A deadly virus has found its way to Gotham City, medical centres aren’t ready, and its side effects are leaving the streets littered with dead bodies. It’s up to Batman and his allies to find the cure and save as many people as they can.
Released in 1996, Batman: Contagion sees a post Knightfall Batman team go up against something that can’t simply be beaten into submission. When a member of high society flies back to Gotham after an outbreak in Greenland, he doesn’t seem to realise that the virus he’s come to warn about he is carrying. From this one case the book shows, in interesting detail, just how the virus can transfer from one to another, and how quickly an entire city can become infected. Through Batman, we also see how such a virus can ravage the body of those infected. The image of eyes bleeding and skin begin to blister is a horrific sight. We see the worst cases early on, only to make the smallest hints in the most vulnerable become all the more horrifying. As the story carries on, the tension becomes extremely gripping, causing the reader to be deeply invested by the stories end.
The story is told across a number of Batman series, including the Azrael, Catwoman and Robin titles. Each of the characters plays an incredibly crucial part, with the young Tim Drake becoming the most effected by it all.
The book features an all-star selection of writers and artists, spear headed by the great Chuck Dixon, with Graham Nolan, Dennis O’Neil, Jim Ballent and Alan Grant. However, there is a major flaw in how the book comes to its end. Not so much in storytelling, but in pacing and execution. The whole story feels as though it could have used an extra issue or two to really bring it to a close in a more satisfactory manner.
Perhaps a little too close to home given the state of the world in 2020, it’s an entertaining and enthralling read all around.
In 2011, DC published an event comic called Flashpoint. A fairly normal Flash event that saw Barry Allen wake up in a parallel universe where he never became the Flash, Superman is not a thing, Batman is violent and is actually Thomas Wayne, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war. Amongst other changes. However, the events ending led into a complete line wide reboot for DC. A reboot known as ‘The New 52’.
The reboot was meant to create a new jumping on point for new readers, as well as simplifying continuity within each of the characters, as well as fold in the works in the Vertigo and Wildstorm universes. Batman is the one brought up most when talking about confusing continuity. He’s supposedly in his 30s, but has had 5 Robin’s, one of which is his 10-year-old son. There solution was to reboot everything, so Batman had only been active for 5 years, but had 4 Robins, one of which was his 10-year-old son.
While the initiative did start off as a financial success, with new readers jumping on books, it quickly began to fizzle out. It became very clear that there wasn’t an over arching plan going forward. Yes, they had an initial idea of everyone rebooting, Pandora showing up in each first issue to set up an event. But overall, there were major cracks. Some books completely rebooted everything and started from scratch, Superman and Action Comics especially, and others that pretended nothing had happened, Batman Incorporated, and yet all of them were in continuity with each other. If anything, it made things more confusing when things began to cross over.
Looking back at it from the year 2020, the New 52 is now considered a joke outside of a handful of storylines. The goal of Tomb of the New 52, is to explore as many issues of The New 52 as possible, from start to finish, in order to understand its failings and how it might have succeeded. A goal would be to talk to some of the creators about their experience during The New 52, but the primary focus is still on the comics.
Johns, Geoff. (2011) Flashpoint. DC Comics: Burbank.
Going into Shattered Grid as a standalone story feels like a daunting task. Not only is this a comic related to an ongoing franchise, and one that has been running for many years, but it is also not fully intended to be a ‘new reader friendly’ plot line. It has storylines that have lead up to this, and comic exclusive characters that old show fans might not know. With that being said, if you go in with the express knowledge that there are just some things that are not going to be 100% explained, it’s still a hugely enjoyable, multiverse shattering storyline.
The plot is relatively simple, an older, alternate universe Tommy Oliver never left the side of Rita Repulsa. He helps her build an empire only to murder her and take control. Now going by the name Lord Drakkon, he’s working his way across the multiverse to defeat other Rangers, steal their morphers and become powerful enough to completely take over every timeline and multiverse.
For some of the newer characters, a quick google search maybe needed, but the dialogue throughout is so natural and well written, that it’s easy to get a sense of who people are, and their relationships to each other. A major stand out is Kim the Pink Power Ranger, who goes through a great depth of emotions and situations, and yet a sense of self is still very much maintained. Some of the terminology may take some time to get used to, but it’s use is very natural and easy to digest.
The artwork is gorgeous throughout and makes things very clear, especially when showing characters from different timelines. Each space in time and dimensions has it’s own feel and it makes what could have been an incredibly complex story very easy to follow.
If your looking for a multiverse story that doesn’t require a Masters degree in DC lore, or the existence of every Spider totem, then it’s hard to go wrong with Shattered Grid. A basic understanding of the original series would help to get more out of it, but it’s still worth a read.
A core underlying theme of Final Fantasy VII [Square.1997], aside from identity, is that of nature. We open the game as a mercenary working for Avalanche as they fight against the Shinra Electric Power Company. A company that gained it’s notoriety by using MAKO energy to power various elements of everyday life. Building reactors all over the world, and creating the mega industrial city, Midgard. That MAKO energy is essentially distilled essence from the Lifestream. The very life blood of the planet. It’s used to power machinery, in human experimentation, and as summoned up in Advent Children [Nomura & Nozue.2005], to allow people to live comfortable lives.
This very idea also extends to the abilities our heroes demonstrate. Outside of Cloud, who did experience MAKO poisoning as a test subject alongside Zack Fair, each member of your party also has access to Materia. A small marble like crystal made from solidified MAKO energy. This Materia allowed the characters to use a variety of magic on their quest. But it means that they were having to use the planet’s energy in order to save the planet itself.
By the games end, the party defeats Sephiroth, but it’s the planet that eventually saves itself. The final Lifestream uses itself as a weapon in order to destroy the new calamity taking the form of the meteor. The final things we see post credits is the planet 500 years in the future. Midgard now an overgrown jungle.
During the film Advent Children however, we see what happens when the Lifestream is polluted. When it begins to manifest itself as a virus among the population. It’s fitting that during the introduction, Marlene states “it looks like the Planet is a lot madder than we thought” [Nomura & Nozue.2005]. From an objective standpoint, the planet’s energy has been used by both heroes and villains alike. While the virus largely comes down to Sephiroth’s doing. The fact that it is indiscriminate in who it effects makes complete sense. As far as it is concerned, it’s mankind as a whole that has poisoned the Lifestream.
Given that both the game and the film include the 500 years moment of Midgard overgrown, it’s possible that a plague such as Geostigma could cause the human population to die out. Despite Cloud supposedly curing people of the Stigma, we only saw a small portion of the world’s population. Just those contacted within the city of Edge. Is it possible that the virus still lives on?
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete (2005) Film. Directed by Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue. [BLURAY] Square Enix Company: JP.
Square (1997) Final Fantasy VII [DISC] PlayStation. Square: JP
The opening moments of Final Fantasy VII sees the player controlling a blond, spiky haired guy in blue as he jumps off the roof of a train and battles two guards. The first thing we know this man as is simply listed as EX-SOLDIER. Until his name is revealed, the first thing we know about Cloud Strife is that he is an ex-soldier. It’s a tag we assign to him from the first moment of the game. Through out the story, we do learn more about what Soldier is, and that it’s a large part of Cloud’s identity. A fair few hours into the game, Cloud imparts a story to the party about the ‘Neibleheim incident’. How, as a member of soldier, he returned to his hometown along with his childhood hero, the Soldier hero Sephiroth. How they were there to check on a reactor, but while investigating Sephiroth locked himself into the mansion when he found research notes and experiment documents relating to him. Cloud tells the party about the mutations they found at the reactor, how Sephiroth went insane and burnt the town to the ground.
This story of the destruction of Neibleheim becomes very central to the story going forward. It’s an incident that is mentioned by several characters and ends up being a turning point in understanding the truth behind everything. Cloud sticks to this story as absolute truth, it’s his truth, something he lived through. However, one person he tells this story to knows that what he’s saying is wrong. Among the party is his childhood friend, Tifa. Despite knowing that something is wrong, she doesn’t mention it. Although crucially, while in Cosmo Canyon, Tifa asks if Cloud truly is him.
The party does eventually make it to Neibleheim, only to find the town has no damage to it. Everything is as it was, with the exception of no one knowing who Cloud is. Further on in their journey, Cloud and his friends are confronted by the spirit of Sephiroth. One who teases Cloud by calling him a puppet, and knowing the truth. For the second time in the game, we see part of the Neibleheim Incident, only this time Cloud isn’t there. Instead we see a man in the same uniform but with slicked black hair, a man we later know as Zack Fair. The spirit of Sephiroth keeps tempting Tifa to tell Cloud the truth. That she was the tour guide to that group of Soldiers, and that Cloud was not among them.
In his self-doubting and staggered state, Cloud ends up giving into the villains, giving them something they need and essentially awakening Sephiroth properly. He finds himself swallowed up by the energy and washes ashore the small town of Mideel. When the party finds him, he is wheelchair bound. A blank expression of the man we have seen so far. Tifa decides to stay by his side while the rest of the party carries on in their attempt to save the world. When the world starts to break apart, Tifa and Cloud fall into the lifestream, an ocean of energy that engulfs the planet, and where all energy comes from. What takes place here is perhaps one of the most touching examples of playing through recovery.
The pair find themselves in a sort of astral projection of fragmented environments with shadowy, broken versions of Cloud in each section. The player takes control of Tifa, and how the section plays out involves Tifa having to go to each section, talking to Cloud and trying to piece together his shattered memories. The faded appearance of Cloud perfectly sums up how Cloud feels and also what we actually know about the guy. He finds it incredibly difficult to move himself, but it’s by reaching out to Tifa, the can begin to piece his life together. Piece together the true Cloud Strife, rather than the facade we’ve been playing as the entire time.
Through their shared memories, we do learn more about their history together. How they weren’t actually that close as children, but Cloud was the only one to follow Tifa all the way up the mountain after the death of her mother, simply because he wanted to make sure she was safe. Cloud is a caring guy. He does want to protect others, something that the version of him we have seen seems to try to cover up. Through these events we do get to the bottom of the Neibleheim incident. While there was a different Soldier there with Sephiroth, however Cloud was there as well. Going back to that first time we meet Cloud in the game. His first enemy is a pair of Shinra troupes that become a recurring enemy. At the time of the Neibleheim incident, Cloud was no different. He was scared to show his face in his hometown because he didn’t make Soldier. However, while Sephiroth goes on his rampage, we get to experience Cloud being the true hero we know he can be. He saves Tifa, though she doesn’t know it was him that did. When Zack is thrown aside, it’s Cloud that picks up the sword and goes after Sephiroth. We get to experience them both piecing together the true Cloud Strife by playing through it ourselves.
When Tifa and Cloud return to the party, we see a shift in Cloud. That cocky, brash Soldier we knew is still somewhat there. But the child we met in the mountains, and the young Shinra troupe from Neibleheim have found their way back to Cloud. There is a softness to him now. Something that can be seen in a small but tender moment with Yuffie when she comments about being air sick. He comforts her and says that it used to happen to him too.
The scene of Cloud and Tifa is strong in itself. But through the medium of video games, the scene plays out to maximum effect. We experience this moment alongside Cloud. As an observer, we see ourselves the way Tifa does. The true character coming to the surface. But as players embodying the avatar of Cloud Strife, it can feel cathartic. Knowing that it’s okay to take a step back and to rebuild ourselves. That it’s okay to be our true selves.
During the production of Batman (2021), there has been a lot of speculation. Every time a new detail has been released; people have jumped on them to attempt to guess plot elements for the upcoming film. This is far from uncommon for any anticipated film. Sometimes a random production photo leaked online has produced some amazing fan theories.
One theory that has arisen since the Batman costume was revealed, is that the Bat insignia might be made from the gun that killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. This was also seen in the comics during the Detective Comics #1000 issue written by Kevin Smith. The theory leading to this is the very intricate design of the insignia as though it’s made from existing machinery. This idea has been run with by the internet as being such an interesting concept for the character.
However, the idea of the gun permanently being attached to Batman, much less right by his heart, gives off a very creepy and unsettling vibe. The reason Batman was created was because of that gun. The gun that took the life of Thomas and Martha Wayne in Crime Alley in front of the young Bruce Wayne. Batman, largely, has sworn off the use of guns because of the devastation it caused to his life. While the idea of that gun becoming part of his armour is viewed as being a clever play on it’s impact, it could also be seen as Bruce now physically carrying around a sick reminder of what happened to him. By being Batman, it is clear that he is not over what happened to him. He is still heavily traumatised by it. But were he to carry that gun permanently, it would become a festering wound. He would constantly be carrying around the baggage of his trauma, and with it all hope of him recovering, or the possibility that everyone would someday be saved becomes a terrible burden.
Perhaps the best thing Batman could ever do with that gun was in Batman: Year Two. In the final issue, after having to work with Joe Chill, the man who used that gun to kill his parents, and having now taken down the Reaper. Batman decides to burry the gun in the one place it could do any good to him. In the foundations of the Wayne Foundation building.
Identity is a somewhat common theme in the Final Fantasy franchise, it’s touched many of the stories and characters in an interesting way. In Final Fantasy VII, you have both Cloud and Sephiroth unravelling the truth behind themselves. Cloud having to come to terms with the fact that he never was the First-Class Soldier he wanted to be, but that he can still save the day as himself. Sephiroth believing himself to be one of the Cetra and that his true mother is Jenova, a belief that causes him to almost end the world as revenge. However, it’s Final Fantasy IX where the theme of identity, and most importantly self-identification, has the strongest impact.
Final Fantasy XI, released on the original PlayStation in 2000, was a return, or rather send up, to the classic Final Fantasy. Both in terms of tone and setting. Both Final Fantasy VII and VIII took on a more contemporary or futuristic setting. VII especially given the high-tech city of Midgard. IX on the other hand returned to the more medieval/steampunk aesthetic, more in line with Final Fantasy III or IV. Right down to Yoshitaka Amano taking the lead with designs rather than Tetsuya Namoura. Kingdoms and Castles are a major set piece throughout the game, with lead characters even taking the form of Knights, Queens, Princess and King Regents.
The story follows Zidane Tribal, an unusual 16-year-old thief, complete with a monkey’s tail, who is part of a travelling theatre troupe named Tantalus. The troupe are hired to kidnap the young Princess Garnet of Alexandria during a performance of ‘I Want to Be Your Canary’. The plot twists however when Zidane finds the Princess, and she asks to be kidnapped. The troupe escape Alexandria with Princess Garnet, Vivi (a young Black Mage), and Stainer (a devoted Knight) in toe. Along the way, the crew meet new characters, but when war between kingdoms is declared, and a threat from another world rears it’s head, the team must try to save their world while finding a place in it.
While the theme of identity hits many of the characters in the story. Such as Freya and her beloved Sir Frately who tragically does not remember their life together. Or Kuja’s distain with his identity and decides to surpass it for himself, even if it means starting wars. However, the core three to look at are arguably it’s three main protagonists. Zidane Tribal, Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII, and Vivi the black mage.
The plot of Final Fantasy IX is kickstarted by the kidnapping of Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII. However, the first thing we learn about her is her want to escape. To the point that she demands to be kidnapped by the theatre troupe, even playing along when it seems like they might be stopped when accidentally ending up on stage during the performance. When they leave, the ship crashes in the forest, and the party have to go find the Princess. One of the first things Princess Garnet does when things quiet down is decided to give herself her own name. Choosing to rename herself after the weapon Zidane is carrying, taking on the name Dagger. She requests that Steiner, the loyal protector and Captain of the Knights of Pluto, stop referring to her as Princess. With the exception of the end of the game, and coming back to Alexandria in Disc 3, she sticks to the Dagger identity. While on the road, she makes an effort to change how she speaks, tries to define herself as something new. Through the course of the game, you learn a lot about her upbringing in the castle. Her high calibre of education, the strict upbringing by her mother and father. When she describes it, particularly to Zidane, she speaks of it as though it’s confinement. A particularly notable scene is where Dagger and Stainer are traveling back to the Castle, and when Steiner exclaims his happiness to be home, Dagger is utterly confused. It’s only when he notes that Alexandria is larger than its castle walls, we realise just how sheltered her life has been.
Taking on the identity of Dagger could very well be seen as Garnet trying to figure out who she is outside of just being the Princess of Alexandria. She wants to find who she is outside of the well spoken and highly educated royal. Taking on a new name to form a new identity is nothing new in fiction. An appropriate example would be The Matrix and its main character, Neo. Neo starts off his life as Thomas Anderson, as the villain notes during the first act of the film, Thomas Anderson is a respected programmer for a software company. A good man pays his taxes on time and helps out his landlady. But when he takes on the name Neo, he is freer in himself. He is the notorious hacker, known throughout the internet for the work he does, most of which is heavily considered criminal activity. There is an active choice to do what he wants to do in his own time under a different name. This is compounded by the films ended when the villain, Agent Smith, refers to him as Mr Anderson, only for him to reply that his name is Neo. Dagger goes through a similar transformation here. She doesn’t want to be defined by the Princess Garnet identity and the weight and responsibly associated with it. She has never known a life, to her knowledge, that hasn’t been governed by responsibility and obligation. Dagger on the other hand, is brand new. No responsibility to the world, and a life to call their own.
Through the course of the game however, the player, and Garnet discover their true origins. It’s revealed that when Garnet was very young, she was actually a member of the summoner tribe in Madain Sari. She and her mother escaped during a storm on a small boat and found themselves washed on the shore of Alexandria. Her mother didn’t survive the trip and the young Garnet, originally named Sarah was taken in. The King and Queen had just lost their daughter, Princess Garnet, and with the young girl Sarah resembling the Princess heavily, they decide to raise Sarah as their own. Removing the distinctive horn of the summoner tribe from her head and raising her as though nothing happened. Dagger leans this while on the road in her travels and never does confront her mother with this reality. It becomes another part of her identity. A survivor of Madain Sari and a Summoner. After a final conversation with the dying Queen Brahne, Dagger still sees her as a mother. The woman who did raise her, regardless of how thinks went towards the end, and the lie. Later, Dagger takes one last step to defining herself with her own identity, by cutting her hair with the same dagger she named herself for. By the end of the game, Dagger is now Queen Garnet of Alexandria, the daughter of Queen Brahne and a descendant of the Summoner tribe. She embraces ever part of herself, and in the final moments does what she chooses rather than what is expected. Embracing Zidane in front of her kingdom.
Being the main character of the game, the player would expect to learn a lot about Zidane. However, aside from a conversation in the second disc with Dagger, Zidane’s background isn’t revealed to us, or even to him until the games final act. Zidane’s visual design does set him apart from the rest of his theatre troupe. He has a humanoid appearance, that of a teenager, but strangely he also has what appears to be a monkey’s tail. It’s not addressed until the later half of the game but is always there. It provides some form of mystery surrounding Zidane. It doesn’t seem to affect him, however. He’s happy go lucky in nature, a stark contrast to the previous two protagonists. Squall Lionheart from Final Fantasy VIII and Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII. He makes a lot of jokes, he’s a lady’s man, very bright and cheerful. Zidane is aware that he is not quite like everyone else but has come to terms with his place in life.
Around disc 2 of the game, Dagger and Zidane have a conversation in the middle of the night about home. Largely spired on by events happening to Vivi. Dagger asks him what he defines as home. Zidane goes on to tell a story of how he was 4 when he washed up on the shore of Lindblum. His only memory was a blue light in the sky. He was found by the leader of Tantalus, Baku, and was raised as one of their own. One day, he decided to leave home and try and find his birth home. Eventually, he returned realising how stupid it was to look for somewhere when your only clue is a blue light. When he returns, Baku smacks him around for leaving without saying anything, but then smiles and makes him some food. He says to Dagger that the moment he saw the look on Baku’s face, and felt the love from his ‘brothers’, he knows what home was. It’s at this point, that we know that Zidane is comfortable and knows who he is in life, even with the mystery of his tail. The final act of the game, however, is where Zidane’s world view comes crashing down.
As the game draws to a close and the final plans are in motion, we learn about Kuja’s plan and home planet, as well as his creator. Garland. As we come face to face with Garland, we learn that Kuja is in fact a manufactured being. Meant to bring death and destruction to Gaia, the planet this game takes place on. However, Garland considers Kuja a failure, perhaps because he made Kuja as an adult, not having the ability to truly understand the depth of emotion needed for the job. So instead, he created a child, Zidane. Calling him his ‘Angel of Death’. The beings created by Garland and largely husks. Children with natural tails meant to one day house the souls of the people of Terra once they destroy Gaia and absorb its energy, saving their own world. Kuja and Zidane are considered more than their brethren, a species Garland names Genomes. But the knowledge that Zidane was created to destroy the very place he calls home destroys his sense of self.
Throughout the game, whenever Vivi starts to worry about ideas of identity, Zidane is very quick to tell him how good it is to talk about how he feels, and not to keep it all inside. When Zidane’s world view comes crashing down, he ignores his own advice. He shuts himself away and pushes his friends aside. It’s only as he’s running away, and ‘his demons’ are about to win, his friends still come to his aide. Starting with Steiner who distrusted Zidane the least at the beginning of the game, and finally ending with Dagger. The news does shake him to his very core, but by the games final battle, Zidane retains his nature and caring spirit. Kuja is defeated in battle, and once his friends are safe, Zidane decides to go back to rescue Kuja. They have a conversation about the hand life dealt them. As the conversation draws to a close, Kuja asks Zidane why he came to save him. Zidane’s only answer mirrors what he’s been saying to people throughout the game. “it’s the right thing to do”. With Dagger, you have someone trying to come into their own, but with Zidane, it’s reaffirming who they are.
Vivi is a stark contrast to both Dagger and Zidane. Vivi Ornitier first appears as what looks like a young boy dressed as a traditional Black Mage. A recurring class in the Final Fantasy franchise. Vivi becomes swept up in the games events when he sneaks into the showing of I Want to be Your Canary, and ends up on the ship as it’s escaping. As they end up in a small village while travelling, people seem to mistake Vivi for someone, or rather something, else. Overtime, we, just as Vivi does, begin to learn that Black Mages are manufactured. They are created as soulless weapons of war by Kuja. Vivi is horrified by this, shaken to an intense degree. he questions his own thoughts and feelings. Vivi is someone that constantly doubts his power and free will. It’s something that progresses through the game.
On the second continent, Vivi finds that people do start suddenly treating him differently. As though they know him and he’s been to their village before. After questioning, the party discover that there is a nearby village full of Black Mages. Vivi demands the party find this village, which they do. Vivi isn’t the only Black Mage to gain sentience but is clearly the youngest. Most refer to themselves only by number but clearly have thoughts and feelings. Vivi is astounded to find this and begins to start to feel like his own self, however, he finds a grave. After a conversation with one of the Mages, he learns that they only have a life span of a single year. This is devastating news to Vivi that does haunt him through out the majority of the game. Vivi does show worry for the Black Mage Village when ever the continent is in danger, becoming enraged when he learns that a number of the Mages had chosen to back to Kuja when they were promised an extension to their life. An obvious lie. The final time Vivi returns to the village he does find just two Mages left. They are waiting for a Chocobo egg to hatch. Proof that these beings do indeed have a soul, for a soulless puppet wouldn’t care about a baby chick being born. Much less naming it Bobby Corwin.
During confrontations, Vivi is frequently referred to as a puppet and spoken to in the third person. As the game draws to a close, Vivi becomes a determined, and strong-willed member of the party. Doing what he can to defeat Garland and Kuja and save his world. During the epilogue, it is hinted that Vivi did reach his ‘expiration date’, but his sons walk the streets of Alexandria and attend the new performance of I Want to be Your Canary and the reunion of Zidane and Dagger.
Final Fantasy IX is a masterwork in how to elevate storytelling through gameplay. Revealing major character details to not only the character, but the player as well for maximum impact. While Final Fantasy as a whole does tell some amazing stories in relation to identity, it’s IX that perhaps tells it’s story the most effectively.
Square (1990) Final Fantasy III [CART] Nintendo Entertainment System. Square: JP.
Square (1991) Final Fantasy IV [CART] Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Square: JP.
Square (1997) Final Fantasy VII [DISC] PlayStation. Square: JP.
Square (1999) Final Fantasy VIII [DISC] PlayStation. Square: JP.
Square (2000) Final Fantasy IX [DISC] PlayStation. Square: JP.
Square Enix (2018) Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 2 – Final Fantasy 25th Memorial Ultimania Vol. 2. Dark Horse Books: Oregon.
The Matrix (1999) Film. Directed by The Wachowskis. [BLU-RAY] Warner Bros.: USA.