** NOTE: During the time of writing the SNES Classic had yet to be announced, and as such Nenedamus was still awesome and ahead of the game **
Nostalgia is wasted on the young. So many things in gaming these days are sequels, or updates, or HD special editions, or whatever the hell most companies feel like repackaging to sell to the old folks like me. And thankfully for something refreshing from that formula, the NES Classic was released – a mini console that thanks to today’s technology was able to pack 30 classic games from Nintendo’s 8-bit era into one convenient unit. It opened for $59.99 and it sounded pretty good at the time. Classic Nintendo IP like the Mario and Zelda series along with Metroid were now plug and play, with many other popular titles rounding out the 30.
And those positive vibes lasted for roughly 38 seconds.
There was absolutely no way in the infinite 8-bit hells that this price was going to remain steady. Just like all other re-issued nostalgia it was going to be bought in bulk, stocked out, and sold to gouge the highest bidders for profit. I saw the device go as high as $600 on eBay (a 1000% price hike for those playing along at home) and people jumping at the opportunity to have one. 1.5 million units were sold in just a couple months on the market. Which turned out to be… well, all of them.
So now we come to the recent development in the NES Classic saga. Recently Nintendo, without any warning or heads up, stopped production on the mini console a couple weeks ago. They have since announced that they would cease production in not only the North American region but in Japan and Europe as well. What happened next, though, surprised the hell out of Old Man Nene though for such a simple thing – the gaming community, at least what I’ve seen on social media, lost its damn mind. But it didn’t make any sense to me. Most kid gamers my age still have our NES and games intact. Younger gamers have online emulators and ROMS. Why was this such a big thing in the gaming community that I simply couldn’t bring myself to care about? What was the draw? Well kids, to all you Aging Gamer faithful that listen to Old Man Nene in his rocking chair tell you how it used to be – I can only offer the immortal words of DJ Khaled:
Congratulations. You played yourself.
It’s basic economics and mindshare. Firstly, Nintendo never meant for this to be an ongoing product – why would they when the Switch was just around the corner? This was always going to be special edition and never a permanent offering. The number of units manufactured was set to reflect that. Look at any supply and demand scenario – the second the “super rare” tag gets slapped on an item the price spikes like a rocket, and people are willing to pay more for a scarce product. What Nintendo did was create an artificial demand and gamers responded precisely the way they were supposed to.
It’s like some small restaurants that have lines for blocks leading to their front door. Sure it’ll draw more people and generate more demand, but they don’t tell you that there’s only 10 seats inside and that’s what causing the line.
[Side note: that was an angry morning in Philadelphia for Old Man Nene. I just wanted some pancakes.]
Secondly, they created an environment where gamers would have Nintendo control every free thought in their brains for the foreseeable future. The NES Classic dropped in November 2016. The Switch hit shelves four months later in March 2017. Look at the timing of those events, including the NES Classic price gouge in the middle. This is not a coincidence. It could be argued that hands clamoring for the NES Classic could ultimately lead to a Switch sale. Bummed that the NES Classic is done for? That 8-bit longing, along with murky rumors about a virtual console on the Switch, could be enough mind control to have gamers shelling out fistfuls of cash in the future for games they bought already via the NES Classic. I mean it’s not really that far a stretch… I’m sure there’s a bunch of Square-Enix fans that have 7 different versions and releases of Final Fantasy IV.
In the end, my prediction is this: The NES Classic is dead, but I can see a SNES Classic in the not too distant future.
So go ahead and be mad that you couldn’t get an NES Classic. Celebrate and rejoice if you managed to snag one. But remember this kids – in the end we’re all just logic boards in the gaming machine.
[And while I cannot condone a workaround that theoretically involves easily constructing a Raspberry Pi powered RetroPie DIY unit, legend has it (seriously you guys) would only take an hour to get together, be ultra cheap and allow you to play your old 8 and 16 bit games. I can also neither confirm nor deny such things exists.]
You may have seen the hashtag #FCBD on your favorite social medium as of late. In case you were confused by the jumble of letters, that stands for “Free Comic Book Day.” The day is quickly approaching, happening on May 6th of this year. If you’ve never heard of the event, we’ve put together a short primer to help you out.
What is it?
Taking place on the first Saturday of every May, Free Comic Book Day is an international event in which comic book stores give away comics to anyone who comes in. It’s not every comic, mind you; there are a wave of comics branded with the FCBD logo which are eligible. But these titles span such an array of genres and ages that you’re bound to find something that appeals to you.
FCBD has been such an outstanding success that 2017 marks its fifteenth year in existence.
Where is it?
Everywhere! OK, well, not really everywhere. Not all comic shops participate in FCBD. Luckily, there’s a comic shop locator on freecomicbookday.com that will point you to your nearest participating store.
What can I expect?
Here’s where it gets fun. First of all, you can expect free comics. However, which comics is up to the shop. There are different tiers of offerings available at different stores so it all depends on how your local comic shop is participating. That Store Locator should help you determine where to go if you want to score a specific issue.
Ah, now you’re asking the right questions.
There’s a ton of good stuff. Fans of Marvel and DC movies won’t be disappointed as both Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman get the FCBD treatment this year, just in time for their respective films to hit theaters. But Marvel is also offering a chapter from their Secret Empire storyline while DC taps the popular DC Super Hero Girls for a comic.
Archie Comics gets into the mix with two titles of their own. The first is an all-new Betty & Veronica with art by the amazing Adam Hughes. Archie will also be offering a comic based on the popular Riverdale television show from The CW. That one should go over nicely.
A few highlights (or at least titles that I’m most excited for) include:
- TMNT: Dimension X prelude from IDW
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess/Ocarina of Time from Viz Media
- Doctor Who from Titan Comics
- Buffy: The High School Years from Dark Horse Comics
I’m also excited for Lion Forge Comics, which is using Free Comic Book Day as a stepping stone to launch their newest series, Catalyst Prime: The Event. Written by Christopher Priest with art by Joseph Illidge, the solicit for Catalyst Prime sounds pretty solid and this should be a good series. And with the intro to the series being free, it’s worth checking out,
Of course, that’s not all that will be available. Head over to the FCBD website for the full run down. (http://www.freecomicbookday.com/catalog) (Also, once again, not all of the titles will be available everywhere. You may want t check with your local shop to see if they ordered the one you’re looking for if they participate at that level.)
Yes, so much more!
Because this is such a huge event for local comic stores, many of them go all out to promote it. One of my local shops brings in members from the 501st Legion, a devoted group of Star Wars costumers who make various charity appearances. Every year you can see them roaming the sidewalk outside of the store, greeting pedestrians, interacting and taking pictures with customers waiting on line and just bringing an air of joviality to the occasion.
Yet another of my local comic and gaming store had cupcakes. Yes, homemade cupcakes with little plastic rings featuring Thor and Iron Man. That was a tremendous treat. (Sadly, this store has since gone out of business. I was definitely looking forward to seeing what they did for FCBD this year.)
Many comic book stores also host writer and artist appearances. They’ll invite creators to interact with fans, sign autographs, sell sketches… They basically turn Free Comic Book Day into little comic cons.
Some stores will host free or paid raffles and give customers a chance to win some cool prizes.
A lot of the supplemental fun is up to the individual comic shop and not hosted by FCBD so call your local store to see what, if anything, they may be planning.
I hope many of you are planning on visiting your local comic shop(s) on Free Comic Book Day. If you do just remember, these comics are free to you but the stores still have to pay for them. So when you get your free stuff, make a purchase as well. Like any other business, local comic shops only survive if they turn a profit. If you want to be able to enjoy Free Comic Book Day in the coming years, show them some monetary support.
In the coming months, DC Comics will be releasing a slate of comic books featuring the reimagining of some of the most iconic cartoons characters ever, including Scooby Doo and Flintstones. As a preview to this, a few of this month’s Annual issues feature crossovers and backup stories of a selection of Hanna-Barbera’s other characters. One of these crossovers takes the Suicide Squad, a team of villains put to good use in a government wetworks program, and pairs them with the Banana Splits, a group of rock-n-rolling anthropomorphic animals from a show that aired in the late 1960s.
Full disclosure: I never watched the Banana Splits. It was way before my time. The only reason I even know about it is from the Liz Phair cover of “The Tra La La Song” on the Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits soundtrack. But that song is so ingrained in my psyche that when I saw the Banana Splits were featured alongside the Suicide Squad, I needed to pick the issue up.
The story opens with the Banana Splits getting chased by the police for a relatively minor traffic infraction. Through a misunderstanding, they’re arrested and sent to Belle Reve where they catch the eye of Amanda Waller, who just happens to be looking for a team of patsies to back up the Suicide Squad on a mission that has gone south. The two teams meet and, as expected, high jinks ensue as they join forces and take care of an unimportant plot point.
Written by Tony Bedard, the issue was not nearly as fun as I wanted it to be. Though most of DC’s readership likely has no idea who the Banana Splits even are, Bedard solves this problem by making a quick introduction of the characters by the second page, then immediately cracking a joke about how no one remembers them anyway. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few jokes that hits. Much of the issue is devoted to half-hearted humor and easy one-liners. The opening sequence is meant to be played for laughs, with the police mistaking Fleegle’s wallet for a weapon and immediately opening fire. Given how often stories like these flood the news waves, it’s actually surprising that this was meant to be funny but, well, here you go.
Even the tone of the book vacillates from page to page. Suicide Squad is, in general, full of mindless, action packed stories. Banana Splits, on the other hand, is mostly family friendly slapstick humor. Bedard manages to jam both of these tones into the story but they are often at odds with each other. The animals come off as gentle and easy going but two pages later are brawling in the middle of a prison riot. The sudden switch in characterization is jarring and the only way it works is just to shrug it off and go with it.
The art team, consisting of Ben Caldwell on pencils, Mark Morales on inks and Jeremy Lawson doing colors, manages to hold the story together though it’s not the most eye-catching display. The progression is easy to follow and Caldwell varies his angles to keep the pacing interesting, however, there is very little of note throughout the book. The colors are flat, panels and characters lack detail, and most everything is presented without subtext. Though I do have to say that I enjoyed many of the facial expressions Caldwell gives to the Banana Splits gang; not only did it seem difficult to give these animals humanistic expressions and make them feel natural, but they actually happened to be the funniest part of the book.
In addition to the main story, the book features an 8-page back-up starring Snagglepuss, another classic Hanna Barbera character that doesn’t have much of a millennial fanbase. This short was written by Mark Russell and imagines Snagglepuss in the center of the House Committee Un-American Activities during the 1950s. ‘Puss is a flamboyant playwright and he’s being questioned on what’s deemed his less-than-savory attitudes. Most of his dialogue is snarky and capitalizes on the literal interpretation of questions he’s asked, something that those who’ve seen a Snagglepuss cartoon would expect. But the story takes a swerve and settles into a social commentary on the importance of writers and how they’re perceived by society.
The art of the Snagglepuss story is just as clever as the writing. Howard Porter’s pencils are sharp and full of life, providing rich detail to his characters and environments. His panel layouts tend to get a little confusing, especially when he varies the angles to such a degree that it’s difficult to get a take on the scene, but given that almost half of the tale is set in a courtroom, this was likely intentional to keep things from getting boring.
Steve Buccellato’s colors are just as deep. Despite Snagglepuss being a large, pink cat, Buccellato approaches the character in such a way that his appearance in front of a bunch of business-suited men doesn’t come off as ludicrous. Luckily, Buccellato was smart enough to understand that the satire is evident in the concept of the story and bright, outlandish colors would have subverted it.
Overall, I do give credit to DC Comics for dusting off an old franchise like Banana Splits and introducing it to modern audiences. And while pairing them with the Suicide Squad was a bold move, it isn’t one that worked out too well. Instead of a one-off story in an annual issue, I would have prefer to see them in a mini-series of their own, to allow the writer room to expand on the characters and round them out a little more. At the very least, it may have been prudent to put the title into the hands of a different writer, one that’s less willing to turn a troubling social issue into a joke.
The Snagglepuss story is a prelude to a full series coming in the fall and is the most enjoyable part of this particular comic book.
Grade (Backup story): A-