Early Reaction & Hype for Marvel SNAP

There was a time in my life when I was living and breathing an online digital collectible card game. I played Hearthstone daily for years, hit Legend a few times, and truly enjoyed it – until I didn’t. It was about a year ago that I stopped playing Hearthstone for a family vacation and decided to take a longer break. I have not opened the game since and have marveled (pun!) at the time that has opened in my life. Between starting a new job last year, spending time with my son, and catching up on books (The Expanse was excellent) and shows (Arcane was AMAZING) it’s been a nice break from the card-game scene.

Then I caught the preview for Marvel SNAP, and I’m ALL IN again!

(more poker parallels later!)

The announcement below potential players a quick overview of how Marvel SNAP works, and immediately it should feel both familiar and different compared to games like Hearthstone.

Numerous elements of the game jump out to me as if they were designed to satisfy frustrations I’ve had with other games. First, each card is a character from the Marvel Universe. It should go without saying that winning a game with cards the likes of Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine is pretty damn cool. Second, there is no turn taking between players because both players commit to their plays during the same time frame – or Round. Marvel SNAP games are 6 Rounds unless one player Concedes early. The timer for each Round is the same for both players so there is no scenario where a player plays their turn and then waits for their opponent. There is no waiting for your opponent to take their turn and watch that infernal rope (Hearthstone) burn down!

That’s enough to get me excited, but wait there’s more!

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Lost in Loki

My enjoyment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is something I’ve documented previously. The consistent quality of the films (for the most part) has been a wonder to behold. A question that loomed when the Disney+ shows were announced was, “Will the MCU transfer that magic to a smaller screen?” Now that WandaVision, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, and Loki are here to consume, it is safe to say the answer to that question is a definitive YES.

This morning, I set my alarm for 5AM so I could watch the finale of Loki before work. I lost faith that I could control avoiding spoilers a long time ago so it was either 1) go internet-dark for at least an entire day or 2) wake up early. The choice was clear! While watching the series season finale some gears whirled and clicked in my brain. I felt transported to another time and place when mysteries abounded and a cast of characters were figuring out how to wrestling with their glorious purpose.

Not the multiverse, no.

Lost.

Ever since the initial promos, Lost was a show that captured my attention. The dramatic voiceover teasing the show, a catchy premise, stunning visuals, a soaring score, and with Merry from The Lord of the Rings prominently involved – I was hooked. For all its eventual flaws (we’ll get to those in a moment), Lost excelled at establishing a setting that allowed attractive, charming and talented actors to tell entertaining stories and delve into a variety of intra- and inter-personal relationships.

Sound familiar?

The high-water episodes of Lost stack up with anything from Prestige TV that has come since. The voilà transformation in Walkabout, the vibrating urgency of The Constant, the incredible build-up and execution of Through the Looking Glass, and the hilarity and sweetness of Tricia Tanaka Is Dead stick with me 15 years later. On that last point, we named our son Hugo because there are worse things than having your namesake mutter, “Let’s look death in the face and say, ‘Whatever, man.’ Let’s make our own luck.”

The Marvel Mystery Box

With my enjoyment of Lost as a backdrop, let’s return to the journey of our multiverse-crossed pair, Loki and Slyvie. Having cleared a path through Alioth to reach the Citadel, the two finally get to meet The Man Behind the Curtain. The introduction of Kang The Conqueror into the MCU has been rumored for almost a year. Where WandaVision ended with a otherwordly display of magical powers and action, the majority of Loki’s finale was exposition from Kang and watching how Loki and Slyvie would respond.

All that was missing were the fish biscuits.

Kang now replaces Thanos as the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG), which allows the characters throughout the MCU to respond to a new threat. The Lost parallels truly clicked for me after the post-credit scene simply displayed the stamp: LOKI WILL RETURN IN SEASON 2.

For either good or bad (it’ll take years to play out), the MCU as we know it triggered not only a massive, multiversal war but also a significant paradigm shift with the audience. The MCU has been fueled by spectacles on the big screen and the shows have given previously-underutilized characters a place to shine so they can take on more prominent roles in future films. Loki coming back for a second season truly breaks that mold because the finale functioned more as a tease of what is to come than the culmination of specific plotlines.

The MCU is its own multiverse now – versions of itself stacked on top of each other with the sole purpose of consuming our attention. There will be mystery boxes, BBEGs, character development, and – yes – seasons of shows to continue the vast, episodic, and relentless worldbuilding. It has the potential to be amazingly and staggeringly beautiful – an arena where talented creators and artists have an unlimited palette to craft critically-acclaimed stories that can be inspiring, heartbreaking, or simply triumphant.

It also has the potential to become a never-ending series of unfulfilling stories. The flaws with Lost are that it changed the questions a few too many times and suffered from a lack of adequate answers. Lost asked fascinating questions with the Smoke Monster, The Hatch, and The Others; some of those answers were magnificent and others…. eh, not so much. It also knew how to shake the snow globe for its characters. Need to inject some new life to spice things up? We have survivors in the tail of the plane! The MCU is using a similar bag of tricks and has demonstrated that they can build up and pay off the investment of fans. It would be foolish to doubt their ability to keep up this quality though the slew of shows and movies on the horizon will put those abilities to a greater test.

The danger is that fans burn out on the MCU moving the goal posts one too many times. Let us build up the Time Variance Authority (TVA) and get you invested in what that might be only to show it’s a conjuration of Kang the Conqueror, who is just one version of Kang and you’ll have to wait for that story to unfold over years in future shows and movies. Loki and Slyvie (and the audience) got some answers in the finale, though I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions!”

4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 Billion Served

The success of the MCU is more impressive by how other franchises have so utterly failed to maintain their hold on pop culture. Harry Potter once dominated and (weak prequels aside) that property is complicated to enjoy due to viewpoints by JK Rowling. Game of Thrones lit itself on fire and has quickly faded from relevancy. Star Wars is in a weird and sad place where they cannot seem to escape the shadow of three films from nearly four decades ago or animated shows that aired to a small audience years ago.

As I sat through the trailers before Black Widow I was struck by how it’s All-MCU-All-The-Time. The trailers for ShangChi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and The Eternals played back-to-back. A piece of me worried that our films are getting funneled through a narrow output machine and another is ready to embrace the glorious purpose of the MCU.

The ambition of the MCU architects to dream this big and execute it all so well….

Where are we?

Marveling at Avengers: Endgame

The first exposure I can remember to superheroes were the Superman movies and the old Batman television series. The former was rather earnest and the later was incredibly campy, and both set the bar in my mind for what type of film or television was possible when based on a comic book. The initial Batman movie was such a phenomenon in 1989! Culture moved so much slower back then (trust me), so Batman owned what felt like a year or more of everyone’s attention. The movie expanded my perception of what was possible in a movie based on comic book characters, and it fueled an interest in comics as a hobby.

My first and really only dive into comic books was during the early 1990s when Image Comics splashed onto the scene. I was certainly aware of comic books before then and knew a few things about common superhero lore, though I didn’t start collecting until I had a chance to be in on the ground floor of something. The idea of getting caught up on characters and franchises that had been going on for many years or decades seemed daunting, and starting with #1 of any new book felt exciting.

Somewhere in my mother’s house sits several long boxes of early-era Image comics such as Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Savage Dragon, Youngblood, Wetworks, Cyberforce, Shadowhawk, The Maxx, Pitt, Gen 13, Witchblade… I set out to collect all the Image stuff.

And for a time, I did.

I also sprinkled in other titles from those days like Spider-Man 2099 and the Star Wars Dark Empire issues. It all became too cumbersome and expensive though, and my interest in comics faded as I progressed through high school and into college. Superheroes remained something I was aware of, and I slowly got interested in graphic novels many years later – finding titles like Watchmen and Y: The Last Man quite profound.

Superhero Films Revival

The first X-Men film in 2000 was a reminder that the stories within comic books can be translated into quality entertainment at the cinema, and the first sequel in 2003 was a wonderful comic book movie featuring talented actors performing interesting roles with twisting allegiances, snappy dialogue and stunning visuals. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 arrived around this time, and both of them delivered quality experiences. The Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy started in 2005, and the massive success of The Dark Knight (released July 18, 2008), fueled by the otherworldly and tragic performance by Heath Ledger, gave superhero movies increased credibility.

A few months earlier in 2008, another superhero movie, Iron Man, opened and started a chain reaction of events that would result in the following completely silly and staggering box office numbers below. Even with the success of several superhero movies and franchises, nothing could predict the outrageous popularity and success of what became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Marvel Box Office

Look at those numbers. It is absurd!! Twenty-BILLION dollars worldwide and counting from worldwide box office!? And that doesn’t factor in merchandising and gods-only-know what else they have as revenue streams.

Marvel released a movie about Ant-Man, and made half-a-billion dollars worldwide. 500 MILLION!? Ant-Man!?

I believe I have seen every one of these films in the theater, likely within a week or two of them releasing. They rarely fail to deliver on entertainment, and they have continued to thrive at the box office and avoid (for the most part) the natural cultural backlash that comes with anything that is this wildly successful.

The Endgame

I’ve tweeted this numerous times over the years; it amazes me how Marvel continues to keep this up. The casting has been fantastic, the marketing is always top-notch, and the films deliver escapism entertainment with heart and humor, and they make it look easy.

It’s not easy.

So after I saw Avengers: Endgame, I wanted to explore how this all happened. How did Marvel get the point that it could release a three-hour movie about a group of heroes battling back against a cosmic villain most people hadn’t heard of 10 years ago that culminated a 20-film story line – and it would be the highest-grossing movie of all time (most likely soon)?

How is Nebula, a side character from the pages of in a C-level comic book (in the eyes of the mainstream), one of the narrative linchpins of this film?

How does it all work!?

In the latest episode of Childhood Ruined, my co-host and I welcomed Duane Sibilly to the show to discuss these questions, and geek out about the wondrous splendor that is Avengers: Endgame.

I hope you’ll give it a listen!

And special thanks to the supporters of my Patreon including: Ashton Ruby, Adam J, Michael Shea, Duane Sibilly, Faience, Hawke Robinson, Jana Flesher, Samuel Dillon, and Sinan Turnacioglu.