Sunday, 24 January 2016

Questprobe: The End

Did the Chief Examiner ever save his people?

Scott Adams’s Questprobe is one of the most ambitious adventure game projects ever attempted. The goal was to release twelve games and twelve comic books over four years. Each game had to attract new players, but also build on the previous ones in terms of characters and puzzle complexity. Each new comic had to expand on the story of the Chief Examiner as he struggled to save his doomed race. The whole mess was years ahead of its time: it would be more than two decades before another company tried to publish episodic adventure games on such an ambitious schedule. Unfortunately, the changing game industry took its toll on Adventure International and the Questprobe series was cancelled after only three games. Even without new games, the story of the Chief Examiner was picked up by later Marvel writers and brought to its conclusion. In this special “ending” post, I’m going to take a look at how Marvel ended this series as well as speculate a bit on “What If” the series had continued. There’s no gameplay here!

I want to stress that the following is the “official” ending to Questprobe, but not the one intended by Scott Adams and his team. Scott has modestly insisted that they did not have an ending planned out, nor was he thinking on the games more than one ahead. I’m not sure that I buy that exactly, but let’s see what Marvel has in store for us.



Part I: Magneto and the X-Men

Questprobe Featuring the X-Men

Two years after Questprobe ended, Marvel published their first “new” Chief Examiner story in the pages of Marvel Fanfare #33, cover dated for July 1987. The story behind this issue seems to be straight-forward: this is the “lost” Questprobe #4 comic that would have accompanied the cancelled X-Men game that I reviewed a few months ago. It had been written and then shelved; Al Milgrom found it some time later, thought it was an excellent X-Men story, and slotted it into his Fanfare anthology series. End of story.

Al Milgrom, admitting the truth.

Except, that might not be the whole truth. I spoke to Scott Adams about this issue and he claims not to have been involved in it and he was not credited anywhere in the issue itself. I am going to hazard a guess and say that Chris Claremont, the writer for this issue, was working from the original Questprobe plan drawn up by Scott Adams and John Byrne. Scott very well may have been less involved in this issue than he had in the previous ones, but I suspect it was more due to his time being spent working to Adventure International up and running. He also points out that the X-Men characters used in this comic did not match the ones that were selected for the fourth Questprobe game, but that is easily explained: Magneto is the only playable character in the game and Magneto is the only X-Men to successfully pass through the Chief Examiner’s portal in the comic. Whether or not this is the X-Men comic we were supposed to have, it is the one that was delivered, so let’s take a look.

Our story begins as the X-Men relax on an island paradise between missions. Of course, these are not the original X-Men, but rather a team that included Rogue, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Storm, and Wolverine. Professor X, their usual leader, was missing presumed dead and a recently reformed Magneto was leading the team. Rather than describe each of the characters and their powers, let me jump to the only two that matter to this story: Rogue has the ability to temporarily drain the powers of heroes and villains that she comes in contact with, while Magneto has incredible control over the whole electromagnetic spectrum. Without warning, the Greek-style statues on the island come alive and attack the unsuspecting heroes. One by one, each member of the team is defeated and turned to stone. Only Magneto manages to survive the assault, but even he admits that he is defeated. Rogue also missed the battle as she was traveling off the island at the time.

The Chief Examiner wins!

As the dust settles, the Chief Examiner appears and reveals that it was all a test, one that only Magneto passed. But when the Chief tries to scan Magneto’s powers, something strange happens: they swap bodies. Magneto finds himself as an electronic signal in the living computer that makes up the Chief Examiner, while the Chief somehow awakens in Magneto’s human body. But even this isn’t as it appears: Magneto quickly discovers that Durgan the Philosopher (and creator of the Chief Examiner) is also imprisoned in the electronic realm. The Bio-gem had somehow managed to take control of the Chief Examiner construct. They weren’t even supposed to be targeting the X-Men at all; the next heroes were supposed to be the remaining two members of the Fantastic Four.

Like the Matrix, but with less Kung-Fu.

Back in the real world, the Bio-gem/Chief Examiner revels in his new found powers and freedom. But he doesn’t get much time to gloat as Rogue returns to the island and starts her attack.

Not a good sign...

She’s fighting a losing battle until the Chief tries to use his portal on her, but it also has a strange interaction with her mutant power. Instead of passing through, she sticks to it! What’s more, she somehow absorbs the powers of all of the superheroes that the Chief Examiner had scanned before: the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and the Thing.

As side-effects go, this one isn’t terrible...

With her newfound powers, the tables turn and Rogue is able to trounce the Chief Examiner as fighting a super strong (times two), flaming, wall-crawling hero with sass was more than he expected. Meanwhile, Magneto and Durgan are able to find and repair the breach that allowed the Bio-gem to enter and take over the Examiner’s programming. To repair it risks their abilities to return to their physical bodies, but that is a chance they have to take. Of course, it succeeds and Magneto is restored to his own body once again.

That was easier than chasing him...

With the hostilities over, Magneto volunteers to enter the portal and have his abilities added to the Chief’s matrix. He made a friend in Durgan, so it’s the least he can do. The Chief Examiner also learns a valuable lesson: he might get more help from heroes if he asks for it rather than trying to take it by force. They are heroes, after all, and his cause is a good one. With Magneto through the portal, we also have the beginning of the fourth Questprobe game.

And not Professor Xavier’s X-Men anymore.

The issue ends on a melancholy note as Magneto wonders whether Durgan can be successful, as well as whether violent means are the right ways to end the Black Fleet. It’s a strange thought for someone that perpetually tried to use violent means to take over the world for mutant-kind, but this Magneto is reformed. The story is pretty good, with a ton of action by all the current members of the X-Men. It also does a nice job of advancing the Bio-gem plot line, as well as explaining how the Chief seemed to lose control briefly in the previous two issues. There’s not much of an ending here, but fortunately the story is not over yet.

Part II: The Mysterious Power of Kayla Ballentine

Questprobe Featuring the Star Brand

The next major thread in the continuing story of Questprobe didn’t just happen in a one-off issue or two, but rather as the B-plot spread over more than a dozen issues of Quasar starting around February 1992. I have to admit that I was wholly ignorant of Quasar as a character, or even the general state of “cosmic” Marvel in the 80s and 90s. My own comic book reading kept me to down-to-earth characters like Spider-Man rather than the high-tech space empires that served as the backdrop for these books. To make it worse, these books have some of the worst “bite the newbie” plotting that I can remember: there is no plot summary or cast of characters like in recent books and in one case I had to backtrack a half-dozen issues just to find out a character’s name so I could look her up online. Fortunately, most of the Questprobe story is divorced from the main Quasar storyline and we really need to focus only on one character: Kayla Ballentine.

This plotline was written by Mark Gruenwald, the lead writer on Quasar. He had previously contributed to Questprobe #1 and may have been around for the early story sessions as the overall goals of the series were discussed. Whether or not those ideas were used in this story is less clear, but having been involved with Questprobe since the beginning, he may have felt some responsibility to ending it.

very special hug.

Let’s start at the beginning: Kayla is a normal person without any superpowers to speak of. She works as the executive assistant to Wendell Vaughn at his company and also knows his secret: that he’s the universe-protecting hero Quasar. If you like the recent movies, you can think of her as being something like Pepper Potts and, like Pepper, has fallen in love with her boss. Marvel was never very good at avoiding gender discrimination in the workplace. One very special day, Quasar gets trapped in a parallel universe (actually, a parallel multiverse) and has to borrow the powers of the heroes of that world to get home. That power is known as the “Star Brand”, infinite abilities all in one handy tattoo. Quasar burns through his new power to cross back into the mainstream Marvel universe and everything seems back to normal. This “New Universe” that he travelled to is actually a separate continuity that Marvel tried to build in the late 80s. You can think of it as a prototype for the later “Ultimate” universe, but they tried to establish all new characters from scratch. It didn’t go so well and all books had been cancelled by the time Quasar made his reality-defying jump.

Unknown to either Quasar or Kayla, the Star Brand power was not fully burned out in the trip to our universe. Instead, the tiniest amount of it managed to transfer over to Kayla when Quasar gave her a big hug. Our characters won’t find this out for a little bit yet. It also turns out that a tiny amount of infinity is still quite a lot.

It’s like that scene in Psycho, but with superpowers.

Before too long, Kayla is starting to show signs of being able to fly. While she tries to distract herself with a nice hot shower, she is attacked by a minor villain named Angler. He’s named that because his body is partially crystalline with a lot of flat planes and angles, not as you might have suspected because he is good at fishing. Kayla’s new powers manifest and she blows the assailant across the room. She doesn’t quite understand what is going on-- did the villain’s power backfire on himself? Has she absorbed some of the Quasar powers from her relationship with him? Something else?

A couple of days later, Kayla and her friend Holly head off on a roadtrip to Florida to clear their heads. Along the way she is attacked again, this time by a low-rent villain known as Quagmire. His superpower is to create and control powerful oil slicks. He reveals more about what is going on: like the Angler, he was recently broken out of a maximum security prison by the Chief Examiner. His mission is to force Kayla to pass through the Chief’s portal.

Swipe left. Seriously.

Quagmire has no difficulty forcing both Kayla and Holly into the mysterious portal and they land face to face with the Chief Examiner on his distant planet. He apologies for the rough treatment, but reveals to them a bit more of the plot: he is a special agent for the planet Scadam and working to capture the abilities of Earth's heroes to aid in the fight against the Black Fleet. We also discovered that he’s been a bit busy since we last saw him, having successfully also captured the powers of Wolverine, Namor, and “countless others”.

Where is Magneto?

He explains that Kayla is the most powerful super-being that he has ever come across and asks to scan her powers for his mission. Kalya at first thinks to refuse since he might be using these powers for evil, but then she remembers that she doesn’t have powers so it does not matter what he does. She makes him promise to return her to Earth once he has synthesized her so-called “powers” and then offers herself up.

The end of an era.

That plan goes badly for everyone involved. The Chief touches Kayla to take her “powers”, but they are far too much for him to absorb. Desperately overloaded, the Chief Examiner explodes, taking the hopes and dreams of the planet Scadam with him. Moments later, the Black Fleet resume their attack on the planet and Kayla and Holly flee for their lives. They aren’t fast enough: Kayla is killed, literally turned to bone and ash by a Black Fleet ship’s weapons. Her friend Holly remains alive, but for how long?

This is a disappointing end for the Chief Examiner, especially as this subplot seems divorced from the rest of the Questprobe arc so far. There is no reason given why the Chief Examiner needs to utilize D-level supervillains to recruit Kayla, especially as he is seen coming to Earth to free them. Couldn’t he have had the same conversation with Kayla in her living room? His technology is also misrepresented. In previous stories, the Chief is able to scan individuals by having them pass through his portal, but here the portal acts only as a teleportation device. Instead, the Chief now has to touch the individual to take on their abilities. All in all, it was nice for the character to get a last hurrah, but what’s here doesn’t quite mesh well with the story we had so far. Fortunately, it’s not over quite yet.

Part III: The Destruction of the Black Fleet

Not how I expected this to end...

Kayla’s death isn’t as permanent as it seems. Even though she is charred to ash and bones, a new version of herself sprouts and grows from the ashes. Holly, far less freaked out about this than she should be, stays to try to keep her friend safe while she’s forming. Eventually, a naked and nearly bald Kayla Balentine emerges, groggy but okay.

Only mostly dead?

They are still trapped on Scadam, but the major part of the battle appears to have moved away from them for now. They don’t know it, but Quasar-ally and super powered golden woman “Her” is in orbit above Sacam, having decided to take on the fleet all by herself. She discovered it nearly by accident and has no idea that Kayla is down below. Her efforts are keeping some of the heat off, but she won’t be able to keep it up for very long. Other than acting as a distraction, her subplot doesn’t accomplish much so I’ll just skip it.

Is one of her powers conjuring a shirt?

Kayla and Holly use the breather to experiment a bit with her new powers. Kayla finds that she can fly by herself and even support Holly for a short distance. They also find a few surviving Scadamites, but no one that can get them home. Perhaps by accident, or perhaps on purpose, they stumble into a major new part of the battle: the Chief Exterminator.

You have to admit: that is awesome. I’m a sucker for giant robots.

Fifty feet tall and kicking ass, the Chief Exterminator is a giant robot created with all of the powers of the superheroes captured so far. This, according to Mark Gruenwald, was the ultimate goal of the Questprobe project. We don’t get to see it light up like the Human Torch, and it is far too large to cling to walls, but it does successfully fight off wave after wave of Black Fleet ships. But there are too many ships and eventually the robot falters. The Chief Exterminator too is destroyed.

Is this the end?

Kayla and Holly fly down to the wreckage of the giant robot, quickly finding its pilot. It’s someone that we’ve met before, that we know very well: Durgan the Philosopher. He was badly injured in the explosion. He has just enough time to apologize for bringing them to Scadam before he also dies.

Goodbye, cosmic afro-man.

Kayla gets angry. Really, really angry. Angry at her situation. Angry at being stuck on a planet millions of miles from home. Angry that the planet is being destroyed. And perhaps even angry that Questprobe ended after only three games. In a last gasp of exhaustion, anger, and terrible power, Kayla essentially explodes in a giant flash of cosmic deux ex machina.


%#%@ you, then.

In a matter of moments, the Black Fleet is destroyed. Every ship. Every attacker in one blaze of glory. Once they catch their breath and realize what they did, they resume trying to find a way home. They discover the Chief’s portal is still active, but decide not to take it in case it lands them in the middle of deep space or something. They eventually catch a lift home with some mysterious dancing aliens. Holly will turn out to be a villain in the end, somehow trying to use Kayla to get access to the Star Brand powers for herself. Their story will go on, but this is where the Questprobe series ends.

All in all, I have to give it to Mark Gruenwald for coming up with an idea at least of what all those powers would have been used for. The idea of a giant “Chief Exterminator” is a bit silly, but the few visuals that we get of him smashing passing ships to pieces is well worth it. Exactly how all the heroes’ powers helped him do that is less obvious, but at least it’s an ending. Durgan died without ever knowing that his planet would be saved. There is no closure here for the Sacamites; other than a few passing panels with terrified civilians, we never get to see their council chamber again or have any idea what lessons they learned from this. Would they cease their peacenik ways? Did they come to respect the value of force that Durgan espoused? Were there just not enough of them to bother with things other than trying to find food and shelter? We’ll never know.

Part IV: The Last Villain Standing

Questprobe Featuring… Skrillex? Skeletor? Eugene Skullovich?

Did I say it was over? I should have said that I wished it was over because Mark wasn’t quite ready to let Questprobe die just yet. The story was picked up again in the 12-part crossover and limited series Starblast, starting in early 1994. When Kayla exploded, somehow a single crewmember on a single Black Fleet ship had survived the destruction. He licked his wounds, recruited some friends, and tracked down the source of the ultimate power that devastated their race. Of course, that could lead them to only one place: Earth. There is a lot going on in this cross-over, but I’m going to keep my retelling to the basics. I was pretty bored by endless battles between characters that I hardly know, and I suspect you would be as well.

Probably evil.

Our story begins with Skeletron, the gentleman robot in the picture above. He’s the last surviving member of the Turgentine Technenium, otherwise known as the Black Fleet, a race of evil robots that want to conquer things and destroy organic life. We don’t get any details of how he and his ship survived, or how he alone of all of the thousands of ships and presumably many more crew members managed to survive Kayla’s blast. What we do know is that he has tracked the source of the power that destroyed his people back to Earth and he wants to get that power for himself. Since all of the other members of his race are dead, he recruits a group of galactic villains which he dubs the “Starblasters” to achieve his mission.

Not nearly as much fun as a monolith.

Their first stop is the moon: after capturing the Watcher that lives on the dark side of the moon, they plant a giant engine into the lunar surface. Their goal is to push the moon out of its orbit, sending it crashing down to destroy the Earth. A group of humanity’s best heroes that happened to not be busy at the time came together to stop this threat, ensuring that the Earth and its moon would survive another day. Other than Quasar, I recognize only a handful of the heroes that come together in this book. End of the story? Not quite.

Infinite cosmic powers, only when convenient to the plot.

The attack on the moon was not the real goal of the mission. Instead, Skeletron and his team wanted to keep the heroes of Earth distracted while they accomplished their real task: capturing Kayla Ballentine. A few months and a few adventures have happened since the last time we saw her, but she doesn’t seem to have mastered the use of her powers yet. For someone that can destroy thousands of ships with a thought as well as survive getting turned to bone and ash, she gets captured very easily by the Starblasters and taken to their ship. A handful of heroes try to intervene, but they are knocked back.

At this point, you might be wondering: who are these heroes on the moon? Who are these heroes that tried to protect Kayla Ballentine from the Starblasters? Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. The whole Starblasters crossover event is littered with characters, all of whom have their entrances and their exits, have battles with their counterparts on the Starblasters, do things that are important to their characterization and development, and then step back off the page. The wiki page for the first issue in the event lists 49 named super heroes and villains with similar numbers in the others. Rather than try to tell the story of the Starblasters crossover, I’m going to limit myself to the plot that involves Skeletron and Kayla Ballentine.

I’ll trade this one for Howard the Duck. Deal?

Skeletron and his minions deliver Kayla to a person known as the Stranger. He had appeared in a few issues that I had read in the past, but I had to look him up to remember. He’s something of a extremely powerful scientist-god who is very curious but also not against immoral methods to reach his goals. Skeletron offers to trade Kayla and her Star Brand for access to the New Universe, to allow him to gain the source of the Star Brand power for himself. Of course, he secretly plans to double-cross the Stranger to get both.

Mark Gruenwald liked his giant robots.

Fast-forward several issues and the Stranger accomplishes his task: he unlocks the New Universe for Skeletron, but Skeletron also uses Kayla’s untapped power to create a giant robot version of himself. It’s a huge moment, one that makes you think that the villain just might be winning. How can the combined powers of Earth’s heroes fight against a 2000-foot tall evil robot with the power of the Star Brand?


This is literally the next panel.

As it turns out, they don’t have to. The Stranger knew that he would be double-crossed and laid a trap for Skeletron. The evil giant robot would be trapped in the New Universe, but that reality would be utterly destroyed: a whole universe of nothing. The version of Earth that existed in that universe, with all its heroes and villains, was teleported to the Stranger’s personal star for him to observe (or poke) at his leisure. Skeletron would live forever with the power of the Star Brand, but in an empty universe. A sequel of a sort, a crossover called Star Masters, was released in 1995 but did not include Skeletron or other aspects from the Questprobe series.

One curious thing about the whole Starblasters plotline is that it hardly references Questprobe at all. We learn that Skeletron’s fleet was destroyed by the Star Brand and that he was the last survivor-- we even get a glimpse of his ship at the end of one of the Quasar issues, following Kayla home-- but no one mentions Scadam or the Chief Examiner, nor is Skeletron’s race ever called the “Black Fleet”. The book does not mind throwing dozens of heroes at you with no explanation or backstory, so I do not think they would deliberately avoid making a connection to the previous story. I know I’m making it too obvious, but I didn’t enjoy this final chapter of the story as much as the others. The Black Fleet was interesting in part because of its anonymity; Skeletron is just a cheesy evil robot with no clear motivations. You could have replaced him with any Marvel villain and the story would have worked just as well.

This is the real end of Questprobe. After this, there would be no more mentions (to date) of the Chief Examiner, Durgan the Philosopher, the planet Scadam, or of the Black Fleet. Marvel has an amazing ability to reuse old characters and ideas so they could come back again some day, but my guess is that these guys will be retired from this point on out.

Questprobe Future Games

We know from our conversations with Scott Adams that he series was not fully-plotted in advance: he did not decide what heroes and villains would appear more than a game in advance. Although the Quasar storyline revealed that Namor and Wolverine would have been future targets, that decision was made years after the Questprobe game series had ended production. So, just on a lark, I came up with a few fun ideas for future games. Do you like these? Have a better favorite hero that would make an interesting game? Let us know in the comments!

Questprobe Featuring Daredevil

Daredevil is a unique Marvel hero and one that is nearly impossible to do justice to in any medium. Despite having excellent reflexes and fighting skills, Daredevil is completely blind. He replies on his “radar sense”, his extremely advanced hearing, to know what is around him and to react to it. In an action game, Daredevil might just be another brawler, but in a Questprobe game it could be so much more: a great opportunity for some unique art and a textual depiction of the radar sense.

Questprobe Featuring Ant-Man

Ant-Man appeared in Questprobe #1 as an ally to the Hulk, but having seen the film I am now completely on board with giving him his own game. Puzzles could have been on multiple levels: you could enter a room as big Ant-Man, but shrinking down would reveal a different face of the area. A room that you could pass through in one screen could be a whole maze in ant-size. This seems like the type of puzzle that Scott Adams could have done very well with.

You will believe that a Marvel film can bomb.

Questprobe Featuring Howard the Duck

Not really gifted with any super powers other than being an anthropomorphic duck in a human’s world, Howard would be a strange choice for the Chief Examiner. I like to imagine his selection as an unhappy accident. But had the series progressed, Marvel may have wanted to cash in on their first ever theatrical film. It bombed at the box office, but I actually liked it quite a bit as a kid.

There are plenty of great ideas here, but I bet we could come up with more. Spider-Woman might have made a great choice because of her TV show, and Kitty Pryde’s phasing ability would have made for some fourth-wall-breaking puzzles. How about a game featuring a dozen different Avengers? I’d play any of those!

Conclusion

And this is it: we have reached the end of our badly misnamed “Summer of Questprobe” event. We have looked at three completed games, one incomplete one, two interviews, and two dozen comic books, but now it is time to wrap it up. This has been a bit of an experiment for me and for “The Adventure Gamer”, a continuing series on a theme of games rather than just picking them out chronologically. I hope you enjoyed it and please let us know in the comments if you want to see more of these types of special events.

Questprobe is such a missed opportunity. I had a great time with the games that we played and I still have fond memories of playing Spider-Man as a kid. The puzzles were 1980s-difficult, but relatively few of them were unfair. As the fourth game was in development, I can’t help but think the series was just catching its stride. Scott Adams had figured out the puzzle of how to make interesting games with the Marvel characters, the plot with the Bio-gems was thickening nicely, and the engine was improving to support more complex areas and multiple playable characters. If we old had had a few more games, I think we would have seen some absolute classics. What we have here is not unlike the “Canterbury Tales”: a great work that is worth revisiting, but ultimately frustrating because it is left unfinished.

Up next from me will be another “Missed Classic” of a game adaptation. You’ll never guess in a million years which one…

15 comments:

  1. Reading through how the chief executioner scanned the superheroes power to use reminds me about DC:s Amazo (I think that is his name anyway). Of course I only know him from the Justice League cartoon, but it appears something similar. So had it worked like that and then ended like The Iron Giant we would probably have the best adaption of Questrobe ever.

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    1. I'm not aware of that DC comic, but I DID like here that they put a lampshade on how the Chief's power isn't so different from Rogue's. (Just like in the Spider-Man comic where they kept pointing out that he looked too much like Mysterio. There's a certain humor in that I suppose, Marvel pointing out how derivative it itself is.)

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    2. Yeah, I don't know much about Amazo myself since he was only in the show for two episodes (?) and he is basically a robot constructed of living metal that Lex Luthor tricks into attacking the Justice League. Something about them killing his creator (who died in cancer). So he copies all of the Justice League during the fight, but somehow they are able to tell him the truth so he leaves Earth. Next episode he appears is in Justice League Unlimited where he is after Lex Luthor so all of the Justice League tries to save Lex and then Amazo joined the League. Long time ago since I watched it. Also Amazo looks like a Starman from Earthbound.

      And talking about how derivative the comic industry is in itself, I think it appeared to me after watching Justice League unlimited followed by X-men: Evolution and pretty much the same powers came up again and again and I couldn't stop thinking "who came up with it first".

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  2. Very interesting history. I feel the need to point out that you commented on one panel that Kayla's power was to create a shirt, but if you look at Holly's outfit in the previous panel, you can see she used to have a white skirt that was given to Kayla.

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  3. This is probably the first time anyone has ever compared Scott Adams to Geoffrey Chaucer. :)

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  4. Bravo. Never do this again! Your sanity will thank you. :)

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    1. Never do what again, exactly? The multi-part series or reading so many comics...

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    2. I am guessing reading so many comics. This story is a prime example of a thing I don't like in superhero comics. A decent story begins in one title and you want to find out how it ends - but the story doesn't continue in the next issue of the same magazine, but in a completely different one, with heroes you haven't even heard of. Kudos for making some sense out of the story!

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    3. So, about that. When my son goes to bed, I get a window of time where he's falling asleep and I stay in his room but I'm not reading to him or pretty much anything else. I've been using this time to read comics (on a Marvel Unlimited subscription).

      As of right now, I've read EVERY "silver age" Marvel comic from Fantastic Four #1 in November 1961 to where I am currently, October 1965. I have no idea how many comics, but I have a big spreadsheet so I'll count them up eventually. To be clear, I AM including the WW2-based Howling Commando comics because they launched after Fantastic Four #1 and include characters that matter to the universe (Nick Fury being the big one), but NOT any of the Western or Romance-themed comics, even though I know that eventually some of them will be brought "in-universe". I have limits.

      Reading them this way has been... fantastic. You can really watch the world building that Stan Lee and his artists are doing, how they hang each new series on the ones that came before. Time and time again, they knock it out of the park. In this period, they introduce the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the Avengers, Spider-Man, Ant-Man & the Wasp, Doctor Strange, silver-age Namor, Nick Fury in both WW2 and SHIELD, the X-Men, the Hulk, and Daredevil. Every book pretty much worked. There are some clunkers, some villains that don't quite work out, and especially in the beginning far too many alien invasion plotlines, but it s shocking just how much of the current Marvel universe was set up in the first couple of years.

      Unfortunately, my ability to read them all in order is coming to an end. Octover 1965 is where Marvel Unlimited starts to have gaps. Most of the major series are accounted for, but not the one-off books. I'll still read what I can, but it's a bit less fun now that I know there will be books every month I'm not reading.

      Incidentally, I think that in the whole Questprobe project there was only ONE book on Marvel Unlimited, one of the Quasar ones. That's the one nicer screenshot above; all of the rest of them I had to scan from physical copies that I mail-ordered from some comics warehouse in Texas. (To save on shipping, I worked with a smaller company that would box them all together and ship them as one. Amazon wanted to charge several dollars PER ISSUE and it would have made the prices too high. Thank you, Internet!)

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    4. I worked it out: I've read somewhere around 290 comics this way, including the various annuals and such. In a few cases, they were only half-length comics because a regular anthology story would have appeared in the second half, but I think you get the idea. (And those are all gone by 1965 anyway as every page was squeezed for the various super-heroes.)

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    5. I was more referring to placing such a huge research project whilst also amidst playing through and blogging about a (series of) games. It's the equivalent of trying to play through and blog about every Star Wars game whilst analyzing every related novel. Well, maybe not quite as bad. (Still wouldn't do it.)

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  5. I wonder, if the Chief Examiner needs just raw power, why not use also super villains? I am sure it could use the super-intelligence of Doctor Doom.

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    1. I don't think it was the original intent. My guess is that the original goal of the games was to train "cadets" to using robot-duplicates of the various Questprobe heroes. So each of the games is essentially "you" training in a simulator to use the specific hero.

      The last game might have involved you switching between all the heroes that you had unlocked (using the password system) to beat the game. That would be the only "real" game. I had a whole thing written up about this theory, but with this post being 5,000 words already, I trimmed out my fan-service theories.

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  6. The reason "Holly" is handling things so well is because she's actually the supervillain Erishkigal in disguise.

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    1. You are right! I don't think I knew that at the time.

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