Twenty Years of Milestone Media

This is primarily a classic video game blog, but today marks a special occasion that I want to celebrate.

Twenty years ago to the day, the entertainment company Milestone Media was brought into existence. Founded by a group of artists and writers—Michael Davis, Denys Cowan, Derek T. Dingle and the late Dwayne McDuffie (Christopher Priest contributed as well but would leave for personal reasons)—Milestone Media sought to better represent minorities in comic books. Although Milestone Media only published new material for a few years years, its characters and stories have etched an important (though perhaps underappreciated) place in comic book history.

Milestone Media (also known simply as Milestone) had its work published through DC Comics in a deal that allowed Milestone’s creators to keep the rights to their characters as well as full creative control over their projects and the final say on any merchandising and licensing deals. Some black creators of the time were critical of Milestone’s publishing deal, feeling that Milestone had sold out by going to a mainstream publisher instead of being purely independent.

Milestone’s stories took place mainly in what was known as the “Dakotaverse”, named after the fictional town of Dakota where much of Milestone’s comics took place. The Dakotaverse was initially separate from the DC Comics universe, the  initial connection being that the DC characters were known as comic book characters to the Dakotaverse characters.

Milestone’s universe was filled with diverse characters and topical stories that reflected various backgrounds, beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, etc. A sampling of Milestone’s character library include Hardware, the black genius vigilante who donned an armored suit; the multi-ethnic superhero group Shadow Cabinet; the Korean-American hero Xombi; the alien superhero Icon and his sidekick Rocket; and the black teenage superhero Static. The stories themselves often covered contemporary topical issues that young adult readers could identify with. Examples of this include Static’s struggles with his own homophobia (after his best friend Rick admitted he was gay) and Flashback, (a member of Blood Syndicate) who became addicted to drugs to cope with the deaths of her friends.

Around the mid 1990s, Milestone experienced some sluggish sales, in part due to the overcrowded comic book market (which was struggling in general). Milestone’s sales peaked at the time of its launch, but began to fade in subsequent years. In 1995 and 1996, elected to cancel some of its poorer selling series and terminate plans for upcoming miniseries. By 1997, Milestone had closed its comic book division. Milestone continued to hold its rights to its characters, and later one of its popular characters would make his way onto the small screen.

In 2000, the television series Static Shock debuted on the kidsWB!. Loosely based on the character Static, the show chronicled the life of Virgil Hawkins as he goes from bullied teenage outcast to a wise cracking supercharged hero. Static’s co-creator Dwayne McDuffie served as a story editor for the show and wrote several of its episodes. The show was popular amongst consumer and critic alike, lasting four seasons and winning an Emmy Award and a Humanitas Prize. During the show’s run, Static encountered many characters from the DC Universe, among them Batman, Flash, Superman and Poison Ivy.

At Comic Con in 2008, DC Comics’ executive editor Dan DiDio revealed that the company would be merging the Dakotaverse and the DC universe together. The result saw characters like Icon and Rocket appearing in Young Justice and Static joining Teen Titans. The excitement died down within a year. In an interview with Newsarama.com that the site posted on August 24, 2009, DiDio stated that outside of Static’s run with the Teen Titans, there “were no other plans” for any new releases featuring Milestone characters. That same day, Dwayne McDuffie expressed his discontent with DC’s handling of the Milestone characters on his forum, stating that DC had “wasted his time”. The following year, McDuffie wrote Milestone Forever, a two-part series published by DC which chronicled the fates of the Milestone characters.

DC decided to reboot its comic book franchises in 2011 with its “New 52” lineup, and with the release of Static Shock #1, Static was the lone representative of Milestone to get his own series. However, the new Static Shock series was canceled eight issues into its run, and although the character has recently appeared in the cartoon Young Justice: Invasion,  that too has also been canceled.

The legacy of Milestone is not just in the characters it gave the industry. It’s not only an achievement of Black creativity (it’s a great achievement in general). It can be seen in its courage, its mission not only to make the comic book industry more ethnically diverse for diversity’s sake alone, but to tell stories that actually focused on topical issues from an angle that had rarely been seen then and is scarce in the mainstream even now.

For more information on Milestone, check out the unfinished documentary on YouTube uploaded by blackherodoc. Until next time.

Peace & Panels (comic book panels)

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A Nice Gesture

Sometimes you search the interwebs and unexpectedly find a heart warming story.

Reddit user lb-Cyber wrote a post about how playing Bethesda’s role playing game Skyrim helped him deal with the passing of his sister, who passed away after a nine moth long battle with cancer. lb-Cyber’s post caught the attention of Bethesda, who sent Cyber an art book signed by the development team who worked on Skyrim, as well as a note from Matt Grandstaff, Bethesda Studio’s community manager.

It’s really good to see news like this, considering all of the bad news that’s seen all too often on a daily basis. With all the talk about studying video game violence, I wonder will studies show how video games can be therapeutic. Some interesting work has already been done on this, and although the game mentioned is far from Skyrim , the research itself is promising. I wonder has Ralph Nader have heard about this…

Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

 

Three Out

Just this morning I found out that three online gaming publications were shutting down: 1Up, GameSpy, and UGO. All of these websites were once under affiliated with IGN, an entertainment mega-site that features a wealth of coverage like video game reviews and movie news. Ziff Davis, the publishing and internet giant, bought IGN earlier this year from News Corp after the site was put up for auction. Now, Ziff Davis will focus on IGN and Ask Men, which means there will likely be a “Top Ten Babes of [insert whatever]” list soon.

Seriously though, it’s always a bummer to see people out of work in situations like this. Here’s hoping all that have lost their jobs will find something soon. In his recent letter to the 1Up faithful, editor-in-chief Jeremy Parish wrote that some people have already made the switch from 1Up to IGN as contributors. Gamespy editor-in-chief Dan Stapleton, shared similar news online about his staff, so it looks like some people will be OK for the time being.

Reading about the folding of these websites got me thinking about the some of the gaming publications (both online and print) that have folded over the last few years. In late 2011, mainstay GamePro folded after over two decades in the business. Last year, Playstation: The Official Magazine (formerly Playstation Magazine) and Nintendo Power folded, the latter after twenty-four years of publication.

It’s so strange seeing these publications go defunct. Of course, nothing in life lasts forever; that’s just the basic math of life. Still, I grew up with many of these publications, and it’s just weird knowing that they will no longer be around. The folding of Gamepro was particularly upsetting because it was the first magazine my parents subscribed for me.

Again best wishes to all those have yet to find work, and good luck to those starting anew at IGN. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

More on the PS4

Yesterday evening Sony held a press conference on the PlayWtation 4, and while retro is the focus here on the Chomp, I decided to share my thoughts on the upcoming system anyway (habitually late of course). I’ve owned the first two PlayStations and the PlayStation Portable, but I never took to the PlayStation 3 enough to buy one. However, my past fidelity to Sony kept me invested in the rumors about the PS4, so I decided to watch the live stream broadcast of the conference. There was a lot of talk, a few game trailers, but curiously, very little hardware. Actually, the only hardware on display was the PS4’s controller and camera; the former had been leaked to the public in several photographs that appeared online.

Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios was quoted by Kotaku saying “We really wanted to explain what we’ve done with the DualShock 4, but as far as the system itself we have to keep something new for later. Otherwise you’d get bored.” The truth of the matter is the PS4’s hardware is yet to be finalized, which makes more sense.

Although it would have been nice to see the actual box for the system as opposed to just the controller, but there were a number of  games on display that interested me. Knack was the first one seen, and it feature a small, robot that is able to add mass to itself to increase its size. It actually seemed cool; it reminded me of Katamari Damacy . There was Killzone: Shadow Fall which looked like any Killzone to me. Drive Club was a visual treat, and will apparently be a social racing game. Then there was Deep Down (fascinating title, yes?) Capcom’s new title about dragons. Diablo III, was announced, and SquareEnix presented an interesting tech demo along with plans for a new Final Fantasy title that will be seen at  Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

The star of the show for me was Watch Dogs, the Ubisoft title that dazzled the crowd at last year’s E3 with its visuals and hacking exhibition. I’m partial to Watch Dogs because it’s set in my hometown of Chicago, but the game really could be something special. It’s use of hacking and the moral consequences of its use could make for a classic title.

Well, that’s all for now. We’ll see what Sony has in store for E3, and hopefully get some specific information about price and release date. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Tuesday Treasures: A Look at Michael Jordan in Video Games

Michael Jordan turned 50 years old on Sunday, and it seems like only yesterday that the Bulls were holding championship parties at Grant Park and giving those now classic public service announcements encouraging Bulls fans not to riot. Ahh the glory days.

In the years during and after his playing time, “Air” Jordan has appeared in several video games. Older gamers most likely will remember Jordan’s absence from many basketball video games (such as the NBA Live series) throughout the 1990s, a result of his decision to opt out of the NBA Player’s Association’s (NBAPA) shared licensing agreement. That meant video game companies had to negotiate with Jordan separately in order to get his rights, and  the price for Jordan was usually too high to put him in some games (particularly ones that had both the NBA and NBPA licenses). The following is a look at some of the video games Mr. 23 has been featured in, starting with a classic rivalry from the late 1980s.

Jordan vs. Bird: One on One

C64=Before N64

Years before “The Showdown” Super Bowl commercial aired, there was the Electronic Arts (EA) title Jordan vs. Bird: One on One. Released in 1988, the JvB only featured the two titular athletes for play against each other in a game of one-on-one. The game debuted on the Commodore 64, PC (MS-DOS) and Nintendo Entertainment System, with later appearances on the Game Boy and Sega Genesis (as Jordan vs. Bird: Super One on One). It was even a Tiger electronic handheld.

In addition to the half court one-on-one mode, JvB features two more modes: Michael Jordan’s Dunk Contest and Larry Bird’s 3-Point Shoot Out. The Dunk Contest mode is noteworthy because it features a number of different dunks that required precise timing and button presses. This was the type of mechanic that would eventually become standard in future basketball games like the NBA Street series to give players more control over their dunks.

The NBA Playoffs Games

Is that Will Perdue?

Before EA created the NBA Live series (which Jordan wouldn’t officially appear in until NBA Live 2000) , there was the NBA Playoffs series, which recreated some of the playoff series of the time. The first game in the series was 1989’s Lakers vs. Celtics, and the others were Bulls vs. Lakers (1991) and Bulls vs. Blazers (1992). Unlike most current basketball games, the NBA Playoffs games focused strictly on the post-season experience; only teams in the playoffs for the specified season were included in them.

The NBA Playoffs games were known for their advanced graphics and sound, which allowed for such things big, detailed character sprites (which included player idiosyncrasies such as Horace Grant’s goggles) better quality in-game music compared to other basket titles, and later crowd cheers.

Jordan appeared in a spin off of sorts (at least in terms of game engines) in EA’s Team USA Basketball, which starred the 1992 USA Olympic Basketball squad affectionately known as the “Dream Team”. Team USA Basketball was covered earlier here on the Chomp in the Olympic Summer Games special.

NBA All-Star Challenge

Colorful.

First released in 1992, NBA All-Star Challenge was developed by Beam Software and published by LJN (and Acclaim Japan in Japan), for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy. This title featured Jordan as one of several All-Stars (one from each team in the league) who compete against each other in a series of one-on-one challenges, such as H-O-R-S-E, a free throw challenge, and a tournament mode where the superstars compete against each other for basketball supremacy! Hmm, that was perhaps a little over dramatic.

Michael Jordan In Flight

Developed and published by EA exclusively for MS-DOS, 1993’s Michael Jordan in Flight is one of the first 3-d sports games ever. In Flight features Jordan as the only NBA player; the game does not have any other NBA players or teams.

The game features three-on-three matches on a court that seems to be held in some empty arena in Chicago. The camera is positioned behind the player character’s back and rotates as the character moves. Some film footage of Jordan is available, and he does provide some audio clips as well. Here’s some footage of the game to get a sense of what’s like. It’s always a little creepy to hear the crowd but never actually see them.

Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City

Of all the titles covered today, this one is perhaps the black sheep. Developed and published by EA exclusively for the Super Nintendo, 1994’s Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City is actually a side-scrolling action title, not an actual sports game. As Jordan, players are tasked with rescuing Jordan’s teammates (who were set to participate in a charity All-Star game) from the clutches of Dr. Max Cranium (no relation to Max Headroom).

Jordan fights against Dr. Cranium and his cronies by using powered basketballs that give him the ability to wield fire or create earthquakes. This game wasn’t much of a hit, and I don’t remember seeing it much as a kid. It did, however, have a cool basketball card.

Space Jam

Mike from deep… deep space that is.

Developed by Sculptured Software and published by Acclaim, 1996’s Space Jam is based off the blockbuster movie of the same name. Jordan and a rag tag team of Looney Tunes characters (known as the Tune Squad) as they attempt to beat the Monstars, an alien team of bruisers who stole their basketball abilities from NBA players.  Released for DOS, Playstation, and Sega Saturn, players can chose either the Monstars or Jordan and the Tune Squad for either a two-on-two or 3-on-3 game of basketball. There were minigames (such as a space race and finding the pieces of Jordan’s uniform) as well as multiplayer play.

The main draw of this game was being able to play as Michael Jordan alongside characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, which sounds fun itself. Apparently it was difficult to keep record of any real progress in the console versions of the game because it lacked support for memory cards.

NBA Street Vol. 2

EA’s NBA Street series began in 2001, with the release of NBA Street, a game that combined the superstar talent of the NBA with the trick-style wizardry of street basketball. By using a series of various button presses and directional movements, players can perform a variety of different moves, including head fakes, crossovers, and signature moves like Shaquille O’Neal’s spin move or Julius Erving’s dunk. Jordan appeared in the first two NBA Street titles, but it was his appearance in the second game of the series, NBA Street: Vol. 2, that was one for the ages.

Released in 2003 for the Gamecube, Xbox, and Playstation 2, NBA Street Vol.2 features three different incarnations of Michael Jordan: two from the Bulls (1985 and 1996 seasons) and his final season with the Washington Wizards. All three versions of Jordan could be placed on a single team, which was as fun as long you weren’t the one guarding it.

NBA 2k11

Sometimes a shrug says what words can only hope to.

Of all the games covered, this one is least retro, having been released in 2010. Developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports, NBA 2K11 was released on all major video game home and portable consoles of the time, including older systems such as the Playstation 2. A basketball simulator, 2K11 contains all of the NBA teams and players of the time, as wells as some classic teams like the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boy” squad. But the highlight of the game was the career of its cover athlete: Michael Jordan.

NBA 2K11 features two modes based on Jordan’s career: “Jordan Challenges” and “MJ: Creating a Legend”. The Jordan Challenges recreate ten hallmark moments from Jordan’s career–from his 69 point game to  “Flu game” against the Utah Jazz– tasking the player to put up the same stats Jordan did in those games. In “MJ: Creating a Legend”, the player guides Jordan throughout his career (from rookie to retiree) on any team of his or her choice.

In addition to those two modes, players are able to collect Air Jordan sneakers with the “My Jordans” feature. Jordans can be earned after achieving certain accomplishments, and each pair have their own special attributes.

Thanks for the memories, MJ! Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

The Rise and Fall of Hyrule Historia

As always, we do things a little behind schedule here on the Chomp. Maybe that’s because I’m still stuck in the past, but it’s most likely because I’m slow. Drivel aside, a few days ago I heard that The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, an encyclopedic art book that also includes an official timeline of events in the Zelda universe, made it atop the New York Times bestseller list with sales of 59,000 copies in its first week.

Cue the choir: “Aaaaaaaaa”

That’s amazing. You know gaming has come a long way an art book based on a gaming franchise (albeit one of the more successful ones, but still) can have the distinction of being the best-selling book in the nation. In the debate on whether video games are or are not actually art, this book may be important to the former. In discussing art, it’s not just about craft, but also about how craft can affect people. This book shows that many people are invested in The Legend of Zelda, not just for the gameplay, but the story and art of the series as well.

Of course, what goes up eventually comes down, as Hyrule Historia‘s sales saw a drastic drop in its second week. However, it was good to see the book on top, if only for a brief moment.

Now I’ve got to take a moment and scrape up some cash to score a copy myself. The last thing I want is to pay nearly $40 dollars on Amazon for a used copy now that the book is only about $20. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels