Thursday, April 30, 2009

Expo-sition: A Dealer's-Eye View of The Calgary Comic And Entertainment Expo 2009.


Normally it'd take an artillery barrage outside my window to get me to rise in the morning, but for whatever reason if you give me a time I need to be up for anything I'm usually awake in advance of the alarm. Today is no exception, and I rise at the (for me) unprecedented time of 6:45am. I stumble through my morning routine of getting cleaned up and dressed and wait for Ryan to come over from next door. He does with a few last-minute items for the booth and we make our way to the car, stopping only to pick up some much-needed cans of Sugar-Free Red Bull and some pocket money for the show. Thus prepared we make our way toward the Stampede Grounds and the Round-Up Centre, where Hall D awaits.

We park and make our way inside, our lanyards bearing the legend of EXHIBITOR. With such power we're easily able to slip past the cowboy-hat wearing, vest-sporting security staff of the venue and into the open space of the mostly-deserted hall. It's about 8am now with the show due to kick off at 10. Ryan and I make our way to the Red 5 Collectibles booth and begin some last-minute setup. It's nothing too strenuous; Ryan and some of our friends had already done the heavy setup the night before, a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. We price some items, ready our mobile shelving units at the front of the U-shape we like our booth to take and lock the wheels in place. The float is ready, the merchandise is good to go, now we wait for the opening of the doors and the battle to be joined.

Being in early means we get a chance to take a look around, and the floor looks to be pretty glorious. Most of the regulars are here(Red Skull Comics, Phoenix Comics), but there are some newcomers who haven't been (Another Dimension Comics), as well as some new venues that are out to get my hard-earned geek dollar (Evil Dead: The Musical? Sold). Displays of trade paperbacks, comics, t-shirts, props, and vintage toys meet the eye as we each canvas the floor of Hall D. The celebrity tables are set up a little different this year, with some of them being up on risers. This strikes us both as a litle weird, since most celebrities will have to lean over the table to interact with the fans, but it's a minor quibble, and one will see get (partially) resolved later. No sign of Edward James Almos yet, so I treasure the oppurtunity to retain some semblance of dignity lest I go completely Chris Farley Show in his general direction.

Our volunteers roll in at around 9:30-9:45 and we proceed to run down the clock. Ryan and I open our Red Bulls and I ensure my Dr. Scholl's are in place and ready to support my feet. In my 'desert of the real' job I tend to sit professionally for a living, but eight hours of standing shouldn't really kick my ass. The floor of the round-up centre (and most convention halls I've been to) has no carpeting or support of any kind. It's you and a concrete floor. And a concrete floor is absolute hell after about four or five hours of straight standing on it.

I notice across from us the SwitchBox Games booth setting up their multimedia presentation. They click on their arcade-style video unit and are booting up what looks to be Street Fighter IV. I figure that's cool, people will walk by and sample their wares, then turn and see the magnificence that is Red 5 Collectibles. Shouldn't be too distracting, I think. Sometimes my naivete charms even me.

9:55am. A mere five minutes separates myself, Ryan, Greg, and Garrett from glorious battle with the hordes of fandom. I steel myself as the minutes creep by one after the other. . .:9:58. . .9:59. . .10:00am! LET'S COMMENCE PREPARATIONS FOR RUMBLING!

Minutes pass. Long, expectant minutes with nary a fan in sight. Then begins a light trickle of people wearing guest passes. I look at Ryan, who looks at me. From what we'd heard more than 3000 advanced passes had been sold for the show. What's going on? We send a man to get some answers. It turns out the lines at the door are logjammed for some reason and it's taking an inordinate amount of time to get people inside. Undaunted, we ready ourselves. Customers are coming, we need to be prepared. People come to our booth in a slow trickle; we begin to talk to customers and make sales.

Ryan ducks over to Red Skull's booth to talk with someone and leaves me in charge. Nothing new to me; I've been drunk with this kind of power before and have learned to savor its heady flavor. As I walk around the booth a gentleman comes up and inspects our shelves. He's a more mature fellow, maybe mid-40s, and he's examining the rack where we have a variety of DC Direct figures. He looks up and smiles at me, and I blink. This guy looks familiar, but I can't place him.

“Can I help you sir?” I inquire.

“Hi, I just noticed these figures you have.” he points out our modest collection of DC's NEW FRONTIER figures we have on sale.

“Yeah, they're pretty cool.” I reply, puzzling as to how I know this guy. I don't think I've seen him at the Expo before, so who. . .?

“Thanks. I created it.” he smiles at me and it clicks even before I catch sight of his name tag. DARWYN COOKE.

I immediately struggle not to lose my shit.

“Uh. . .” I manage, taking time to remember paltry little things like blinking. In my peripheral vision I see Ryan making his way back to the booth.

“Would you like me to sign them?” he offers helpfully, reaching for a pen.

Somehow my neurons manage to slip by the Pavlovian fanboy paralysis I seem to have slipped into. “Yes please, that would be awesome.” I hear myself say.

Mr. Cooke proceeds to sign each figure we have on the shelves. As he's doing so Ryan comes up behind him, we exchange an 'OMG/WTF?!' look as the convention hall slowly fills around us. Mr. Cooke finishes his work and smiles. “When you sell out of these if you have any extra I'll be happy to sign those too.”

Ryan and I nod our heads, still a little too stunned to speak. We manage to get a picture with him and exchance some pleasantries about Nova Scotia, our former and Cooke's current province of residence. He then wishes us luck with the show and makes his way toward his table.
The Red Bull and that alone got us through most of Saturday.

There's a bit of a pro/con aspect to being a dealer. On the one hand you get to be part of the show on the ground floor, interacting with lots of interesting people and getting to share a common love of comics and pop culture. You meet and speak with a mass of people gathered in one place who you might never get the chance to know otherwise and reaffirm the notion that, yes, I am not alone in liking what I like. There are people who understand. That sense of community draws a lot of people to fandom of any stripe and at a show the communal vibe can be a wonderful thing.

On the flip side, as dealers we're largely stuck at our table. Thankfully with a four-to-five-man team with some friends to alternate we all got the chance to slip away from the booth to experience the convention in small doses. It also gave me a chance to do something I love to engage in at cons: sitting. Lords of Kobol do my feet hurt after a while. The Dr. Scholl's helped but I still needed to take the odd break or two. I took the oppurtunity to stop by the Tosche Station booth and see how my fellow Fan Force peeps were doing. Tosche Station is the local chapter of the Star Wars fan club, and a cooler collection of cats there could not be. We rapped for a bit then I proceeded to head back to the booth. Around us swirled a mass of people, some costumed, some not, but all just drinking in the first major-league convention of the year. It was packed.

Congestion became a bit of a problem in the aisles also, and as to getting food. . .forget it. My advice to any would-be con-goers out there? Bring snacks. Seriously. Energy bars, little boxes of crackers 'n cheese, anydamnthing. Convention food will always be difficult to obtain because A) it'll cost you (4 mini-pizzas for myself and my compatriots was $24) and B) the lines will kill you(I must've waited a good 20, 25-plus minutes in the food line). Bring bottles of water, bring snacks, and be ready to wait in line.

The day went by in a blur. We met with people, we conversed about comics, movies, and pop-culture. Garett and I sold comics trades while Cody, Greg, and Ryan focused on moving action figures and our collection of higher-end merchandise. We also took time to bust the occasional funky move as the Street Fighter music pounded across the hall from the SwitchBox booth. Mr. Cooke was as good as his word and happily signed all our remaining New Frontier figures and a copy of the book itself Ryan owned. We met another famous face in the form of Battlestar Galactica's Kandyse McClure, who bonded with Garrett over their mutual love of the Vertigo comic Fables. She was even kind enough to let us take a picture.

Gradually the clock wound down and we eventually reached 6pm, when the show finally closed its doors. We'd done well and the first day was in the can. A victory dinner awaited us with our fellow Tosche Station friends and our pals in the Badlands Garrison of the 501st Stormtroopr legion. Moving the shelves in and putting tarps on the tables, we waited until the last few stragglers were out of the hall and then called it a night. Tomorrow would bring new challenges, but for now we could all relax and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes with getting that first day of con out of the way.

Oh, and the sitting was glorious by the way. My feet felt so happy. . .


The Expo recently expanded to incorporate a second day of events and programming, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand its great to have two days of potential profit, but from previous experience last year we were expecting it to be quite slow, at least in the morning. As 10:00am rolled around and the doors opened we were pleasantly surprised by the steady flow of foot traffic. It didn't get particularly busy until about noon, but there were enough customers to make selling lively and conversation engaging.

With a day under my belt and a Sugar-Free Red Bull in my system, I was be-bopping and ready to rock and roll. With Cody and Garrett to spot us on the rotation (and us to tend the booth when they wished to move around, fair being fair) we were able to see a bit more of the show on Sunday. Its gratifying to see so many people enjoying pop culture, sharing their passions, or just enjoying a day out out with their families. Costumed folk abounded in detail ranging from the impressive to the awesome. I will give those who costume credit; when they bring the thunder it's an amazing sight. To bring such care and creativity and a commitment to detail to something you'll only have certain oppurtunities like the Expo to display and share with people is nothing short of astounding. You can't say they're not dedicated to their passions.

I even managed to attend my first panel at the show, which was a unique event. The Breaking Into Voice Acting panel was about an hour long, and despite some technical glitches and a regrettable shortage of chairs it was actually quite informative. I'm not sure if a career in voiceover talent is for me, but it definitely had some tips and insights that made the hour-long panel worthwhile. Plus I got to sit, and have I mentioned what a luxury that is a convention? I may have, I'm not sure. . .

Sadly, by the time the panel let out it was four o'clock and the convention was due to close in an hour. I headed back to the booth and we each took turns taking a last look around the convention for some last-minute items of swag. I managed to come away with some nice finds (expect to read about them in a future column) and the people gradually trickled out as the show came to a close. There's always a bit of pleasant melancholy to seeing it end for another year. . .watching the artists and celebrities pack it in. . .and of course having to break down the booth and pack up our remaining merchandise. This year added a fun wrinkle in that the weather—which had been relatively cooperative up to that point— decided to make things interesting by becoming a windy, snow-ridden miasma of freezing cold. Wheeled shelves blew over as the wind whipped in our ears. Everything eventually got bolted down and secured and we took it all back to Red 5 in the southwest, unloading it and heading to the Richmond Pub for some well-earned drinks and meals.

Overall I'd say this year was a marked improvement over 2008. Not to say last year's expo was bad; merely that this year the word of mouth seems to be spreading and people are becoming more aware of the show after four years. 2010 will bring its own challenges, but for now I think it's safe to say 2009 was a success. Of course, when you're a dealer it's never really over. No sooner do we get a chance to decompress and relax than we're off to the Edmonton Pop Culture Fair for May 3rd. Its hard, it's heavy, and its murder on the feet, but at the end of the day it's the oppurtunity to share the things about genre and fantasy that we love and to remind ourselves just why we're into this stuff in the first place. Is it worth it?

Yes. Yes it is.

ETA: Yes, in case you were wondering I do plan on renting out my forehead as a screen for IMAX films. Great googly moogly. . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A bold new vision of the past.

My post on the Canadian Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo will be up later tonight, but for now permit me to get something off my chest that just dawned on me a little while ago.

Like a lot of people, I'm looking forward to J.J. Abrams take on Gene Roddenberry's classic space opera Star Trek. I'm interested to see how the film will look stacked up against fond memories of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc. Not to mention the ultimate Trek feature film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But my buddy Barry Reese brought up a point in a post on his livejournal that kind of made me sit back and take notice of the new Trek film and made me see it in a way that--while not putting me off the film--has dimmed my enthusiasm for the property just a bit.

This film, in the tradition of classic Trek, deals largely with time travel. As a result of this, the Trek timeline proper will essentially skew into two tangents, with one timeline (let's call it Trek-A) being the 'classic' timeline that leads us to TOS, Next Gen, and the rest. The other (let's call it Trek-B) is the universe of the new film and it's (in the works) sequel.

Okay, fine, I can deal with that. And as a means of rebooting the franchise it's a decent idea; it doesn't alienate the hardcore fanbase and allows for a soft reboot that will bring in new fans and new ideas. But there's also a bit of a flaw in that structure, a glaring flaw that once observed is like a frayed piece of string hanging from a sleeve. Sooner or later you're going to want to pull at that sucker, and when you do it'll either snap off or unravel the whole garment.

Any event depicted in Trek-B that seems like something that will flip over the applecart forever and illustrate that it's 'not your dad's Star Trek' is superceded and overwritten by the knowledge that Trek-A is still out there, where X event did not happen and Y remains the case. Now granted this idea of a multiverse of alternate realities is an accepted part of genre fiction in general (see the works of Michael Moorcock for the notion in its most perfect form), but unlike the characters in the film proper, we know of this alternate reality's existence. Everything Trek-B does is effectively in the shadow of Trek-A. Things may happen in Trek-B that change the status quo superficially, but Trek-A is still there in its origjnal state. Thus, Trek-B runs the risk of appearing lesser than Trek A, or at least being seen as not mattering because of the existence of Trek-A.

Woof but alternate realities are confusing. How did Sliders do it?

The film is also a prequel, and no discussion of prequels can be made without mentioning the Star Wars films, in particular Episodes I-III. These three movies are a prime example of what problems can arise with creating an engaging storyline by moving backward instead of forward.

Now before you get the rope and the posse together, let me get my story straight. This isn't me prequel-bashing for it's own sake, and the problem is certainly no fault of the creative team at Lucasfilm or the vision of George Lucas. It is simply for the fact that we as the audience already know how this is going to turn out. Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Palpatine becomes absolute ruler of the galaxy as the Republic crumbles and the Empire rises. Luke and Leia are born and Obi-Wan Kenobi lives to pass on the Jedi legacy. The road is mapped out before us: we were given the details from the Original Trilogy. Thus with this knowledge in place from our experience of the previous films the prequels have no jeopardy, at least where the main characters are concerned. This is not to say they aren't enjoyable stories; we all know that Camelot falls and King Arthur dies yet the Arthurian cycle has endured for hundreds of years. But this foreknowledge in an audience can be deadly for writers trying to create a sense of the stakes being high and anything being possible when we as the audience already have foreknowledge of how certain events turn out. We know Kirk becomes Captain of the Enterprise. We know Spock becomes his first officer. We know Scotty's the chief engineer and we know the seven leads will walk away from this adventure unscathed, because previous continuity says so. Even if this was a complete reboot of Star Trek, do you think Abrams and company would actually risk changing the status quo in any way? The Internet would crack in half with fanboy outrage.

This is all based on hearsay, and maybe the new film will turn out to be something wholly new and original. But while I'm expecting to be entertained, I can't really say I'm expecting my view of Star Trek to be shaken to its foundations. But then not every film should have to do that. Sometimes an entertaining afternoon out with friends is its own reward.

Plus the Enterprise looks awesome. Save me an aisle seat.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Woof. . .

Okay, things will be slow this week as I'm recovering from the Calgary Comics and Entertainment Expo and the demon cold that settled into my system just in time for the weekend.

The show was as awesome as my brother and I could have hoped for. Ryan owns and operates Red 5 Collectibles, his pride and joy which does its ample best to provide Calgary with the finest in merchandise from all four corners of fandom. If you haven't been by the website please do and see what you think of his wares. Even in today's rough economy Ry busts his hump to provide the best deals possible. We had a great time at the show and I plan to give it the full article treatment with the hope that it'll give you a dealer's-eye view of how these cons work.

So a rough schedule will be:

Monday-Recovery from Con(plus I bought a stack of comics that I want to read. Ah heh heh. . .)

Wednesday - CCEE piece.

Friday - Hero Tune-Up: Aquaman.

Until next time,


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Comics/Novels I'd Write For Free: The Cylon War.

Lately I've been on something of a Battlestar Galactica kick. I've purcased the new Caprica Direct-to-DVD film and the first season of the reimagined series, and I've been reading and re-reading my copy of the Battlestar Galactica Roleplaying game with a feverish intensity. It can only mean that once again my tastes have shifted and are now firmly in BSG territory.

With that in mind, I've been thinking about what I'd do if I ever recieved the oppurtunity to write anything set in the BSG universe. To me, there's really only one story that I'd want to tell, be it via a comicbook or in prose, and that's the story of the Galactica and the First Cylon War. I understand that Dynamite Entertainment is already publishing their take on the events that sparked the first war with the walking chrome toasters, but I haven't read it yet. This is my take on a potential comics series or a novel.

It would complete the trinity of the Battlestar saga, with Caprica as the beginning and Battlestar Galactica the ending, The Cylon War would be the middle of the story. It doesn't have the Pride Before The Fall of Caprica, nor the Grim Determination to Survive/Is Humanity Worth Saving of BSG. No, this series would be something entirely its own animal. If I had to boil it down to a pitch statement it'd be simply this: 'Band of Brothers versus Killer Robots.'

I'm too young to have caught the original Battlestar Galactica on the airwaves (I saw a cut of the pilot movie on VHS at my cousin's house in Ostrea Lake, Nova Scotia many a moon ago) but I do have a fondness for the series ultimate theme; that no matter what the opposition humanity's spirit proves indomitable against the implacable aggression of the machine. This would be a story of heroism, though maybe not with the same theatrical trappings of the original series but definitely with a nod toward a grander, more epic style of storytelling. This is the 'good war' of the BSG universe in much the same way World War II is considered to be in our history. This is the war where the Twelve Colonies of Kobol united in a way they never had before against a foe that was not interested in power or principality but in the complete annihilation of their civilization and the extermination of its peoples.

The First Cylon War lasted just over twelve years (4,571 days) and ravaged the system containing the Colonies. Our story would start approximately 3 years into the conflict, with the war going very, very badly for the Colonial Fleet. The Cylons are unlike any foe the recently combined militaries of the twelve planets have ever faced before. They never tire. They never stop. They don't surrender and they don't retreat(at least at first). The initial Cylon uprising caught each of the Colonies completely by surprise, blindsiding them with an ambush from within their very ranks. The machines that had been entrusted to serve man and fight their battles rose up in a single night of blood and fire and killed damn near everything in their path. The how and the why of the uprising would be a mystery (after all, what's on screen is canon and I don't want to step on toes) but the Colonies now live in the aftermath and nearly three years of sheer and utter hell. Through a massive effort the Cylons were driven from most of the colonies, but they have holdings in several key sectors of the system. Worse, they stole a great deal of military ordnance, schematics, and the technical data for the new Colonial Rangers (later to be known as Raiders) and the plans for the proposed series of Basestars to be constructed on the Scorpia shipyards.

Worse, the richer colonies found their technology turned against them. The machines could make computers sit up, roll over, play dead. Passenger liners found their computers infected by Cylon viruses that made the airlocks open to hard vacuum midway through voyages, far past the point of any return and disabling emergency backups. Military vessels found their power systems cycling into overload and their sublight engines firing at random, automated turrets turning on friendlies as well as their own hulls and blasting them to scrap. Computers became the enemy, high technology became the enemy, anything that was too advanced and networked was too great a risk. Thus the step back to simpler systems, simpler technologies to keep colonial assets safe.

The ink was barely dry on the Articles of Colonization when the first twelve battlestars were shipped off the line; Atlantia, Galatea, Pacifica, Pegasus, Prometheus, Daedalus, Herakles, Athena, Icarus, Argo, Achilles. . . and the Galactica. Each ship represented one of the newly unified Colonies, with Galactica represnting Caprica, the capital world of this bold new alliance. Each ship was meant to be crewed entirely by men and women of the services of their respective worlds, an exemplar of their commitment to the new alliance and the hope of the ultimate defeat of the Cylon menace.

That was the plan. The simple fact of the matter is the Cylons are killing Colonial personnel with a frightening degree of efficiency, and more often than not personnel from other colonies are ending up sharing space with soldiers from other worlds. This was the long-term goal of Fleet brass, but the plan was to bring everyone together gradually. Sagittarons and Capricans having some severe issues, to say nothing of Picon, Scorpia, and Tauron. Simply put, there's hate between people as much as there is hate of the toasters. Its only the shared hatred of the walking chrome monsters that keeps the soldiers of the Colonial forces in check. Just.

In the meantime, the reorganized fleet has ground to cover and long struggles ahead. Aerilon and Tauron are being occupied by Cylon forces, with Canceron and Gemenon just barely hanging on. The Cylons are an implacable foe, armed to the teeth and far stronger and tougher than any human. Not to mention their sheer force of numbers (a long-term goal for Colonial forces is to eliminate Cylon production facilities wherever they're found. No easy task, as the Cylons have become increasingly adept at hiding their facilities). The odds are stacked against humanity, but if it's one thing the machines have underestimated it's human tenacity, the sheer damned stubborness of people with their backs to the wall and damned little to lose.

Our cast of characters is a bit nebulous, but I have a few ideas in mind:

Commander Michael Nash: Nash was the first commander of the Battlestar Galactica, mentioned only in passing by Aaron Doral in the BSG miniseries. A native Caprican and product of its military academy, at the rank of major aboard the destroyer Righteous he took command when the CO and XO were killed in the Cylon uprising, managing to rout the machines and save the ship from being taken. His heroism and the Righteous' protection of civillian vessels during the uprising were noted by command, and when the Colonial Fleet unveiled the battlestars Nash was promoted to Commander and assigned to Galactica. A young man at 35 years of age, he realizes his appointment was more about politics and propoganda than it was about merit. Still, he possesses a rare gift for tactics and a manner that endears him to the men and women under his command.

Executive Officer Colonel Valerie Bayrin: Valerie was initially in line for command of Galactica until Nash came along. She's not happy with the way things are, but the fact that Nash made her posting as XO of the ship a condition of his acceptance of Galactica's command has gone a long way toward cementing a solid working relationship. A devout believer in the gods, the war has tested her faith but its held , even in the face of an enemy that seems to be the wrath of Hades incaranate. She's an older woman, in her mid-to-late 40s, having worked hard to attain her rank amidst the slight chauvinism of the Caprican military.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Darren Tanner: has been given the unenviable task of being the Galactica's officer of the deck. A man who brooks no fools and is a little too quick to speak his mind before his (slight) sense of tact can catch up, he nevertheless is respected by the men and women under his command. His people are the front line of Galactica's repair crews and damage control teams, his mechanics work to repair and get the bugs out of the new Viper Mark IIs that have just rolled off the assembly line. There are some who resent him for his Sagittaron heritage(and Tanner's not overly fond of his more vocally overbearing Caprican crewmates) but when circuit boards are bursting into flame and you need your Viper working yesterday there's no better man for the job. And he knows it.

Major Darius Ravig: is top kick of the Colonial Marines on Galactica. In his eyes there's him, the XO, the CO, and the gods in that exact order and nobody better forget it. His division 'the Ravagers' have seen combat in some of the worst skirmishes of the war to date, on the ground and in the black. He's a veteran of some of the worst of the fighting between Caprica and Sagittaron and his feelings for 'those people' are short and sour. Nevertheless he tables his opinions and keeps them close, working with his men to ensure that every human under their protection makes it back alive and every toaster in their path gets slagged.

Doctor Alyssa Muverro: is the Galactica's CMO and resident angel of mercy. She's acerbic, occasionally a bit too criticial of her patients and their complete disregard for their health and safety in time of war, but she and her team of doctors and nurses are the best in the Fleet. There's no question in her mind that the Cylons are monsters; she's seen enough of their handiwork to know with complete certainty that they need to be destroyed to the last clanker. An attractive woman in her early thirties, she has no lack of potential suitors on Galactica. Sadly she's all too committed to her wife Rebecca, and frequently worries about her safety as the battles lines inexorably push closer and closer to Caprica. . .

Captain Robert 'Ares' Wendell: is Galactica's CAG (Commander, Air Group) and leader of a squadron well on its way to becoming a legend. Ares is one of Caprica's finest pilots, almost without peer behind the stick of his Viper. He flies with a cool precision that belies his more rambunctious personality when off-duty. The four squadrons under his command have come to call themselves 'Wendell's Warriors', and each of them would fly into the mouth of hell if either Nash or Ares gave the word.

Professor Neville Pryce: is a civillian advisor to the military, one of its foemost minds on the applications of robotics and one of the programmers on the Cylon project. While the President's first impulse was to round up every last mind who had anything to do with the creation of the Cylons and have them imprisoned or executed, the fact of the matter is the creators of these metal monsters have information on their capabilities, their tactics, and their weaknesses that could be useful. As such, each battlestar has at least one of these men and women aboard, tasked with providing intelligence on the Cylon threat and devising new ways to defeat them. The fact that each of these people get a front-row seat to the carnage their rampaging creations have wrought isn't lost on Fleet Command either. Pryce lives as a virtual prisoner, a pariah amongst the crew. He smokes like a chimney, his nerves are shot to hell. His actions may have led to the deaths of millions, perhaps even the doom of the entire human race. The guilt is threatening to swallow him whole. . .and more, a budding resentment that could well blossom into a full-on hatred for the humanity that has burdened him with their collective guilt and rage. His viewpoint is boiling down to a survival of the fittest mentality, and what better survivors are there than 'his' Cylons? Galactica's crew may have a valued resource at their disposal. . .or they may have embraced a viper to their chest. Time will tell.

The Cylons: The most terrifying thing about the Cylons is just how damned close they came to wiping out humanity in one fell swoop. The uprising was just barely defeated by the reeling militaries of the twelve colonies, and even as a unified force the Colonial Fleet is hard pressed in space or on the ground. Cylon Raiders execute manuevers at speeds that could snap human vertebrae, basestars have ample power reserves to spare (not needing such human necessities as life support), and the Model 0005 Centurion is one of the deadliest soldiers to ever grace the field of battle. The Cylons move in near-total silence; they don't grunt, don't scream, they don't make a sound. The last thing a Colonial soldier might hear as the enemy closes in is the soft whooshing of their eye-sensor palatte and the click of a cocking trigger.

Worse, the Cylons are learning. Their tactics morph and change, adapting to the advances of the Colonial Fleet with startling speed. They've learned how to detect and create ambushes, how to hold humans in bondage and use them as labor behind enemy lines. They've even learned to conserve their resources by retreating. This last they rarely implement, as their factory bases remain secure at this time, but its still an eerie reminder that the toasters aren't mindless. Rumors abound in military intelligence of a newer model, the IL series, designed to coordinate Cylon forces and act as command units. They were only in the design stages when the Cylons revolted. . .could they be a reality?

The Cylons are an implacable foe at this time, united and driven by a single goal: to kill their former masters and ascend to their rightful place as the dominant species in the galaxy. There's no moral ambiguity here: its kill or be killed.

A war comic in space. A space opera with a taste of gritty realism. A heroic humanity struggling valiantly against a nigh-unstoppable mechanistic foe. Humans versus Robots. All these and more would be found within the pages of The Cylon War.

And I'd do it all for free(or for a modest fee. ~.^)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kickin' it old school.

I'm still in recovery from the phantasmagoria of pure effluence that was The Spirit, so bear with me whilst my wearied synapses recover. Add to that the upcoming insanity that is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo and you can understand why things are getting a little quiet.

Still, there are some things to celebrate here at TCD. For one, we're fast approaching the 50th post on this blog, which is nothing if not remarkable. When I kicked this project off I was reasonably sure it'd end up on the same Island of Misfit Toys where reside most of the projects I embark upon. That we've managed to make it to fifty consecutive rambles on pop culture and comics is pretty remarkable to me and I've been thinking about doing something special. To that end, I've decided to revive an old favorite, the hero tune-up. I've been mulling over just who to pick in terms of a character in dire need of some serious overhaul. While I usually go for second-stringers, a recent read of a Peter David trade paperback convinced me that I had to go for one of the Original Seven:

Yeah, that's right, I'm bad.


Monday, April 20, 2009


I have a particularly awesome group of friends whose tastes run the gamut of the pop-culture spectrum. From anime to comics to film to literature, I've been blessed these last few years to know some especially sharp people who I can hang out with, laugh with, and share some good times. One of our rituals is to get together every other week and hang out. There's usually some good food, some pleasant conversation, and then we usually pop in a DVD and kick back to watch some quality entertainment, with perhaps the odd smart remark from the peanut gallery thrown in for seasoning. This week's choice however did not so much raise conversation as it sparked a mass exodus from the entertainment centre and into the living room. In the end, as with the Contest of Immortals there could be only one who would not so much view the film in question as endure it, clinging to sanity with grit teeth and cracking nails as wave after wave of sheer and utter crap washed over the poor, sodden fool.

In other words I saw The Spirit last night. Or rather, I didn't see the Spirit last night. Confused? Stay with me and I'll try to explain.

Before I go any further I want to preface this review with a little caveat; I am legitimately not trying to be a dick here. This is not me as a lone fanboy bitching and moaning about a film. No fools were we either; we knew this film was going to be less than stellar at best. We were at least hoping to be entertained in the way some bad movies can provide. Our hopes were to be dashed quite decisively.
When the film started there were 9 people in the room, then eight. . . seven. . .six. . .until only I remained. So out of about eight to ten people, only one managed to make it from opening credits to closing. Now I know tastes are subjective, but that's at least 4 more than the reccomended peer group of dentists you get in your average gum commercial. Clearly, something was horribly, horribly wrong with the film. Understand that I am not being snide for its own sake, merely that I wish to understand the truth inside the lie and dissect the reasoning behind such an epic dud of a movie.
Let's start with what I actually enjoyed about the film (it'll be brief, trust me):

1) The visual aesthetic: While it owed a bit too much to Sin City, I liked how Central City appeared in the film as a mixture of 1940s/50s architecture and stylings. Mind you, that gets to be a bit jarring as the film goes on(more on that later) but I can't say that the film didn't at least look impressive. Say what you will of Frank Miller and much can be said, but the man does have a good eye for detail and knows how to position what he wants in a shot to make it look as comicbook as possible. I can see what he was shooting for here and I can appreciate it.

2) Gabriel Macht as The Spirit/Denny Colt: He looked the part and it was clear to me that he was giving it his all in the film, doing his best to embody the character as Miller had written him. The problem of course is not so much with Macht's performance as with the material he's given and the Wolverine-style growl he has to grind it out with. The voiceover narration was jarring, the one-liners painfully bad, but he was seriously making an effort, which you have to admit is something. It's clear from other performances that they were just plain bad (Johansen) or had completely lost their effin' minds or couldn't give a damn (Jackson). I mean, he tried to make 'I'm gonna kill you all kinds'a dead' sound cool. He really, truly did. He'll have a breakaway action role, I don't doubt it for a second. Its just that this wasn't it.

That's all that's good in this film. Which brings us, of course, to the wrong in this movie. And where else can we begin but at the very top:

1) Frank Miller: Frank, Frank, Frank. I love ya, ya knucklehead, I truly do, but for the love of all things good and holy just stick to your own comics. You want to do 300 and Sin City? Kool and the Gang man. Have a blast, tear it up, do your thing. But let's you and I be honest with each other as we stand here at the Reichenbach Falls: you can't really write anything else can you? Maybe once upon a time you could vary the tone of your work, make a good superhero story or a tale outside of your normal 'guns/girls/psycho freaks/ultraviolence' schtick. But somewhere between Sin City and Dark Knight Strikes Again a switch was thrown in your head and that capacity just went dark. You write noir stories, you've got a serious man-crush on writers like Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Mickey Spillane. Particularly Spillane. I've read his writing, and I've read yours, and dear Lord it makes Geoff Johns' man-crush on Hal Jordan look positively subdued(sorry Geoff but c'mon, we all see it). I get it. You like stories about guys. Tough guys. Men of strength who walk alone and wrest the world from the weak and the wretched. You like stories about women. Tough women. No, scratch that. Tough dames Frank. Dames who don't take crap from anyone and use any means at their disposal to get what they want, stepping over everyone in their path and using them and driving them mad with a throaty, earthy sexuality that no man can possess. . .except of course the Tough Guy, who grabs her by the back of the head and kisses her hard, taking her because that's how they should be taken after all. And let's not forget the giggling deviants, the freaks, the scum that need to be taken out of the gene pool, preferrably in a hail of bullets or in manner so graphic and permanent that the next batch to come down the pike should be wettin' themselves if they even think about tossing a crumpled up candybar wrapper on the curb, let alone messing with the Tough Guy's dame, his turf, or his money. It's an old story, a good story, one that I don't mind enjoying from time to time. Just admit unto me that it's the only story you're capable of telling and we can get on with our lives. Honesty Frank. The best damn policy there is.

2) Sin-Spirit: With that information in mind, you can see where I might have a problem with the film. The Spirit of Will Eisner's comics is a heroic everyman, a guy who surivives death by pure chance, and now legally dead he can work outside the system as the police department's secret weapon. That was gotten right. The problem is that while Eisner used the Spirit to tell tales that ran the gamut (from straight up action to film noir to comedy and all points in between) Miller can't do that. He's got the one mode, and as such The Spirit has to bend to meet Miller's style. What results is pretty much what you'd expect from the style I outlined in the above. Everyone is tough. Everyone speaks in a growl or declarative barks, with the odd sultry croon thrown in from the ladies. The action is servicable, but by the time the Octopus (we're getting to it, trust me) whips out twin auto-BFGs and starts firing crazily into the sky at a fleet of police assault helicopters, it's just sensory overload at that point. I mean, when you've seen the hero have a toilet smashed down over his hips and the villain get a kitchen sink to the face, any and all attempts to maintain suspension of disebelief are the fevered dream of a madman. While the Spirit's story structure did lend itself to some dark and noir-themed stories that's not all it could have been, and anything that was done in this film just comes off as a rehash of Sin City, which is far from fair to Eisner's legacy as a creator.

3) Period. Or rather, the lack thereof: The Spirit's heyday was in the 1940s-50s. The film has a very '50s look to it, but the first shot we get is of Denny Colt on a cell phone. We later have a flashback to Denny and the femme fatale Sand Seref in younger days with a '52 Packard driving by on the street and Denny reading EC Comics crime stories. Then when Denny's uncle is murdered a television news team with a very modern shoulder camera get in their faces. The hell? It's either period or it's contemporary, you can't mix and match without confusing the audience and making the work of suspending that monumental disbelief that much more of a herculean task.

4) Louis Lombardi: He plays the various cloned goons created by the Octopus names Porthos, Nervos, Pathos, Adios, and Amigos (And we see those two near the end? Oh verrrrrry clever). Every time I heard his voice or saw that vacant, smiling face of his I wanted to throw something at the screen. That I did not and thus spared my good friend's high definition television is a testament to sheer willpower. What the hell was this about? I freely admit I'm not the most devout reader of Eisner's spirit stories, but I thought the Octopus (he's coming) was a crime boss, not a mad scientist. And Gods, that dialogue, that voice, that grin, it makes my teeth grind just thinking about it.

'We was watchin''

Christ I wish I hadn't. . .

5) The women: Frank Miller cannot write women. He can't. He physically can not do it. I'm sorry. Each woman in this film is either pining after him hopelessly (Paulson, Katic), attracted to him in incredibly kinked-up ways (Vega), or is out to kill him whilst being as goddamned weird as possible (Johansen). They're either golddiggers, weak, crazy, or in it for kicks. They're not actual characters so much as lovely visages and hot bodies the Spirit can work his mojo on.

And last, but far from least, we come to:

6) The Octopus: Some of my friends have opined that they're sick of Sam Jackson in motion pictures. He's become a contemporary of Kevin Bacon in terms of the sheer bulk of motion pictures he's been in or at least affiliated with in the last ten to fifteen years. For the longest time I maintained that while,yes, he may be a little overexposed there was never any such thing as either A) too much of anything good or B) too much Sam Jackson.

I stand corrected.

This performance is so bad, so awful, so utterly wretched that it has to be intentional. It simply has to be. There's no way he intended it to be anything else. He doesn't so much chew the scenery as devour it en masse, not so much speak the dialogue as sneer it. The Octopus of Jackson's portrayal is a complete fruit loop, a mad scientist that would make even Thaddeus Boddog Sivana go 'Seriously, relax already.' He's no spider in the center of a web, no cunning mastermind whose very neame evokes terror in the hearts of the law-abiding. No, here he's a thug, an over-the-top, ham-handed rendition of every hand-wringing, monologing, kitty petting stereotype of a Bond villain you could concieve, and the performance has about as much stability and consistency as Jackson's wardrobe. He'll be a badass Sam Jackson-esque thug one moment, then suddenly launch into a two to three minute monologue about eggs. Seriously. Eggs. Did I miss something from the comics?


The Macguffin of the piece, the Blood of Herakles, makes no effin' sense either. One sip will make the Octopus immortal, although his earlier experiments in life eternal have made himself and the Spirit virtually unkillable. Uh, pardon my miniscule and non-Millerian intellect, but when you're immune to everything from bullets to knives to poison to being hit over the head with a goddamned toilet, isn't that by definition immortality? Let me consult the dictionary:

Immortal - adjective - 1. Not mortal; not liable or subject to death; undying.

Seems to me that both the Octopus and the Spirit are pretty damn non-liable. So what's the point? What the hell was it all for? Bill, help me out:

'It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

Brother, you ain't kiddin'.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Warlord #1 Review.

DC Comics

Writer: Mike Grell

Penciller: Joe Prado

Cover: Mike Grell.

The Warlord is a character that has been a part of my life for a number of years, though I confess I have yet to read his original 1970s-80s series in its entirety. Most of my familiarity comes from reading old copies of his comics at my cousin's house waaaaay back in the early '80s, but that helmet, the sword and sandals trappings, the conceit of a gun in a fantasy setting. . .it stuck with me for a long, long time. Now that I actually have a chance to sit down and think about it, The Warlord was probably my earliest introduction to Sword and Sorcery fiction, to say nothing of the Underground World/Other Planet stories of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Needless to say, it had an impact, and when word reached me that Mike Grell would be penning another series set in the hidden world of Skartaris, it was a certainty that it'd be on my pull list for last week. So great was my anticipation for this volume that I didn't engage in one of my oldest and most sly of comicbook store tricks; that of leafing through the issue in a quick speed-read to see if it was worthy of an actual purpose or a simple return to the shelf from whence it came. No, going in blind and on faith that this book would rock harder than an Iced Earth/Dragonforce double-bill, I set the book confidently down on the counter and whipped out my debit card.

This, I thought, is going to rule.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of my review, a bit of backstory might be in order. The premise of the series is that in 1969 U.S. Air Force pilot Travis Morgan passes through a hole in the Earth's crust at the North Pole and enters into an otherdimensional realm called Skartaris, a bronze-early middle ages world inhabited by wizards, warriors, dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures. Armed with only his pluck, a sword, and his .44 AutoMag pistol, Morgan battles foes such as the evil sorceror Deimos and a variety of tyrannical kings in a series of swashbuckling adventures. Along the way he meets stalwart allies such as the former gladiator Machiste and the seductive cat-woman Shakira (no, not the singer), and eventually finds his queen in the form of the warrior woman Tara. The series ran from 1976 to 1989, with 133 issues and six annuals. Take into account that this was a book that had a marginal at best connection with the DC Universe proper and featured no capes or tights and you can begin to see what a diamond in the rough this series was. You can understand my feeling of utter glee as I sat back in my easy chair, soda in easy reach as I opened the covers of the new volume, the legend 'ENTER THE SAVAGE WORLD OF THE WARLORD' emblazoned on the front. Invitation gladly accepted, I sat back and devoured the book in a single sitting. The verdict?

It was. . .good.

That's about all I can say. It was okay. Now, don't get me wrong, I see a lot of potential here and I can understand that Grell is doing his best to be accomodating to new readers and longtime fans alike. . .but it was adequate when I was expecting awesome.

The issue opens in the present day with a group of mountaineers in Tibet discovering the preserved remains of a dinosaur frozen in the ice. They bring it to a professor of paleontology who immediately contacts an old friend and daredevil adventurer, who brings his photographer pal along. They go to Tibet, get into a dust-up with the Chinese armed forces, and then pass through a portal (that looks suspiciously like a triangular Stargate) and presumably into Skartaris. We don't see the resolution of their arc, as it immediately cuts to Travis Morgan(who hasn't really aged a day since '69, time working differently in Skartaris) and we get a scene with him and Shakira in bed as he remembers his origin(Shakira's in cat form so there's no hanky panky). Travis' reflections are suddenly interuptted by a giant bird thing that's been driven from it's normal habitat in the north. They slay it handily, then find themselves dealing with yet another wave of refugees from the lands of the Shadow Kingdom(Skartaris is a realm where the 'sun' has a fixed position in the heavens, thus its always day. The aptly named Shadow Kingdom is where the sun doesn't shine. Literally). Travis looks over a wounded boy and gets a shock; a wound in the son's chest and a hole in his breastplate that looks amazingly like their source was a bullet. Dun dun dun!

Okay, so I get it. We need to introduce new readers to the book, so we focus on the assembly of this band of characters that we'll deal with later. My problem arises with the matter of pacing. The Interpid Band get a whopping 16 pages to set up their scenario, whilst Travis and Skartaris get a mere 8. This out of an issue that contains ads and a 7-page Power Girl preview for her upcoming series. So out of a 32-page comic, only 8 pages are actually devoted to the title character. 8 out of 32. 8 out of 24 for the actual story. That's a mere 33% of my expected quotient of sword and sorcery awesomness! What the hell Grell?! I signed up for The Lost World of the Warlord, not The Cast of LOST in the Land of the Lost Featuring the Warlord. I wanted the book to live up to the awesome mission statement of your cover and it only just barely managed it.
The writing gets us where we need to go at a steady clip, and it's clear Grell's enthusiasm for the character and his world hasn't diminished over the years. Joe Prado's art has a nice hint of Grell's original style while still being it's own animal, so I'm eager to see where they're going to go with this. I just wish the first issue had been a bit stronger. But perhaps its just a case of my anticipaton trumping my objectivity.

I'm in for the first four issues at least, but with misgivings. Thusly I must grant this book a rating of three and a half out of five, with a point-five boost for the nostalgia trip. C'mon Mike Grell, I know you can knock this one out of the park. I want this book to succeed.

Rating: 3.5/5

Until next time,


Friday, April 10, 2009

Books I Love: Sword of the Atom.

Or 'Let's Get Small!'

In the echelons of the superheroic elite, there are champions aplenty who make the grade and attain the upper tier of recognizability and popularity. Amongst these esteemed ranks you have heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, hell even the Wonder Twins have some modicum of fame amongst pop culture junkies, if not comicbook fans proper. And all of the above have a bevy of interesting powers and abilities that make them characters rife with storytelling potential(okay, maybe not the Wonder Twins. A girl who can become any animal and a guy who can become anything as long as it's made of water? Riiiiight).

And then there's the Atom.

For those in the audience who just drew a blank when I dropped the above name don't worry, I'll bring you up to speed as best I can. I should warn you that this piece is going to get very geeky very fast, but I promise to do my best to keep things as free and breezy as possible and keep the dreaded c-word (continuity!) to the barest of bare minimums.

Back during the 1950s in the wake of the crackdown on comicbooks spearheaded by America's conservatives, DC Comics turned to its stable of superheroes to draw in the youth readership market with good, clean, wholesome fun. By that period though most of the DC heroes had faded into obscurity save for the holy trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. Rather than rehash the same old characters, editor Julie Schwartz decided a full revamp of the lesser known and second tier heroes was in order. Thus the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom were divested completely of their 1940s characters and origins and rebuilt from the ground up.

The Atom was scientist Ray Palmer, a professor at Ivy University in the quaint Midwestern metropolis of Ivy Town. A falling meteor provides a mysterious energy source, emitted from a white dwarf star, that when harnessed grants Ray the ability to alter his size and mass. Armed with this newfound power, he creates a size-changing belt and dons a colorful red and blue costume to fight crime and keep the peace in Ivy Town as the heroic crusader men know as the Atom!

Okay, I'm trying here but it's very hard to make the character's initial concept sound cool. The Atom gets small. That's his power. We have people who can run at incredible speeds, wield rings that make their will a reality, have trained themselves to be the greatest martial artists and deductive minds on the planet. . .and the guy who gets tiny. Wow.

While a staple of the Justice League's roster, it can be understood when stacking him up alongside other heroes that the Atom isn't exactly a character to set the eyes of readers ablaze with passion in hearing more and more of his adventures, and by about the early '80s DC was working to find some way—any way—to make the character seem cool. In 1983, Jan Strnad and Gil Kane accomplished the impossible with their four-issue mini-series Sword of the Atom, a series which gleefully tore the Atom's status quo apart and rebuilt something wonderfully and maniacally insane in its place.

By this point in his career the Atom is in a bit of a holding pattern. He's married attorney Jean Loring (his Lois Lane figure in the classic stories) but their lives are pulling them in different directions and their marriage is suffering for it. Ray is dedicated to his scientific research and his crimefighting heroics as the Atom, while Jean has thrown herself in her work as an attorney and wants a normal life with someone who cares for her and can commit to her full time. As the series dawns, Ray catches Jean with a coworker of hers, Paul Hoben, and the couple decide a trail separation might be in order. Ray decides to head to South America and the Amazon in order to track a piece of white dwarf star that he believes fell in the jungle some years ago. Unfortunately, the quality of his native guides leaves much to be desired and in his efforts to get an aerial sweep of the jungle his pilots turn out to be very protective of their coca fields. They jump Ray, but the hero is prepared and soon engages the two in battle as the Atom. Of course, loaded guns and a bounding tiny man lead to the plane spiraling out of control in a storm, only to be hit by a bolt of lightning. The Atom falls as the plane crashes and lands smack dab in the middle of the Amazon jungle. His size-changing belt damaged by the lightning, the diminutive hero finds himself trapped at only six inches(152mm) tall!

There's a joke I could make about six inches, size, and shrinkage, but I'm just gonna stick to the high ground. I swear to you I'll keep all size jokes to a minimum. Hah! Y'get it? Minimum. . .heh. . .okay, moving on.

Now the challenges of a man of merely six inches in height trying to survive and escape the Amazon jungle—one of the most potentially lethal environments on the planet—would be exciting enough(it even opens with an awesome battle between the Atom and a snake that's dangerously larger than he is). But it is here that the series completely loses its mind, as the Atom finds himself suddenly beset upon by a band of tribal, yellow-skinned alien warriors riding frogs and is captured, led off with a band of prisoners to an alien city hidden in the depths of the jungle.

I will say that again: tribal alien warriors riding frogs. I love comicbooks so very, very much.

Taken to the city of Morlaidh, Atom quickly becomes enmeshed in the affairs of a band of freedom fighters to rid the city of the tyrannical king Caellich and his scheming vizier Deraegis. Along the way, the Atom learns that the people of Morlaidh were part of a penal colony established on Earth centuries ago whose technology and culture has degraded to a medievalist society over time. All this is learned on the run as Atom battles giant(for him) rats, marauding imperial warriors riding hawks, and other assorted perils of the jungle and the Morlaidhian hordes. Along the way he gets to know the charismatic rebel leader Taren, the lovely and defiant Princess Laethwin, and the shifty but reliable archer Voss. Meanwhile, Jean Loring doesn't get lost in the shuffle as she does her best to track down the missing Ray Palmer. Does she succeed? Will the Atom overthrow the tyrannical ruling elite of Morlaidh and restore justice? Will he and the Princess get close in the wake of Taren's untimely death? Will the Atom regain his size-changing powers(not making the joke, not making it. . .)? Can riding a bullfrog whilst wielding a sword look cool? All these questions and more can be answered within the thrilling pages of Sword of the Atom!

This book is purest, simplest joy, at once completely deconstructing a Silver Age hero while at the same time telling an amazing and thrilling 'Planet Story' in the best tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian stories or the Skaith stories of Leigh Brackett. Taking a normally staid and science-fiction themed hero like the Atom and dropping him into the middle of a sword and sorcery story is a concept that shouldn't work and yet does so brilliantly. The tale must've been popular, as there were a number of follow-ups included in this collection. The Atom actually became the first hero in the DCU to have an in-universe tell-all biography written about him, one that not only revealed his identity to the world but was in effect a swan song for the characters as he had been. After that there were a number of adventures starring the Atom and Laethwen, including one in which Jean Loring and Paul Hoben find themselves involved in the tiny world of flashing blades and giant snakes. Simply put, the entire concept and execution of the series was a blast, and it's clear Strnad and Kane were having fun tipping over the applecart of the Atom's previous status quo and just going nuts with an adventure that Robert E. Howard would've approved of. Strnad's writing is crisp, and while it occasionally gets a bit on the florid side it's still thrilling and entertaining. Gil Kane is one of the legendary DC artists, and his work here is that of a master in his prime. His style may take some getting used to for those who prefer the uber-rendering of an Alex Ross, but to me his work has a primal vitality and a passion to it that just screams 'this is a comicbook'. It may not be 'realistic', but its energy is palpable on the page.

Of course, comicbooks being what they are it wasn't long before this storyline was swept completely aside to make way for the Atom's return to Ivy Town and hardcore superheroing, which later led to his return to obscurity and then eventual replacement by the newest Atom, scientist Ryan Choi in Gail Simone's excellent The All-New Atom series. That made it all of twenty-five issues before it met the inevitable death knell of cancellation.

But for one brief, shining moment the Atom had a chance to stand tall (no pun intended) in a world where his detriments were unexpected strengths and his concept was not only tweaked and twisted, but completely reworked. And it was glorious. Sword of the Atom is no perfect masterpiece, but it is a helluva lot of fun being done at a time when DC wasn't afraid to experiment with their characters and take some risks. It's a storytelling alchemical brew that you should definitely check out if you haven't already. Everything you need is between the covers, and like a good movie it'll keep you entertained pretty much from beginning to end. It's the kind of comic that never won an Eisner, but they don't all need to be. Sometimes you just want something to kick back with on a Saturday afternoon on a hot summer day on the patio, maybe with a cola slurpee within easy reach of your deck chair. In this, Sword of the Atom remains one of my absolute favorite books you've probably never heard of. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Open-handed appraisal.

Superman is, by far, my favorite comicbook superhero for a wide variety of reasons. It could be because of his presence in my life for about as long as I can remember. I learned to read from a Fisher-Price Read-Along Book entitled SUPERMAN: FROM KRYPTON TO METROPOLIS. I watched the first Superman film on VHS in Sydney, Cape Breton and instantly accepted it as gospel truth. Superman was real, I'd seen it with my own two eyes.

There's a long essay in me about the character of Superman as an embodiment of hope and an postmodern representation of godhood, or even as an idealized vision of how America wishes to be percieved in the wake of the second world war. That'd be an awesome essay to write, and I promise you we'll get to that in the fullness of time. For now though. . .I'd like to talk to you about something that actually bugs me about the Man of Steel. Indulge me, won't you?

Superman's costume is one of the most distinctive pieces of imagery in popular culture. Even people who've never picked up an issue of Action Comics in their lives know the distinctive s-emblem, the cape, boots, the shorts over the tights and the yellow belt. It's emblematic, it's powerful, it's a little silly looking (tradition usually dictates underwear be worn inside the pants, but the suit was modelled off a circus strongman so the trunks were put in). Simply put, it's a classic piece of imagery. . .that has a distinct design flaw that threatens to bring the whole dual-identity thing of Superman/Clark Kent crashing down.

Never mind the fact that Superman wears no mask and is frequently seen operating in broad daylight, yet no one in Clark Kent's life has made the distinction. I will accept that either something in the water makes people in Metropolis a little slow, or even a pseudoscientific macguffin whipped up on demand (he vibrates his facial features so a clear picture can't be taken, super-hypnosis, he adjusts his posture and wears glasses that cut his distinctive glacier blue eyes, etc). The glasses thing has been picked to death and that's not where I take issue. No no.

Examine the costume for a moment. Do you see the glaringly obvious fault here? Yep, you guessed it: Superman doesn't wear gloves. Everything he touches: the planes he swoops in to save, the steel girders he bends to bind up Metallo, the numerous keys to the city and award plaques, he's leaving fingerprints all over Metropolis and the rest of the damned planet.

You could argue that perhaps kryptonians don't have fingerprints, but if that's the case how did the Kents register him when he went to school? How is it that Lex Luthor hasn't put this together? All those years cramped inside the heads of giant robots or working all hours on purple-green suits of power armor and kryptonite death-rays must have addled his wits.

All in all though, it's a flaw that makes the gem. That's one of the things I love about comics; that they can be epic tales of good and evil that can be as deep and rich as any work of prose but aren't afraid to be silly at the same time.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oh the places I have been and the things I have seen.

Hey gang,

Just a quick note to let you know I'm back home and will soon have TCD churning out the usual nonsensical ramblings about pop culture and comics that you've come to expect. The Emerald City Comic Con was indeed a blast of epic proportions, and I have notes, audio, and video to provide some nice commentary on what was neat at the con.

It's April now, and my Watchmen review got a bit sidetracked as I wrote the 'More on Moore' pieces, but I assure you a detailed review is coming. . .and should be out about the time the film is released on DVD. I'll try not to leave it that late, but grade on a curve is all I'm saying.

The next 'MoM' installment is in the works, but it may be a while as its a series I'm still working my way through. Expect in when you see it, but in the meantime I have a plan for a filler piece or two you might find fun.



Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Most Awesome Thing Encountered Today.

Rapper MC Esoteric has created a tribute to the Silver Age of Comics with his Serve or Suffer album. I need a copy stat. A full article on the artist and his process can be found here. 'Cause the only thing cooler than being a comicbook fan is being a comicbook gangster. Werd.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009


'If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then mythology has no claim to the apellation. But if that which tends to make us happier and better can be called useful, then we claim that epithet for our subject. For mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.'

-Thomas Bulfinch on fandom.