Sunday, February 28, 2016

Samus Aran: Chozo?

On my personal blog I recently made a post about whether or not Samus Aran was transgender.  But while writing it, one little thing bothered me and I thought I'd expand it into a full blog.  Plus I just really like babbling about Metroid.

I first played Metroid in 1986.  I immediately fell in love with the universe, even though not many details were actually given.  The instruction booklet had some info about space pirates, the Galactic Federation Police, and other events leading up to the game, but that's about it.  I scanned all other media for more information, and I accepted whatever I found as canon.  One Nintendo magazine said that Samus used to be an acrobat.  Boom, canon.  Kid Icarus had an alternate version of Metroids called Komaytos.  Boom, shared universe canon.

I was convinced there were further secrets in the game if only I explored hard enough.  There were so many secret areas (actually glitches) you could reach by letting doors close on you and climbing up through the walls.  I just knew if I found the right one, I'd get to see more of the story.  One of the secret codes was "Justin Bailey" - I was sure that was the name of another character in the Metroid universe.

While there were elements of Metroid in other media (such as the silly "Captain N" cartoon), real canon information would not be forthcoming until the release of Metroid 2 in 1991.  Until then, I had to make up my own story.  So, I drew my own comics.  First I drew pictures of every enemy in the game.  I drew and defined several different types of metroids, basing them off the instruction booklet, their appearance in the game, and even other fan art.  Then I started drawing my own original enemies and allies.

In 1989 I drew a really bad comic book adaptation of the Metroid game.  I followed this with two additional issues, the second of which was a collection of short stories.  At one point it crossed over with another sci-fi comic I was drawing, The Bounty Hunters (which starred Boba Fett).  Finally I combined both universes into one, with a series called "Space Stories". I continued drawing Space Stories all throughout high school, college, and a bit beyond.

In my universe, the Space Pirates were humans, who dressed like ancient Earth pirates despite their futuristic technology.  If I'd known how they'd eventually look in Super Metroid, I would gladly have gone with that instead, because my designs were ridiculously silly.  My version of Samus Aran had green hair, because that's what she looked like when I played her in the game.  When I later realized that her hair's only green because of the Varia suit, I threw in a line about her dying it green.

So yeah, the lack of real canon, combined with my own dumb ideas, made me write a lot of crazy things.  Now, I loved the next two sequels - Metroid 2 (Gameboy, 1991) and Super Metroid (SNES, 1994), but they didn't really expand the universe much.  Goofy as it was, my comics were still the best canon I had.  So, when Nintendo finally got around to fleshing out Samus Aran's universe, in some ways it was already too late.  I'm glad they made the effort, but the results didn't always make me happy.

For one thing, they finally gave Samus an official look for when she's out of uniform.  There had been several shots of her unarmored form before, in strategy guides and issues of Nintendo Power, and of course at the end of the various games.  But none of these were consistent; they all just looked like someone told the artist, "Draw a woman."  It wasn't until her "Zero Suit" that they all started drawing her the same way, and I can't say I love the result.  I was hoping for someone sort of butch, attractive but still tough looking.  Instead we got a blonde centerfold with bosoms that defy gravity.  I've grown to accept it (I even main ZSS in Smash Bros), but it's definitely not what I would have chosen.

And then there's her personality in "Other M"... Okay, I'm not going to go into too much detail here, because the internet's already full of bad Other M reviews.  The gist is that Samus acted way too subservient in that game.  To be fair, it's possible they were doomed from the start.  Samus Aran had been around for 24 years by that point, and the earlier games didn't really show much of her personality.  During that time different players had built up different ideas of what her personality was like, and when Other M didn't line up with their headcanon, it felt like betrayal.  But that's just a possible explanation, not an excuse.  It really isn't a very good game so don't look to me to defend it.

But the thing the bothered me the most was...  the manga.  I'm sorry, I know that's sacrilege for some people.  But the "raised by Chozo" thing really ruined my headcanon.  Okay, some background for those who don't know what I'm talking about.  In the original Metroid, you occasionally find powerups held by statues of strange bird people, called Chozo.  In the manga, it is explained that Samus was orphaned as a child, and raised by Chozo.  They trained her to be a good fighter, and infused her with technology.  This explains why their weapons are compatible with her suit.

It's not a terrible explanation, but here's my problem.  When I played through the original Metroid, I always felt like the space pirates had built their base in the ruins of some unknown ancient civilization.  As Samus explored it, I thought it was cool that it was as mysterious to her as it was to the player.  Who were these weird bird people?  What killed them off?  Why does their ancient technology work so well with her suit?  I hoped these questions would be answered in future games, but not as backstory.

The developers admit some of their inspiration came from Alien, so I'll use that as an example.  Remember when the landing party in Alien entered the bizarre ship, and came across the long-dead "Space Jockey" sitting at the control panel?  Remember the sense of awe?  This creature was obviously technologically advanced, and yet it also looks so old.  And despite its power, something killed it from the inside.  Now what if Kane had suddenly said, "Oh, these guys.  Yeah, I grew up living next door to some of these dudes.  And that means this must be an egg transport ship.  Make sure we avoid the cargo hold, there's facehuggers there."  Doesn't that kill the mood a bit?

So, no, the Chozo story is not for me.  I can accept Samus being transgender, but raised by bird guys is too much. 

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