Videogames are the only United Nations we have left. In gaming, widely divergent people meet, brawl it out, and boast about who wins. Fighting games in particular receive better funding and are arguably far more effective than any international organization of the last seventy years. Unlike FIFA, fighting games have not installed the World Cub in Dubai, at least not in the last twenty-four hours. In the dazzling light of the 21st century, all the most crucial decisions of moral goodness are weighed by fighting games, and those players who win arguably deserve to win in the eye of heaven—now, and forever. Indeed, fighting games are to our era what child-purgatory was to our great-great-great grandparents: a fun idea to think about during the long winter nights of dog-hunt.
No fighting game is a purer, more freebased version of today’s hot new Id than the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, including the modestly named Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. I was bloated with stupid wonder when I discovered that the game was not, in fact, two beings named “Marvel” and “Capcom” wrestling naked, but that those terms were catch-all nouns for two different universes of incredible fictional characters.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is about jamming buttons, which is most of white-collar life today anyway, so they’ve got the market cornered there. What’s troubling about MCI—so troubling that it controls my eating behaviors, most days—is just who has been shunted out of the Capcom and Marvel character lineup. There is a hideous overlooking, friends.
Long-time megafans of the Capcom/Marvel bloodsport will remember that the last installment included over 65,000 playable characters, including you and most of your extended family. Those of us who wanted to beat our closest genetic relatives to death could live out that fanfiction in the heated, sweat-walled splendor of our own very private parlors, or, as I call my own, the “thinkwomb.” By modest astronomical calculations, according to the dying Hubble Telescope, the newest Capcom/Marvel game will present 1.4 million playable fighter, roughly the total number of relics of the True Cross now available on the open market. But in this nauseating abundance, where are America’s favorite sequential victims, the X-Men? They have been seen nowhere and missed everywhere.
Of course, I realize that not every character can be captured through the magic of enforced coding at software prisons. Whatever’s calling itself God these days would hardly allow that. But as I crawl into my dotage, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that I have Wolverine delivered into my palpitating, flesh-covered hands at regular intervals. And yet Capcom refuses this slight boon to me.
Time for real talk: let me up-front here about what upsets me. In reality, there will always be X-Men in some game, somewhere. The X-Men are in exactly zero danger of being Memento’d by gamers. As Stan Lee will (probably) eventually say, I’m done pretending to care about mutants who aren’t real enough to even give me a fulfilling leg massage.
Who I want to focus on today are the real victims, those big-deal comics characters that have been slanderously forgotten by the game-makers—those choice protagonists who are being fed into the threshing-mill of cultural amnesia. Here, then, are the key figures who have been left out of the Capcom/Marvel hit-fests, but not left out of my sizable, possibly dangerously-engorged man-heart. Remember, every single one of these characters actually existed, and were not made up by me in the last half-hour.
It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to speak about the character who won so many hearts during the ‘80s, especially during the crucial Orphan Bone run that first lifted mellow Frank Miller into galactic celebrity. Crushblazer, the first sinner to appear on a comics page, was hardly a gem, even in the eyes of his creators, who referred to him as “ATM” and “The source of whatever I gives to the taxman.” If you’re like me, you’ve been to a lot of conventions where luckless first-timers dress up in Crushblazer’s signature look: a naked man, covered in coupons and a debate-club-tier sports jacket. His origin story is a thing of legend, or was, at least in the chat rooms I used to frequent back in 1982: a character who did nothing but couponing, until it led to tragedy—his girlfriend stampeded by a gang of Black Friday shoppers. Keep in mind this was provocative and relevant at the time, much as jazz was. This origin scene led to the gentleman in question’s phrase, “Every day is Black Friday!” Which was later supplanted by another phrase, “Tanks for the memories!” Given that this character never drove a tank, it hardly made sense. But friends, when has love ever spoken to reason, except with a forked tongue?
Wow, MCI, way to forget history.
Million-Spoons was an idea before its time. Lots of indie comics had handled the question of “Will my life be sadder with more, or less, cutlery?” But Million-spoons was by far the edgiest, most leetingest take on the essential cutlery question.
I know, I know: you all know the story of Million-Spoons by heart. But for the kids and felons who have never heard the tale before: imagine this kid inherits all this money, right? Sure, we’ve all had that dream before: get cash, make a war on crime. Well, this kid decided to do what no character had ever done before: buy, and raise, a million spoons.
That was the concept, and for twenty years, 1930-1950, audiences were satisfied. But as mass literacy became trendy, stories about a child with a million untalking, unconscious, lifeless spoons didn’t cut it in Joe McCarthy’s wild free America. One by one, the team of writers and artists who came on to the strip—and were worn out by it—gave each spoon a life, love interest and personality. Sixty years of Americans allowed TV to raise their children as they obsessively, almost addictively read generations of spoons flirt, marry, produce new offspring, and fall into disrepair. What had once begun as the larf of a comics creator became a sweeping, epic drama, like the sex life of Steve Urkel in the ‘90s drama Family Matters. And yet to this day, Marvel Comics doesn’t feel obliged to include one talking spoon from the Million-spoons line in their fighting game.
Lye. Soap. Lye-soap. Industrial solvent five. Ashes. These were the materials of the ‘50s E.C. comics serial, “Washer: The Man Who Tragically Washes,” which could have easily been incorporated into the Marvel line. Unfortunately, the sexual revolution came into fashion, and Washer’s tragic backstory—a man who can’t get human blood out of his own basement!—was forgotten in favor of a broad horror-comic pastiche consisting of hippie-based jokes that would have made the Smothers Brothers commit the dankest seppuku. Imagine that 1. Dexter was a good series, and 2. that the actual cleaning-up after serial killing was the centerpiece of the entire show—I mean, as in lovingly catalogued by the creator, really, with the kind of detail that only a man who had done this many, many times would know. Look, I’m getting a little freaked out by describing this, so maybe we can put this aside, and move onto the next slighted comic character.
Your Bible will tell you Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus. What it won’t tell you is what a lecherous piece of human garbage Lazarus was. But this comic did—and how! I’m not saying that with excitement. The comic hero Lazarus was a shameful period in our country’s history, and I don’t know why I’m mentioning it. Maybe because if Lazarus finally makes it into a game, we can finally exorcise this shameful filthbeast, whose sexual walkabouts have been catalogued in popular American comics since the Silver Age. Who among us can forget the “Forbidden Library” and “Lazarus Takes a German Holiday” storyline? As a man who could literally never die, Lazarus spent the next fifty years of comics life spouting off one inexplicable phrase after another. Of course, this became less funny in 1984, when classified files revealed that Lazarus was actually a long-term CIA plot to persuade America’s teens that grown-up stuff wasn’t cool. By that point, it was already too late: he had already starred in several Lifetime series. If you look in your father’s closet, I daresay you’ll find a classic ‘60s T-shirt containing just his image, and perhaps peptide-altering remnants of the murder-making chemical DDT. Burn it. Burn it now.
If you’ve been observing the comics industry for a while, you’ll know this classic villain, who’s always demanding his just share of the profits made by massive entertainment conglomerates. Surprising nobody, this character is a regular in most comics universes, both in and outside of continuity. Indeed, you can see this character cosplayed at most conventions. Like a time traveler, he is a constant presence throughout the entire history of comics, as if there was some strange factor—call it capitalism—that kept summoning him to haunt generations of comics fans. Why, it’s almost as if he’s been wronged and will keep returning until the debt is paid. Like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, Cheated Comics Creator No. 264 can never really be banished from the game, only ignored until defeated—and even then, he’s never really defeated, just as a guilty conscience can never be removed, except by serious blood-alcohol infusion and teams of lawyers. Even then, you’re never really safe. Oooooh! Scary!
As I write this, it is September 20th, which is an important feast day in my culture. As a beautiful and holy man who we all adore once said—his name, if the legends are correct, was Robocop—”Am I man or machine? Beep-boop, scum.” Let’s remember these words as we play Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and rejoice for the moment that, whatever gaming companies may decide, the gamer is the one factor that can never be replaced in the list of characters.
Jason Rhode is a staff writer for Paste with a walking Funk & Wagnalls of superhero stuff. He’s on Twitter @iamthemaster.