Growing up, I was starved for media based on things that I loved, so much so that I found shows like Mortal Kombat: Conquest on TBS appointment viewing each week. I knew it wasn’t great, and it barely had anything to do with Mortal Kombat, but when there wasn’t really any alternative, you settled for what you had. It’s for that reason that I think teenage Blair, who combed through Wizard magazine reading rumors about comic book related films and TV shows, would be overjoyed with the choice they would get in a few decades.
From blockbuster movies to The CW’s once mighty, but now declining, slate of programming to the glut of Marvel Studios projects on Disney +, there’s certainly no lack of superhero related media today. But, with so much programming inspired by our beloved comic book properties, it’s all starting to feel routine and not as special as it all once was compared to the days where you waited years for sequels to things like Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight. In the case of Marvel Studios and the MCU, there’s almost an obligation to keep watching everything that comes up, even if you feel something is just okay, because you never know when it’s going to pay off later. When you find yourself tuning into something week after week because you feel you have to, entertainment becomes starts to become the equivalent of homework.
It’s for that reason that I feel stronger than ever that comic book video games have become, at least for me, the multimedia extensions for these properties that I’m most excited about. Sure, there’s perhaps more comic book related titles in the pipeline now more than ever with Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Cap and Black Panther, Suicide Squad, Wolverine and a Spider-Man sequel in the works, but we’re not getting a big AAA video game every other month. In fact, it would be surprising if we’ll even get our hands on some these within the next 2 years.
As we’re quickly approaching the end of 2022, there hasn’t even really been what you call a big comic book game with only a remaster of Shadow Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and The Cowabunga Collection, plus updates to Marvel’s Avengers, to quench our thirst with. This is going to change quickly though with Gotham Knights dropping in but a few weeks quickly followed by Marvel’s Midnight Suns in December. My anticipation for those 2 games alone is greater than perhaps any show or movie released this year, excluding the pleasant surprise that was Peacemaker, because the last game that released of a similar scope was the excellent Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy which will soon be a year old.
Gotham Knights and Marvel’s Midnight Suns couldn’t be more different from one another, and that’s not just because one is set in the DC universe while the other is Marvel. The former is an open-world action-RPG that can be played co-operatively and the other is a turn based tactics game with an emphasis on cards and deck building. While these are but 2 games compared to the plethora of options that can be found at the cinema, on TV or streaming, there’s an exciting uncertainty surrounding both these releases. Shows like Ms. Marvel and the upcoming theatrically released Black Panther: Wakanda Forever for example couldn’t be more different from one another, but there’s also an exception from the audience going in as to what both are before they sit down to watch them. That’s not to say that either are bad – personally I loved Ms. Marvel and have tickets purchased for Wakanda Forever – but I also know not to get my expectations too high going in because the bar for what both are has now been complacently set. That’s not the case at all with the upcoming slate of AAA comic book games.
Then there’s the matter of a shared universe, which, due to the complications surrounding how games are developed and published, would be a herculean undertaking that simply isn’t feasible. At most we’ve seen some minor connected threads between the 2 Insomniac developed Spider-Man offering and Marvel’s Iron Man VR, but it’s a leap to connect any other games at this point as Iron Man is not only getting a new solo game from EA and developer EA Motive, he also stars features prominently in Marvel’s Avengers and Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Yuri Lowenthal, the voice of Spider-Man in both Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales will reprise his role in Marvel’s Midnight Suns which also has Venom, a character who will only get introduced in the next chapter of Insomniac’s saga. Those are some hoops of logic that would make even Superman on the Nintendo 64 blush.
While this might come as a disappointment to those who have now been indoctrinated by the MCU’s “it’s all connected” mantra, it actually makes for better games in my opinion. Heck, Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League are set within their own continuities, even though they’re published by WB Games, a subsidiary of the company who owns DC Comics. Despite seemingly following up on threads left dangling at the end of Batman: Arkham Knight, Gotham Knights is a fresh start for Batman’s video game legacy while Kill the Justice League is a true follow-up to Rocksteady’s previous work. Being separate from one another without having to chain themselves to what another studio is doing with their titles, it gives the developers at both Rocksteady and WB Games Montreal the freedom to tell the best possible stories within the playground they get to work in.
There’s perhaps no better example of this than last year’s phenomenal Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. When it was released in 2008, Iron Man from director Jon Favreau was seen a Hail Mary of sorts. If it worked, it would help kick off a shared cinematic universe, but if it didn’t, it would still stand on its own. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy feels like it was designer in a similar manner.
SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
Though its cast is the same one we’ve seen in both James Gunn directed films, they couldn’t be more different than their cinematic counterparts, and the glimpse the player gets of the universe they inhabit in a very intimate 15 hour game is staggering. Drax has already killed Thanos, a great war has lead to Richard Rider from the rest of the Nova Corps, and you can view Frog Thor’s hammer in the Collector’s museum. Then there’s the sequence where the team rides on the Continuum Cortex, a travel system that can navigate space and time, where you can hear the cry of “Avengers Assemble”. It could very well be that this talks with Marvel’s Avengers, as both were published by Square Enix, or it could just be another team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes from an infinite number of universes.
Like 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an experience that stands on its own, but it also makes you crave more games from the team at Eidos Montréal. If that doesn’t came to fruition due to the game’s sales or the fact that the developer is now owned by a different entity in the Embracer Group, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is as superb as it is because Eidos Montréal didn’t need to concern themselves with the cosmic threat that’s being built up in Marvel’s Avengers.
An issue arising though is that the tailwind of superhero fatigue that’s setting in due to the saturation of programming on film in TV could alter publishers and developers desire to commit to working with entities like Marvel or DC. Video games take a lot of time to make, and the new age of Marvel Games that kicked off with Marvel’s Spider-Man hit at just the right time where the build up of The Infinity Saga was going to pay off in 2019’s Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. Of course, what also helped is that Marvel’s Spider-Man was a quality product from an established studio in Insomniac on the best-selling PlayStation 4, but launching when it did when Marvel fever was at its highest didn’t hurt either. Other titles, however, have not been so lucky.
Both Marvel’s Spider-Man and its follow-up, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales which released in 2020, have continued to chart – and are now finding a new player base on PC – but other projects haven’t been able to match their success. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, a Nintendo Switch exclusive dropped in 2019, and while it sold respectably, it has gone mostly forgotten. Marvel’s Iron Man VR was a tough sell as it was not only a VR exclusive, but also locked to Sony’s PSVR headset, which kept it from having the mass market appeal of PlayStation’s Spider-Man offerings. Marvel’s Avengers has found its footing after stumbling after launch and is considered healthy thanks to being offered on services like Game Pass, however a game based on a property like the Avengers, given the popularity of the brand, should be thriving and not struggling to exist. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy seems to get nominated for a new award every other day, but it’s price plummeted fast last fall and is now on both Sony and Microsoft’s subscription services.
DC’s success in the video game industry is tougher to quantify as Gotham Knights will be the first game published under the DC umbrella since 2018’s LEGO DC Super-Villains. In that time, the “Arrowverse”, an interconnected series of DC shows that was kickstarted with 2012’s Arrow is hanging on by a thread, high profile films like the sequel to Aquaman and The Flash’s big-screen debut have been delayed due to controversies surrounding members of their respective casts, and Warner Bros. itself is in turmoil under its new ownership. If WB’s new overlords are willing to scrap a mostly completed Batgirl film, is even a Wonder Woman game safe?
Regardless of any one person’s feeling of superhero fatigue, we’ve come a long way since the days of games starring comic book characters mostly being relegated to quick cash-ins to films and animated series. We’re truly in a golden age of licensed comic book games where they’re being worked on by massively talented, world class teams and feature stories that easily rival what’s being produced for film and television. Combined with being freed from the shackles imposed by shared universes, it’s a great feeling to have genuine excitement for every major comic book game headed our way in the future. Though the saturation point of superheroes in pop culture is coming faster than we care to admit, they’re not going to disappear overnight, and video games could just very well be the things that keep them in the spotlight.