Doc Double Feature: Waiting For Lightning (2012) & 30 For 30 The Birth Of Big Air (2012)

waiting for lightning I’m a sucker for skateboarding documentaries, you guys. So, when I was flipping through Netflix Instant options and came across Waiting For Lightning, which focuses on Danny Way and his attempt to jump over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard, I was definitely interested. In addition to sounding pretty interesting in and of itself, I was very, very vaguely familiar with Way thanks to his inclusion in the Skate series of video games. Director Jacob Rosenberg takes the opportunity of using Way’s record breaking skate stunt as a springboard to dive into the man’s incredibly interesting past.

Way’s early days were pretty rough. His mom and dad got married and had two kids, but after moving back to California his dad got locked up in prison where he was murdered. His mom wound up marrying a guy who sounded pretty great, but she never really dealt with her husband’s death and it wound up eating away at her and that relationship which lead to a split and a series of crummy fill-in dads. All of that, mixed with what sounds like an inborn desire to prove himself and an older brother whose friends were all into skating all lead to Way trying his damnedest to nail every trick he saw and could think of.

He quickly rose through the ranks of skating where he latched on to several other people who filled the father role for him — some of which who were tragically taken from his life — but it wasn’t enough. Way was one of the guys who really got behind the idea of building giant ramps for big air competitions. That all lead into the idea of jumping the Great Wall which was equal parts terrifying and inspiring.

Actually, I found this entire movie inspiring. You’ve not only got Way’s burning desire to continually top himself, but also this story of a kid whose support system was ripped away from him and yet found a way to survive and thrive. This film also finds ways to present some incredible skateboarding tricks in ways that make them look as graceful and complicated as profesional dancers. That ability to train and twist the body into doing things above and beyond normal human abilities is just fascinating to me.

Finally, I was drawn to this movie as a father. Every father, no every man, needs to watch this film to see what kind of impact a father/male role model can have on a person. I don’t believe that a male or female influence is more important than the other, but it’s monumentally important to have a balance in all things in life. Danny Way had to search for his balance and he eventually found it in the fathers and men who encouraged him to follow his passion of skateboarding. He used that drive to achieve things that, literally, no other person on the planet has achieved. That’s a testament not only to his skill, but also to the men and women who were there for him in his formative years.

30 for 30 the birth of big air The experience of watching Waiting For Lightning reminded me of a mini-documentary I saw on ESPN a few months back and was similarly captivated by, The Birth Of Big Air part of the network’s 30 For 30 line-up. This film, directed by Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine, shines the spotlight on Mat Hoffman, a BMX rider whose desire to ride higher and harder than anyone else has earned him a place in sports history.

Hoffman and Way actually share quite a few similarities, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering they did very similar things on different man-powered vehicles. Both were driven by a desire to learn and top themselves, which included flying through the air to death defying heights. Both invented numerous tricks. Both have suffered serious injuries in the process (Hoffman’s doctor says he’s broken every extremity available). Both were also fueled by the deaths of loved ones, in Hoffman’s case it was his mother.

While Waiting For Lightning documents Way’s desire to jump the grand canyon, Birth Of Big Air shows Hoffman’s struggles to achieve world records and get recognition for the work he was doing. It’s an intense journey that has resulted in recognition, but also plenty of worrisome injuries.

The problem I have with guys like Danny and Mat is that they’re both dads who feel the need to push themselves as hard as possible in order to prove their abilities or even show how great they are to their kids. This bothers me because you’re directly risking your life to impress your kids whereas I believe you need to have a longer view of life that includes sticking around and taking care of your children. But hey, that’s why I’m sitting on my couch blogging about guys soaring through the air and not doing it myself.

Strip Search: Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen (2013)

Al Capp By Michael Shumacher & Denis Kitchen I should probably stop accepting books from PR folks. The people over at Bloomsbury were nice enough to offer me a copy of Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary by Michael Shumacher and Denis Kitchen way back in January and promptly sent me the book when it was available. Here I am writing about it three months after the biography came out in late February, so I feel bad about that.

I was initially interested in this book because it covers an almost total dark spot in my historical knowledge of sequential storytelling. As a kid I loved the funnies and would gladly leaf through them in the morning and on weekends while eating breakfast, but aside from buying or borrowing a few collections here and there, my knowledge of comic strip history doesn’t go very deep. In the past 6 or so years I’ve tried to remedy that by snatching up classic collections, but my slow, sporadic reading habits have left most of them half-read. However, I felt the need to finally finish A Life To The Contrary so I made  a big push recently and cleared the last 100 pages or so over the holiday weekend.

Of course, the big question then comes, what took me so long to read the book, right? I knew absolutely nothing about Capp or his most famous strip Lil’ Abner going in, but the more I read the more interested I became in this man who was not only the most successful cartoonists of his day, but also one of the first to really capitalize on his popularity in the way that someone like Walt Disney was able to (both men inspired theme parks after all). And yet, I would put this book down for long segments of time. Part of that was my own desire to not read anything without pictures, but I think there’s also something about the book I can’t quite put my finger on that doesn’t fully draw you into the character of Capp.

I was contemplating this idea while reading through those last 100 or so pages recently as things were getting pretty exciting. Capp was hugely successful and had been for a long time. He even seemed to be doing pretty well with his friends, family and colleagues and then the 60s hit and I found myself liking him less and less (as did many people of the day). He’s one of those guys who claims to have been a liberal in the 50s, but switched to conservatism in the 60s (he and Nixon became acquaintances and often wrote letters to one another). Capp took it so many steps further by going on college speaking tours where he would spend his time haranguing the peace-nicks and protestors in the audience. He did the same on television, radio and in magazine pieces to the point where his meanness was making people not want to  bother talking to the once witty personality. Heck, he even traveled to John and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace just to give them shit. It basically sounded like he — a kid who connived his way through art schools thanks to his silver tongue — liked expressing his opinions, but wasn’t such a big fan of a younger generation coming along with their own.

And then it got so, so much worse when Schumacher and Kitchen drop the biggest bombshell in the whole book: Al Capp lured college women into his hotel room and tried to force them to perform sexual acts on or with him. He did this while on his college tours and it was apparently a pretty common occurrence with a half dozen cases mentioned in this book alone, plus instances of similar behavior with young starlets of the day like Goldie Hawn and Grace Kelly. He even wound up getting punched out by Harlan Ellison after Capp tried the same thing on a photographer friend of Ellison’s. Capp wound up getting outed by a scandal columnist and eventually going to trial, but it sounded like everything pretty much got swept under the rug because this was a time where that kind of thing was apparently tolerated.

Of course, I found this behavior repugnant and was instantly disgusted by the man to the point where I almost stopped reading. The news came as a shock to me because I knew absolutely nothing about Capp going in, so this was a whammy indeed. His story doesn’t end there, though. The man suffered personal tragedies in the form of family deaths as well as the decline of his creative work and the success of his strip until he wound up retiring. Two years later he died. As much as I was turned off by him as a person at that point, I did find it interesting that by the end he had basically turned into Ham Fisher the man who gave him his break in comics, at least partially inspired Lil’ Abner and eventually became his mortal enemy (these guys pulled some serious shady business on one another). At one point, before Fisher’s suicide, Capp said something along the lines of his nemesis being an example of evil old men just getting more evil and more old without justice ever being served. Some might say that’s the same road Capp set himself down.

I realized while gathering my thoughts to write this post that Schumacher and Kitchen might have purposefully kept the reader at arm’s length from Capp. I was pretty thrown when the full extent of his sex crimes was explained, yet I would have been thrown for a total loop had this been a person I really found myself invested in. I wonder if they chose language, situations and turns of phrases that didn’t overly ingratiate the reader to the subject for fear that either, 1) the reader might not be able to take the news or 2) they wouldn’t believe the news like many of the people of the day when it broke by way of scandal column. Either way, it was a difficult road creating a book about a man who clearly thought he was owed something by the younger generation.

I think I can recommend this book, though even though I have immense reservations about Capp. It’s impeccably researched with 16 pages of notes citing everything from articles in Time and Life to correspondences written by Capp to the people in his life. It also does a great job of painting a picture for the modern reader about how large of a figure Capp was both because of his personality and his fame, the former of which clearly lead to the latter. And even though I’m disgusted by Capp’s action and how they were handled by the colleges and local governments of the time, I do think Schumacher and Kitchen present all sides of the man, from the fast talking kid who hustled his way into cartooning to the dirty old man who used cartooning to hustle women. I might be disgusted by his choices, but the book paints a round, full portrait of a man who had hutzpah, artistic talent, jealousy, greed, a keen sense of humor, rage and a need to overpower those around him in all ways. For that, Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary gets a thumbs up.

Trade Post: Bloody Mary & Tom Strong Volume 1

bloody mary gart ennis tpb Bloody Mary (Helix/Vertigo/DC)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra
Collects Bloody Mary #1-4, Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty #1-4

Garth Ennis is one of those comic creators who has earned a life-time pass as far as I’m concerned. His work on Preacher (my reviews of which you can read here, here and here) resulted in one of my favorite works of fiction ever. I’ve read plenty of his other stuff from the myriad of World War II-inspired tales to things like Punisher: Welcome Back Frank and The Authority: Kev. While most of those other books don’t match Preacher (probably because that book now stands on such a pedestal in my mind) they’re all enjoyable.

When I saw a copy of his Bloody Mary trade on a fellow Sequential Swapper’s page, I was quick to try and get my hands on it. We were able to work something out and I eventually got to reading it fairly recently. Packed with the usual Ennis dark humor and bloody violence, the two miniseries’ featured in the collection follow the adventures of a super soldier by the name of Bloody Mary who fights on the side of the US and Britain in their longrunning war with Europe in the year 2012. As you might expect from a Garth Ennis comic, neither side is particularly angelic and just about everyone has severe emotional and psychological problems, but that doesn’t stop them from having a sense of humor about all the terrible things going on around them.

Both stories — which were published in the mid-90s by DC’s short-lived sci-fi tinged imprint Helix — work really well in their allotted four issue stories which can be a nice change if you’re used to huge, overarching comic stories. It’s nice to see a writer and artist get in there, do their thing and walk away with four rad issues of art and story. Speaking of which, Carlos Ezquerra is pretty much the perfect artist for this book. He’d done plenty of dystopian war torn futures from his days working on 2000 AD. In fact, I’d say that, even though Mary herself is American and Ennis is Irish, the look and feel of Bloody Mary reminds me of what few British comics I’ve read and seen from the lates 70s/early 80s, but in a way that doesn’t feel old or tired. I’m not sure if this was their first pairing, but Ennis and Ezquerra would go on to work together plenty of times and now I kind of want to back and read some of those WWII stories.

tom strong volume 1 Tom Strong Volume 1 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Chris Sprouse with Art Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons & Jerry Ordway
Collects Tom Strong #1-7

By the time Alan Moore launched America’s Best Comics through WildStorm  back in 1999 I’d probably read Watchmen, but it was still a little over my head. So, I wasn’t as crazy excited about ABC as I should have been. I’ve written extensively about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here and here as well as Top 10, but the two glaring omissions in my ABC reading have been Tom Strong and Promethea. I’ve attempted to read both of these books at different times in my comic reading career and even have the very first issue of Tom Strong signed by Chris Sprouse (as well as a sketch of Tom that Sprouse very nicely did for me around the time of the book’s launch). And yet, neither clicked for whatever reasons.

Well, recently, again while perusing Sequential Swap, I saw the first volume of Tom Strong up for trade and decided to give it a read. Man am I glad I did. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Tom Strong is a kind of Doc Savage type character whose scientist dad decided to move to an island in 1899 when Strong’s mom was still pregnant with him. Tom was born into a pressurized containment unit where he was taught by his parents and their robot Pneuman but never had skin to skin interaction with them until the day an earthquake hit, his parents were killed and Tom emerged to be raised by the island’s natives, a group who had mastered their own sciences. Tom strong eventually married their princess Dhalua, became a renowned adventurer and had a daughter named Tesla.

Much like Bloody Mary, I enjoyed how these issues mostly did their own thing while also adding to the growing mythology of Tom Strong. And that’s really the beauty of this particular Alan Moore comic book, you get the feeling that this entire world exists in his head and he’s giving you exactly what details you require when you need them to not only keep you invested in the story, but also to show you how deep that well goes. Each issue is basically a self-contained story that also includes a back-up story, usually informing the formerl. I loved the storytelling on display which could be enjoyed both for the adventure itself, but also as a way of watching a writer convey story and worldbuilding to the reader without ever getting heavy-handed or boring.

Speaking of never boring, the art in this book is masterful. Sprouse’s style is absolutely perfect for the big, bold heroics that go along with the core of Tom Strong as a character and a comic book. His lines are so clean and clear that you always know exactly what’s going on which is even more impressive when you think about how dense Moore’s scripts can be. Adding to the visual fun is a host of beloved artists who offered their talents to the back ups. Art Adams and Gary Frank are two of my absolute favorites so seeing them do some stories was great. You also get to see Jerry Ordway and Dave Gibbons do their thing.

tom strong sketch chris sprouseThe crazy thing about this book is that it kind of felt like Alan Moore was using some of his crazy snake god magic on me through its pages as a way of inspiring creativity. There was something about the time and place and experience of reading this book that I’ve never experience before. As I read each issue, I was further driven to sit down and write my own stuff. I was literally reading the issue while also thinking about my own story which seemed to be growing at a much more rapid pace than usual and then putting the book down, flipping my laptop open and typing ideas like a madman. I don’t know if I was just inspired by the creativity on the page or what, but it was a really great experience.

KEEP OR DUMP: As you might already be able to tell by the reviews, I’ll be keeping both of these books in my collection because I enjoyed the reading experiences so much. When it comes to Bloody Mary, I’m sure I’ll want to return to this book both to experience this story again and also to  get a quick dose of Ennis that doesn’t involve reading a much larger run on a series like Preacher, Hitman or Punisher. Regarding Tom Strong, I’m keeping it and also doing my best to track down the other trades even though I know Moore doesn’t write the last two or three. I look forward to acquiring them and eventually reading the whole run altogether.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Barnyard Commandos

Barnyard Commandos was one of those toy lines I knew nothing about until strolling through my local Toys R Us as a kid where I saw the Pork-A-Pult and was lucky enough to walk away with it. If you want to actually see what that is, head on over to the Virtual Toy Chest Barnyard Commando page and scroll down a bit. Once there you’ll see a vehicle that looks like it was cobbled together in a junk yard and also includes a toilet seat and a bathtub, two things my young brain hadn’t seen before, but most definitely made me giggle. I’m fairly certain that was the extent of my relationship with this line of toys which saw sheep and pigs getting souped up weapons and what not thanks to a nuclear accident, but it was definitely a fun toy that’s still probably in a box in my parents’ basement or my own storage unit.

Casting Internets

This is from before the season finale, but I think it still holds true. Courtney Enlow over at Pajiba completely nails the problem with How I Met Your Mother: the creators seem as obsessed with Ted and Robin as Ted is. Also, I completely agree with her inability to really let the show go because we both love these characters so much. Sigh.

This is also pretty old at this point, but I finally got around to reading Robin Williams’ tribute to Jonathan Winters from The New York Times is a really great read.

Brian Collins’ Horror Movie A Day review of Rob Zombie’s Lords Of Salem actually makes me kinda want to watch that movie, something I’ve never said in my life.

Do yourself a favor and read my buddy Alex Kropinak‘s look back at the very first What The-?! he did for Marvel.com.

fob perillo

I like Fall Out Boy and I like artist Dave Perillo, so the two coming together in the form of this Perillo-created FOB poster is fun.

While on the subject of FOB, Andy Greene’s Rolling Stone article about what went on between their last album and Save Rock And Roll was pretty fascinating.

Ron Marz is a whole heckuva lot busier than I am and on a completely different level as a writer, but there’s a lot I can relate to in his “day in the life” piece for CBR as a comic writer.

miami-connection-poster

Man, I have got to see Miami Connection. Not sure if I want to buy the film from Drafthouse without seeing it, but these packs are awfully tempting.

Mental Floss took a walk down memory lane by digging up memories of the Nickelodeon time capsule buried back in 1992 supposed to be dug up in 50 years. I wonder what comic book is in there.

I’ve often wondered what the collaboration between Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis would have sounded like. Rolling Stone says Paul McCartney was also possibly going to be involved. That might not sound super exciting, but then think about how Paul’s weirdness would have bounced off and been morphed by those guys. Epic.

Bloody Disgusting says a new Gremlins movie might be in the works. I like this news quite a bit.

house-of-secrets-cover_422x628

Hey, speaking of Chris Columbus (he wrote Gremlins) has anyone read his House Of Secrets book? He says it’s the thematic cousin of Goonies in this THR interview which definitely sounds intriguing.

I just read that Alton Brown‘s going to have a podcast on Nerdist Network. This is very good news.

Finally, this is pretty heavy, but if you’ve ever felt depressed, you can probably relate to the most recent Hyperbole And A Half post. It’s long, but it’s really well done too.

Binding Trade Post: Guy Gardner Warrior

guy gardner warrior 17 Guy Gardner: Warrior Volume 1 (DC)
Written by Beau Smith & Chuck Dixon, drawn by Mitch Byrd & others
Binding Order: Guy Gardner: Warrior #17-24, 0, 25-28, Green Lantern #60, GGW #29, Action Comics #709, GGW #30-31, Guy Gardner: Warrior Annual #1, Detention Comics #1 & Showcase ’96 #1

This one’s a little bit of a cheat because it’s not an actual trade that you can go out and buy, but a pair of hardcovers I had made through Houchen Bindery. I had gotten some extra cash for Christmas and my birthday that I put aside for a binding project and got to work amassing whichever books I was missing, having my parents bring out stacks from home and getting everything together. I soon focused in on two areas: the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern comics and Guy Gardner: Warrior, both books that had a huge impact on me in my formative comic-reading years that I continue to enjoy this day. I spent a good deal of time designing three different covers for the GL books, but decided to go with the more traditional, solid-colored covers for the Warrior books partially because I was tired of staring at computer screens and Photoshopping like crazy (something that proved very difficult with most of the GGW covers) and because I got a kick out of the idea of seeing my Guy Gardner comics covered in a way that makes them look like classy library books.

For a book that I love so much, I don’t actually remember why I picked up my first issue of Guy Gardner. I think I had read an adventure or two of his in random issues of Justice League I’d acquired along the way (this was before my massive post-Crisis JL collection idea), but wasn’t overly familiar with the character. Anyway, some time in 1994 I picked up Guy Gardner: Warrior #17, 18 or 19 and was instantly hooked. This was towards the end of Chuck Dixon’s run on the character where Guy — who was sporting Sinestro’s old yellow ring at the time and no longer a member of the Green Lantern Corps — was going through all kinds of costume changes from the leather-loving dude in the cover above to a ringless armor-wearer to the eventual morph meister he would soon become. These are all concepts that probably seem silly now, but were like crack to an 11 year old.

So, I’ve been a fan of the character going back nearly 20 years at this point and, aside from some of the Geoff Johns-era Green Lantern Corps, most people don’t seem to get the character. Many have the impression of Guy that he’s just a jerk with powers, but if you’ve read Dixon and Beau Smith’s run on the book, you know that it’s a lot deeper than all that. Sure, he’s kind of a jerk, but these writers also got to the underlying bedrock of the character, examining why he was a jerk and also showing all the ways that he’s so much more than that by getting into his relationship with his mom, dad, brother and on-and-off-again girlfriend Tora (better known as the superheroine and fellow Justice Leaguer Ice).

guy gardner binding

Smith has talked about how his run on the book came about in a two part post over on Westfield Comics’ blog, how it began life as a DCU-hopping adventure featuring Buck Wargo and the Monster Hunters and soon turned into that but with a sci-fi/fantasy element incorporating morphing abilities like the ones seen in the then-popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series. The books that I put in this volume feature Guy dealing with those new powers, questioning his origins in regards to the newly discovered Vuldarian DNA doing its thing inside him and also setting up his new life which includes funding from Wargo (a scientist-adventurer-millionaire) and a bar called Warriors that’s equal parts hero hangout and headquarters which happens to be the most long-lasting element of this run.

I decided to include a few crossovers like Green Lantern #60 and Action Comics #709, but also the first annual which was part of the Year One line that year. It’s an interesting take with some not so great art that shows how Vuldarians used to do their intergalactic policing back in the day. I also threw in the Detention Comics one-shot which features Guy substitute teaching as well as two other stories featuring Robin (Tim Drake) and Superboy and Showcase ’96 #1 which includes the first part of a two-parter featuring Guy teaming up with Steel where we learn that they used to play football at the same time. Fun stuff. The second half of that story kicks off the next book.

Guy Gardner Warrior 34 Guy Gardner: Warrior Volume 2 (DC)
Written by Beau Smith, drawn by Mitch Byrd, Marc Campos & others
Binding Order: Showcase ’96 #2, GGW #32, Justice League America #101, Hawkman #22, GGW #33, JLA #103, Hawkman #23, GGW #34-36, Darkstars #37, GGW #37-44, GGW Annual #2, & Mr. Miracle #7

Towards the end of the previous book Guy realizes his Vuldarian powers are going out of control because his peoples’ natural enemies the Tormocks have returned to the cosmos. In an effort to save himself and his planet from the impending invasion, Guy goes to the Justice League (who he’s pissed at for their shoddy treatment of him when Ice died fighting the Overmaster) and asks them for help. They agree to help him which launches into a seven part crossover called The Way Of The Warrior that also included Justice League America and Hawkman.

Unfortunately, this story is a bit of a slog because it felt like three different, yet concurring stories being told at the same time featuring some of the same characters, but not necessarily mattering so much to one another. The JLA are dealing with all their internal bickering while also facing off against some space bad guys while Hawkman returns to Thanagar for the first time in a long while. It’s all stuff that makes sense within the contexts of those books, but doesn’t really have much to do with Guy’s mission which eventually gets wrapped up so he can return home, but only after a few more issues where he appears in Darkstars and one where his clone attacks his pals at Warriors. Basically, it felt like it took way more time than it should have to return Guy to the setting and supporting cast that I find so enjoyable. Still, it’s cool seeing Guy fighting alongside fellow badasses like Lobo, Probert, Hawkman and Wonder Woman, even if the latter two appear in guises that might not look familiar to modern readers.

The rest of the run focuses on those elements by doing the traditional superhero stuff and other fun stories like a superhero-filled Christmas party and the end of the book which accumulates most of the bad guys Guy’s faced during his time as Warrior and throws them at him all at once. He also deals with his mother moving in, a possible romance with Ice’s best friend Fire and Buck’s decision to turn Guy into both a cartoon and an action figure. While there were some plot lines that were left dangling as the series came to an end with #44, I still really enjoy what Smith did with his whole run and how he set Guy up to be a bit of a different kind of hero in the DCU. Of course, that didn’t really happen, but he tried.

My book ends with a Legends Of The Dead Earth annual that features tales of post-Guy Vuldarians throughout the galaxy long after the Earth has ceased to be. This one actually makes a really good bookend to the Guy Gardner: Warrior story that I hadn’t read before putting this book together because I never really understood what the point of LOTDE was. Finally, I included Mister Miracle #7 because I saw online that Guy appeared and he does, but it’s not really important to anything. Had this one costed more than a buck or two, I probably would have skipped it, but I was doing okay within my budget and had enough space, so there it is.

Back when I had the first 20-or-so issues of Peter David’s Aquaman bound I actually read through all the issues before sending them out which I actually regretted upon getting the books back from the bindery. I wanted to make sure I still liked the comic, but when I got the actual books in the mail — something that’s always super exciting — I knew I wasn’t going to dive right back in because I just read them a month or so ago. I’d actually read through this run back in college so I knew I still liked it and didn’t go through it again before mailing them off. This time I was able to carry the excitement of getting the package in the mail over to actually reading the books, which I probably did in about a week (subtracting the week we were in Disney and I didn’t have much time to read).

Late To The Xbox Live Party: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

amazing spider-man xbox 360 I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but Spider-Man 2 for the PS2 is still one of my all time favorite video games. It did the open world/mission-based thing incredibly well while also offering all kinds of Spidey-based add-on powers and moves to keep things interesting as you swung through NYC, stopping occasionally to kick a criminal’s teeth in. There was a connection to the movie of the same name, of course, but not a huge one, which is great for me because I think the middle of that movie stinks

As I mentioned when I talked about the trailer for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions — which I erroneously referred to as Dark Dimensions for some reason — I really wanted to like Ultimate Spider-Man which took many of its cues from Spidey 2, but also seemed to dumb things down more than I liked. Since then I’ve kind of shied away from the franchise after not hearing great things about games like Friend Or Foe and Web Of Shadows. But, when some of my friends who are far more into video games than I started telling me that Amazing Spider-Man — based on the film reboot I still haven’t seen — might just be the next Spidey 2, I was definitely interested and actually got a copy of the game for Christmas. 

And it’s close, but it didn’t really hit all the same notes for me. In fact this game, while a lot of fun and challenging at times, really didn’t seem to offer much in the way of new gameplay experience. I’m far from an unbiased voice in this conversation, but the game itself really just felt like an updated version of a game that’s nearly a decade old. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I was really hoping for something that would take a great game, update it for a new console and also add a lof of new goodness on to it. I mean, the open world style of games have been around for a long time and yet this one didn’t seem to add much to the sandbox. 

And yet, I still had fun with the game. I’ve mentioned plenty of times here and there that my daughter Lucy actually really got excited about this game. For a few weeks she liked watching the old 60s Spider-Man cartoon, but then lost interest but still liked the character. She saw me playing Amazing Spidey and really dug it. In fact, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to finish this game is that I basically stopped playing it when the kid wasn’t awake. Also, not for nothing, but when a toddler is yelling at you to play a game, it can take away some of the fun. 

So there was an added level of doing something cool with my daughter that she dug while also going through a game that I liked for the most part. Again, it’s not a bad game by any means, but I was just hoping for more. Even though it didn’t do everything I wanted, I still had a great time web-swinging around a digital New York City, trying to figure out where I’ve been and where I can throw down with some bad guys. I even enjoyed the main storyline which does a cool job of mixing a zombie outbreak story and some crazy big mech robot stuff. That’s all aces in my book. 

I’ve already moved on to my next video game which actually happens to be Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions which is much more of a straight-ahead action game than an open world sandbox. I think I’m getting the hang of it and it’s a lot of fun to mash buttons while kicking bad guy butt and also hopping from timeline to timeline while experiencing one cohesive story. Fun stuff so far. I’ll probably review it when I finish, which might be another five months, we’ll see! 

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Trash Bag Bunch

I have a green, briefcase-esque McDonald’s lunchbox somewhere filled with tiny figures. There’s a combination of Happy Meal toys, those clear egg offerings you could get for a quarter or two at the grocery store and other random tiny toys. These might have seemed like rejects, but all together I could have some pretty epic battles, even though most of them had zero points of articulation.

Two of the toys in there came from Galoob’s line of Trash Bag Bunch toys which were basically blind boxed (bagged, really) minifigures packed in bags that disolved when placed in water. TBB figures were basically the same as MUSCLE or Monster In My Pocket toys but more fully painted and with that additional gimmick. The story, such as there was one, pitted gun-toting heroes against crazy monsters. The Trash Bag Bunch hit on two popular kid trends of the time: gross stuff and environmental stuff. What’s dirtier than trash? And yet, the good guys — called Disposers — are dedicated to keeping the world clean while the Trashor bad guys fight “dirty and mean!”

I don’t remember this commercial at all, but man, look at how fantastic it is? I’d love to see an entire movie focusing on these kids and how the Trash Bag Bunch winds up helping the main kid stick up for himself…or find treasure or whatever.

My Younger Self Would Be Blown Away By The Kindle/Kindle App Combo

Kindle Fire I know I’m incredibly late to the party on this one, but the way the Kindle works with the Kindle App for iPhone is pretty fantastic. I’ll be honest, I’ve only just recently started using my Kindle Fire to read actual books. For the most part, I’ve been using it to read comics. Even for that, I tend to only check it out every few weeks — maybe once a month — and then get back to the piles and piles of unread books and trades I have lying around. But, I just downloaded a book I’ve been really interested in checking out and have been reading through it every chance I get.

But, as you may know, my wife, daughter and I just went down to Pennsylvania to visit a theme park called Sesame Place with some friends. Those places might not seem like the best locales to get any quality reading done in, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s as good as any and that’s all thanks to the Kindle App for iPhone. As long as you make sure to synch your devices, the one tells the other where you last left off, so you get to keep your place no matter which device you’re using. It’s fantastic!

Before moving on too much more, I do feel the need to make one thing clear: I’m not one of those overly-attached-to-my-phone parents who barely takes his eyes off his phone while out with the kids. I only turned the Kindle App on when I was waiting for the others to do their thing (not a big ride fan and also had a bit of a stomach ache at one point). Then, back at the hotel, I simply went back to the Kindle Fire, picked up where I had left off on my phone and continued on.

While sitting there waiting for half the gang to ride a ride and the other to check out the gift shop I couldn’t help but stop and imagine how much this technology would have blown my mind as a kid. I was an even more avid reader in my youth than I am now (specifically books, though I guess I still read a lot of comics and trades these days). I’d go to the library, get a stack of books and plow my way through them. I’d also go to the book store — first Thackery’s, a local Toledo place that clased, then Barnes & Noble and Borders — and get things that looked interesting or I had heard about, starting the piles that I’m still working through today.

kindle-on-iphoneI was never more focused on what books I had, though, than when my family and I were going on a trip. The idea of being without something to read haunted me. I have no idea if it ever actually happened or not (probably did which fed into the fear) but eventually it was not an issue because I would use whatever extra suitcase space I had to bring an extra book, magazine or comic to keep my habit fed.

The ability to carry a number of books all in a device that weighs less than one of those old Pocket paperbacks while having a secondary device that I already carry with me everywhere that I can also read on is amazing. Too often we take the tech we have for granted, so this is me taking a few paragraphs to not only reflect back on my old reading habits, but also give a big old thumbs-up to Amazon, the Kindle Fire and the Kindle App team for making a killer combination of functionality and radness. Good work, folks!

Flash Trade Post: Flashpoint & New 52 Volume 1

FlashpointHC Flashpoint (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Andy Kubert
Collects Flashpoint #1-5

When Flashpoint was first announced I was pretty curious. I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories and that’s what this is. Flash (Barry Allen) wakes up in a world where he simply does not exist as a superhero and instead, Captain Cold is Central City’s champion. People like Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Cyborg still exist in this world, but they’re very different from how Barry and the reader remembers them. The fun of a story like this — especially as a reader who knows the history of the universe pretty well — is finding out why certain heroes are different, why some are the same and why some brand new ones exist. It sounded a lot like Marvel’s Age Of Apocalypse which swept through the X-books back in the mid 90s. And, much like that event, this one wasn’t contained in just one book and spread out into six trades’ worth of minis and one-shots exploring this brand new world.

Of course, when the whole Flashpoint thing was announced, we in the general public had no idea it was going to lead to the complete and utter dissolution of the DC Universe I’ve been reading since I was 9. Like a lot of people I was bummed when I first heard that, but it’s been a few years and I’m a 30 year old father, so who has time to worry about that kind of stuff? With my one-time negative look at Flashpoint and New 52 long gone, I figured it would be fun to actually get back to the book and see how it was. I mean, I dig Johns’ stuff a lot and he’s a longtime Flash fan and writer, so it’s gotta be pretty cool right?

Well, yeah, for the most part. It’s kind of your basic “guy stuck in an alternate universe story” but like I said, that’s the kind of thing I dig. This one is packed with fun takes on the DC characters like breaking Billy Batson into six different kids who combine into Captain Marvel and also a brewing war between Aquaman’s Atlanteans and Wonder Woman’s Amazons. And of course, the whole thing’s a race against time where the one person remembering the old reality is starting to forget it and other characters tell him he needs to succeed, that it doesn’t matter who dies because if Flash succeeds, this world will have never existed.

Much as I liked this story, though, I’m hesitant to go after the other five trades. The problem with these big events is that you can’t ever tell which tie-ins are worth reading. The reality of the situation is that a ton of them are put out as a cash grab to make more dough off of the main story. When it came to something like Blackest Night, the main stories were great, but the tie-in stuff was dicey-at-best and mostly unnecessary. The problem is that, the way these things are put together, even if a really cool idea is developed in one of the off-shoot books, it won’t really matter in the larger scheme of things because the main writer is already doing his or her thing and probably has the story all the way plotted out. I remember there being some pretty creative uses of light powers in a few of those tie-ins, but they wound up not playing any kind of larger part in the story because, at the end of the day, they’re basically afterthoughts. So, what I’m saying is, “Are any of the other Flashpoint books worth checking out?” I’m probably not going to pay much money for them, but if I get a few recommendations, I’ll keep an eye out while on Sequential Swap or whathaveyou.

flash new 52 vol 1 move forwardThe Flash Volume 1: Move Forward (DC)
Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, drawn by Manapul
Collects Flash #1-8

After finishing Flashpoint, it seemed only natural to move into the New 52 book starring the same character. I’ve said before that Barry Allen isn’t exactly the most interesting character in the world to me, though I did start taking a shine to him with Flash: Rebirth. I think it’s because there’s such an uphill battle there for me as a reader my age. See, for my generation of DC readers, the Flash was always Wally West. Barry was a guy who — as my pal Ben Morse has said a number of times — was at his most interesting when he died. Aside from that he was this Silver Age goober who wore a bow tie and was always late meeting his girlfriend. I didn’t really know about his deeper cuts (on trial for murder and whatnot), but that was the impression I had. The nice thing about the New 52 is that it’s given me the mental break I needed to look at Barry as an all new, fresh character, not someone being dusted off by a creator with a love of those older stories.

One of my favorite things when it comes to reading stories about these heroes that have been around forever is when a writer can take that character’s powers and explain them in a new way or do something new with them. Flash and his fellow speedsters are kind of the poster children for this idea. They started out simply running fast, but then they could vibrate through things, tap into the Speed Force and much more. Super speed is also an interesting power because it’s easy to understand on one hand — dude’s fast — but has additional layers to it. I actually remember two instances of hyper speed powers behing shown that have taken up residence in my brain. One was a moment in someone else’s comic (I believe) where everyone in the DCU is watching TV and Wally goes out and gets his girlfriend/wife Linda’s dry cleaning between words of s sentence. Another was the way the real world must slow down for you when you’re super-fast, to the point where most normal people seem like statues. That actually came form an episode of Batman: The Animated Series starring Clock King called “Time Out Of Joint.” Both of those instances gave me a much better idea of what it much be like foFlash to function in the real world.

Anyway, one of the neat things that writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do in this book is explain Barry’s powers with a slight twist (at least as far as I’m concerned as an every-now-and-then Flash reader) and that is by showing that Barry can practically see the future because he can think through every scenario so quickly that he’s already imagined all the outcomes well before they actually happen (like how Midnighter is with fighting, but with everything). It makes perfect sense and yet I’d never thought of it before. Moments like that are really fun to me as a reader.

So you’ve got a cool exploration of powers while also reintroducing some of Flash’s Rogues in fun and creative ways (the new Top!), plus I can actually buy Barry as a CSI guy now because, well, why not? I know there’s all kinds of explanations that could be given on how he caught up on modern police techniques in the previous DCU, but him going back to that job after returning in Rebirth just didn’t wash with me. Anyway, I also really dig how Manapul handles the artwork on this comic. His style is a little bit loose, on the cartoony side, but it’s also incredibly fluid, which fits the concept perfectly. I’m becoming less and less a fan of huge numbers of panels on a page, but Manapul and Buccellato use that concept to great effect in this book, often to point out every little thing Flash notices. As far as I’m concerned, this book succeeds at everything New 52 was supposed to do: updating old, dusty characters in modern ways that can be appreciated by brand new readers and longtime ones alike. It kind of reminds me of what a lot of animation folks do when adapting comics to TV: cherrypicking the best ideas and making them their own.

The question I ask myself at the end of every trade-reading experience is whether I’m going to keep that particular book, pass it on to someone else or put it up on Sequential Swap. This has been an interesting question to answer with the New 52 books. A few — like Scott Snyder’s Batman — have been instant “Keeps,” while others that I won’t mention have been total slogs I never even got all the way through, so they get tossed on the “Dump” pile. But, a lot of the ones, like Flash, Superboy, Supergirl and Teen Titans wind up in a weird kind of limbo. I liked what went down in the first volume, but if there isn’t a solid storytelling arc that comes to a decent conclusion or blows me away in some other manner, they get to keep their spot in my collection. But if there’s a ton of creator changes, an abrupt cancellation or things just fizzle out in general, there’s no point in keeping them on board. For now, though, the first Flash volume and others like it get a pass for now.