CCI: Jim Lee and the Art of "DC Universe Online"

Apparently, Jim Lee's job is to turn your girlfriend onto comic books (and your mom too).

Lee held court on Friday, July 25, in an informal panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego that the fan-favorite artist promptly proceeded to "shanghai," tilting the focus from himself to the upcoming "DC Universe Online" video game that he has been helping to develop for the past three years with his Wildstorm Productions and Sony Online Entertainment.

Lee, who noted that this was his twenty-second straight Comic-Con, joked that the reason he derailed the panel was so that no one could ask him about the status of his late books. He did assure fans of those titles, though, that "they are coming."

"[Comic-Con's] lost a little of its charm over the years in that everything's become sort of super slick and polished," Lee said. "So I'd like to do a little bit more of an informal type thing here like how the panels used to be... and give you guys the 'truth.'"

Joining Lee on the panel was penciler Carlos D'Andra, Sony Online's Chris Cao, Jared Carr and Jason Smith, and artist Mat Broome who was supposed to serve as moderator until Lee assumed the job himself. "Mat Broome was supposed to be the moderator for this panel, but Mat used to work for me. So I've sort of shanghaied this panel now," Lee said.

Lee admitted to being an avid gamer (which he said wasn't the reason for his late shipping books), and that he was the one who actually approached DC Comics when he discovered they wanted to produce a massive interactive role playing game set firmly in the DC universe. Lee said that first and foremost he came to the game as a fan of both these types of interactive role playing games and the DCU, and so he wanted to help produce the best gaming experience possible for fans.

Lee said that in his opinion he felt the game would need three things to be successful: It needed to remain true to the characters and storylines of the DCU; it needed to be "as addictive as hell;" that it needed to be the type of game that you wanted to play over and over again; and that as an online game it needed to exist, survive, and grow through the strength of those who will actually play the game.

"At the end of the day, the game won't be real until you guys get your hands on it and make it complete," Lee said.

"DC Universe Online" will come with player-vs.-player options and arenas and special battle zones for multiplayer challenges. Players will also have the option of using an "inspired" character. For example, if you like Batman, you simply click on the bat symbol in the menu screen and the game automatically fills in all the attributes that a character like Batman would have �" mastery of the martial arts, increased agility, loads of gadgets. One can also create one's own "custom" characters.

Of switching from working sequentially with stylized artwork to helping to create an entire animated world in realistic 3D, Lee said it was like "learning a foreign language. Just a whole different way of working creatively than I was used to working in the world of comics."

The panelists then tried to screen a trailer of the upcoming game, but technical difficulties soon prevented that. So, as the convention staff worked to fix the problem, the panelists fielded questions from the audience instead. Several fans said they were concerned about the game having too many "bugs" when it debuts, but the Sonly Online Entertainment crew assured the audience that they have worked rigorously to ensure that is not the case. "As a game designer I only have two rules," Cao said. "Play your own game, and play others."

A fan asked if you would be able to play as members of the Green Lantern Corps? Yes, and no, apparently, as players will be able to select the appearance and attributes of Hal Jordan's Green Lantern, but Cao noted that there are simply way too many Green Lanterns in DC comics currently to have included them all and all their available powers and attributes; which might be a feature for a follow-up game or as the "DC Universe Online" game expands. Lee chimed, "I think a cool game would be where you can play as Green Lantern of Sector, like, 1956, and there's only one inhabitable planet in that system, which is largely deserted, so you're flying around looking for shit to do most of the time."

Another fan thanked Lee for all his great work over the years, noting that he'd been enjoying Lee's vivid pencils since he was five years old, and that Lee was also the same age as his father. "You got my girlfriend into comics," the fan told Lee.

"That's what I'm here for," Lee said with a smile, then added: "If your mom's about my age, I can get her interested too."

The technical difficulties finally resolved, the trailer for the game was then shown. Footage included Black Adam in some sort of Egyptian tomb, Harley Queen breaking into a heavily guarded facility, the Batmobile and the Batcave, Brainiac's spaceship attacking Metropolis, Central City and the Flash, and an exo-suited Lex Luthor stomping through the streets of a ruined city (again, presumably Metropolis).

The trailer drew loud applause from the crowd.

With time now short due to the technical difficulties, the panelists continued the Q&A session as 3D character models played on the screen in the background. Included were Superman, Hawkgirl, Bane, Solomon Grundy, Doomsday, Sinestro, and Ambush Bug.

"Yup, Ambush Bug's in the game," Lee said. "I think that's really all you guys need to know."

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