the pilot, but I’ve read good reviews and will give it another go. Maybe.

Share comments below, please — happy to discuss any or all of these.

More next month, I expect!

 

Happy 100th Birthday Jack Kirby!

Happy 100th birthday to the King of Comics. We are still catching up to where you were!

DC Legends

Longbox Graveyard #170

I wrote before that I finally kicked the Marvel Puzzle Quest habit — and I did, I swear! But part of that effort involved parking myself on another game these past several months. That game was DC Legends. After nine months of daily effort, I’ve exhausted this game, as well, and I am here to tell the tale.

What wisdom might I offer, aside from “avoid playing games that never end?” Read on!

First things first. What is DC Legends? It’s a mobile game where you collect and level-up a roster of DC heroes and villains so you can win fights to level up to win fights to level up to …

(Are you sensing a grind? Good on you. This game is the king of grinds!)

How does it play? Well, if you’ve played Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, you can skip to the end of this review. DC Legends is effectively a re-spray of Galaxy of Heroes, with DC’s characters standing in for Jedis and Stormtroopers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I tried Galaxy of Heroes and didn’t much like it, while DC hooked me for several months — theme matters!

For those coming in fresh, here’s what to expect from DC Legends.

There’s a story — something to do with Black Lanterns and evil wraith versions of DC characters running amok — but the story is at best chrome on top of the same basic thing that you are going to do over and over again. And that thing is leading four characters into turn-based RPG combat against four other characters, either in player-vs-event or player-vs-player mode.

This is a lavishly-developed game, with a lot to recommend it. The good things first! I gave the story short shrift but the game is nicely themed. There are dozens of characters to collect and level up, each with a set of powers and gear to earn. All characters are nicely rendered in 3D with spectacular attacks, like Supergirl tearing up a chunk of floor and tossing it at the bad guys, or Siren whirling her blades around before sending them spinning off into the other team. Each character has three powers, generally falling into the attack one/attack all/buff or special effects category, and even after playing the game all the way to Level 70 I never really tired of watching the animation. Battles play out in signature DC locations that are nicely detailed, and the game has a lush soundscape of music and sound effects that are actually worth listening to — a rarity for a mobile game. It’s fun to learn how to best employ your characters and to build up your roster as you grind through the game content.

But, ah, there’s that word — “grind.” The degree to which you enjoy this game is heavily bound up with your love of grinding. This is true of most free-to-play games, and to be fair, the grind in DC isn’t as bad as many (*cough Marvel Puzzle Quest *cough), but you are still going to have to put in an hour or so a day to make any kind of decent progress. Purchases are available to speed your development, though to tell the truth I never spent a dime on this game (a rarity for me). If I could have found a way to meaningfully spend five bucks I would have done so, but the value proposition in the store just wasn’t there, what with nearly everything being a blind purchase, and seemingly everything worth purchasing being up on a high shelf somewhere. I found it easier to grind …

… and here the designers have done us a favor, building grind tools right into the game. On the most basic level, you can speed up game animations, so fights won’t last so long. Once you’ve gotten to the point where repeating low level content doesn’t pose a challenge, there’s also an autoplay button that will let the battles play without requiring your input at all (and you can always jump in and start playing again, if your characters start to lose the day). Finally, you can auto-complete missions straight from the menu by spending Speed Force, a somewhat-plentiful currency that grants an automatic win and gives you a roll on the reward table for whatever that node offered.

(And, yes, it is bizarre to laud a game for a feature that lets you get it over quickly. Not sure there are any other games where playing less is the goal. Golf, maybe? Dunno).

There are a blizzard of things to collect and spend in this game. Heroes are awarded via shards. Some minimal number of shards is required to unlock a character for play, then more shards to advance the hero up through the ranks, from one to five stars. After five stars, the character can advance to “Legendary,” triggering a costume change and a new set of supplementary powers. I had several characters up to Legendary-3 level when I quit, with Cheetah sniffing Legendary-4. In addition to shards (of various rarities, of course) there are raw materials for leveling up gear, experience points for advancing character levels (which are distinct from stars and Legendary levels), the aforementioned Speed Force, hard currency gems to buy just about everything, and at least two other expendable currencies that lubricate the whole engine.

It’s all rather confusing, and comes down to never having enough of what you need. And what you need will change over the course of the game — for a long time I was starved for basic Essence, and was swimming in Experience; when I quit the game I was out of Experience, and had millions of useless Essence. The economy is confusing and I think the game suffers for not having a single screen where I can see all the different stuff I own all at once — your inventories are referenced only when needed to make a purchase, which makes it difficult to assess your progress through the game, or to reliably decide whether your WhosiWhatsits are better invested in Cyborg’s Boom Tube Manipulator or Zatanna’s White Rabbit. Short of spending literally thousands of dollars, you won’t be able to develop all of your characters equally, so you will have to concentrate on maybe 4-8 characters to get you through the game — and when you eventually arrive at your choices, you will grit your teeth a bit realizing you can’t recover the precious resources invested in secondary characters along the way. Live and learn.

Your experience in the game will go through levels of understanding. At first you’ll concentrate on collecting those characters that you like best or that are most easily available; later you will try to exploit the rock/paper/scissors relationship between energy/physical/mystical heroes; finally you will graduate into the meta of trying to assemble the best squad of four characters that mutually support each other with the right attacks and buffs. It is fun to develop your roster and learn how to squeeze the most performance out of your teams. Mission nodes identify the hero shard they (sometimes) award, so you can direct your grinding to collecting the maximum daily Flash shards on offer (or whoever), and more-or-less control which characters you build up. There are escalating levels of basic and advanced content to chew through, weekly events, special hero challenges, player-versus-player, free spins of the prize wheel, and more. There’s plenty to do.

Problem is, it’s just the same thing, over and over. The stakes may change a little, but it is still always your four guys versus four other guys. The expense of taking characters to high level is going to lock you into a handful of playable characters, meaning you are going to see the same guys over and over again, and your options for swapping in characters from your bench will be limited. I sense there are all sorts of synergies to try out but I never had the roster to take advantage of them.The game adds new characters every month, but the new content couldn’t retain me because it was so tedious and time-consuming to level new characters to viability. By the time I quit the game, I was only using five characters.

And I can’t say that I chose those characters with a lot of knowledge or forethought. The game is loaded with granular details but not a lot of explanation. I mean, I guess it is good that my attributes went up …

But how do those attributes translate to game performance? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know they are good to have, and I know how I got them, but I got here by grinding, rather than making hard choices. I’m sure there is a skillful meta game here where I am supposed to evaluate my many buffs and powers against the enemy roster to give myself the best chance of victory … but remember that part where I said I could really only develop five really competitive characters? Yeah, well, that means options are limited — you pretty much just put your best guys out there and bottom-feed.

Lots of details, but few ways to find your way through them. Lots of characters, but few that can be made viable. Lots of content to unlock, but few meaningful differences between fighting Solomon Grundy in Metropolis instead of Sinestro on Thanagar. Lots of currencies to manipulate, but resource gating ensures you can only be working toward one or two critical purchases at a time. There are lots of different horses to ride on the merry-go-round, but they only go in one direction, and you always end up where you started.

resource gating … grr …

There are some curious choices, too. The character roster is peculiar — multiple versions of Green Arrow, for instance, but none of the New Gods. A highly anticipated system of clans and daily missions was added to the game but all it really did was unlock another layer of grind. The player-versus-player ladder seems clogged with an uncommonly high number of cheaters and hackers (at least to judge by community message board complaints), but this appears to go largely unpunished. And as noted, I could never really talk myself into purchases.

Chris Hemsworth as Aquaman? I might buy THAT!

(The game is a damn memory hog, too — at 1.5 GB, it chewed up three times the memory of anything else on my iPhone).

But what probably bothered me the most was the narrative choice of making my enemies into “Wraiths.” They’re the same heroes and villains that are on my own team, for the most part … but they’re all grey, a color scheme that obscures their details. The result is that many of the game’s characters — with all their 3D details and animation — are just grey blobs on the screen. It’s a rotten choice — an answer to a question no one asked — and it robs the game of much of its spectacle. I can already go into battle with multiple versions of Batman on my team. Believe me, I won’t get knocked out of the fantasy if I see Batman on the other team, too. My guys are on the left. I can deal.

nice to see DC’s movie slate supported with in-game content

So what does it all mean? Is DC Legends worth a download? On the one hand, I played the game every day for about nine months, and it was fun enough — an hour a day spent with DC’s characters. Figuring everything out was a challenge and finally beating each layer of content was rewarding. But it was a long ride to nowhere, and it was surprisingly easy to quit the game. I suppose I’d say its ok to date this game, but not to marry it. High level play is too opaque, and too expensive. I suppose you can churn around at low levels and just collect the character of the month (Doctor Poison! Oh boy!) but as soon as you think you’ve seen it all, you should stop playing …

… because you have!

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts. Have I missed some hidden layer of this game? Did I quit just when it was getting good? Should I be more enthusiastic about Doctor Poison? Lay it on me … and please check out my Superhero Games page, where I’ve collected all my many game reviews from here at Longbox Graveyard!

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