The Sensorium: A Brief History of Virtual Reality

14365410_3572131673235_1037397107_n Ever since their evolution to Homo sapiens, humanity has been obsessed with the realm of experience. Emulating an emotional response that is provoked by art, or music, or even games has been a driving force in human creativity since people started drawing on caves walls. These experiences and cultural achievements have not only connected us together as individuals, but also moved society along, as a whole be it for the message that is communicated or the emotion that is conveyed. Humanity since then has discovered many modes of entertainment, of experiential transference, and we are always seeking more. One of the most exciting prospects of this burgeoning realm is virtual reality, a topic long fantasized about, fantasies that are becoming ever more palpable with our recent technological jumps forward. We are the closest we have ever been as a society to complete sensory transference, the ability to exist in a virtual plane that is close in perception to our own, and while this goal is transforming, it is a constant reminder of the strange new territory we are blindly venturing into.

While this territory, over the scope of invention, is rather new; explorations in virtual reality began quite early. Of course there were the popular science fiction pieces looking into the future of entertainment, theorizing the possibility of holographic or insubstantial environments we could explore. However, even as far back as the 50s, one can see these dreams begin to come to fruition. Morton Heilig, a cinematographer, then began planning the device that would eventually become his “Sensorama”, a box in which someone would insert their head for a full viewing experience complimented by stereoscopic sound and even time released aromas to accompany the smells of the environment portrayed on screen.  Unfortunately, Heilig could not find backers for his invention, leading to a halt in production in what might be the earliest virtual reality device.

Then there was the boom in public interest in virtual reality in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fueled by some fantastic progression in the field by Silicon Valley upstart VPL Research (as early as 1984 they were working on a head-mounted display for use in interaction with computer simulations). This research was so promising that Computer Gaming World magazine declared that affordable household virtual reality would be available by 1994, an assertion now comical in its hopefulness. However, perhaps they were not too far off as not-so-fully-fledged virtual reality systems started entering the home video game market, both of the prime examples of which were decisive commercial failures. Sega attempted home virtual reality with the “Sega VR”, a console to be released in 1993 but never got off the ground due to the unexpected side effects of extended stays in virtual reality, including motion sickness and headaches. However, Sega’s subsequent assertion that they could not release it because it was too real was likely a large overstatement, as the technology and processing power available would not denote such a result. Even if released, Sega VR would still have the same issues as Nintendo’s “Virtual Boy” console, a product released in 1995 to dismal reviews and cancelled a year later to become one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles. In both of these situations, the technology was just not far along enough to provide a marketable experience, but the desire on both the producers’ and consumers’ side for such a product was very real indeed.

This need made itself palpable in several forms, notably the movies and their portrayals of virtual reality as signs of growing public interest. Films like Hackers, Lawnmower Man, and Tron all presented versions of a fully virtual environment in which the heroes of the film interacted as avatars. This would be a repeated motif through the 80s and 90s with films like the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall and shows like the Canadian-produced children’s series ReBoot. Even one of the largest cultural touchstones of the past twenty years, The Matrix, built its epic and deep portrayal of virtual reality on these cultural predecessors. And despite the lack of console success, one could find elements of virtual reality infiltrating people’s lives more regularly. Starting in the nineties one could go to an amusement park and sit in a hydraulic seat with air blowers and water sprayers helping them live out their favorite movie scenes. The military was one of the first to start exploring the practical usefulness of virtual reality, very early on adopting it to train soldiers and pilots in simulations.

All of this pre-eminent virtual reality culture created our current climate of pro-VR sentiment. The “Oculus Rift” virtual reality headset really kicked off a more comprehensive public interest in the impending possibility of real, palpable virtual reality; most notably when it was purchased for two billion dollars by culture mega-corporation Facebook. However, while the Oculus Rift might have been the big player in this game, there are further signs of proliferation challenging their lead on this technological pursuit. Sony has already announced their “PlayStation VR” peripheral, priced for release this fall at a relatively affordable four hundred dollars, and not to be outdone, Valve partnered with HTC to begin production on the “HTC Vive” headset for Valve’s Steam platform. There are even affordable virtual reality options becoming available, just look at Google’s “Cardboard” project, a device that is simply a cardboard headset that holds your phone, essentially transforming it into a method of accessing virtual reality apps and displays for a measly twenty dollars.

This proliferation has not avoided the spread in popularity of other forms of reality-exploitation, as it were. Most notably, augmented reality has become a hot topic, especially with the introduction of Niantic’s Pokémon GO game, which superimposes the adventures of a virtual Pokémon master onto the real world. This, while a very preliminary technology, has been explored in games before and now finds itself being used to add a sense of dimension to magazine covers, as a vein finder in the medical field, or even as a tool to guide navigation. All of these practical applications make augmented reality a powerful rival to virtual reality. Just sticking to Pokémon GO as an example, the game is lauded for its ability to get people up, out and active, interacting with the people and community around them to accomplish the game objectives. Virtual reality was panned even as an idea by critics for its closed off nature, the insertion of yourself into an unreal environment as opposed to the inclusion of unreal aspects to a real environment. Tim Cook of Apple recently even said that technological trends would veer towards augmented reality away from virtual reality.

However, when one looks at the potential applications of a fully-fledged virtual reality product, it’s hard to discount the young upstart technology yet. Can you imagine the entertainment potential? Being able to see a sold out show of roadway’s Hamilton through your VR goggles while on the comfort of your couch, but feeling like you are right there, the experiential difference almost nil compared to actually being there. Beyond pure entertainment, how much better would it be for a child with a chronic illness to be able to attend class in a way that makes them feel actually present? What forms of therapy can we refine with this new technology? Even philanthropy gets an upgrade, as even currently there are attempts to allow donors to see the fruits of their gifts by getting virtual reality tours of the areas they are helping. However practical and predictable the general applications of virtual reality technology might be, their effects on individual people and society as a whole are not so cut and dry. To illustrate the already tricky nature of how people relate with virtual reality, one needs simply to look at one of the non-video game industries that adopted it as early as was possible: pornography. Pornography with a virtual reality element was in production for the public almost at the time that the Oculus Rift was even announced. This helps define the purely base nature of experience that is sought for with this technology, while also displaying the potential pitfalls of such developments. When one can access their deepest, most intense fantasies on a daily basis for an affordable cost, what would be needed then? Would this portend an end to productivity? The eventual disintegration of society into hedonistic pleasure seeking in the form of people plugged into a fantasy simulator twenty-four hours a day?

I choose to think not; even the most basic and animalistic of personal pursuits in virtual reality have a positive potentiality: what about couples who must be apart for weeks, even years due to military or business engagements? What does the realm of sexuality via virtual reality allow a long distance couple? Or a couple who cannot physically commit to each other due to a disease or disability? While the scare of social denigration has been with the technology since its inception, virtual reality remains an important advancement for our culture. It will not only change the way humans interact with technology, but also how we use technology to interact with each other. And while there may be some pratfalls along the way, something as essentially magical as the complete transference of ones senses into an environment of our creation has to be explored, if only for the potential to find something out about ourselves as humans in the process.

Game Developers and the Fans Who Hate Them

14037507_3541109337696_817818091_o What is it that makes the story of Frankenstein’s monster so palpable, so relatable? The story has the impact it does as it is one of the earliest works of modern fiction that so inherently connects man to something he cannot understand, that being death. In all of the story’s representations, one piece of connective tissue between monster and man rings the truest: the dejection by society, the hunting with torches and pitchforks, the judgement. What drives Frankenstein’s monster mad is often not his own nature, but his reaction to a critique the society he so badly wants to please places on him.

In more modern times, the private and the public relate in very different ways due to social media and new forms of communication and interpretation, however, the emotions behind these interactions still feel the same. An arena in which this becomes especially notable is the realm of video games, a field in which games can be hyped for years before an actual product can be experienced. Not only that, but this is also a field in which the fan base can be truly powerful; reactions can be so effusive with praise and dedication that games earn followings that last them ten years or more (look at the family tree of the Half-Life games, for instance). But these fans’ expectations are a double-edged sword, and they can become so burdensome that a game is swallowed up by them (look at the surprisingly sparse legacy of a game like Spore). New levels of connection between game players and game developers are being produced like never before due to new modes of social media that lead to more unique interactions between the consumer and the producer. This brings with it increased scrutiny, scrutiny that can cause a layering of the consumers’ preferred narrative over their expectations, leading to a rift between what is wanted and what is produced, something heightened by companies that prefer to speak of their goals as opposed to their abilities, or simply when they desire a level of mystery to shroud their games.

The relationship between video game makers and video game players has always been an interesting one, given that the whole industry experienced a very rapid cycle of growth (and continues to grow at a better rate than a good deal of other entertainment industries). Gaming really came out of the developer’s garage and into the context of modern discourse with characters like John Romero, a long-haired developer dragged right out of an 80s hair metal music video. Romero lived the image of the “rock star” game developer, a sort of romantic public perception of the newly powerful status of these popular game-makers. This can be seen as a sort of growing pain of the industry, developers were trying to fit themselves in the same category of public perception as say, record producers did. The lifespan of this sort of consumer perception of the developer was rapid, as was Romero’s time at the top of the industry. His hallmarks of gaming, Doom and Quake, are probably some of the most iconic video game properties of all time, but his big follow-up, Daikatana, went down in gaming history as both one of the most anticipated and one of the most disappointing game releases to this day. Announced in 1997 and hyped with all of the “extreme” 90s advertising and press releases money could buy (including the infamous “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch” campaign), the game was not released until 2000 and was a major commercial disaster. Romero himself credits the hype campaign as the thing that changed his relationship with gamers forever, the tenuous developer-gamer relationship at the time being a primordial institution.

As video games became big business, this relationship suffered more growing pains, and AAA titles have formed a sort of standardized process regarding game content that a lot of players view as harmful, specifically as it relates to the concept of “downloadable content”. EA Games is a notable player in this dichotomy, a sort of citadel of gaming power and prestige that has grown evil with its empowerment, charging twice as much for a single game by the stringing along of content and features. AAA game developers have become (as record companies have in the music industry) the “bad guys”, faceless corporate shells meant to exploit the gamer and their hard-earned dollar. At least, that is the impression one would get from the comments on each new game release, maybe this vitriol is the standard of a more interactive presence on social media, but the perception is certainly there.

The comparison to the music industry doesn’t end there, however! As music listeners jaded by the big business aspect of their chosen medium turned away from big record producers, they turned towards the independent. Much the same has happened in gaming – players eschewing AAA developers in favor of smaller indie developers they feel they can form a much more intimate connection to, especially given the progression of social media. Smaller developers mean more intimacy, mean a dedication to their craft and product, and mean a more meaningful connection to what they develop. Look at a game like Minecraft: simple and accessible, a game based on creativity as opposed to accomplishment; a new and fun way to look at gaming, untested by larger developers perhaps for being “too simple” as, in a sense, the development of the game comes from the community itself. Abundant with mods, a modding community, and player interaction (through Facebook, YouTube, and various game-streaming platforms) this game garnered its own culture and consumers respected that. Despite the purchase by Microsoft (for a whopping $2.5 billion) it has maintained most of this consumer respect as the gamers are still the ones with the control in this gaming universe. However, this is the platform that is allowed by the relatively slow growth that Minecraft accomplished: largely word-of-mouth with, again, social media serving as an important method of diffusion. Minecraft had time to develop, and as we will see, this makes all the difference.

Look at Niantics’ recent mega-hit Pokémon GO, this game had hardy expectations from the beginning: not only bringing augmented reality gaming to its most popular level, but using one of the most popular intellectual properties in gaming history to do such. The tale of the reaction to this game has been largely one of inaction, as both difficulties and changes followed the games release with little statement by Niantic. There were the initial launch server issues, the errors with the “three-step” tracking system, which when updated was removed entirely and then re-added as an entirely different tracking system. This update also came with a change that made catching Pokémon more difficult, which was widely interpreted as a cash-grab by Niantic to force users to purchase more Pokéballs.  Each of these changes took weeks to develop and were accompanied by little to no statements from the developer. However, the line of blame becomes murkier when you note the fact that Niantic has around thirty employees (for comparison, Electronic Arts has about 8,500). How much can consumers expect such a small developer to do? Is it unfair to criticize a burgeoning game with the kind of response a multi-million-dollar corporation would give, or is it unfair for such a seemingly popular game to be released in such a state?

This conflict has come to a raging froth recently with the release of Hello Games’ space exploration simulator No Man’s Sky. This game is a masterclass in the follies of gamer expectations and how they can turn what could have been a magnanimously praised launch of an interesting game into a boondoggle of hurt consumer feelings and developer radio silence. The release of this game, in production for three years with an incredible E3 presentation spearheading an upsurge of grassroots interest in the game, has served as an interesting split when it comes to trying to measure its success. A huge player base and response on launch date, bug issues especially for the PC release, middling reviews and the perception of broken promises on the part of the development team (specifically lead developer Sean Murray) all created a maelstrom of perception versus expectation.

One could have probably (and in some cases did) predict the storm of hurt feelings that now saturate the response to this game. The subreddit dedicated to the game was an amalgam of lofty expectations, outlandish theorizing, and outright hero worship in the fan base’s treatment of Sean Murray. This developed on both sides of the spectrum: the hope of a developer who would grant this following with a truly immersive and life-changing experience versus those overeager for such sights that upon news of the first delay in development bombarded Murray with death threats. Sam Zucchi did a wonderful piece on this for Kill Screen, in which he states: “Taken together, both extremes point to a depth of feeling comparable with—even identical to—religious fervor.”1 The intensity of this particular type of producer-consumer relationship isn’t a one off observation either, with Phil Owen doing another great piece of insight into this phenomenon, stating in his article for The Wrap: “A friend of mine in the industry remarked to me a few weeks ago that video game marketing isn’t selling you a game, but rather a membership in a cult. That video game marketing is, essentially, weaponizing fandom.”2

That is what we are looking at right now: a weaponized fandom. Layers of mystery, compounded by lofty statements that may or may not have been taken out of context, created a shroud of confusion and obsession with this game that became a rain of deceit and mistrust upon release. As represented with the quotes above, many game industry analysts and observers saw this crash coming, Sean Murray even tweeted out shortly before release of No Man’s Sky about how the game would be a lot more “chill” than people expected. Maybe this came too little too late, the hordes were riled up and they expected maybe more than a game can give them at this point in our technology.

How did this happen? There is a clear disconnect between the language that the developers used in their description of the game and the product that the gamers interpreted and this has, as most communication issues do, a root in misplaced or nonexistent context. “Official” press releases were few and far between, as well as restrained in their revelations. Interviews with developers were more colloquial, less absolute than say a spec release, and as such much more open to interpretation on the part of the viewer or fluffy language on the part of the interviewee. That said, the developers are not completely innocent here: clearly defined multiplayer portions were not included with the game on launch and other features are missing. Flowery language from developers did give a different sense of what the game was, but how much of this is the artist’s vision and language versus the perception of the consumer? It is difficult to say, developers are just as ambitious if not more so than their audience, perhaps the technology couldn’t catch up, or the design at the point of the statement was preliminary and not practical. The level of open upfront communication we are experiencing now was not there before or even on the release date.

While this article was being written, Sean Murray tweeted further developments about fixing bug issues and the eventual addition of promised or hinted-at content. The mistakes are being corrected, and it will certainly take time as Hello Games’ small staff of fifteen work to correct the errors faced by millions of players. And there we have the crux of the issue: this is an indie game facing the problems of a AAA title. Can we really expect a studio of fifteen to not only produce but maintain a game of excelsior quality within the timeframe that large developers can? If we can’t expect that, then were we not paying for an idea more so than a product?

As independent producers break into this market the same way independent musicians have broken into the recording industry, it seems unfair to provide the same requirements to an indie developer that we would to say, Ubisoft. Personally, I find the game mesmerizing. It is an interesting and introspective journey that can become almost philosophical in nature at times. It is one of few games that place the intrigue of exploration over the satisfaction of completion in design importance. It might just be my favorite game of the year. However, it is also a testament to the growing pains of an entire industry as video game companies with pie-in-the-sky goals and ambitious developers try to meet halfway their customers who are constantly in touch via social media and almost always wishing for the stars, sometimes more so than even the developers. It’s a tenuous relationship, at best, but hopefully with some patience and more transparency it can become a bit more civil and less reactionary in future discourse. Until then, the Frankenstein’s monster of the video game industry will be the developers, up in their tower, desperate to appease a public that does not understand them.

 

 

1 - Zucchi, Sam. The Apocalyptic Fandom Of No Man’s Sky. Kill Screen, 22 Jul. 2016, https://killscreen.com/articles/no-mans-sky-religious-fervor-fandom/. Accessed 18 Aug 2006.

2 - Owen, Phil. How the Video Games Industry Created Its Own Cult of Toxic Fans (Commentary). The Wrap, 1 Jun. 2016, http://www.thewrap.com/the-cult-of-video-games-commentary/. Accessed 18 Aug 2006.

Knowledge of the Hidden: The Occult and Superheroes

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In my town there is a small shop right at the end of Main Street called The Crystal Fox, whose contents really fit its charmingly ethereal name. In “The Fox” you can find all sorts of gems and stones meant for attuning different aspects of your personality, a full guide to chakras and meditation, incense for protection against vampires, books containing accounts of communing with spirits and the gods of old. I even once spied a man consulting his invisible fairy friends as to which type of channeling stone would be best for him! What is it that drives people to places like this? What does the theme of the occult offer to those that seek it out? What compels someone to be so in touch with their imagination, that realms not meant for us become accessible, even familiar?

When one peals back the layers of narratives we have surrounded ourselves with regarding death, god, the afterlife, the motive becomes clear: the appeal of occultism lies in its mystery, in its broaching of the impossible, in its journey to places we can never go. The word “occult” is Latin for “knowledge of the hidden”, and this is exactly what people seek when they delve into the occult. This desire for discovery, for fright, for strangeness is best served in the realm of comics, where anything that can be drawn on paper (or filmed for the screen) becomes possible. In a world where anything is possible, the occult pushes the limits of not only the physical, but of the spiritual, where true discomfort lies.

And it is by facing this discomfort that we gain some sense of control over it, the more fleshed out the narrative the more able we are to “understand” it. Death becomes heaven and hell, suffering becomes a hex or curse, even the weather becomes a portent of things to come. This sense of control is seductive and motivates the reader/watcher to place themselves deeper into the representations provided; this is why intellectual properties based around occult themes can have such rabid fan bases.

This becomes clear throughout the history of the occult in pop culture, from an exploitative thematic used to pump up the controversial nature of pulp fiction publishings to its highly commodified nature today. Even in the mid-1900s there was a burgeoning interest in the work of occultist luminaries such as Aleister Crowley or masters of occult fiction such as H.P. Lovecraft, both of whose works are responsible for greater ripples throughout popular culture that we see today, in a sense they even developed into full blown subcultures. These men provided answers (both in a fiction and nonfiction context) to some of the deep, troubling questions that are inherent to humanity; and their work as well as work like it set the stage for a modern obsession with magic, darkness, the afterlife, what have you.

However, as serious as those two representatives of the genre are, like with most developing thematics in the modern day the genre became much friendlier, much more approachable, in a sense: commodified. Horror became the go-to genre for a cheap thrill. Serious exultations on the nature of the afterlife became second in importance over time to the joy that the aping of such seriousness provided via films like Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Lydia Deetz is no less an explorer of that other realm than a narrator out of a Lovecraftian story, however, the tonality had completely changed, it had become approachable, and the necessity for something more shocking took form not in the mystery of the unknown, but in the form of increasing gore. Commodification was not just thematic (the lightening of the genre simply allowed for such): the real result can be seen in Halloween stores and Hot Topics across America. This has reached a fevered pitch in recent history too, simply look at the entertainment juggernaut that is the Harry Potter series: not only in the form of seven books and eight movies, but by the fact that you can purchase in real life almost anything witnessed in the story, not to mention visit a physical representation of it in the form of a theme park!

These results make it clear that occultism has reached a peak level of cultural relevance, notably in recent pop culture, however, how has this manifested in the world of super heroes? A myriad of interesting ways actually, most notably with the induction of DCs (now passé) “New 52” reboot of their comic universe. One of my favorite properties (which I will discuss more roundly soon), Justice League Dark, appealed enough to readers for its first issue to be one of the top 100 best-selling comic books of 2011. For a completely new title (one that was designed to launch with “The New 52”) this is fantastic, and shows a clear interest in the subgenre in the medium of comic books. Even the big bad from the first storyline, Enchantress (a large figure of the occult in comics herself), gets a role in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.

This trending towards that topic can be seen even more recently with their relaunch of the Doctor Fate book in 2015, also, the character’s extensive inclusion in animated properties, specifically Young Justice. This representation of the character truly touches on some of the darker thematics associated with him: a concentration on the possessive nature of the character, the embodiment of the unknown and unknowable in human form, even the sacrifice on most make while facing the dark energies of the occult. This is not some cookie cutter magician being portrayed; this is a genuine explorer of the dark and vast adventures outside of human experience.

This isn’t limited to static pages, however, as we will see our first big occult-based hero blockbuster later this year with Doctor Strange. Truly, a film showing the epic nature of occult powers hasn’t been properly do-able until recently with the technology and computer graphics afforded by modern filmmaking. Maybe we can see for the first time, the closest we can in pure physical reality at least, the grand nature of the world-bending (literally, in the case of the trailer) powers suggested by the subgenre! The focus of such a film will need to be wide-ranging, and it will be interesting to see how director Scott Derrickson handles that.

That would not be the first foray of film into the world of the comic book occult, however, lest we forget 2005’s Constantine, an uneven if enjoyable foray of this subgenre into moving pictures. The same character, however, might be having a much more pronounced impact recently thanks to what was considered a fantastic representation in the recently cancelled TV series Constantine. Matt Ryan’s portrayal of the character was much, much closer than Keanu Reeves’ in the film version and good enough that it has bagged him a spot as the voice of John Constantine in the upcoming DC animated feature Justice League Dark.

As much as Doctor Strange will be the big reveal of the occult to the larger audience of the world, the Justice League Dark animated feature serves as a sort of culmination of these occult themes for fans of the genre. The comic book itself set the stakes for how a comic book can be “dark” (just look in issue #1 of the comic, when to show signs of the world going mad, a reference to “cows giving birth to meat slicers” is made). This property is meant to appeal to adults, clearly, however it also is looking for the visceral horror of the mystery and shadowed darkness of humanity that occult themes offer. The Justice League Dark property even has enough thematic sway and darkness to lure in the interest of one of today’s best horror directors, Guillermo Del Toro, and while the rumors of him directing a DCEU movie for the supernatural squad seem to have fallen through, just the fact that a face of horror such as Del Toro is looking at this shows how thematically ripe it is.

While animated features don’t retain the following of much larger live action features, the world of Justice League Dark is one that deserves to be explored. Also, its production heralds a sort of concentration on the subgenre of the occult that fits so well into the world of comic books and superhero movies. The Walking Dead has been the best-selling comic for a while now, I think in no small part due to its approach to the darkness and mystery described above. However, this is not just a genre for realist dramas; the nature of superhuman interaction itself seems to be destined to brush with the supernatural, something that has already been accomplished successfully in the medium and, I hope, will be fleshed out with the varied occult titles to be released. In the end, what is more appealing to the base desires of humanity than the ideas of the unknown, the enigmatic, the shadowy, the strange? How deep can super heroes now delve into not only the nature of what it is to be human, but what it is to be superhuman or even supernatural? It remains to be seen, but to be sure, this is a theme that deserves exploration, and if the creators of these worlds want to breach the realm of the truly unexplainable and mesmerizing, this is where they have to begin. Maybe, in the end, they can find some of that knowledge of the hidden.

How To Bring Deadpool to the Movies

deadpoolscoop Fox Studios has finally given Deadpool an official release date. After years of speculation, talks of an amazing script, and faux progress reports from principle actors and writers this movie is upon us. February 12, 2016 will bring with it either one of the most unique comic book experiences from Fox or possibly its worst. The character of Deadpool is by all means a thing that works extremely well on the pages of a comic book. He has a unique set of circumstances that won't be easy to overcome in a live action movie, but with a bit of light tweaking he has the chance to be a break out hit.

To quickly get an understanding of the nature of the character, lets take a look at the "leaked" (never believed this wasn't anything more than a marketing tactic) test footage. This is pretty spot on Deadpool in just about every way. It even features Ryan Reynolds mo-capping and voicing the character:

The one thing with Deadpool is he, above the average comic book character, changes so drastically depending who is writing him. Deadpool has always been a goofy character, often spending time jumping back and forth from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to general ninja bad ass. He is extremely comedic and sometimes it can be a bit much. Can audiences stand 1.5 hours of pancakes and chimichanga jokes? While classic fans of the character would likely love it, this is not ideal for a movie for the average movie goer.

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Another issue with Deadpool is that he is completely self-aware. He often breaks the fourth wall (speaks directly to the comic reader or audience). He knows that he is in a comic book and addresses things that happen in the real world from time to time. Its one of the core things about the character that is so vastly different from every other comic book character we've seen on the big screen so far. Some have complained that having that be a factor would ruin the comic book movie universe that Fox has built. I don't think that would be the case. He is largely seen as being insane by mostly everyone he interacts with, so I would play to that aspect in the movie. I am personally a sucker for fourth wall breaking in movies. It just adds a dimension to a run of the mill story that can't be matched. Deadpool lives in that space of uniqueness, this aspect of his personality is a must.

So when I mentioned earlier about the hyper comedic ways that Deadpool is often portrayed I cringe at the thought of having to read his books when he is written that way. It likes too much sugar in your Kool-Aid. Sounds great at first but then you get that weird stomach ache. So how do you address this? Well you can go one of two ways, both with their pros and cons. First you can make Deadpool not a goofy character but rather have him crack just a few jokes and focus on the action. Similar to what Sam Raimi did with Spider-man. In that trilogy Tobey McGuire never really cracked wise while fighting. He had a couple of cheesy quips but all and all he just focused on winning the fight. It seemed to go over well with many non-comic readers, but more hardcore fans missed the Spider-man they know. Another way to address the goofiness is the sanitize Deadpool with a more serious partner. Obviously, that position would be ideal for his old parter Cable; think Lethal Weapon. Deadpool is Riggs and Cable is undoubtedly Murtaugh. The issue here would be a diluting of Deadpool in his own movie. While a buddy cop comic book movie is inevitable and frankly overdue, I don't think for Deadpool's first real outing this makes sense.

So how do we overcome this seemingly massive hurdle of comedy overload? The answer has already been given to us in the form of Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña's Uncanny X-Force run. Mixing together the rather hyper violent and comedic elements of Deadpool, Remender was able to write him in a 'twisted view of the world' sort of way. Never fully going into the routine that of a clown, rather Deadpool danced on that line. Take the image below for example. In this scene Archangel is dying, and Deadpool revives him with some "food."

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Here subtly (this IS subtle for Deadpool) is the key to his twisted humor. I don't recommend that approach for the entire film, but moments like this are what will keep people from getting annoyed and stay true to the character's outlook on life.

The extreme light hearted nature of the character is equally balanced with his propensity for unbelievable violence. In order to make this work the film would seemingly need an R rating. However, rumor has it Fox isn't going to do that, but rather shoot solidly for PG-13. I don't think a PG-13 rating is the end of the world, but it does handicap the project somewhat. With the PG-13 rating we can expect bloodless shootings, fast cutting sword work, and one or two F-bombs. The violence plays as such a key component to his comedic ways that the writing for this will need to be top notch. For the record, the script was written by the guys behind Zombieland (Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese).

Hyper comedy, hyper violence, and a need to speak to the screen makes Deadpool a very risky move for Fox Studios. However, in that risk lies a possibility to adapt a character with a tremendous fan base. The risks are very high, but the reward for a new property in the X-Men universe is very seductive. Come February 12, 2016 will shall see just which way Fox decided to go.

How would you address the issues with translating Deadpool to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!

Comicbook TV Shows: Together or Apart?

SuperheroTVshows As Gotham and The Flash enter into the budding television space that Arrow and Agents of SHIELD seem to dominate, the questions of cohesion begin to arise. Marvel and DC are natural rivals in both comicbooks and films at this point. It looks like television will be no exception. Currently, it would be very hard to argue that DC is not wiping the floor with Marvel when it comes to these weekly hero series. However, in 2015 with the inclusion of the Netflix programming Marvel may catch up or even surpass DC overnight. The two companies have always gone about things in different ways and their show strategies differ as well.

So with no surprise we get news last week that a Teen Titans show is in the pipeline and headed for the cable channel, TNT. That's yet another one of DC's properties headed to the small screen and on good rumor Supergirl is headed to television sooner rather than later as well. So what does all this mean to the average viewer and average comicbook fan? I have said many times on the show that I am not to keen on superhero TV shows but I can't argue with the success of The CW's Arrow. Seemingly building off of that triumph soon comes The Flash. The two shows are connected and that will likely benefit both. However, the other shows based on DC comic properties: Gotham, Constantine, Teen Titans, and Supergirl will all likely not be joined to the "Arrow-verse." Compare that to Marvel's strategy of one cohesive universe of movies and television series which grows further starting in 2015 with Daredevil on Netflix. So is one formula better than the other? I don't think its fair to say just yet. Arrow is clearly the best of all these shows but some stiff competition is coming very soon.

I personally prefer the cohesive method to the disjointed one. Look at the boost Agents of SHIELD had due to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Undeniably that show got markedly better after the Chris Evans led sequel hit the theaters. However, the show will likely suffer in season 2 from not being able to keep up that movie level of suspense. DC's properties will likely flourish on their own to differing degrees but in the end they have painted themselves into a corner that Marvel is in with their movie universe; limited rosters and crossover potential. Now we all know the history as to why Marvel is in that situation, but why DC would purposefully put themselves there is beyond me.

Another issue with DC's television setup is timelines. Teen Titans brings with it some Batman mythos and that on its own is great. However, Batman causes some issues here. So with Teen Titans we have early 20 something Nightwing, Gotham gives us Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) as a young kid, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice gives us 40 something year old Batman. That's a lot of timelines for average TV/movie goers to manage. The argument of "that's how comics are as well" is a poor one here in my opinion. The average person watching TV isn't the same as the average comicbook reader so confusion and frustration will happen.

So what do you think? Are both strategies equally valid or do you prefer one over another?