Friday, July 13, 2018

Build-A-Bear and When Your Marketing Campaign is Too Effective

Build-A-Bear is known for having all kinds of cool stuffed animals you can, "Adopt," have stuffed in the store, and buy a bunch of accessories. It is a brand known for lots of cool characters and outfits, but not for being cheap. Hence, when a promotion was announced call, "Pay Your Age," which involved the person the bear is purchased for only having to pay what their age is in years, it got some buzz. I mean, if your kid is five years old you just have to pay five bucks for a cool bear--and then most likely more for all the outfits and accessories, but it's still a good deal, I would think. Everyone else thought so too because it was pandemonium at Build-A-Bear stores. People lined up hours before stores opened, lines of more than a 1,000 families, and before it even really got going the whole thing had to be shut down due to concerns for safety in regards to overcrowding and such. Build-A-Bear fell into its own trap of having too good a deal. Now everyone is mad and the company's CEO has been having to apologize on National Television for this fiasco.

The company has been offering various things to consumer as an apology, such as as $15 credit and continuing to offer, "Birthday Treats," bears to kids under 14 in the month of their birthday. Hopefully it will at least help a little bit to assuage the angered parents and their children who were let down after waiting hours only to go home empty-handed. This will probably cause Build-A-Bear to take a bit of a hit PR-wise, but in the end they can claim it was an effort to do something nice for customers that unfortunately backfired, so it isn't as bad of a look as it could've been. I mean, it was such an effective campaign consumers, "Went nuts," so I guess it shows there is plenty of demand for the product. The key element is to for the company to keep offering deals, just not deals so good it causes chaos.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Westworld," Season 2 Reflections

Fantastic With Some Annoyances
Note: This review contains spoilers and assumes reader familiarity with the show and its characters

I recently finished catching-up on my DVR’d episodes of the 2nd season of Westworld. I was able to watch it on HBO thanks to giving the cable company Hell when it was time to renew our contract--in order to keep us as customers they threw HBO in for free for a year or so. I of course liked season 1 a great deal but my two biggest criticisms of it were that it was essentially all build-up and it spread 5 episodes worth of great content out over 10 episodes, making watching it feel at times like a slog—an enjoyable slog, sure, but a slog nonetheless. Season 1 ended with the long-promised robot rebellion we were promised kicking-off however, and answered a few big questions (e.g William WAS the Man in Black in the past, to name the biggest reveal) making it look like when season 2 began we would finally be getting the mayhem only hinted at in the finale of season 1. Well, having now watched all of season 2 I can state it is mostly what I was hoping for—a lot of enjoyable payoff from all the place-setting, and still some annoying aspects.

Westworld loves to jump around in time. It is like a little affectation it can’t quite help. It made sense in the first season as Dolores came to terms with being a Host who was accessing scattered past memories that were supposed to be locked-off, and helped to allow the kinda-shocking reveal that William was the Man in Black (it wasn’t a total surprise as lots of people saw it coming and I’m still amazed I didn’t predict it as normally I’m decent at guessing a twist). That said, this season we had the present with Bernard figuring out what killed almost all the hosts, a recent-past where the majority of the story takes place with the robots beginning to rebel, and then snippets of decades ago featuring when Logan became interested in Westworld, when Willam/the young Man in Black slowly consolidated power, when an Indian in Westworld realized it was lie, older William losing his wife, and of course a stinger after the credits of season 2 set apparently far into the future. Yes, part of the challenge of watching, “Westworld,” is just figuring out when the Hell a scene takes place.
Bernard's sense of time is all kinds of scrambled this season.
To the show’s credit it takes advantage of viewer confusion at times to make some clever moments occur (like when Bernard first realized he wasn’t really in a cave with Elsie but instead in a memory), and it was cool to flash way back in time to when Arnold was still alive and Westworld was a plucky startup, but the whole thing with, “Two weeks ago,” slowly catching up to the present felt a little like some unneeded chopping-up of that story. It resulted in the story-line for Bernard seeming a bit messy and at times more like it was a framing device for everybody else’s yarn. Jeffery Wright is such a good actor though that even when Bernard’s plot lagged it was entertaining.

Speaking of exciting stories, what Maeve (Thandie Newton) and crew were up to didn’t really intersect with anybody’s plot at all except right at the start and near the very end, but by being removed from a chunk of the time-jumping shenanigans it actually was allowed to be the most straightforward and entertaining story. While Westworld can at times be tricky to sum up, Maeve’s plot summary this season is an easy, “She wants find her daughter and will do whatever it takes,” that results in all kinds of wild events occurring from a visit to another park (“Shogun World,”) to the development of a fascinating new power to mentally, “Speak,” to other hosts and control them. It was some stellar stuff and possibly only rivaled in quality by the heartbreaking and mostly self-contained eighth episode that followed the sorrowful life of an Indian named Kiksuya (Zahn McClarnon) in Westworld.
William/The Man in Black
Now, in regards to an story-line that wasn’t necessarily entertaining/fun but was fascinating there is William AKA the Man in Black (played as suitably terrifying by Ed Harris). There was a bit more time-hopping than I would have liked, but his plot has the wildest developments that ended up of course having a great impact upon Dolores’ robot revolution and Bernard realizing some dark truths about the park. The plot basically draws a bit from the wackier sequel to the original, “Westworld,” movie, “Futureworld,” which creator Michael Crichton was not involved with, interestingly enough. Basically, we learn that there are motions in place to transfer human minds/consciousness into Host bodies by saving data about everyone who has ever visited the park, and a degree of success has been had, but its still quite buggy after years of efforts. William has been involved in this from the start, working for the corporation that owns the park, Delos.

One compliant I've often seen online is that there isn't much reason given throughout either season for why William is such a terrible person, but I actually am fine with the bare-bones attempt at clarifying his personality. He didn't have anything too specific occur, it is just a, "Stain," that has always been in him that he tries to deal with and hide. He's just a person who buries his monstrous nature as deep as possible under a guise of kindness and philanthropy. There isn't much too him in that sense, and that's the point. One character who ends up being straightforward to the point of becoming sadly bland however is Dolores.
Yes, I haven't spoken a ton of Dolores, who is a focal point much of the first season and in this one kicks-off the whole thing with robots killing humans. That's because her character seems like little more than a way to drive the story forward for a lot of the show, with Evan Rachel Wood's amazing acting as a conflicted young woman coming to nature with the dark truth of her reality in season 1 now relegated to 90% of the time being a bloodthirsty fiend willing to kill almost anyone--human or host--who gets in her way. That 10% I left out are for the few scenes she gets to emote anything besides anger and violence such as her sweet scenes with her, "Father," Peter, and with James Marsden's Teddy. Speaking of Teddy, he really gets a bum deal most of this season, hesitantly tagging along with Dolores, being reprogrammed by her against his will once she thinks he's too weak, and then killing himself before at least getting to go to the robot heaven at the end for all his trouble and heartbreak. Marsden is a great actor and always seems to get stuck playing characters who get the short-end of the stuck (Lon Hammond in, "The Notebook," Cyclops in the, "X-Men," franchise), just once I'd like to see him play a guy who comes out on top! Still, with him now gone along with some other characters we will be following what looks like a plot of Bernard versus Dolores for season 3. With the parks all seemingly closed will we see more of the real world now, or peek into the parks that maybe exist but we haven't visited? Time will tell.

The 2nd season of, "Westworld," gives me a lot of the action and plot development I felt the first batch of episodes lacked. Certain story-lines impressed more than others and the show's love of jumping-around through time is at some points a hassle, but overall it was a fantastic time and I loved it. I look forward to what season 3 holds for sure and hope at least some of the great characters who seem to possibly be dead (Maeve, NOOOO!) return. Oh, and if I may contribute to one ongoing internet debate, Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) clearly was stating he's secretly a host in his last scene. It explains a lot.
5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I Attended the Toyman Today and it Rocked!

Today I was able to attend the Toyman show which I consistently try to make sure and get out to whenever it occurs. Put on by Chris, "Toyman," McQuillen, it is always full of vendors with toys, comics, and all kinds of goodies. He announced in the morning his plans to continue the long-running show into the foreseeable future and everyone gave him some much-deserved applause. With two floors and over 200 tables of awesome stuff (plus various snazzy guests) I unfailingly have a stellar time. Today was no exception.

Interestingly enough today I was after some particular Funko Pops a friend of mine asked me to search for as opposed to when I go to just browse. I had three Pops I was hoping to find and be able to buy or trade for, and I figured if any place was going to meet my needs it would be the Toyman show. Did I succeed? Well, I'll let this picture speak for itself:
Yep, thanks to the Toyman show I was able to acquire three specific Funko Pops from three different vendors thanks to a mixture of trading what I brought as well some good ol' cash too. I'm not sure if I would have been able to pull-off this task at any other event in the area, but I knew the Toyman show would be the perfect place for my mission--and it clearly was! If I had been after Legos, die-cast cars, or Star Wars memorabilia I would have been set as well, because there is just that much fantastic variety!

I went to the Toyman show and was very pleased the exact stuff I was after could be acquired. It just goes to show how much delightful selection there is at a Toyman show in addition to all the special guests, cosplayers, and creators of cool stuff. The next show isn't too far away, happening August 5th, 2018. I plan to be there and as always encourage anyone else who is able to attend to do so!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Steve Ditko Died Yesterday

Steve Ditko back in the Silver Age of comic-books.
Steve Ditko died yesterday, July 6th, 2018 at the age of 90. He is of course known for a lot of amazing comic-book work such as co-creating Spider-Man with Stan Lee, so that of course carries all the debate of who deserves more credit as fans always argue about. Plenty of people who know a lot more about Ditko and the amazing generation of comic-creators who seem to sadly be leaving us due to age and/or ailment have written about him in-depth so I'll just share some personal thoughts and opinions.

From what I know about Ditko he was a strong personality with deeply-beliefs and shunned the limelight in a way completely counter to his former collaborator Stan Lee. Ditko was Objectivist who viewed things as good-and-wrong, black-and-white, and created comics once he left Marvel which reflected these views. He refused to give interviews, saying his work stated everything that needed to be said, but wasn't a recluse by any means, still apparently living everyday life out-and-about in public and even responding to a young fan who wrote him a letter, which astounded everyone who thought him to be some kind of curmudgeon for one reason or another.
As for why he might've been thought of somewhat negatively...well, Stan Lee is the one who always likes to be in front of the camera, and Lee doesn't argue when folk want to give him credit for the success of a character like Spider-Man. It's a testy issue, and one of the few times I've ever seen Stan Lee break his character of, "Stan Lee, expert showman," is when he was interviewed by British talk-show host and comic-fan Jonathan Ross for the movie, "In Search of Steve Ditko." In that flick during an interview with Stan Lee it is apparent Lee truly feels he deserves the majority of the credit for Spider-Man's success, regardless of what Ditko contributed. Lee says he tried to appease Ditko by making it clear to everyone they were co-creators, but Lee clearly struggles to believe that himself. With Stan Lee always in the news it just became easy for folk to ignore or outright forget about Ditko as he kept mostly to himself, putting out the occasional self-published comic and just living life.

I by no means agree with Ditko's political beliefs (my being pretty Liberal is basically a polar opposite of Ditko), but I always admired his talent and skill. Plus, there is something impressive about a person believing in something so much they passed on the countless opportunities they could have had for further fame and fortune to just do whatever else they wanted. Ditko could have gotten so much further fame for simply creating Spider-Man if he had done nothing else--and he did plenty more, co-creating Doctor Strange for instance. Ditko could have been like Lee, appearing on the convention circuit, lending his name to television shows, getting cameos in movies, and otherwise making bank and becoming a household name. Instead, he believed his work spoke for itself, and kept creating it whilst basically just living a quiet life doing what he loved--making comics and sharing his views. Ditko lived life on his terms and no one else's--a totally Objectivist thing to do. Regardless of if other creators, fans, or anyone else agreed with that, I sure respected it--and now offer my respects in a whole different way as we all mourn Ditko's passing.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Funko Friday: Someone's Getting Fired For This Mix-Up!

This Pop Should Not Glow
See that Nearly Headless Nick Funko Pop right there? He isn't supposed to glow. You see, there is going to be a version on sale at San Diego Comic-Con that will have a full-body glow, and a shared exclusive is rumored to also go on sale at Barnes and Noble. The, "Common," version though? He ain't supposed to glow. I had heard rumors that some common versions had a glowing head or body, but wasn't sure of the truth. Then, a chum of mine from Pop groups named Antonius bought a Nearly Headless Nick at Hot Topic, took it home, and sure enough, his noggin glows as the above picture illustrates. Yeah, someone is getting fired at Funko for this mix-up!

Look, I get it, quality assurance is hard. That said, when the factory starts mixing-up the parts of an exclusive Funko that glow with the parts of the common version that don't, it just looks pretty embarrassing. I mean, this is a publicly-traded company worth millions and its fan-base knows to seek-out exclusives. Now we've got this Nearly Headless Nick who sometimes has one part of his body or another glow and now I'm wondering if the exclusive will end-up accidentally with zero glow, have only some parts glow like the common, or sport a full-body glow as Funko has promised, who knows?
The same Pop as above, no hint of its glowing-feature.
This isn't a huge deal, but it must make Funko feel pretty dumb. It's not going to be the ruin of the company, but who likes looking stupid/foolish? Hopefully a solution will be cooked-up to make everyone happy and this won't happen again. It is pretty funny to imagine collectors going to stores with a UV flashlight and asking to take the Nearly Headless Nick to the bathroom and turn the lights-off to, "Check something," however!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Rant-Reviews of More New Comic Debuts

Always New Stuff
There are always new ongoing series and mini-series coming-out. With that in mind I usually am excited to try new comics out (I say, "Usually," because there is some stuff I'd dread, like perhaps anything drawn by Greg Land). Let's dive into some new books, shall we?

Debut Issues
Catwoman #1
After the debacle that was Batman's wedding in his book's issue #50, Catwoman seems to have fled quite far away and is dealing with a whole new assortment of foes, be they political figures, or posing as Catwoman herself! Joelle Jones is a stellar writer and illustrator as her past work such as, "Ladykiller," has shown, and here she provides amazing artwork to a story that has a little oomph but I feel ends on a cliffhanger right as the book starts getting interesting. Jones beautiful drawing makes up for any bit of short-changing I feel in regards to the plot however, and I imagine future issues will do a lot more to explain what is going on.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Unnatural #1
A new comic published by Image featuring both the writing and artwork of Mirka Andolfo. This is a very weird comic that also is really good! Both highly erotically-charged and quite humorous, it takes place in a world of humanoid animals who are taught to never seek-out romance from another species (same sex attraction is also verboten) but a pig-girl named Leslie keeps having these dreams of a mysterious and intriguing wolf-fellow. It's a little bit cheesecake-styled, has some interesting metaphors with its talk of how animals should only be with the, "Right," partner, and otherwise has me wondering where the story will go next. Good stuff!
4 out of 5 stars.

Project Superpowers #0
God, this comic feels like it just has so much to cover and can't quite manage to do so over the span of its pages. I mean, the comic only cost a dime so it is a decent enough refresher on all the past, "Project Superpowers," plot-elements that will, "Count," in this iteration as there have of course been takes on the property that clearly aren't in this continuity (Warren Ellis did an efficiently creepy mini-series some years ago, for example). Honestly though, in an era when comics sometimes feel too slow this one moves at a rate that could give readers literary whiplash with the mixture of backstory set in World War II, then the present, and a weird future. It make me curious for the main series though, and as I said, just cost 10 cents, so it accomplished its goal of being a taste of what's to come, I guess?
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Final Street #1
Written by Scott Schmidt and expertly illustrated by Brian Atkins, this comic is a clever take on a mixture of concepts. From 1980's action movies, to the, "Street Fighter," video-games, two friends unite to try to rescue one's boyfriend from a variety of gang-members and street-toughs. Things move at a good pace and the allusions to video-games come fast and furious in the form of fun illustrated SFX, and bright signs pointing out who a, "Boss," character could be. It is extremely clever and well portrayed by Atkins art. It's a great first issue and worth picking-up!
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Captain America #1
Skilled journalist and occasional comic-writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has begun his much-publicized run on, "Captain America," that appropriately enough was released on July 4th, and it is a excellent start! The comic thankfully doesn't try to ignore the debacle that was, "Secret Empire," and instead uses that as a stepping-stone to explore an America that doesn't quite trust its titular hero in much the same way a lot of us don't trust the Government lately. A new threat is introduced in the form of supposedly-patriotic terrorists wielding cybernetic enhancements and guns who think they represent the, "Real America," as opposed to everyone else. There also is a new threat introducing brewing cleverly enough within Russia. It's a good mixture of super-heroics, political  commentary, and is probably the first,"Captain America," I've read and enjoyed in some time.
4 out of 5 stars.

The Quantum Age #1
Another spin-off of the spectacular, "Black Hammer," comic Jeff Lemire created (he writes this too) that helps to flesh-out the worlds of the series, this book draws from moving the world to one set in the future (like the Legion of Heroes) where things have clearly gone wrong. Whereas the other, "Black Hammer," tie-in books have had a more immediate feel in terms of relating to the main series, this one being 1,000-plus years in the future results in the plot feeling a lot more removed from the main book. This isn't a bad thing as its an interesting take on the, "Futuristic team falls apart and is hunted and hated due to doing something terrible," but I'm more curious to see how it eventually most likely ties itself back into the original book.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

(Generally) Solid Starts
I always am pleased when a new comic impresses, and of course a little let-down when it disappoints. You of course can't judge something too much by its premiere but it always helps for getting an idea of what to expect.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It's July 4th, Please Be Safe!

Happy July 4th, everyone! This is the day we celebrate America, or what we would like America to one day be (e.g. a land that lives up to its ideals but right now is struggling to meet them). I just wanted to encourage everyone to be safe as this holiday of course is notorious for everything from drunk-driving to fireworks accidents (and of course accidents from using fireworks while drunk). So please, drink responsibly or have a designated driver/Uber driver ready to help if you're intoxicated.

Also, use fireworks carefully and don't be that moron who lets their 4 year old shoot bottle rockets at people and then is surprised when somebody ends up at the ER. Basically, use your logic and have fun whilst being reasonable. Oh, and if you live outside of the United States and any of its territories or protectorates this is just a regular day for you, so feel free to carry on as normal.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The New York Times Spoiled, "Batman #50," AKA the Wedding Issue

Alright, so I'm going to spoil, "Batman #50," which comes out this week on July 4th, so be warned if you care. What I'm going to tell you isn't really surprising though. Basically, we have had this long and tedious build-up for what feels like forever to the big wedding of Batman and Catwoman/Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. I had a feeling that because DC wouldn't want to change the character of Batman too much there would be something to keep the wedding from occurring. Perhaps I was being cynical about a big company not wanting to alter their cash-cow too much?

I wasn't being cynical, as the NYT revealed, Catwoman decides not to show up for the wedding because she reasons that if Bruce Wayne is happy he'll stop being Batman and Gotham/the world needs Batman more than she needs love...or something. Hence, she doesn't appear and after an hour or so of waiting at the altar Batman realizes she ain't gonna show and continues his life fighting crime. It is just so predictable a plot to follow I'm almost wondering if this is some big trick by DC and the NYT and there actually will be a wedding in the comic, because come on, how hackneyed can you get with this whole, "I love you but can't be with you lest the world suffer,"-style of story? I don't get how the writer of, "Batman," Tom King, can make such amazing stuff sometimes with, "The Vision," or, "Miracle Man," but I've always found his writing on Batman relatively dull and dreary of what I've flipped-through.
The rest of the internet seems upset about how DC acted all coy about the wedding and then will do exactly what we expected. Comic retailers are apparently pretty pissed too as some ordered big for what they thought would be a milestone issue along the lines of the death of Superman and instead it is all one big anticlimax. It's disappointing for sure, but the cynic in me saw it coming from a mile away, but I am surprised DC didn't think-through how mad some folk might get who ordered a ton of books under the auspices of it being a wedding issue. There's gonna be some hard feelings about this for awhile, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Comic-Con International/San Diego Comic-Con Is This Month, It'll Be Interesting

Comic-Con International (CCI) may have become its official name, but most folk still call it, "San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC)," and it happens this month, officially starting Thursday July 19th (with the usual special industry, "Preview Night," on the 18th) and running until Sunday the 22nd. I won't be going because even if I were able to get press access (maybe I could?) I don't have the immense sum of money required to find a place to sleep at night--hotels jack-up the rates to absurd amounts and still sell-out and I don't find my heart aflutter at the idea of paying $500 on Airbnb to crash on someone's couch or something like that.

It's bound to be another interesting SDCC, with one wrinkle being how Marvel and HBO will be intriguingly absent from having any big, "Hall H," presentations, the kind of which people wait hours upon hours in line for with the hope of attending (they'll have booths, just no big presentations). DC will be still be there trying to convince people its cinematic universe has a pulse beyond Wonder Woman, plus the Archie-meets-"Dawson's Creek"-with-a-dash-of-"Twin Peaks"-show, "Riverdale," that all the kids these days love will be in Hall H as well.
There are tons of exclusive toys that will be at the convention, from Lego sets to Funko Pops. Plus countless comic-creators, exclusive covers, and tons of vendors will be there. Basically it another year so we are in store for another big SDCC, it just might not have as much news coming out of it in regards to some popular movies and shows. I'll of course keep my eyes peeled for interesting news that emerges during the show and then post about it with the requisite snarky commentary.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

No, They Actually SHOULD Make a Moon Knight Movie

I was reading Bleeding Cool between its constant barrage of annoying advertisements and read an article by Dan Wickline which was well thought-out but I still completely disagree with. Basically, his argument is that Moon Knight as a character would not work as a Marvel movie and instead should be something along the lines of a Netflix show. To this I say, "Nope."

Wickline uses the argument that Marc Spector AKA Moon Knight has too complicated a origin, too many personalities, too much of this-and-that to be fit into a film whereas 10 episodes of a show might help. I find this argument immensely flawed in that there are characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that had existed for decades more than Moon Knight with lots more comic-issues yet they were made into film characters. Plus, it isn't like certain aspects of Spector can't be tweaked for a movie, that's been done countless times for characters on the silver-screen.
Plus, no offense to the Marvel Netflix shows but they can oftentimes feel really padded-out with all those episodes. I'd love a tight, focused 2-hour Moon Knight movie much more than a 10-hour Netflix series, I think. Also, the Netflix shows basically aren't in any kind of continuity that is the same as the movies (the Marvel TV projects don't really cross-over with the movies), and I'd love to see Moon Knight interact with the Avengers, something that will never happen if he is on Netflix.

A movie starring Marc Spector as Moon Knight may be challenge, but it is clearly doable and could be something amazing. I would much rather see him as a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than relegated to the sidelines in a Netflix series, and I hope someday soon we see one of my favorite characters on the big screen.