Marvel’s New Beta MDCU Reader

I’m really excited about Marvel’s new digital reader, and even more excited about the fact that they are soliciting feedback from their subscribers. It’s one thing to roll out new technology, but it’s another to ask your users what they want to see, what they don’t like, and what could make the digital comics experience that much more awesome. As of this writing it’s unclear, at least to me, whether or not there were specific issues they want to address or if they just wanteded to upgrade a relatively old reading technology. It might be latter, because this new reader doesn’t require flash, and they’re trying to streamline the MDCU for a growing host of mobile devices.

Also keep in mind that we’re talking about a beta and that the issues I’m bringing up here are by no means an indication of the final product!

Picture of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited
The MDCU!

Wait, you don’t know what the MDCU is? Ok let me break this down for you. Basically, for a yearly fee, I believe right now it’s around $60, you are granted access to Marvel’s massive digital library. They have thousands upon thousands of awesome comics for you to peruse and read and new books are being added every day. However this service is only available with a dedicated internet connection and you don’t get to keep any of the comics or download them to your machine, but I like to think of it as a very cool magazine subscription.

But hey, we’re here to talk about the beta, so let’s dig right in shall we?

Navigation
For me, navigation is key in readers. We take it for granted while we’re reading, but there is a very definite, artistic, almost scientific way through which artists guide our eye through a book. Thus readers need to be able to replicate this unconscious movement on digital devices. However, because we are so often reading these books on devices much smaller than the printed stuff we’re used to, problems sometimes arise. So how do we move through the beta?

Essentially you navigate through the comic by either clicking the big arrows that appear on either side of the screen when you over your mouse above a comic page, or you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. I personally enjoying using the keyboard because it’s a little less distracting. At this point in the beta, oftentimes when you move your mouse across the screen the navigation toolbars show up, and while they are translucent, they’re still very obvious, which like I said, can be a little distracting.

Showing Toolbars in the MDCU Beta
Not super distracting, but they are there.

The reader starts you out in 2-page view, which is always nice because that’s how you read comics normally, however the up and down arrows, which in the previous reader had been relegated to moving the user into and out of the Smart Panel view, no longer do anything. Now the Smart Panel option is something that you trigger using your mouse. You have to hover your mouse at the bottom right part of the screen click on the opening book icon, and then change the view manually, though I’m sure this will be streamlined in the future.

There are three different views available to readers: 1-page view, 2-page, and Smart Panels and it can be tedious switching between them. In most cases I went from 2-page view to Smart Panels, because text can be a little difficult to read on the big page because of my smaller laptop screen.

Showing Text Cut Off in MDCU
See? Text gets a tad cut off.

As of this writing the Smart Panels aren’t displaying all of the relevant information every time in every panel. I’m going to assume that they’re still working on figuring out the exact dimensions for each comic, but sometimes you can miss out on important aspects of the narrative because they are off-screen.

This wasn’t such an issue in the previous incarnation because you could easily hit the down arrow to move you out to the full size, or you could move the page using the trackpad, which would keep you zoomed in but allow you to navigate the zoomyness.

While we are talking about navigation, one thing that I noticed that’s different is the page-finder at the bottom of the screen. In the reader’s previous incarnation, as the pages loaded you could click below the screen and open the page finder, which had thumbnails of all the pages. If you had to close out of an issue, say your boss was coming by, the page finder’s thumbnails gave users an easy way to get back to the good stuff instead of clicking the right side of the screen or the right arrow a bunch of times.

That’s no longer available, or hasn’t been implemented as of this writing. Now it’s been replaced by a white bar with white boxes that indicated the pages. If you know generally how are you were into the book this is fine and you can slide the red little slider along the pages and stop anywhere, picking up where you left off. Also it should be noted that there’s less delay when moving through the comics this time around, so it’s easier to just click or key your way to where you need to be.

Probably the most glaring omission at this juncture is the fact that you can’t just immediately read the next issue from the comic you’re in. When you reach the end of the book, instead of providing you with a menu of subsequent issues like in the last reader, it just brings up the current issue’s information. Before you could just make with a little clickity click and you went right to the next titillating tale and that was great . I really do hope they include this little bit in the final version of the reader.

Last Panel of MDCU Comic
I WANT TO KEEP READING YOUR MARVELOUS STORIES!

What’s new though, and something I totally appreciate, is the fact that they’ve integrated social media into the mix. It shows in the menu after clicking through the last panel, which is nice because it doesn’t pester you beforehand. It also allows you to Google+, Facebook, and Twitter – a pretty acceptable assemblage I’d say.

Right now the reader is shaping up to look pretty nice. I don’t know any dates, or when Marvel plans to roll this bad boy out, but I’m excited to see what they come up with. And last but not least, if you’re an MDCU subscriber you should definitely check this thing out. Let Marvel know what you think! They want our feedback!

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MSU Comics Forum – The Poster Unveiled!

Hey everybody! Yesterday I talked a little about the awesome 1950s comic exhibit that will be on display at the MSU Comics Forum, but today I want to show you the AWESOME poster that Nick Bertozzi, this year’s Forum’s keynote speaker, dropped on us. Honestly, this thing is beautiful.

MSU Comics Forum Poster
MSU Comics Forum Poster

Look at that puppy, pun intended. The use of negative space is gorgeous and the colors work so damn well! Now I know I included Nick’s bio in a previous post, but I want everybody to be able to check out his awesome work, so here you go again!

Nick Bertozzi, award-winning comics creator and professor will be our guest of honor and keynote speaker on Friday, March 1st, 2013.Bertozzi received a Xeric Grant and multiple Harvey Awards and Ignatz Awards for his cartooning. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novel Lewis & Clark(First/Second).  He collaborated with Jason Lutes on the graphic novelHoudini: The Handcuff King (Hyperion/CCS) and drew Glenn (The Colbert Report/Daria) Eichler’s STUFFED! (First/Second).  Bertozzi is author of The Salon (St. Martin’s Griffin) a graphic novel about Picasso, the discovery of Cubism, and magical absinthe. He is hard at work on a cartoon biography of Lenny Bruce for Houghton-Mifflin, written by Harvey Pekar and you can read his ongoing sci-fi/fantasy cartoon, Persimmon Cup, for free every week at ACT-I-VATE (http://activatecomix.com). For the past several years Bertozzi has been teaching cartooning at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, as well as teaching stints at Rhode Island School of Design and at The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For more information, visit his website: http://NickBertozzi.com/

Hoping to see you all at the Forum!

Comics in the 1950s – An Exhibition

Little Hiawatha
Little Hiawatha

Hey all. What’s crappinin? Anyway, I just wanted to mention that there’s some cool stuff that will be happening around, up to, and through the MSU Comics Forum. And by cool stuff I mean that Randy Scott of the MSU Special Collections Library is preparing an exhibit that highlights American comics in the 1950s.

Here’s the prospectus for the exhibit:
The 1950s in American comic books is not an easy period to characterize. It is true that the golden age of superheroes had ended, and the silver age of superheroes had not yet begun, but a lack of superheroes doesn’t tell the story. The Korean War, the cold war, the atomic age and fear of juvenile delinquency were potentially defining in retrospect, but these themes are not pervasive.  This exhibit will show one comic book cover for each month of the decade, and introduce the viewer to an era that is both complicated and almost unknown.  This kind of view has probably never been available until now.  The exhibit will invite generalizations about the titles shown, but will not provide them.  The suggestion is that interesting generalizations are not possible.

TARZAN BUNDULO!
TARZAN BUNDULO!

Very cool all by itself, but it’s doubly nice because I, along with several other incredible volunteers, get to help him prepare it. What does that mean? Well Randy is going to show a comic for every month of the 50s, so 12 months x 10 years = 120 amazing works of art put on display! How am I helping? Well I’m reading these comics, along with the other volunteers and Randy himself, and we’re writing little 50-100 word summaries of the books. The summaries provide a cool look at the characters, genres, and story lines that were popular way back when and give you a little glimpse into the past.

Honestly, it’s an absolute treat looking at these old books. I’ve read some Crime Does Not Pay, super old Journey into Mystery stuff, Rawhide Kid, Tarzan, Lone Ranger, Batman, the ever popular Dell work, and a Bob Hope comic! It’s wild to think that some of these yellowing floppies are 60 years old. I’m gettin my hands on history!

Anyway, if you’re into awesome old comics, you need to head over to the MSU Comics Forum and check out the 1950s Comic Exhibition. Really. Oh and the racism in Little Hiawatha? Incredible.

Miskatonic University: Age of the Explorers

Of all the factions in the Call of Cthulhu LCG, the varsity jackets and tweed coats of the Miskatonic University’s esteemed student body, faculty, and staff have always always appealed to me most. Maybe that’s because I myself am currently a part of the higher education machine, finishing my Masters in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing here at Michigan State University. Hey… MSU, MU?

Anyway, there’s just something about the crew that really gets me excited. If I had to put my finger on it I think it’s because they don’t really seem formidable. I’ve met my fair share of frail, look like they’d get knocked over by a sneeze from the back of the room, but their minds, that’s where it counts. Miskatonic, they don’t have any horrifying monsters in their corner, they scare easily, they’re not big on the fisticuffs, but man do they have gumption. They’re inquisitive, scrappy, and they don’t know when to quit.

Ever since I busted open the CoC core set I’ve wanted to play solo, or mono, Miskatonic. At first I teamed them up with Hastur, you know, cause they need the terror icons, but I just picked up Seekers of Knowledge and that expansion really changed my outlook on MU. I’ve realized that the academics have their own cool ways to combat the terror struggle that can result in success token combos. Case in point, the Ghost Hunter and Catacombs Docent trigger each other for a couple of success tokes. Awww yeahhh.

Ghost Hunter from Call of Cthulhu LCG
Ghost Hunter
Catacombs Docent from Call of Cthulhu LCG
Catacombs Docent
Call of Cthulhu lcg Arctic Ethnologist
Arctic Ethnologist

The Age of Exploration
Seekers of Knowledge added what is now my favorite class of character: the Explorer. The synergy between these five characters is really compelling, and it’s something that I’d would love to try to build a deck around.

The main card behind the Age of Explorers is the rugged Arctic Ethnologist, who is an absolute beast in a solo MU deck. He’s a cost 2 Explorer/Scientist who enters play with 1 Arcane and Investigation and 2 skill. Relatively blasé to start, but if you’re running a solo MU deck and there are other Explorer cards on the table? Well get ready for awesome! If you control only MU cards he gets a combat icon, and if you control other Explorer cards, they get an extra arcane icon. AWESOME buffs for a cost 2 character.

And while there are only five Explorers right now, they all give awesome additional benefits. Brette Wulffsen? She costs 3, has 1 x combat/investigation, and gives all Explorer cards Toughness +1. Now our Arctic Ethnologist has just become a two 2 tank! Not only that, but while she is in play and one Explorer is committed to a story you choose the way the icon struggles are decided. There’s definitely some synergy here.

Matthew Alexander
Matthew Alexander

Then we get to Matthew Alexander, who honestly may be my absolute favorite Explorer yet. The guy costs 3, has 1 combat/arcane/investigation gives Explorer characters +1 skill, and essentially you should never, ever has to pay his full cost. Why? Because whenever a character leaves play from a card effect, and you control an MU card (solo Miskatonic though so duh), you can put him into play from your hand. You don’t have to call him back at the end of the phase, nothing. He’s out there, boosting your Explorers and doing work.

What’s even more awesome? If you have a copy of him in your hand and a copy of him on the table and he’s targeted by a card effect that would bounce him back to the hand/destroy/sacrifice him? Play him from your hand! You can also do it whenever one of your opponent’s characters enters or leaves play from a card effect, I’m looking at you Yog-Sothoth.

Roald Ellsworth
Roald Ellsworth

The final Explorer here is Roald Ellsworth, who again is beastly. He costs 3, has 1 arcane/investigation, but once he’s in play all Explorer characters gain Willpower. That means all your rough and tumble Explorers are getting immunity to insanity, booyah! Wait, hold onto your butts, there’s more! Whenever an Explorer card would leave play, you can either draw two cards, or put 1 card from your discard pile into your hand.  The fact that it doesn’t say destroyed or something that Roald and Infirmary still nets you cards! Oh my gosh, can you imagine the card draw you could potentially get from this and Ultima Thule?

Card Draw
There are some seriously awesome card draw combos built into Seekers of Knowledge, and the Explorers can really take advantage of this. If you don’t draw any Explorers though… Meh, we’ll worry about that when we come to it. Alternative Historian costs 1, 0 icons, 2 skill, but allows you to draw one card. College Prospect is a 0 cost, 0 icon, 1 skill character built for rushing, and upon his inevitable demise, you get to draw 2 cards. And aside from those two weenies, the Explorers themselves have some fun card draw skillz.

Let’s present an admittedly ridiculous situation (or maybe not) where you’ve got Catacombs Docent, Ghost Hunter,  Roald Ellsworth, Atlantis, and the A Voros Hal’l prophecy card out when your opponent kills off an Arctic Ethnologist.

Well first let’s drive the Ghost Hunter insane to net us one success token, and because we sent the Ghost Hunter screwy we can drive Catacombs Docent insane as well, bringing in another success token. So that’s two success tokens off of one dead character, but wait, there’s more! Because Arctic Ethnologist is an Explorer, Roald’s Disrupt triggers and allows us to either draw 2 cards, or pull 1 from our discard. Then A Voros Hal’l Jon triggers because of our dead Ethnologist and you get to draw any 2 cards from your deck. Finally, Atlantis triggers off A Voros Hal’l allowing us to draw another card.

WHEW! So what’s the final score after Arctic Ethnologist bites it? We get 2 success tokens on any story(ies) we want (that have 3 or less success tokens already) and a 5 card draw. This is some very cool stuff here and I really want to try and optimize the deck I’m working with to include more of this stuff, specifically to include Dr. Mya Badry, who would have taken the place of our dearly deceased polar ethnologist in the previous example and helped us pick up more success tokens. And then if you have Matthew Alexander in hand when you throw down the good doctor, you can play him too!

Basically I wanted to talk a little about the potential I see in the Explorers of Call of Cthulhu. I need to get in a few more games with these guys, and grab a few more select asylum packs, but hey, I’m having a blast thus far. Check back in the near future and I’ll have something else for you to consume. PEACE!

The 2013 MSU Comics Forum!

MSU Comics Forum LogoGuess what’s coming up in a month and a half? That’s right, this year’s annual MSU Comics Forum, coming to you live from the Snyder Phillips Lookout Gallery in beautiful East Lansing, Michigan, March 1st and 2nd! I have to say, I’m really geeked to be working with Ryan Claytor (elephanteatercomics.com) and Jay Jacot (J2 Comics) again this year as the Forum’s Panel Coordinator. I can’t wait to see all of the undoubtedly incredible submissions you guys are going to send my way!

Wait, rewind, you don’t know what the MSU Comics Forum is? Michigan State’s own little comic convention that brings creators, scholars, and the public together for a couple of days of comicy goodness? We have hours of panel discussions and round tables presented by the best and brightest minds in comics scholarship. The Forum also features Artist Alley, showcasing uber-talented Michigan creators and artists hailing from other exotic locales. You can grab free swag, buy some of their amazing work, and learn what it’s like to be a legit comics creator.

Oh man, and did I forget to mention that our keynote speaker is Nick Bertozzi? Unfamiliar? USE THE INTERNET SON! I’ve ripped a little info from our main page, but you should definitely check out this gentleman’s great work.

“Bertozzi received a Xeric Grant and multiple Harvey Awards and Ignatz Awards for his cartooning. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novel Lewis & Clark (First/Second).  He collaborated with Jason Lutes on the graphic novelHoudini: The Handcuff King (Hyperion/CCS) and drew Glenn (The Colbert Report/Daria) Eichler’s STUFFED! (First/Second).  Bertozzi is author of The Salon (St. Martin’s Griffin) a graphic novel about Picasso, the discovery of Cubism, and magical absinthe. He is hard at work on a cartoon biography of Lenny Bruce for Houghton-Mifflin, written by Harvey Pekar and you can read his ongoing sci-fi/fantasy cartoon, Persimmon Cup, for free every week at ACT-I-VATE (http://activatecomix.com).”

Want to submit a presentation for consideration at the Forum? The deadline is fast approaching, Jan 31st, so head on over to the official MSU Comics Forum Panel Submission page to download the full call and to brush up on all of our rules and regulations.

I’m looking forward to see you all there!

Hastur and Yog-Sothoth: A Cool Core Set Combo for the CoC LCG

Call of Cthulhu LCG
Call of Cthulhu LCG

Over this winter break I got a chance to wrangle my brother into a few games of Call of Cthulhu. I’ve always had a ton of fun playing the game casually and my brother, after he learned the basics, enjoyed himself, especially when he was able to surprise me, win stories, and destroy my characters. Now I’m not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand how the game is played (if not all the subtle intricacies of each card) and I wanted to give Hastur and Yog a shot. Together, I think they have some fun synergy that I attempted to exploit and I kinda want to talk about what I was thinking while I played these dudes.

Goal

Yog-Sothoth
Yog-Sothoth

My goal while I was running the Hastur/Yog deck was simple: use spells to decrease Yog-Sothoth’s cost and call him from beyond time and space that much quicker. For each spell card that enters your discard pile, you knock one from Yog’s play cost, turning him from a nigh unreachable eight, to something much more manageable. In the core set there’s only so much that you can work with, but between the two factions we get: 1) A Single Glimpse, 2) Unspeakable Resurrection, 3) Opening the Limbo Gate, 4) Journey to the Other Side, 5) Dampen Light, and 6) Power Drain.

Journey to the Other Side is a one cost, as is Dampen Light and it seems like both are great early if you feel the need to play them. A Single Glimpse is a two cost that forces your opponent to sacrifice a character if able, which can be awesome if they’ve been building resources for that one big character instead of playing some low cost guys. Not likely to happen, but hey, still cool that they lose a character. Unspeakable Resurrection is an X cost, where you must drain a domain of equal or lesser value to revive a character from your discard pile and put it directly into play. Sick stuff there. Power Drain is two cost disrupt which can be used to cancel out an action or a response, also very handy.

So we notice that we’ve got some pretty useful spells here, and if we manage to play all of them before summoning Yog, we only need to pay two for the monstrous entity. Unlikely, absolutely, but the possibility is there and if you decide not to resource the Ancient One, you could be calling upon him sooner rather than later.

Interesting Stuff

Son of Yeb
Son of Yeb

Son of Yeb (SoY) turns out to be a pretty fun card in this combination. He’s a cost two Yog character with one skull. I know, what’s so special about that? Well he’s a cultist, and for each cultist character in play, he gains one more combat icon. So, if I understand this right, immediately when Son of Yeb enters play he gets another combat icon, because you control one (SoY) cultist. He starts at two combat icons. And there are a total of nine cultist characters (including Yeb) in this combination! If you play your cards right you’re always going to be winning those combat struggles.

The downside is that SoY is a variable strength character. He relies on other characters to make him more powerful, and getting rid of other cultists, or heck getting rid of SoY ends that little problem right there. Luckily, Yog has two cards that can bring SoY back to the land of the living, the aforementioned Unspeakable Resurrection, and Gathering at the Stones, both of which will cost you two. Not only that but sacrificing Hastur’s Performance Artist cultist will cancel the effects of a character or support card ability, at the cost of a cultist, which further protects your Son of Yeb.

Hastur and Insanity

Bearer of the Yellow Sign
Bearer of the Yellow Sign

While Yog is a little light on terror icons here, Hastur picks up the slack in icon struggles and in just straight dropping madness on characters. Demon Lover, Victoria Glasser, and Bearer of the Yellow Sign are nice, have terror icons, and the latter two allow you to choose a character to go insane. Byakhee Servant isn’t half bad either. Messenger from Beyond, if you exhaust it, gets rid of one of an opposing character’s terror icons, allowing you to terrify characters who otherwise would have walked away with their sanity intact.

Then again, if you’re facing a deck chalk full of willpower, well you’re gonna have a bad time. Again, neither of these bad boys are huge on combat, though Agoraphobia can help get those strong willed characters out of there, forcing a character without a terror icon back into its owner’s hand. Also, quite a few Hastur cards sport arcane icons, which can help to keep you safer while committing to stories.

Conclusion
I really enjoy playing Yog and Hastur. I think they’re very cool factions, and from what I’ve read it seems that Hastur is probably the most powerful set of cards out right now, so pairing it with anyone is a pretty good idea. I’ve just ordered the Secrets of Arkham and Seekers of Knowledge sets, so I’m probably going to be talking about some other stuff in the near future. I REALLY want to design a solo Miskatonic deck, and that’ll probably be my next entry in the Call of Cthulhu vein. Check back soon folks!

Unlimited Highlights: Morbius

Unlimited Highlights: Morbius

Unlimited Highlights: Morbius
Check out this guy right here, all smiling as he’s about to suck the life from your veins. That’s right folks, this week’s Unlimited Highlights stars the one and only living vampire, Morbius, formerly known as Dr. Michael Morbius. A failed experiment to cure his rare blood condition transformed the mild mannered PhD into something even more terrifying than your standard health care professional.

Punisher #12
Punisher #12

This week my favorite issue of the five that were featured, well crap it was a freaking hard tie. We’ve got Marvel Zombies 4 #1 and Punisher (2008) #12 coming in at first place. And if I HAD to pick between the two? Gosh, I’m giving it to Punisher. I’m sure all of those hard core Frank Castle fans wanted to do a little punishing of their own with the introduction of the Frankencastle madness, but honestly, I loved it. I’m not a real big reader of the Punisher, but this little series is an absolute pleasure to read and breathtaking to gander on thanks to the phenomenal work of Tony Moore. I have to hand it to Remender for turning me into a Punisher reader, if only for a few fantastic issues.

And then there’s Marvel Zombies 4 #1. Such a fun book to read if only because we’ve got some of the Marvel U’s most volatile monsters hunting down the disembodied head of zombie Deadpool. Seeing Morbius as a team leader was very cool, simply because I’d only really ever seen him as the tortured scientist figure, a loner through and through. I was also really impressed with Daimon Hellstrom in this issue. I’d never given the Son of Satan much thought but here he kicks some serious butt and comes off as both hilarious and dangerously psychotic at the same time. Kev Walker did a brilliant job with them pencils too!

Anyway, stay tuned for more Marvel pieces, more comics talk, and more fighting game stuffs in the very near future!