Ask Chris #37: The Best Christmas Present Ever
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That's why we've given Senior Writer Chris Sims the
punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions.
Q: What is the best comics related non-comic item you've ever received for Christmas? -- Sean_Hollenhors
A: All, right, I admit it: This is quite possibly the most self-indulgent question I've ever answered in this column, and considering that my baseline is four thousand word essays about why Batman is totally the best guy ever, that's saying something. But then again, 'tis the season for Christmas memories, so pour yourself a cup of eggnog and let me take you back to a memory of Christmas past!The year was 1990, and I have a vivid memory of sitting in my fourth grade classroom as the teacher handed out an assignment that I'm pretty sure was meant solely to kill a few hours before the break. The idea was that we'd all draw a picture of the thing we wanted most for Christmas, then we'd share it with the class. In what I consider to be the height of my career as an artist, I had the idea to fold the paper over and draw a gift box, bow and all, on the front, so that you could "open" it to reveal the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world:
DuckTales for the NES! And you guys thought it was going to be something with Batman.
Of course, my crayon drawing didn't look as good as that, but again, I definitely remember drawing both the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality and the yellow "Save $10" bar in the lower left, because I wanted this thing so bad that I had memorized the box art. Which, looking back on it, is pretty weird even for me.
DuckTales had actually come out the year before, but despite the fact that I've been playing them pretty much constantly for the past 23 years, I never actually owned many video games when I was a kid. Up through the PlayStation era, my family and I were renters, and while the process of picking out a weekend's worth of entertainment led to some missteps when I brought home a clunker-- looking at you here, Castlevania II -- it was a pretty good way to reconcile a limited budget with the fact that a subscription to Nintendo Power had given me the desire to play everything.
Incidentally, the other thing that Nintendo Power gave me when I was a kid was an early lesson in the fact that the right words could make anything sound good, no matter how terrible it actually was, which came in pretty handy in my adult life when I started writing about Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.
This, however, was one that I had to own. Just look at these state of the art, high-resolution graphics!
I kid, but it actually was one of the better looking games of the NES era, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering it was developed by Capcom, which -- for those of you who don't know -- is the company behind console-ruling classics like the Mega Man and Street Fighter franchises. As such, it was a highly enjoyable game, with seriously great music and fun platform gameplay that, in typical NES fashion, only came in two settings: Ridiculously easy and frustratingly impossible.
Also, it's worth noting that I think this is the only NES game in which the main character wore spats. So how could it not be great?
I first played this game years before I even knew who guys like Carl Barks and Don Rosa were, but at time, I'd read a few of the Disney comics and I was a huge fan of the DuckTales animated series -- which, incidentally, I've heard Barks and Rosa both hated -- and for me, being able to bop around the world as Scrooge McDuck on a mission of shameless capitalism was everything I wanted. But looking back, the things that seem the most charming about the game are the ways it deviated from the show and went straight into the wonderful world of Nintendo Logic.
Scrooge himself, for instance, can attack by knocking blocks around with his cane like a golf club. This makes sense for the character; as a native of Scotland, Scrooge prided himself on his golfing ability. But his primary attack is jumping on his cane like a pogo stick, which is something I'm not sure Scrooge McDuck has ever done in 63 years of comics and cartoons.
Then there's the game's setting: You're offered the choice of five different levels: The Amazon jungles, the Himalayas, a blood diamond mine in Africa (yes, really), Dracula's mansion in Transylvania, and my favorite, the friggin' Moon, all of which were selectable on the single greatest stage select screen in video game history:
A couple things about this stage select screen: First, that is the most baller computer of all time, and you can suck it, Richie Rich.
Second, as you scroll through the available levels, you can see the treasures you're meant to discover in each level. The scepter, crown and gigantic diamond are pretty self-explanatory, and while I honestly don't remember what the Transylvanian treasure is, GameFaqs informs me that it's a "coin of the lost realm." My favorite, though, is the Green Cheese from the moon, which you get by beating the living crap out of a gigantic moon mouse. You know, as one does.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, is that the actual map displays the single worst grasp of geography ever. Granted, the world of the Ducks isn't exactly a stickler for accuracy -- Duckburg itself being a major city in the state of Calisota -- but DuckTales for the NES takes place in a world where Africa is somewhere to the west of the Himalayas, which are just south of Transylvania, and all three are on a continent that has the Amazon rain forest at its northernmost point. I'm genuinely surprised they managed to actually have an arrow point at the moon.
But all that craziness just made me love it more, if only because getting Scrooge stuck in the snow of the Himalayas resulted in the best sprite ever:
And as an added bonus, my dad hated it. Not in a "those damn video games'll rot your brain" sort of way; unlike a lot of kids, my parents were all about the 8-bit era. When I got my NES on my fifth birthday, I remember waking up at around 2 AM and wandering out the living room to find my bleary-eyed mother trying to get through World 8. No, dad's hatred of it was more of a "I can't get past the first Goddamn stage because I can't figure out how to f---ing pogo jump!" type of thing, and I found that hilarious. He was more of a Dr. Mario guy.
Sure enough, my hint dropping paid off -- I gave my mom the drawing I'd made with all the subtlety of...well, of a 9-year-old in December -- and sure enough, it was there for me on Christmas morning. Over the next few years, I'd put more time into it than any other game I can think of except for Super Mario World (the only game I took with me to a summer at my grandparents' house) and maybe Grand Theft Auto III.
As a result, I came to know that game like the back of my hand. I dug it out to refresh myself tonight and I can still remember every secret area and exactly how to get the two Hidden Treasures, which absolutely blew my mind when I was a kid, as they led to the first ever alternate ending I'd ever seen in a game.
See, normally when you beat the game, you get a screen of Scrooge jumping up and down with a modest treasure chest and a shot of a newspaper...
...and while that might seem like a lot of money, I can assure you that to Scrooge McDuck, that is chump change. It is for chumps.
If, however, you get the hidden treasures and max out your score by figuring out how to get Launchpad to take you to bonus stages (a 7 in the 10,000 place in your score!) and backtracking through stages to get twice as much cash like a boss, you get this...
...along with Scrooge jumping up and down on a gigantic pile of money with a crown.
As far as comics-related presents go, this one takes the cake hands down, especially since it's one of the few times that the amount I've wanted something has matched up with the amount of fund I'd had with it once i actually got it. There was a sequel released in 1993, but by that time I had a Super NES, and I don't think I ever played it, even on a rental. For all I know, it might be worlds better as a game, but I doubt it could've possibly matched the feeling I got seeing that second ending for the first time.
It might not be the branching storylines you kids today get with your Mass Effects and your Dragon Ages, but I swear that I honestly thought I was dreaming and the only time in my life I've even come close to feeling that sense of accomplishment again is when I finally got a job that allows me to sit around in my pajamas writing about DuckTales for the NES all day.
And now, a few quick answers!
Q: Are the Daily Planet/Bugle independent or owned by shadowy corporations? -- ChompyDuchamp
A: Other than the time during "Brand New Day" where it was bought by Dexter Bennett, the Bugle has always been owned by America's greatest newspaperman, J. Jonah Jameson. The Planet, on the other hand, has at various times been owned by Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne, and of course Morgan Edge back in the Bronze Age, the magnate behind news station WGBS that decided to make Clark Kent a television news anchor. I'm pretty sure it's now owned wholly by Perry White, although his failure to ever commission killer robots to attack his employees makes me doubt his commitment to journalism.
Q: My nine-year-old nephew likes superheroes and comics a little. Knowing both him and comics, I'm certain that he would go ape-dung crazy for Batman if the right story presented itself. Not only is Mr. Wayne terribly awesome in general, I have no doubt he'll ring very particular bells in the boy. What trade paperbacks would you recommend I supply the kid? -- Brad, via email
A: Since you want to hold off on Year One until he's 11 or 12 (which makes sense, what with the hooker-stabbings and all),
you could do a heck of a lot worse than to find a copy of The Dark Knight Adventures (and that link'll take you to where you can buy it on the cheap), which collects the first few issues of Kelly Puckett and Mike Parobeck's tie-in to Batman: The Animated Series. I loved those things when I was that age, and even today, they're perfect models of how to tell great, self-contained Batman stories that really are great for all ages. Other than that, he might be right in that magic age where he'd get a real kick out of stuff like the Silver Age Batman Annuals, which I would've loved to have had when I was a kid.
Q: Is it just me or do comics fans seem to feel an undue amount of entitlement when it comes to creators and their creations? -- ekanerva
A: It's not just you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go write an essay about how people keep getting Batman wrong.
Q: The artist-co-authored Batwoman #0 turned out to be pretty good. What, in contrast, is the WORST writer-artist creation? -- KlarionPK
That's all we have for this week, but if you've got a question you'd like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just put it on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!