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City of Heroes #1
writer: Rick Dakan
artist: Brandon McKinney

It's no secret that here at Fanboy Planet, NCSoft's multi-player online role-playing game City of Heroes pretty much has absorbed all of our spare time. And more. Not only is it a perfect fit for several staffers' various obsessions, it's just a danged cool game. The hardcore gaming community seems to agree.

Naturally, a game about superheroes lends itself to a comic book about superheroes, and NCSoft had that base covered before release. On the official site, you can download a 16-page preview issue, and subscribers to the game should automatically be sent the regular book in the mail.

In a marketplace that has recently seen a flood of titles about cities overflowing with heroes (the best of which are things like Powers, Astro City and Top Ten), adapting a game in which it seems like there are more heroes and villains than ordinary citizens poses a tough challenge. For the casual reader unfamiliar or uninterested in the game, how do you make this seem like something new?

Dakan lifts the mythos straight out of the game, as naturally enough, he also worked on its design. Paragon City still cautiously rebuilds from the alien Rikti invasion, which, though global, seemed to have centered on the city with the highest superhero population.

But trouble can come from the semi-human population without any extraterrestrial help, as proven by the opening battle. Heroes Apex and War Witch take on "zombie robots" that game players may know better as Vhazilok's minions. Naturally enough, the heroes don't know much about their foes, only that they find them pretty disgusting. (Having been stuck in enough fights with them myself, I agree. But I digress.)

Back at their apartment hide-out (not really much of a hide-out, as at least twenty other heroes live in the building), the two get an unexpected visit from a flying hero, Horus, one of the survivors of the Rikti Invasion. Together the three try to trace the zombies to their source, and Dakan leaves on a decent cliffhanger.

If the description seems a little cramped, that's because so does the comic. In this first issue, City of Heroes still searches for a focus. The game doesn't so much offer characterization as motives and fights, so when the book slows down for the apartment sequences, Dakan has more exposition than real understanding of Apex and War Witch. Through conversations we learn that they are roommates, that Apex has a non-super sister, and a few other details that provide setting, not insight.

Even then, there's still not much in the way of why Paragon City is such a focal point for superheroes or villains. Horus questions why a character would become a minion of evil, and it's doubtful that the answer will be much more complex than "because." Story-wise, Dakan has not yet established what makes this book different from all the other cities of heroes books, other than this one is based on a game everybody's playing. And if everybody's playing it, then they're already getting this issue in the mail. It has to have something to set it apart and keep it alive on the stands.

The art may do it. McKinney is more than competent, and though he's been around for a little while, still has a rather low-profile. He deserves a second look, showing a good sense of character design and a pretty good handle on fight scenes. Good thing, because this book will probably have a lot of fight scenes.

Still, City of Heroes the comic book just seems redundant after the game, which have we mentioned kicks butt?


Derek McCaw

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