Monday, October 6, 2008

My Very Own Universe

Here's the latest in a new column I've been doing for a few months with the great bunch of people over at Fist Full of Comics & Games. They came to me and asked if I'd do something with them and we came up with the idea of me spouting off about the DC Universe - my DCU, to be precise, the parts of it I buy and read. Gotten some pretty good reactions so far. Give a read and see what you think.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Just recently had some happy news on a few of the writing fronts:

I had an article accepted by Roy Thomas for the ALL-STAR COMPANION VOL.4. That will be out sometime early next year - possibly in January or February. Got the piece in just under the wire and I'm thrilled to be part of the book.

Doug Zawisza, the editor/writer of the upcoming HAWKMAN COMPANION, and I just had a proposal for a book picked up by a publisher. More news on this when we have a better idea of when it's coming out. Its comic-related, natch!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Divine Intervention: The Uncut THOR

May wonders never cease. Miracles do happen.

While perusing my comics the other day – research for a article – I came across something that I was sure didn’t exist: an uncut 1970s comic from my own childhood. Why is that so amazing?

I cut up all my Marvels for their Marvel Value Stamps.

Those of you under the age of 35 or so may ask, “What’s a Marvel Value Stamp?” Take a look here and when you’re done you may get the impact of what I’m saying. My copy of THOR #224 from 1974 has an intact lettercol with its MVS, #87 from Series A, in perfect condition. I about swooned when I discovered it. Stunned, I stared at it for several minutes, reveling in its pristine goodness and wondering how it ever escaped the scissors.

Every once in a while I chide myself out loud for cutting up my comics, but The Little Woman always reminds me that not only was I a child at the time but that they were meant to be cut up. Yeah, I know; that’s tantamount to treason these days but back then it was the thing to do – heck, Marvel would even sell you a stamp album into which you could paste those little squares of pulp. Funny times. More innocent times, but also funny. I often miss them.

I’d also like to note that this is the one and only issue of THOR that I own from my childhood. See, my father bought me all my comics back then, from 1972 til about 1978, and to this day I often find it difficult to figure out how he’d choose one comic over another to buy me. “Sporadic” would be a good word to describe some of the runs of titles in my collection, and though I know some of that was due to the crummy distribution of the era – drugstores, pals, drugstores – some of it was also Dad’s perception of either what I’d like or what he himself liked. DC comics came out on top, natch, and Marvels came in second. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and AVENGERS were good bets and I even got the occasional CAPTAIN AMERICA and IRON MAN. The monster and devil stuff was right out, usually, but a stray HULK or DAREDEVIL could be counted on from time to time - but THOR? Nopers. One issue and one issue only. What was it about the God of Thunder that turned my father off? Did its covers denote non-super hero action, of which Dad himself was fond? Too many scantily-clad ladies? Too many scantily-clad men? I don’t know and I’m not asking the 72 year-old curmudgeon.

The mystery will simply have to prevail. For now, I get to gaze at my mint-condition Marvel Value Stamp – which by the way is of J. Jonah Jameson.

No wonder I didn’t cut that one out.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Plastic Fantastic

A quick review of some recent toy acquisitions:

Star Wars The Force Unleashed Battle-Damaged Darth Vader (Hasbro) – I buy very, very few Star Wars figures anymore but once in a while one comes along that I just have to get. It’s hard to put into words why I wanted this particular Vader figure – I don’t know anything about this game it’s based on, or care – but part of it is that I’ve always been fascinated with the Anakin Skywalker that lurks beneath the armor of Darth Vader. This figure is both insane and cool, broaching the secrecy of who Vader is within the fiction of the pre-First Trilogy era and daring to present a Dark Lord that can be this damaged by an opponent. The detail is great with fun pieces that detach and give glimpses of the both the ravaged Anakin underneath and his “more machine than man” parts. I dig the package graphics, too. Hasbro’s got some of the Star Wars action figure mojo back its lost in more recent years with this and the McQuarrie concept figures.

New Teen Titans Series 2 Robin (DC Direct) – I’m not a huge Titans fan but I am a pretty big Dick Grayson Robin fan and this figure looked so good in the solicitations. I’m happy to say that the actual production figure is almost as good, with a fantastic sculpt, good paint apps, and enough articulation to satisfy a few display poses. This figure partnered with DC Direct’s First Appearance Robin, the Silver Age Robin from the boxed set, and the 1/6 scale Robin complete a quartet of Robin goodness that I could only have dreamed of as a kid; I can’t imagine needing any more Dick Grayson Robins after this. My only small gripes are the over-abundance of blue, blobby highlights on the hair and the decidedly unimaginative stand graphics.

Showcase Presents Series 1 Hawkman (DC Direct) – In the upcoming “Hawkman Companion” from TwoMorrows I wrote in my contributor bio that I thought the ultimate/perfect Hawkman action figure had yet to be made – well, this might be it, kids. I love the sculpting on this one. It portrays both strength and oddly enough a kind of grace, which if you look at Joe Kubert’s art could hardly come as a surprise. The wings fit easily into the holes in the figures back and are designed to help Carter stand perfectly. The Morningstar accessory is very nice indeed and the mask fits snugly. My caveats here would be that the “pupil” paint apps on the mask’s “eyes” are too stark, not being connected to the upper eyelid like in the original artwork and the solicitation pics. It gives the figure a bug-eyed look. Also, it seems as if the original prototype had a ball-jointed neck or it was originally sculpted in a straight-ahead fashion. The production figure’s head is stuck looking downward. Small nitpick.

Marvel Mighty Muggs The Thing (Hasbro) – God help me but I’m now a Mighty Muggs fan. I resisted at first, viewing them simply as mass-produced knock-offs of the whole “artist/designer toy” craze, but these little guys wormed their way into my heart. It was this very one, The Thing, that did it. Other Star Wars and Marvel Mighty Muggs came and went under my gaze but ol’ Ben Grimm, my favorite Marvel hero, is so cool as a Mugg that I broke down and picked him up at Wizard World Chicago. I appreciate the heck out of the deco’ing on these figures and coupled with some really nice package graphics makes for a wonderful little treat – and a nice break from “standard” action figures. Now I just have to control myself. If they make a Son of Satan, Black Knight, or Stingray Mighty Mugg – I’m sunk.

DC Minimates Series 7 Blackhawk & Sgt. Rock (DC Direct/Art Asylum) – DC Minimates are dead – but what a way to go-go. I know this set has been out for a little while but I just got around to picking them – and glad I did. These two soldiers are loaded up with “extras”, unique pieces that are above and beyond the call of duty for Minimates. I’m a huge Blackhawk fan so this set was a must for me and the Rock figure reminds me of so many great “Brave & the Bold” stories of my kid-dom was an added bonus. The little pistols look cool in Blackhawk's hands and while Rock can’t really hold his rifle properly his rugged “chest” piece has sculpted ammo clips, grenades, and a knife. If that wasn’t enough, his helmet comes off to reveal his deco’ed buzzcut – too cool. If only Blackhawk’s hat was removable without taking his hair along with it. Ah well, the series is on its last legs and I’m very, very glad to have gotten these characters in it before they play “taps”.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Am Car Owner, Hear Me Whine

I have a love/hate relationship with automobiles.

Where am I coming from with this? I just got socked with an $800 car repair bill today. Wow, it hurt just to type that.

I love the way they get us to where we're going, and provide heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Otherwise I hate them. I hate how they won't run forever and forever and forever unless you take care of them. What kind of world is this? If I didn't have to own a car, I wouldn't.

I don't have that much-vaunted American "love affair" with automobiles. It's just not in my genetic makeup, I guess. I don't care about the makes, and styles, and models, and all that. I don't care about how much horsepower they have or what kind of engine's under the hood or if they have sun roofs or any of that jazz. I need a car to run, run well, and to have a way to lock them. That's about it.

Here's what I've learned today: never, ever take your car into the shop for anything. Because, you know what? They'll need something repaired. Something other than what you took them in for. I went in for an oil change and a tire rotation, and oh, did I get rotated. Still spinning, in fact.

So, there goes my monthly bonus from work, my freelance writing check, and a sizable chunk of my tax refund. Its as if somebody somewhere said "Hey, Jim's got some money! He doesn't need that! Somebody else needs it more!" Don't laugh; you know its true.

So, that's my whine. It only hurts when I sit.

I hope my car doesn't read this. I wouldn't want to hurt its feelings.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ohio Beard & the Crystal-Clear Yet Annoying Reminders

This was an odd week, one in which I got a few hard-core reminders that I’m getting older. Which kind of sucks, you know. Not overly complaining, mind you, just sayin’.

On Tuesday I got the biopsy report on a spot on my eyebrow that I had removed a week and a half ago: basal cell skin cancer. It’s a topical variety, nothing that gets bad unless you do nothing about it. I had it cut off so I guess that counts as doing something. Doc told me there’s a very small chance of it coming back and from here on out I just get regular look-overs. My mother and sister both have forms of skin cancer so I took this very seriously. I feel good about what the steps I took but as I was told this was a result of a sun-event that probably took place about thirty-five years ago, it made me feel old.

Thursday I went in for an eye exam, first one in at least ten years (I know, I know) and yes, as I guessed, I need bifocals. If Tuesday made me feel old, Thursday made me feel ancient – and the capper was yet to come.

After my eye exam I went to see “Indiana Jones and the Incredibly Long Title of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” and it’s sixty-something star. That made me reflect on the first three Indy movies and that made me feel oldly-old-ancienty-old. Then Karen Allen appeared on-screen and my mortality flew out the window and into a nearby trash can.

I liked the film a lot, though, and got a big kick out of it. I wouldn’t want to see them try it again but I appreciated everything that went into it and would gladly give it another screening. It should be viewed simply as another Indiana Jones film, albeit one made in and made for the 21st century. Looking at in any other way would be foolish, I think. Its not Tolstoy or Shakespeare or even McCartney and Lennon; its Indiana Jones and its one heckuva fun way to spend a few hours.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Sleeper Awakens...

Just finished reading THE SOMNAMBULIST, the debut novel from Jonathan Barnes. It's a very good book, not great, but very good.

It's a Victorian-era mystery/thriller/fantasy, full of weird characters and even weirder events. The main character is an aging stage magician who moonlights as a private investigator. His "sidekick" is a golem-like being known only as, you guessed it, the Somnambulist. This is barely the tip of the iceberg.

What keeps it from being great is, to me, a sort-of schizophrenia. The author doesn't seem to sure exactly what tone he wants to set here or what exactly he wants the novel to be. I'm all for way-out stuff, no problem there, but there are many moments in the narrative that are unsettling when compared to other parts. There are scenes of such hideous violence and rather strong language alongside much milder set pieces - the result is bumpy. I also never quite "believed" the setting, i.e., I wasn't get the full feeling of being in London of the time period. If that was on purpose, it didn't work.

On the upshot, there are a few characters that I loved, namely the sister of our protagonist, a crusading proto-feminist, and a pair of weirdos that you simply will have to read of to believe. By the end you will miss them yet also be glad they are no longer at your side. They're that weird. And there's a revelation towards the end which was an honest surprise for me and livened up the action.

Unfortunately, Edward Moon, the lead, isn't that gripping of a protagonist and is more pitiable than anything. His housekeeper pulls more sympathy and emotion from you than he.

All in all, I'm glad I read it. It's plot, that of struggling against an unknown faction desiring to change London to its own vision, is one that I suspect the author sees much similarity in a certain organization of today. If you read it as I did, and you agree with the satire or lampooning, it can be rewarding.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Down the Bat Pole to WallyWorld: A Geek's Tale

So I stopped by WalMart today on my way from one of my work locations to another - the only reason I go there is to look for toys. For some reason I've found that its the retailer I have the most luck with, (home of McQuarrie Concept Star Wars action figures!) and this particular 'Mart is kind of away from scalping eyes. Anyway, I had heard that the new 1/50 wave of Bat-vehicles from the fine folk at Hot Wheels/Mattelwere hitting the Wally shelves and I felt lucky today -- turns out the ol' Spidey-sense was hitting the high notes as I stumbled upon the aforementioned Bat-vehicles. First I espied an empty cardboard dump/display for them, then saw a down-on-one-knee employee unpacking in another aisle, then the plastic and metal crack themselves over by the action figures (not the Hot Wheels section). Checking myself and realizing I had little to no shame or scruples left in me, I approached the employee, sheepishly, sheepishly.

"Excuse me," say I, head bowed, reverential. "I hate to be a geek about it -- but do you have any more of these?" I held up the 1/50 Bat-cycle from the 1966 Batman show, it clearly being cool but not the 1/50 Batmobile I was really looking for.

The employee smiled up at me, knowingly, judging me for geek-ness. Was I only funning him or was I truly a geek? So many had approached His Holiness, but never admitting said geek-ness in such an up-front manner.

"No," he said. "That's all that's left."

I stammered that there was an empty dump, seemingly just unpacked, and, and, and... Alas, he was a wall. A brick wall. Another Wally soldier, a bulwark against middle-aged geeks such as myself, admitted or otherwise. The sacred wafers-with-wheels had long been unpacked and rifled through by other pilgrims. Hosannah.

I grasped my Bat-cycle to my bosom, happy that I had at least something to show for my digression to the holy playing fields of Elysium - known here on Midgard as WalMart.

I am richer for it.