Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Third Time at the ToyMan Show Was Fantastic!

Today, December 10th, I attended the last Toyman show of the year for much of the morning (and it wraps up soon this afternoon). I have now visited the Toyman show put on by Chris, "Toyman," McQuillen three times in a row, so I'm thinking that illustrates how much I greatly enjoy going to it! Seeing as I am now becoming a regular I'm even more impressed by how the vendors always seem to have a wide variety of stock every show and I always find some cool stuff! Chris has a great variety of vendors at the show as I spent a good deal of time looking at the classic vintage toys, Funko Pops, and comic-books. This visit I did not buy any Funkos but did come across some cool comics! How about I share some of them with you now?
My favorite find this show was a, "slabbed," copy of the first issue of, "Infinity Gauntlet," which I acquired from STL Comics. I've discussed mixed feelings about slabbed books on the blog before, but as I of course have this saga of a story in trade form I just thought it would be neat to display the first issue with its gorgeous cover-art, and while 9.4-and-higher slabs sell for absurdly high sums I got this 8.5 very fairly.
I also stumbled across an old issue of the, "Widow," comic by friend of the blog Mike Wolfer and was pleased to pick that up from a vendor.
The last item of note I got was this snazzy issue of, "X-Force," featuring the second-ever appearance of Deadpool. I don't have the kind of money to pay for his first appearance but the second time he showed-up I can buy!
One other thing at the show which I found really cool was a vendor known as the Comic Grind bus. It looked like a regular bus with lots of decorations from the outside, but once you stepped inside it turned out to be a full-fledged portable comic shop that also could serve food and drink (although it wasn't selling edible items today so as to not impede on the food-sales inside). I talked with one of its creators, Phil Trapp, and told him how impressive the whole set-up was. He thanked me for my kind words and told me about their website where you can actually book the bus to come to parties or special events. I know if I ever hold an event big enough I'd be sure to have them come as I'm gonna save-up some money to get that, "Marvel Spotlight," they had with Moon Knight on the cover!

This last Toyman show of the year was just as fun a time as the other two I have attended and as long as Chris doesn't mind me bugging him about coming to the shows I'll keep writing about them and how awesome they are! You can visit the site here and get excited for all the shows coming in 2018--you'll most likely see me there at a number of them!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Hot Comics Revue: Fourth Edition Fun

Fourth Time May Very Well be a Charm
This is the fourth entry in the potentially never-ending series of, "The Hot Comics Revue." This is where we discuss books that currently out and getting some buzz, immensely popular, or have steamy potential. As always, I thank my friends at Comics Heating Up for the idea to do this, as they discuss upcoming books that might get hot and this bit talks about ones that are already out. I encourage you to visit them for all your comic speculation needs.

A Book That is Warming-Up
This variant for the third issue shows potential to get hot.
Batman: White Knight (the series in general)
Written and illustrated by the immensely talented Sean Murphy, "Batman: White Knight," has presented an interesting take on what things could be like if the Joker were to become a good guy and in the process points out how Batman is kind of a violent monster when his more-awful enemies aren't present to cast him in a better light. It also had the clever idea to explain the changes in Harley Quinn over the years by making her in fact be two people, with the new third issue resulting in one of the Harley's becoming a new Joker. The book has been slowly heating up and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw this idea of Harley being a Neo Joker appearing in other books as well, making the latest third issue where this happens potentially a sought-after item. The whole series could get pretty hot and I'll be keeping my eye on it. For now you can get the assorted issues for about 10 bucks each on eBay and I could picture prices going up for the first and third issue easily. DC has a possibly huge hit on their hands here.

A Red-Hot Comic
Teen Titans #12
There has been some debate over what qualifies as the first in-comic appearance of, "The Batman Who Laughs," a character in DC's, "Metal," event who is an alternate-universe version of Batman meshed with the Joker. The general consensus has been his first full appearance is in this issue however. As for who he is, its a version of Batman from an alternate reality who is really evil. His visage arguably infringes on the look of Judge Death from 2000AD, but if you're gonna rip-off a creepy face why not take from the best? As, "Metal," has been quite the successful series and ,"The Batman Who Laughs," is arguably the breakout character, his one-shot comic has been very popular and what most have agreed to be his first full appearance-- this, "Teen Titans #12," has become quite the hot book. It is currently going for between $25-$40 on eBay and may very well get even hotter if this Batman makes any other future appearances.

Two Titles with Steamy Potential
Kill the Minotaur #1 Regular Cover, Skybound Megabox Variant, or Ashcan
A mini-series from the Image imprint Skybound (the same imprint behind the massively successful, "The Walking Dead," comic), "Kill the Minotaur," went six issues and was recently optioned. It has a standard first issue cover, a Skybound Megabox (a popular subscription box from the company) exclusive variant of the first issue, and had a promotional ashcan. These versions of the first issue and the ashcan seem to show a lot of potentail and assuming that the option comes to fruition this could go from steamy potential to blazing hot.
Reactor #1
Donny Cates is a writer who has been on fire lately with hits like, "God Country," and, "Redneck," at Image and has recently started writing for Marvel. He still has some random titles coming out at other publishers however, such as this new book, "Reactor," from the publisher Vault. A sequel of sorts to his book, "Interceptor," that was published by Heavy Metal, if Cates in general keeps getting heat almost anything he does could go up in value. For now it is just hovering around cover-price on eBay, so we shall see.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rant-Reviews: Image Firsts and Seconds

The Beginning (or Near it)
I enjoy first issues as well as second issues of comics (which sometimes help further flesh-out a story). I also am often a fan of books released by Image Comics. How about we combine these elements and review some Image first issues and second issues?

Starts and Seconds
Paradiso #1
I found this book both fascinating and mostly indecipherable. Best I can tell, there is a city known as Paradiso that everyone wants to get into but many have died trying. We have a protagonist who may have an, "In," with a special mechanical tool, but its stolen by some weird robotic dudes. Look, I was really lost reading this but it looked darn good and was still fun, so I ain't mad. Still, this is actually a title that maybe it would benefit me to have been able to already read the second issue--or even further ahead as this seems like a really slow burn of a book. All of my confusion aside, the artwork and atmosphere have my interest piqued enough I would rate this a worthwhile 3 out of 5 stars. You can get a copy of, "Paradiso," at Things From Another World, on eBay, or via MyComicShop

Sleepless #1
Now we go from a really confusing book to this one that is actually really straightforward. Basically, we have a daughter of a deceased King who is illegitimate (e.g. the King made a baby with somebody besides his wife) but still a part of the court. Her uncle is taking over and she may be in danger, but has a member of the Court to protect her whom she clearly has some romantic chemistry with. The whole thing read kind of like a Young Adult romance novel with an elaborate fantasy world, PG-level affection, and while I'm not really the target demographic I still actually liked this a good deal. Our princess (affectionately nicknamed, "Poppy," by some) is a fun character, her protector is a pleasant guy, and the mystery of who might want to assassinate her introduces enough conflict to keep things interesting. I quite liked this and would eagerly rate it 4 out of 5 stars. Get yourself a copy from eBay, at Things From Another World, or at MyComicShop.

Hack Slash Resurrection #2
I've been reading the, "Hack Slash," series off-and-on since its early days at Devils Due (before the company folded and then was reborn) and when it moved to Image. Original writer Tim Seeley had an interesting concept in a girl named Cassie Hack who went around with her friend Vlad killing, "Slashers." Kind of the super, "Final Girl," her job was to take out those supernatural killing machines that we know so well from horror movies. A whole elaborate continuity was built up over many, many issues, but for this re-launch of the series with new writer Tini Howard (whom Seeley has eagerly endorsed) the series has clever dropped much of the baggage and just told us what we know to tell an interesting story. Cassie killed Slashers because her mother once was one, her friend Vlad died, and she quit.

The first issue showed Cassie being recruited to come work at a camp and this issue follows her as she learns the camp is actually a place for kids who have lost loved ones to Slashers and want to be trained in killing these supernatural monsters. The second issue is as strong as the first with a mixture of humor and the clever way it shows how world-weary Cassie has become. When she confronts someone reanimating dead bodies she declares she doesn't even care about the fact the man is making zombies because she is exhausted debating the ethics of such things, she just wants him to keep the damn things contained so the camp she works at can be safe. This example of a darkly humorous scene encapsulates much of the comic's charm. Whether you're a long time fan of this series or brand-new to it I would for sure recommend this book with an eager 4.5 out of 5 stars. Grab this issue at MyComicShop, on eBay, or at Things From Another World.

Void Trip #1
It's the future (I think) and humans have the ability to travel through space. Some, like our two main characters in this comic, use that power for little more than getting high off various alien fruits. Yeah, this is clearly a quirky little book and I found it very silly (in a good way). Still, like Paradiso I found myself a little confused just what exactly was going on and didn't feel much of a connection to the main characters. The great amount of humor and jokes kept things entertaining however so I'd say this squeaked into a 3 out of 5 stars rating with future issues potentially scoring more or less depending on how much more characterization and plot development we get. The first issue of, "Void Trip," can be bought from eBay, via Things From Another World, or at MyComicShop in addition to all other finer comic stores.

Witchblade #1
I've only read bits and pieces of the old classic, "Witchblade," comics from back in the day, and this is a complete re-launch in a whole new Universe completely removed from any connection to the old stories outside of the most basic concepts of what the Witchblade is (a mystical tool, obviously). I'll be honest and tell you that not much about this issue grabbed me. The characters were bland, the art was passable but unimpressive, and the whole thing was just purely passable. Nothing was about this book, but I didn't start getting interested until right at the end when the powers of the Witchblade manifested in a spectacularly violent fashion. It was alright and I'd give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. Visit Things From Another World, eBay, or MyComicShop to buy yourself a copy.

No. 1 With a Bullet #2
I absolutely loved the first issue of this comic and having read the second I continue to be fascinated. This slightly off-kilter version of our world with technology having become even more intrusive than it already is presents a stark view of the kind of path we're heading down. The protagonist, Nash, is dealing with the fallout of a sex tape leaking that she didn't even realize was being made because the person she was having sex with happened to be wearing special contacts that can record anything the wearer does. The result is Nash feeling violated and really, really pissed. There are clearly other malevolent forces involved in utilizing this technology and I continue to be excited to see where the story goes next. This stellar book easily achieves 5 out of 5 stars. Buy this latest issue at MyComicShop or on eBay.

Done with the Ones and Twos
These newer books from Image either were okay, quite good, or just plain stellar. The best part is that as all of these comics are only brand-new debuts or in their second issues it's incredibly easy for you to start reading and enjoying them too (at least, the ones I liked and would recommend). Now the only hard part is waiting patiently for the next issues of these books!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Television Tuesday: Damnit, Do I Feel Bad for Billy Bush?

I was never a big fan of Billy Bush when he would appear on The Today Show or Access Hollywood. He struck me as kind of smarmy and one of those bland television hosts who dreamed of great success but got stuck just popping up talking about the celebrity news. There was of course a famous incident where a tape leaked of Donald Trump on a, "Hot mic," talking to Billy Bush and other people before an Access Hollywood segment was taped some years ago when, "The Apprentice," was at its peak of popularity. Trump essentially outlined how he was a in favor of sexual assault because when someone is rich and powerful they can get away with fondling women. Once the tape leaked Bush got fired and Trump...well yeah.

Billy Bush was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert yesterday and basically shut-down the idea that Donald Trump has been proposing lately that somehow he wasn't the voice on the bus saying he likes to grab women, "By the pussy," plus arguably laid-out a case for it being weird that he got fired for simply listening to Donald Trump back in the day while Trump got to become President. Bush discussed how considering Donald Trump's power at that time (and to this day) was there much he could do but laugh and assume Trump was just telling jokes, doing a routine?
Bush has also written an Op-Ed for the New York Times calling out Trump for what he's said and when on Colbert talked about how he went soul-searching at a retreat, "Off the grid," and when he was checking-in saw Trump being sworn-in as President, following up that story with the simple word, "Irony." They also discussed how Bush was fired from the Today Show and just recently Lauer was fired for actually engaging in sexual misconduct and assault, meanwhile Bush listened to a man brag about it was let go. This all raises the question of if I actually feel bad for Billy Bush?

I still don't really like Billy Bush, I would argue he could have called-out Trump on that bus for his foul language and statements regardless of how much power Trump had. That said, Billy Bush really did get screwed (no pun intended). We see him now saying how he is sad he never even got to apologize to viewers on the Today Show and how he supports these women speaking-out against Trump and basically offering a big mea culpa and I while I wonder how much is legitimate versus an attempt to get back in the public's good graces....yeah, I feel bad for the guy.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Online Comic Auctions Are Fun!

We all know about auctions that happen in everyday life. Whether its a car show, antique event, estate sale, or something of that nature people will gather and bid on items. In this era of the internet sometimes online auctions will occur, but up until a few months ago I hadn't ever tried an online comic-book related auction. Having seen some of one a few months ago and taking place in it from the start today I would say they are a good time!

Starbase 1552 Comics is a physical shop found in Franklin Tennessee that has the fun features of your usual comic shop. They also will sometimes do live Facebook auctions and they are really fun. A list will be posted of what's going to go-up for auction and then at the proper day and time the event will stream and people can bid via the comments section. I was able to snag the first four issues of the original, "Moon Knight," series as well as a copy of, "Jessica Jones #1," signed by David Mack for very fair prices.
Starbase 1552 Comics has an official Facebook page specifically for their auction events that you can find here and I would encourage you to check them out and, "Attend," the next auction. If you're a lover of comics (and comic-related toy merchandise) it is cool just to see all the items and even more exciting to bid on things you want! It is my hope this kind of thing catches on even more and other shops do it too, because it is quite entertaining!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

That Moronic Tax Bill Tho

So, how about that that joke of a tax bill Republicans and Donald Trump forced through Congress quicker than a hot batch of diarrhea? Seriously though, it is one big gift for the rich, corporations, and actually hurts the middle class. All of that aside though, the very way it came together at the last minute with hand-scribbled notes and people not having any idea what was in it reminded me of when you have a group project and wait until 2 hours before the due date and scramble to put something, anything, together, so you can slap your name on it and claim success despite it being a steaming hot pile of failure. It is all just so shameful.

Friday, December 1, 2017

World AIDS Day is Today

Today is December 1st, also known as World AIDS Day. Established in 1988 this is a day of remembrance for all those we have lost to HIV and AIDS as well as a time to note how far we've come--plus how much further there is to go. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can lead to an AIDS status when a person's immune system reaches a very low level--a CD4 level that could be as reduced as the low hundreds or even single digits (to put that in perspective, someone without HIV could have a CD4 of 1600) this of course can result in a person getting sick easier with a variety of opportunistic infections. Whereas when AIDS was first identified decades ago it was thought of as a death sentence it now is a treatable chronic condition.

If you are sexually active you should always make sure to regularly get tested as you have no excuse to be unaware of your HIV status. I no longer currently work in Public Health as the premature birth of our son, Clarkson, resulted in my wife and I deciding together for me to stay home. That said, I still am passionate about Health and as I worked in Medical Case Management assisting individuals with HIV as well as informing people about it, I just wanted to make sure all my readers were aware what today was, and how I would encourage them to know their status. There are numerous places to get tested and should someone live in the Saint Louis region I would for sure encourage them to visit my former employer, Williams and Associates, for a free HIV test as well as safer-sex supplies!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stabbity Bunny #1 & #2 Advance Review

I posted not too long ago about how I was excited to win the contest from SCOUT Comics, Comics Heating Up, and the creative team behind, "Stabbity Bunny," to supply the name and breed of a dog that will appear in the comic (I look forward to seeing a Pug named Humphrey in the near future)! Therefore, when SCOUT reached-out to assorted bloggers and media outlets with an assortment of comics to review (I signed-up to get updates) I jumped at the chance to read the first two issues of the SCOUT editions of this formerly self-published series. Having now read the debut two installments I can say, "Stabbity Bunny," strikes just the right balance of being cute and gruesome enough that it comes off like a delightfully twisted children's story gone horribly wrong.

The comic focuses on Grace Lee, a young girl whose family is hinted to have a supernatural secret that makes them a target for dark forces. This results in the first issue being about Grace being kidnapped and almost killed before her plush bunny makes it clear he won't stand for anyone threatening his owner. The second issue fleshes out the plot a bit more and introduces a lot of the cast--I honestly worried it would lack the dark edge of the first issue until its end when some dark magic cast on an unsuspecting victim makes it clear Grace and Stabbity are still in plenty of danger.
Richard Rivera's writing strikes the perfect balance of cute and funny mixed with morbid and gruesome. He can have a mellow scene where Grace and her friend enjoy a pleasant lunch and then seamlessly segue to all kinds of malevolent forces wreaking havoc. The first issue has a bit of a rhyming storybook theme that is almost a little grating as opposed to clever, but the second issue thankfully drops that. Illustrator Dwayne Biddix is also owed a great deal of credit for being able to make cute things look adorable--such as Stabbity--which makes it all the more shocking when the scene gets violent and bloody. Speaking of bloody,  colorist Liezl Buenaventura is superb with a mixture of bright happy colors offset by crimson red when Stabbity gets violent.

The creative team behind, "Stabbity Bunny," walks a dangerous tightrope with their mixture of childhood whimsy meeting with evil magic and brutal violence, yet they somehow manage to make it work perfectly and give us a comic I loved reading and am honored to have contributed to--even if it is in a way as minor as suggesting a dog's name and breed. I am excited to read future issues of, "Stabbity Bunny," and would encourage you to get in touch with your local comic-shop and have them order issues or pre-order copies for yourself at Things From Another World. I give these first two issues 5 out of 5 stars for sure!

The, "Avengers: Infinity War," Trailer Was Great Except For One Small Thing...

Yesterday the first official full trailer for, "Avengers: Infinity War," was released onto the internet. Arguably the culmination of everything since the first, "Avengers," where we glimpsed big-bad Thanos, it is a darn good look at what to expect and I'd recommend you give it a view if you haven't yet:

Now then, despite my mostly loving it one thing does bug me. What is up with Thano's chin? Like, it is prominent in the comics, sure, but here it is just distracting. He sounds ominous thanks to Josh Brolin's great voice but he doesn't have quite the imposing gravitas you'd expect in his appearance due to that chin. It is a minor quibble, sure, but as I said, it is the only one I really have. There are just a couple of Marvel Cinematic Universe films I still haven't seen for one reason or another so I"ll be sure to catch-up on those before going to this epic in May! If only I got this excited about Marvel's comics lately...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Today Show Thoughts in Regards to Matt Lauer

Okay, so Tuesday night I became horribly ill with food poisoning. It wasn't pretty and I thank my wife for all her help as that was the sickest I've been in awhile. Needless to say I was still in bed much of Wednesday and therefore did not get to do what I usually engage in everyday--enjoy my morning with the Today Show.

Dear God, did I pick quite a day to miss the program.

My phone lit-up with the news a bit later in the day that Matt Lauer had been let-go from the Today Show due to sexual misconduct claims. I am of course an aficionado of the Today Show, but was never that big a fan of Lauer. I think the only person currently there I disliked more than him would be Megyn Kelly. That said, it at first made me sad to see someone who has been on the Today Show for so long leaving, especially under these terms. Then again, it sounds like Lauer was a real sleazeball so good riddance. I watched the Rockerfeller Center Tree Lighting event this evening which usually features Today Show anchors and it was telling that Lester Holt (of the Nightly News) just happened to stop by for the first time ever to join the Lauer-less Al, Hoda, and Savannah. I swear, if it turns out Al Roker has been up to anything unsavory then that will be truly heartbreaking.

Two New Comic Kickstarters of Note

Kickstarter!
I will at times shine a light on Kickstarter campaigns that catch my eye, and there are two new comic ones I felt like giving a shout-out. Both are coming-out from smaller comic-publishers and creators who otherwise would possibly be unable to publish the books, so I feel they could use our support!

The Eternal Thirst of Dracula
Mike Wolfer is a friend of the blog whom I've enjoyed interviewing a number of times and whose works I always enjoy reading.  He has a new project coming out from American Mythology titled, "The Eternal Thirst of Dracula," and it looks like a great grindhouse movie-esque read set in 1975 where some horror-movie producers discover that the supposedly fictional Dracula is oh-too-real. Wolfer is writing with Roy Allan Martinez providing art, Enrica Eren Angiolini doing colors, and (also friend of the blog) Natalie Jane is lettering. The Kickstarter has exclusive stuff that won't be in any comic-store releases and as always has a number of great pledge levels as low as $10 for a digital copy or more expensive for folk who want to get a ton of stuff. You can check out the Kickstarter here and I wish the creative team great success!

Ted Naifeh's Heroines: The Graphic Novel
Space Goat Productions Inc. has a number of cool comics and broad games they produce, with, "Heronies," being one of those series. Written and drawn by Naifeh, I heard a variety of good things about this series which focuses on, "The tale of Marcy Madison, a bright, capable young woman just out of college, blessed with boundless optimism, a fresh perspective, and a nifty superpower--ready to make the world a better place. Marcy finds that most of the world is trapped in its own dysfunctional stories, mired in pessimism, and is more than ready to dismiss her. However, she’s determined to blaze her own trail, which soon proves dangerous." This collects the series so far in graphic-novel form  (a digest that Space Goat refers to as perfect for backpacks/"a backpack edition")and a digital copy can be had for only $10, with other higher levels coming with physical copies or personalized sketches by Naifeh. You can view the campaign at this link and I wish Naifeh and Space Goat all the best in reaching their goal!

Update: It seems Space Goat is having its own sexual harassment scandal, but it is unrelated to Naifeh so I still think the Kickstarter is worth giving attention!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Television Tuesday: Westworld

There is an HBO show I haven't gotten around to watching that sounded really interesting to me. No, please quit asking me about ,"Game of Thrones," because I ain't into it. I am instead talking about, "Westworld," which as far as I could see was pretty critically divisive. I was able to carve out some time before Thanksgiving however and watched the first season over about four days. Based on the book by Michael Crichton (and which has actually already had a movie made of it too), "Westworld," is about an amusement park full of robots (or, "Hosts,") who exist to give visitors to the park something to shoot, have sex with, or otherwise do whatever they want whilst having the Hosts unable to hurt them. 

This all occurs in a setting of the American West in the Civil War-era and costs a ton of money to go visit. Throughout the season we have the focus set on certain guests and Hosts as the things of course start to go horribly wrong and the robots become self-aware and eager to strike-back at the humans who've been harming and forcing themselves on them for nearly 35 years. The season ends right as it looks like the Host rebellion will be kicking-off which is quite the cliffhanger considering this program wrapped season 1 in 2016 and will finally be back in 2018.

I would say there is easily five episodes worth of just smashing and awesome content...unfortunately this is spread-out across 10 episodes, resulting in a whole lot of filler. We witness a whole lot of seeing how the park operates, get an industrial espionage subplot that feels like it didn't really matter in the end, eventually realize we are witnessing multiple timelines, that certain, "People," are actually Hosts, and as you can see from what I've mentioned some of this sounds quite interesting and some sounds relentlessly dull. "Alternatively quite interesting and relentlessly dull," is actually a great way to describe this show. The little moments and big moments that grab a viewer's attention are stellar but spread-out over a lot of monotonous stuff.

I think, "Westworld," is a great show that somewhat annoyingly moves along at a really slow pace sometimes. What could have been a tightly-plotted half of a season leading into the 2nd half being full of exciting robot-rebellion action instead is one long first season full of lead-up. I am for sure interested in watching next season (whether I see it via a trial of HBO GO or wait a long time for it to come out on Blu-Ray and DVD) and would encourage anyone interested in science-fiction, robots, and the question of, "What makes us human?" to give it a viewing. Just be prepared for some parts to feel like a slog and others to be super-engaging.
4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Everyone (Myself Included) is Pissed About this New York Times Article About a Neo-Nazi

The, "New York Times," had a recent article about, "The Nazi Sympathizer Next Door," which depressingly doesn't emphasize how terrible a human being he is but actually comes off as if it is saying, "Nazis, they like television and have good manners and stuff!" I and everyone else who has read this has found ourselves disgusted.

Articles like this that try to normalize the horrible monsters that Nazis are just are atrocious. This makes me think of a random example: I remember back in the 1990's the idea of shooting Nazis in a video-game was the one thing that parents wouldn't get mad about. You would tell your Mom and Dad the game had you shooting Nazis and they would go, "Oh, you can rent that then." Now if we have a video-game where Nazis are shot, people say how it is left-wing propaganda. When did being an open Nazi-sympathizer in America become something supposedly okay that newspapers like the New York Times tries to normalize? Nazis aren't normal, they are terrible people who in living memory tried to commit genocide. Ugh.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

"Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp" is as Charming as it is Mercenary

I've always loved the, "Animal Crossing," games ever since I played the first one back in the day on the Gamecube. I've enjoyed it on that console, the Nintendo DS, and previously got very excited when it was announced a version would come-out for the iPhone. Finally this week, "Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp," was available in the United Sates for all us Americans to enjoy on our mobile devices and it is just as charming and fun as always...with a new unseemly element we will get to in a minute.

"Animal Crossing," as a game series has been about living in a town full of anthropomorphic creatures whom you can chat with or do errands for in between catching bugs, fishing, or decorating your house. It is like stepping into a happy world where you can just relax and have good fun. "Pocket Camp," changes a few things and has you visit a camp-site where you can decorate the setting as well as your camper and invite other animal-humans to come hang-out. It is a little different but still like the good ol' classic games except for the new off-putting aspect that threatens to ruin all the fun: Microtransactions.
Microtransactions are hated by many a video-game player. Want more lives in your game? Just spend 99 cents and there you go. Interested in boosting your Kingdom's crops? For just $4.99 you can buy a great harvest, and so forth in many games. These little ways to make stuff happen faster are annoying but at times make sense in games. "Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp," is a free game with microtransactions however which feel just kinda icky and almost game-breaking for something like, "Animal Crossing." After all, the whole point of the old games was to check in every once in awhile as the world advanced in real-time. You could harvest fruits and then had to wait for more, things took time but that was okay because the whole point was to enjoy this chill and relaxing game.

Now everything can happen faster. Want more fruit? Use some special tickets you can buy more of. Interested in catching a bunch of fish? Use some nets bought with tickets. Should you want to attract more bugs you can buy some honey, if you want to craft something quickly than you can pay-up for that too. Do you wish your animal-friends had more errands you could run, because if you do there is a microtransaction for that. There is even an area you can visit as long as you cough-up tickets or have enough friends to get more in-game goodies. It feels a bit against the whole motif of, "Animal Crossing," to be able to speed things up as long as you are willing to spend some cash. It goes without saying I would've been happier to just truly purchase the game and have all this microtransaction nonsense go away.
The saving grace to all these microtransactions is that you can still basically fully enjoy the game without having to spend a dime and let everything take its time--just as in the classic iterations of, "Animal Crossing." It is still off-putting however and while I don't necessarily think Nintendo should be ashamed, it is kind of a downer. After all, everything about the game I enjoy can be had faster if I just provide some cash. Any charming moment is undercut by this purely mercenary focus on saying, "You like this? Give us money for more of it!" I love anything, "Animal Crossing," so I still like it, but any recommendation I can give for people to try it out comes with that heavy caveat of, "It's fun, but those microtransactions..." As it is, this is a fun but flawed way to spend some time on your phone.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thoughts on Doomsday Clock #1

A Lot of Talk
There has been a lot of discussion about DC's big 12-issue event-comic, "Doomsday Clock." There is of course the much-loved comic, "Watchmen," which--putting aside the, "Before Watchmen," debacle of lame prequels--we haven't had too much of outside of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons self-contained masterpiece. DC has now released the first issue of this sequel of sorts with all the moral quandries that brings.

You see, Alan Moore has always been vehemently opposed to DC doing anything with his work from, "Watchmen," stating how he should have had the full rights. It's a long and tangled history, but the short version is: Alan Moore and DC apparently agreed that once, "Watchmen," had been out-of-print for a period of time the full rights would revert to him, the comic was a huge smashing success and DC now has forever been printing versions of it, thereby robbing Moore of what he felt was his. There are many arguments in favor of Moore, some against, and people much smarter than me have made highly detailed cases.

How then, does one review, "Doomsday Clock," considering all the elements at play here? I suppose I would review it in a number of ways with different things taken into account--which sounds complex but there are many complexities to this comic-event.

Looking at The Plot in Isolation From Other Elements
From a strictly plot perspective there are some intriguing ideas at work here. The idea is arguably that the existence of, "Watchmen," was so world-altering it essentially changed the reality of other comics, like DC's main stuff. It is a really meta idea and arguably the only way this comic can work--the dark sad world of, "Watchmen" going-up against the happy and more hopeful world of DC. After all, if you just have a comic with Batman fighting a bunch of folk from, "Watchmen," what's the point?

"What's the point?" could be asked about a lot of this though. Did DC absolutely have to take, "Watchmen," to use for this story or does utilizing the famous IP allow the story to feel like it has more gravitas? Moore and Gibbons comic is a masterpiece so anything attempting to follow-up on it that lacks them probably will struggle to measure up. Having read the comic, if one puts aside all the baggage of using, "Watchmen," it reads quite well, but the whole idea is taking the baggage of, "Watchmen," and using it to tell a story, which arguably is why we are in this aforementioned big ol' moral quandary. Should we work to put all that aside though and just look at the plot in isolation from all the other outside elements at play--go all, "New Criticism," on the comic, then it is pretty good.

We have the world of, "Watchmen," that seemed to achieve peace through the lie of a false alien invasion now falling apart due to the truth coming-out. Things are miserable again and its a mess. We get some info-dumps and it is a good read. I would give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars viewed by itself. We can't view it by itself though, can we?

Looking at the Plot in the Shadow of, "Watchmen."
Many folk would agree, "Watchmen," is a masterpiece. Intricately plotted, designed, and with an ending that is kind of weak--but arguably intentionally so--it is amazing. Any book trying to pick-up that ball and run with it is bound to suffer. Reading this book written by Geoff Johns gives the impression of someone desperately trying to recapture that, "Watchmen," lightning in a bottle but struggling to do so. The artist can't be blamed at all, as Gary Frank is a stellar illustrator and uses the classic nine-panel grid to give us some stellar imagery--at least as best as the plot can allow.

This first issue mostly takes place in the world of, "Watchmen" so perhaps as we see more of it and the DC-Universe bleeding into one another things will flow a bit better. As it is though, when one looks at this as a sequel to something so amazing as, "Watchmen," and puts the quality and craftsmanship side-by-side, this work suffers and is more of a pale imitation, a 2 out of 5 stars.

Looking at the Comic in Regards to Creator Rights
Just as with, "Before Watchmen," this is basically DC saying, "Fuck Alan Moore!" Even DC's most vehement defenders will admit that Moore was done dirty whilst trying to rationalize things by saying stuff like, "Well, Moore used other people's creations for his, 'League of Extraordinary Gentleman!' His, 'Lost Girls,' stuff too!" Those people seem to miss the point that all of those things were public domain and even if Moore was using creations in a manner the original creators would have disliked, he wasn't outright stealing their work from them to do what he wanted whilst they loudly protested. Moore isn't mad that the stuff he created is being used to tell other stories, he's mad because he was promised those things he crafted would be his to do with as he pleased and then once he made these metaphorical toys they were snatched away from him by DC.

Should someone look at this comic's existence in regards to what its progenitor--Alan Moore--would prefer, clearly it shouldn't exist. Dave Gibbons basically has faintly offered his approval/said he doesn't care, so is it enough for one of the makers of, "Watchmen," to be okay with it, or if anyone is against this should their preferences be acknowledged? Whatever the case, considering how badly Moore was screwed-over by DC when it comes to the comic in regards to creator rights, this is a 0 out of 5.

Much to Mull Over
It is evident that there is a lot to wrestle with when it comes to the very existence of, "Doomsday Clock." As its own piece of work it is interesting, but it suffers compared to the amazing work it is a sequel to, and is also one big middle finger to creator rights. It is impossible to judge if the overall meta-message will work well based just on this first issue, but I'm hopeful all this controversy at least gives us an interesting story--especially considering just how questionable the taste is of this comic even existing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a nice Thanksgiving today full of rest and relaxation! I'll get a post-up later today on, "Doomsday Clock," too--as the countdown to Black Friday is arguably a Doomsday clock of its own.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dear Nicki Minaj, You're Trying Too Hard

Yes, that is Nicki Minaj having a three-way with herself.
I debated if I wanted to write this article because I didn't want to seem like I was criticizing Nicki Minaj for being a sexual person. I am someone who loves people being comfortable with their sexuality, expressing it how they please, and otherwise am not a prude in any way. That said, having seen the latest cover to the magazine, "Paper," and looking at interior images too I feel I need to say, "Nicki Minaj, you are trying too hard."

I seriously have no problem with the, "Hyper-sexual bad bitch rapper," act that Nicki has been doing, I just liked it more the first time Lil' Kim was doing it and many a person out there (Lil' Kim included) would argue Nicki's whole motif is basically taking what Lil' Kim did, going a bit further, and claiming she's some kind of amazing creative force for doing what's already occurred. Plus, if we're being honest Lil' Kim could still rap circles around Minaj.
The only thing worse than Nicki Minaj is three of her.
In case you've been living under a rock, "Paper," magazine is a publication that likes to try to, "Break the internet," with shocking photo-spreads and articles, having done this kind of stuff before with Kim Kardashian and now giving us Nicki Minaj with clever Photoshop-editing making it look like she is having a three-way with herself. First of all, the idea of wanting to not just have sex with a manifestation of yourself, but a three-way of yourself sounds like the epitome of narcissism. It reminds me of that scene in, "American Pyscho," where Christian Bale's character pays two sex-workers to have sex with him and allow him to tape it...with his character then proceeding to keep the camera's focus entirety on him and how amazing he is as a sexual force in his mind. This isn't to say Nicki Minaj is a narcissistic serial killer, but the fact that I even drew the mental comparison says something, I would argue.

A bunch of people have been critical of this spread for a variety of reasons, with Eve thinking it isn't a good thing, and Wendy Williams stating it looks desperate. I want to state again I am by no means trying to slut-shame Nicki for doing this. I will admit without hesitation she is a beautiful woman and the imagery is very sexually charged--but it also just looks really self-obsessed and a bit like a cynical marketing ploy to play-up the, "I'm a raunchy rapper," image she's cultivated.
I'm amazed I haven't seen more, "Me, Myself, and I," puns.
Nicki Minaj has every right to be as sexual as she likes and people can respond accordingly with accolades or criticism. I have no problem with the photos and will give props to whoever had the technical skill to pull-off the illusion of three Nicki Minaj all going at it. I will say I take issue with how it just seems so calculated, narcissistic, and observe these stunts really do just remind me of when Lil' Kim did it first and did it better.  You're trying too hard, Nicki. Work on your flow and give us some solid rhymes and then maybe I'll care more.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Tales From The Dollar Bin: The Savage Dragon #1-#3

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a  store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

Long-Running and Full of Fun
Let's take a trip down memory lane to the early 1990's and get ready for a mind-blowing fact. "The Savage Dragon," is a series that debuted back then and is still coming out with the exact same original creator--Erik Larsen--and has no relaunches or reboots having happened. It is one of the longest-running comics with the same creator at the helm since its inception with only other books like, "Cerberus," and a handful of others (mainly if if you don't count renumbering) beating it. That is incredibly impressive and when one looks at the newest issues of, " The Savage Dragon," you can see how Larsen has both grown as a storyteller and illustrator as well as observe he was pretty solid right at the start. 

Yes, these early issues have some immense cliche's such as our protagonist having amnesia (resolved later on in the series) and random plot elements will pop-up and change at a jarring pace, but when you compare the latest issues to these you can see Larsen already laying a foundation for what has turned into an epic story full of generations of families, an ever-growing cast of characters, and Larsen's delightfully fluid art-style.
Erik Larsen's art has always given me a bit of a Jack Kirby-vibe (in a good way).
"The Savage Dragon," along with some other Image titles such as, "Spawn," are the O.G. books of Image back when it emerged in the 1990's as a creator response to the unfair conditions at work-for-hire companies. Image of course used to be more super-hero focused but in the decades since has grown into a publisher of a wide-range of quality titles. Now it is so big and successful you could argue the, "Big Two," of Marvel and DC really are the, "Big Three," with Image and its many smash-hits taking-up a big ol' chunk of the comic-market.

As, "The Savage Dragon," was one of the first books released when Image was a brand-new publisher it sold a ton of copies and therefore these debut issues are relatively easy to find in a dollar bin. Also, because it is  a super-hero comic from the 1990's it features big muscles and even bigger guns. Observe:
Reading these old issues of, "The Savage Dragon," is a delightful trip down memory lane for someone who first got into comic-books as a young man in the 1990's. The comic-book market of course eventually suffered a crash later on which many blame on a variety of factors (with Marvel and DC getting a ton more blame than Image, which thanks to its solid business planning survived that crash unlike many other then-smaller publishers), but through all the changes in the comic-book marketplace and the rest of the world, "The Savage Dragon," has kept coming-out at a rate that is occasionally sporadic and at other times very regular--regardless of how on-time or delayed it is however you can count on it eventually hitting the stands for your reading pleasure.

Erik Larsen's dedication to his comic over these many years is admirable, and the way he has altered and grown the comic with our changing times is just as impressive. It's a pleasant thing to think about--how Image and its focus on treating comic-book creators with respect resulted in so many great books coming out and continuing to be released. The continued success of, "The Savage Dragon," gives this edition of my spotlighting of dollar-bin books a rare happy ending among all the more tragic yarns, it would seem. Then again, you never know what to expect when reading...a tale from the dollar bin!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

I Decided to Investigate the Now Mostly-Hidden, Weird, and Really Stereotypical World of Cigarette Advertising

I Was Wondering
To begin with: I hate cigarettes. The smell makes me gag, the smoke makes my eyes hurt, and I promised my Grandmother who was a lifelong smoker and unable to quit I would never try it. To this day I've not had a cigarette in mouth and find them disgusting. I was wondering recently though, with all the laws that have basically made cigarette advertising mostly gone do they even have much of a P.R. budget for the United States? They haven't had cigarette promos on television in a long while, billboards are banned, and etc. Other countries are more lax about ads but America has shut it down...at least unless you go looking for it, then a whole weird secret world of cigarette culture opens-up.

When I was thinking about cigarette ads I remembered seeing during my youth two images immediately came to mind. There was Joe Camel and the Marlboro man. Joe Camel was a young hip cool Camel that maybe in retrospect was too young and cartoony, with enough people arguing he was designed purely to appeal to kids that he was eventually buried in graveyard of unwanted mascots between the Noid and whatever the fuck Spongmonkeys were.
Joe Camel
While the real-life inspiration for the Marlboro man died of lung cancer, Marlboro has kept the imagery going to this day. I decided to visit their website and find out if people who clicked-through to willingly see cigarette promotions maybe would find a Marlboro website with a little banner ad featuring cowboys and some cigarette coupons. I mean, it couldn't be anything that interesting, right? As I said, dear God, did I discover a weird hidden world.

Internet Time
The main menu full of sub-menus and lavishly-designed pages and videos
Visit the website of a cigarette company and due to U.S. laws you will have to prove your age through various verification methods that can go as far as providing the last four digits of your social security number. I didn't feel like doing that however and Marlboro allowed me to just answer other intrusive questions to create an account and get into their website. Once I did so I was taken to a website with a slick design that looks like a surreal mixture of a social network and lifestyle website all with a heavy emphasis on the supposedly smooth and delicious taste of a cancer stick. Also, a lot of stereotypes focused on manliness.

Once you're logged-in on Malboro's website you can watch fun videos about the wide-open wilderness, read about ranches, how saddles are made, and basically enmesh yourself in the life of the fictional cowboy that never really existed but we like to imagine did in our rosy view of American history. After indulging in the Wild West you can read about music, enter a contest to design your own neon sign for nightclubs, and use Marlboro's handy bar-finder tool to locate a drinking establishment that will also let you puff on all kinds of deadly chemicals whilst getting tipsy. Then you can follow a link to download a picture game featuring imagery of (what else?) cowboys, guys riding motorcycles, and other masculine imagery? Next, you can get some cooking recipes to help you, "Cook like a man," and grill-up some dude-food. After all that, share some comments and enjoy chatting with other smokers on the site while you bond over how, um, great smoking is?
Enjoy manly tales of cowboys...and smoking, I guess?
Marlboro's website bleeds testosterone. It is going for that tough-guy image of saying, "Don't listen to the people who say you're lame and out-of-touch with a world that realizes smoking is terrible, you're a strong man who needs our inexplicably manly cigarette." Marlboro insists you're a man who doesn't trust any fancy scientists or government telling you how cigarettes are dangerous. You ride horses, listen to music, grill, and otherwise do things that actually have nothing to do with smoking but when a company associates them with cigarettes is able to make you think that cigarettes are the same as cool stuff like riding horses, listening to music, and grilling. That's the most insidious thing here, the idea that the act of smoking something as gross as a cigarette--but for the purposes of these ads it has to be a Marlboro cigarette-- somehow makes you cool and strong man.

I didn't think a cigarette company would put so much money and effort into a website you can only view with a lot of effort. Then I realized why they did. You see, the people who access these sites are willingly seeking this stuff out and in this advertising vacuum where cigarette companies can only, "Preach to the choir," they do so. It is getting harder and harder for big tobacco to gain new smokers so they need to do whatever they can told hold onto the current ones.
The website's main food page,
because if you're gonna cook don't cook like a woman.
If this means stroking a smoker's ego by creating a false mental link between smoking a cigarette somehow being as rad as cooking a tasty BBQ chicken, riding a bull, or dancing at a club, then these companies will draw these false comparisons with gusto. This mostly-hidden and really stereotypical world of cigarette advertising geared toward keeping smokers in their grasp is uncomfortable and bizarre. After I first signed-up out of my aforementioned curiosity and saw all this I logged-out and mostly forgot about my idea to even write this piece. Then the packet came.

One Day a Packet Came
Fresh air and deadly smoke!
When I signed-up on the website I was told I'd be mailed a welcome packet, but that it could take a few weeks for it to come. About three weeks later I got a really fat all-black envelope from the Marlboro corporation. It wasn't even really an envelope though, it was more of a packet. I unsealed it to find it then folded out to reveal a bunch of glossy papers featuring much of the same imagery from online. The pictures of horses, cowboys, and wide-open plains looked inviting, with the irony of fresh clean wilderness air versus the dangers of smoking clearly ignored.

The other papers advising me to visit the site for more recipes to, "Cook like a man," made me again wonder what the Hell that phrase even meant. There were some coupons for taking a dollar off a pack of cigarettes or three dollars off a carton included as well. This packet did everything to make smoking look awesome and have you forget the fact that you are literally inhaling deadly smoke into your lungs. It would be impressive if it weren't so disturbing and false. I threw the packet in our recycling.

Just Plain Weird
The cover to a little packet with some coupons.
I haven't joined any other cigarette websites as the surreal world of Marlboro was more than enough for me to explore with its alternate-reality view of our world where smoking is somehow a great hobby. I still find it just plain weird how much money Marlboro (and I assume the other companies) pump into this advertising that only will be viewed by people who currently smoke or oddballs like me wanting to investigate stuff. It is weird, but not mysterious, as if you want people to keep buying your product that literally kills them you need to offer as much reinforcement and encouragement as possible for them to keep smoking.

Perhaps as less and less new smokers pick-up the nasty habit and more and more long-time smokers work to quit then eventually these tobacco companies won't even have enough money to make advertisements that are as fancy as they are insular in the focus on being geared towards keeping smokers smoking. Perhaps big tobacco will someday become little tobacco with an increasingly shrinking amount of clients for their product, I certainly hope that does occur!
Just a reminder what cigarettes do to the human body.
In the meantime, the companies will continue to make these promotional materials for their fans/victims in the hopes that all the talk of masculinity, freedom, and fun will help people ignore the fact that at the end of the day they are buying a product that is designed to shorten their lifespan and harm them. I guess we will see and in the meantime I'll continue to try to parse-out what it means to, "Cook like a man." I mean, is that when you kill the animal with your bare hands and then throw it on the fire pit or what?

Lastly, for anyone I know who smokes and wants to quit, Smokefree.gov is a great tool for finding resources and support. The last thing the cigarette companies want you to do is stop smoking, but that is the a great choice you can make for your health.

Friday, November 17, 2017

More Disconcerting News About Marvel as Well as Wizard

A Phrase I Normally Hate
I have a confession: I hate the phrase that involves, "Waiting for the other shoe to drop," or, "There's the other shoe dropping," etc. Sometimes stuff just happens in isolation and there are no other shoes to drop, and sometimes a bunch of events happen at once--more than a pair--so the expression doesn't work then either unless you say something dumb like,"All the shoes are dropping." Well, I guess I can eat crow today as there are two situations where the other shoe did indeed drop.

The "Shoes"
Axel Alonso
I recently talked about how Brian Michael Bendis was leaving Marvel for DC and other people wondered if this could signal other folk leaving Marvel--especially individuals who used to work closely with Bendis. There had been rumors for awhile about Axel Alonso, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, leaving, but they had been simply hearsay. Well, after having been involved at Marvel as EIC for a number of years and in general in some capacity since all the way back in 2000, Alonso has announced his departure from the company. The other shoe just dropped.

Also, I just posted about how Wizard was disclosing a lot of financial problems that made it apparent that while we may get shows in 2018 from them, the future was looking a little bleak. I and others wondered how in the dickens they would re-launch their magazine in this publishing climate considering they are hemorrhaging cash. Well, that other shoe dropped  in that scenario too and they aren't going to be doing a magazine anytime soon.
C.B. Cebulski
Marvel has announced another long-time employee, C.B. Cebulski, will assume the role Alonso filled. With all his years at Marvel it is easy to point out how Alonso had at times made controversial decisions or said questionable things, but overall it seems he was well-liked and respected at Marvel, making me wonder what caused his quitting (or if it was secretly a firing).

Wizard has discussed how they still intend to do their shows in 2018 and to never-mind all that talk of publishing a magazine, but if their are doing as badly economically as I heard I wonder what else might get cut or who else could be let-go to stem the metaphorical bleeding of funds. I hope the quality of the shows doesn't suffer as plenty of past news stories have shown that when corners are cut in the production of convention things can really fall apart (remember Dashcon? You don't? Exactly).
We shall see how things go for Marvel and if we are on the cusp of some big editorial shake-up just as before too long it will become apparent what the long-term outlook (e.g. surviving into 2019) is for Wizard World. For now though, it seems despite how much I hate the term, the other shoe has dropped for both these companies and the news is quite disconcerting. Who would think DC would be having such a good month in comparison to Marvel considering they had to own-up to keeping a sex-monster gainfully employed for way too many years?