In which I am (indirectly) inspirational.

So of course I ran out to buy Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham the day it came out last week because come on (and I also got a cool Plastic Man minifigure because I pre-ordered at GameStop and I can't begin to explain all the evens I can't as a result). And I was playing it that night when I came across a part in which there's a joke about Robin thinking Batman could breathe in space (you can see it at around the 22:50 mark in this video). Being a longtime fan of David Willis's webstrip Shortpacked!, I immediately remembered this strip:

So I tweeted at David Willis to tell him, and I think I broke his mind a little:

This was followed by much retweeting and replying and David continuing to add "a's" to the word what, and then we jump to Wednesday and this strip appears:

So basically if you enjoyed this strip, well, you don't have to thank me, per se, but...  I'm kidding. Mostly. But it's awesome. Is it as awesome as Pat Loika appearing in every comic ever? Well, no, of course not, but a.) Pat Loika might be the nicest dude in the comics world and he deserves all that; and b.) I still made comics happen in a very indirect way and believe you me, Sonny Jim, I'll take it.

THE END - RIP R.A. Montgomery

R.A. (Ray) Montgomery, original publisher and one of the chief authors of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, passed away November 9th.  I desperately wish I could turn back a few pages and make a different choice, because this is not an ending I like at all.

I consumed the Choose Your Own Adventure books like they were life-giving substances as a kid, particularly between grades 3 through 5.  I can still remember the very first one I ever bought, Montgomery's own Escape, purchased at my school book fair.  I'm not sure what it was about it that caught my eye, nor why I opted to start the series with book #20 as opposed to going back to book one (The Cave of Time by Edward Packard, the format's inventor), but I bought it, I read it, and I was instantly hooked.  Most kids adventure books at the time were pretty safe.  Even when the Hardy Boys managed to fight a spy right or something, you knew their dad would rush in at the end, and then they'd all go have pie and make fun of Aunt Gertrude. Escape, though, was another animal altogether - an American splintered by a second Civil War, totalitarian dystopia, espionage, and life-or-death situations.  Mostly death.  Oh, so many deaths (many of which are cataloged at Andrew Weiss's awesome Tumblr, You Chose Wrong).

Plus, an awesome-looking airplane dogfight on the cover:
Actually, looking back, that might have been what originally caught my attention at that Book Fair.

Anyway, from that first read, I was hooked and through libraries and copious bookstore visits, I read a ton of CYOA books.  I loved that they were books but also role-playing games that didn't require special dice or tedious stat keeping.  As the format's fad took off, there were a lot of imitators - your Find Your Fates, Time Machines, and whatnot - but while those could be fun, CYOA was head & shoulders above the rest.  And for my money, Montgomery was at the top of the CYOA heap (only Packard challenged him for the title in my eyes, but it bugged me that he'd sometimes break his own rules... I'm looking at you, Inside UFO 54-40). Ray's stories were always very detailed, and that gave them a lot of extra weight.  In an interview he did with the Comic Geek Speak podcast a few years ago (recently reposted on their feed), he said he would always do a ton of research for every book. Every location, each piece of equipment... it had to be as plausible as the situation would allow or else the kids wouldn't buy into it.

He respected his audience. I respected him back for that. Thanks, Ray.


I got too busy with life and work and all manner of other things to point it out on the day itself, but yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Trusty Plinko Stick.
No big backwards-looking, clipshow post, no pronouncements of things to come, just a thank you to everyone who has read this thing in the past, reads it now, or may read it in the future. This has never been one of the big comics / pop culture blogs, and it hasn't led to much in the way of big, exciting changes in my life or career, though to be honest that was never really the point here. Mostly I just wanted a little soapbox to rant at the world from, and I'm thankful for any of the time you have spent indulging me with your attention this past decade.  I thought it would last maybe a month or two before I got sick of the foolish thing. I love proving myself wrong.

Thanks, folks!

Cosplay isn't hurting cons, don't be ridiculous.

So, is cosplay killing comic cons?

No. And suggesting otherwise is, frankly, pretty stupid.

Don't get me wrong, I feel bad if talented veteran creators are losing money when appearing at cons. But blaming the enthusiasm of fans - any fans - is shortsighted, misguided, and just plain rude.

You want to get fans' money? Then maybe you don't attack, blame, accuse, or otherwise malign those fans.

As cons and the geeky culture they celebrate have grown in popularity, they have also grown in size, scope, and number. There are more shows with more things competing for fans' attention and money. Fans' bank accounts haven't grown in proportion with the shows themselves, however, so something has to give somewhere. It's too bad that anyone has to suffer as a result, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Blaming any one enthusiastic subset of people  is just trying to find a convenient scapegoat to hang larger problems upon. And by the way, cosplay has always been a part of convention culture, so it's not like this is a new fad or anything; if more people are doing it now than before, it's because they've realized it's like getting bonus Halloweens, who can blame them for wanting to jump on that?

Cons have always been as much about the social aspects as about the retail ones, and now that you can buy comics and toys and whatever else very easily in person and online, socializing plays a bigger part than ever. They're a chance to get together with likeminded folks and, yes, maybe be someone else for a few hours. When you rail against that, it's hard not to come off looking like Abe Simpson.

All this stuff is supposed to be fun, you guys.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm sure I'm not alone in the fact that I got into geek culture - and I mean really got into it, absorbed it, made it part of my being rather than just casually watching Star Trek or reading a Superman comic once in a while - as a respite. As a way to retreat from the rest of the world and the problems it presented (whatever they happened to be at any given moment). It was a way outside of all of that, as well as a way to bring out all of the imagination and wonder that was going on in my head and give it some sort of exterior existence, however brief and/or otherwise immaterial.

There was always a certain... we'll say misanthropy (to be charitable) involved with certain segments of these various worlds (and let's be clear here, geek culture is not any one thing, more of a loose confederation of various universes joined together by the fact that most of the rest of the world just doesn't get 'em), but the trolls were usually pretty easy to spot (or smell, let's be honest here), and you could either let them spew on until they eventually made enough verbal rope to hang themselves, or you just ignored them until they wandered back to their little caves. It could be annoying sure, but it seemed (mostly) harmless and seeing as most of it was driven by a passion for X (where X = any nerdy little thing your heart desires), so as misguided and wrongheaded as it may have been, I could maybe almost kinda-sorta relate to the passion that drove it.

In the past few years, though, it looked like something had changed. The trolls seemed to be more widespread, they upped their games in all the worst ways possible, and I both saw and heard about a series of offputting events occurring both online and in person. Cosplayer harassment, the "fake geek girl" memes, ever-increasing invective aimed at the members of certain fandoms (like Twihards or Bronies to name but two), dedicated social media campaigns to discredit and demean creators and/or commentators due to differences in opinion, threats of sexual assault or even death... the list goes on and on.

I was horrified.

I became even more horrified, however, upon learning that for a lot of people out there, particularly women, members of the LGBTQ communities, people of color, people with disabilities, or any combination there of, these were disturbingly commonplace occurrences. As more of these events happened, increasing numbers of people let it be known that for them, this was all just a part of the background radiation of their lives, and all because of how they were born or who they like to sleep with or their political beliefs or or or...

I just never noticed it because, let's face it, as a straight white dude in his late 30s with a job, a family, a roof over his head, and three squares a day, almost none of this is directed at me. I've been bullied sometimes in my life, sure but there's not a whole lot in society that's actively standing against me.  The worst I've gotten are a few "buy a real game system, fag!" comments on Twitter when I've talked about liking the Wii U, but it's easy to block and ignore a handful of 13 year olds in desperate need of closer parental supervision. It doesn't come close to comparing to the sorts of things so many of my fellow geeks are dealing with on a sadly regular basis.

And here's the thing: I don't know what to do about any of it. I don't know one thing.  But we can't just ignore these people anymore. We need to talk about it.  We need to talk about it, get it all out in the open, identify and side with our allies, stand against all this, and protect each other.

Okay, I guess I do know one thing: we need to talk about it.

This weekend, I'm getting the chance to do just that. I'm going to be at BangPop!, a comic convention in my home town of Bangor, Maine, and I'm going to help run a panel discussion I'm calling "Don't Be a Dick: Keeping Fandom Fun, Safe, and Inclusive" (at least that's the Wheaton's Law-fueled title I gave it in the proposal... we'll see if that's what it's called in the program). I'm hoping it will be a chance to talk with a panel of people from various backgrounds and interests - and with the audience -  about what they've experienced, how they've dealt with it, what we can do together, and sing the praises of some groups and individuals who really seem to be getting it right.

(And yes, I know it might seem a little crass to plug my own thing in the midst of an otherwise heartfelt... whatever this is, but this is a chance for me to pull together my thoughts on this, so indulge me a bit more, please.)

I cannot and will not claim to know any of the answers, and any attempt to prove otherwise is just going to look like me trying to mansplain my way through this, which would probably get me chased out of town with torches and pitchforks (and rightly so). But discussions need to be had, and I'm happy to start one.

I was talking on Twitter recently with my friend Molly about this topic, particularly as it relates to the stuff going on in the game community right now.  She has a daughter (about my son's age) who is into comics and gaming and so on, and Molly said she's really worried about her daughter encountering all of this, and sooner than she'd like. My son is just as geekily inclined as either of us, and has anxiety issues and is on the Autism spectrum, so I'm terrified but the sorts of things he's on the verge of encountering, too.  Our kids deserve better than that. We all deserve better than that. This is our refuge.

If we don't at least start talking, though, nothing will change.

This photo contains too much awesome. It could be dangerous.

Come on, Groucho Marx and Ernie Kovacs together? No mere picture - no mere room, for that matter - could contain that much creative, clever, comedic genius safely. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for a conversation between these two. All that cigar smoke would probably make me ill, admittedly, but it would be worth it.

Context, not content : admiring Atari box art

All of the unpleasantness online of late about the video game industry and its fans has made me nostalgic for a time when video games were simpler, more colorful, and free of rampant, violent misogyny. Or at least for a time when there wasn't an easily accessible internet on which a certain breed of people could anonymously spread their rampant, violent misogyny.  And having recently discovered 2600 Game By Game Podcast (thanks to a recommendation on my friend Stover's own show, Please Like This Podcast), I've been thinking specifically about the Atari 2600, where the games were definitely simple and colorful. Positively "stone knives and bearskins" (to borrow a Spockism) compared to today's games, but considering how many of them were just squares shooting smaller squares, they were really fun.

And the box art, particularly in the early Atari releases, was almost always amazing... gorgeously rendered little movie posters to help provide (and occasionally invent) context for what we weren't seeing on the screen. I used to feel a little cheated that the cover only featured a small illustration and the rest of the space was given over to single color, text-filled uniformity, but I've come to appreciate that as I've gotten older; it adds to the "future by way of the 70s" vibe, particularly that font. It's easy to imagine the crew of, say, Moonbase Alpha from Space: 1999 kicking back in their snazzy flared jumpsuits and playing Super Breakout or something when they weren't worried about the moon hurtling through space.  Here's a larger-than-intended assortment of some of my favorites, because it was too hard to limit myself to just 5 or 10.  Click to make Asteroid size, of course:

Man, that is one smug dragon! "Oh, is this the key you need?"

Obviously the game doesn't look like this, but it's probably the closest representation to what the game actually entails, so there's that.

Mars Needs Women (in Hiphuggers)!

I never thought of The Great Raceas needing a video game, now I wonder why we've never gotten one.

Title sounds like Video Gym Class, but the box art makes it seems so much more fun.

The best Burt Reynolds movie never made?

Really takes your mind off the fact that it's basically Nuclear Armageddon: The Home Game.

Not only does this make it look like the most high stakes Othello game ever, but that you're actually playing against Iago. Nice touch.

Nope. Definitely not The Outlaw Josey Wales. Don't know what you're talking about.

The box swaps out a more traditional Pac-Man than the one depicted on the cart itself. I like them both, but the traditional Pac-Man that's front and center looks out of place when compared to the ghost monsters also in the foreground.

How good a likeness is this? I hope they gave the original art to Pele and that it hangs in his home in a place of honor.

The Tron / Death Race mashup you never knew you wanted but now can't live without.

Always loved the looks of these domed cityships. Not one thing remotely Space Invaders about it, but it's a great looking design.

This helps sell the tangential Atari Forcetie-in, and that's not a bad thing at all.

What is it about these Atari racing game covers? They all look great!

In space, no one can hear you Pong, I guess? Also, Super Breakout was a space thing?  Really?

I don't care what you say, I love everything about the Atari Superman game, even the pretty generic cover.

How do you liven up a checkers video game? Making it look like a BBC costume drama starring a young Mark Hamill as the smug prince is a good start.

Wait, we get to play chess against Steve Wozniak? Cool.

Right now is the first time I ever noticed that it's Yars' Revenge, not Yar's Revenge. Huh.

At long last (son of Krypton)...

Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Laura Martin

It took a while, but it has finally happened: a regular, main publishing universe Superman comic from DC actually feels like a Superman comic again.

I really wanted to like Superman at the time of the New 52 relaunch - I really wanted to like everything at the time of New 52 relaunch, for that matter, but as I've discussed in the past, (and a lot of other times in the past, at that) Superman resonates with me more than almost any other fictional character, so I was especially hoping to like the then-latest take on Big Blue - but it never clicked with me for a lot of reasons.  The most obvious (and admittedly superficial) is That Costume, of course (though the "workin' man" outfit he wore in Morrison's Action Comics flashbacks wasn't much better), but in their desperate attempts to make this Superman seem fresher, they de-emphasized or outright jettisoned a lot of elements that make Superman, well, Superman.

He's not a reporter anymore, he's a crusading social blogger!  He's not married to or even dating Lois Lane, he's hooking up with Wonder Woman!  He's aloof, sad, and lonely, because brooding is what the marketing department seems to think is popular!  He spent his early years taking on corporate fatcats, because the Occupy movement was huge in the news at the time the series was relaunched!  And so on.

I understand that Superman is perceived as being a hokey concept in the ever-cynical 21st century, and that trying to make him seem hip and edgy is obviously a priority for the Greater Warner Bros. Marketing Machine, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel, that trick never (or at least rarely) works.  We don't look to Superman to be hip, we look to Superman to be capital-G Good; anything else just doesn't feel right.  All of the New 52's efforts to distance Superman from that seemed at worst a total failure, and at best they reeked of trying too hard.

Not that things were much better in the era just-preceding the reboot.  The less said about that "Superman goes on walkabout through the American heartland" thing, the better.

The end result of this is that it has been so long since a regular Superman book read like a regular Superman book that the return to form by Geoff Johns, John Romita, Jr., and company feels fresher than most of the rest of DC's current output.  Clark is still being written to feel like the ultimate outsider, but Johns got a lot of mileage out of that in the now-sadly-abandoned Secret Origin mini, so under his pen it feels right (and let's be honest, he is the ultimate outsider-looking-in, so that feels natural; and if I'm being honest, it appeals to the Aspy in me, making Superman more relatable that ever).  But at the same time, you have Perry White all but blackmailing him to return to The Daily Planet and trying to coax him out of his shell and rejoin his traditional comic book cast/family, which is brilliantly metatextual.  This Clark seems less like an aimlessly idealistic 20something, and more like the confident reporter of the past (and even at his most bumbling, Clark had to have been a great reporter to get and keep that job).  Lois Lane smells a story, Jimmy Olsen has his own weird story going on in the background, Steve Lombard is a lout, Ron Troupe is the smartest guy in the room... it's the Silver, Bronze, and Chromium Age cast all mashed up and brought into the now.

And then, of course, there's the whole thing going on Ulysses, the man who thought himself to be the "last son of Earth" whose origins and powers parallel those of Superman's, and the villain who seems to be haunting them both... already very curious to see where that's going.

DC's relaunch efforts got off to a shaky start and for nearly 2 years I didn't follow any of the titles regularly.  In the past year or so, though, they've been starting to win me back little by little.  The Jeff Lemire / Andrea Sorrentino Green Arrow was fantastic.  The first two issues of Grayson were fun reads and if #3 is just as good I think I'm in for a while.  I'm really looking forward to Gotham Academy and the new Batgirl.  But to like a Superman book again... if I'm being completely honest, this is the thing that I'm most excited about.

If only they could do something about that costume.  No one seems to be able to make it look good.  Not even John Romita SENIOR!
Art by John Romita Sr., Klaus Janson, and Laura Martin
If the senior Romita - one of comics' greatest artists - can't make your costume look good, it's a bad costume.

Robin Williams, RIP

Popeye is a beautifully weird movie and if you think differently then I'm terribly sad for you.
I've been reading and watching a lot of Robin Williams tributes this week, but the one that stuck with me the most was one from Paul F. Tompkins.  This passage, in particular, resonated with me:
Robin Williams made me laugh so many times. So many times. When I was a kid, having problems of my own, feeling unpleasantly different from the people who populated my world, I found sanctuary watching this guy on TV who was celebrated for being a weirdo, for being an oddball, for being silly. He was praised for having a mind that produced delightful absurdities with great speed. No one told him to be quiet. No one tried to make him act like everyone else.
This, exactly, summed up the appeal of Robin Williams to me, from the Mork & Mindy days all the way up to more recent times.  As a kid (and more than a few times as an adult), I was told I was weird, that I was acting out, that I needed to start being "normal", etc.  Here, though, was a guy who was not only allowed to follow the flights of his fancy to every weird little place they brought him, but both encouraged to and well-rewarded for doing so.  That was amazing to me, and incredibly important to developing my sense of humor, sense of self, and general outlook on life.  I saw what the so-called normal kids looked, sounded, and acted like, and I've gotta tell ya, the path blazed by Robin Williams (and Jim Henson, and the Pythons, and Joel Hodgson, and Ernie Kovacs, and and and...) seemed so much more interesting and appealing, even if I didn't want to be a professional performer myself.

No matter what you chalk his appeal up to - energy, intensity, physicality, warmth, rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness wit - the man was watchable in everything he did, comedic or serious.  Even in his sappiest films, like Patch Adams or Bicentennial Man, movies so treacly you contract type 2 diabetes just by watching them, he's still amazing to watch.  Whatever he's doing on screen, even if it's just clownish shtick with a bedpan on his head, he's the sort of guy you have to watch.  I defy you to take your eyes off of him.  You can't; he wouldn't let you.

This, I think, is another reason I've always appreciated the man.  Show business is full of people who are so desperate to seem cool and aloof.  They want and need the approval of an audience, but downplay that as much as possible.  Robin Williams, on the other hand, seemed pretty okay with admitting he wanted people to like him, and worked to squeeze every conceivable ounce of attention out of the people for whom he performed.  Maybe some folks see that as trying too hard, but I appreciate the honesty of it.

I was sad when I heard he died, angry when I heard it was suicide, and found a dark bit of understanding in it all when I heard he may have had Parkinson's... a person that physical losing control of his body's function?  Yeah, that answers a lot of questions in my mind. 

But no matter the cause and reason, I'm still gutted by his loss, and for the admittedly selfish reason that I wasn't done watching him yet.  I wanted more complex dramatic work, and more gut-busting, play-to-every-seat-in-the-house comedy.  Clearly I'm not alone in this, but that's cold comfort in a time like this.

All my condolences to his family, friends, and my many fellow fans out there.

Pretty Sketchy: Moar Batgirl (and a special guest)

Haven't got any sketches of the new Batgirl look, but I have a few of an older persuasion that are worth sharing:

This version of Babs was drawn & colored by Joe Haley and TJ Dort, and I bought it from them at Rhode Island Comic Con 2012.  It was in their portfolio and it caught my eye from well across the aisle thanks to the colors, and I had to have it.

And this one, as you can see, was drawn by Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue during his 2012 Fancy Sketch Drive.  He was drawing all sorts of weird requests then, so I figured Batgirl and Spider-Man geeking out over Doctor Who (which you know they totally would do) would be right up his alley.

Also, I don't go in so much for the shipping, but if I were the sort of person who did, these two might be my OTP despite all of the many creative and legal hurdles that would obviously prevent it, because come on, they'd be perfect for each other.  I can't be the only one who thinks that.  I mean, there has to be at least Tumblr dedicated to this very idea, right?

New Batgirl. New Batgirl! NEW BATGIRL!

Art by Babs Tarr; posted without the permission of MTV, but used with love and admiration so hey guys, maybe please don't sue me.  Also, show more videos again. And reruns of Remote Control or Just Say Julie.
As you probably heard if you were anywhere near the comics readin' portions of the inter-ma-nets this week, DC is revamping Batgirl starting with issue #35, with the new creative team of writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher, artist Babs Tarr, and colorist Jordie Bellaire.  It was exactly the sort of comics-related announcement I love... a lot of people were excited, fan art and cosplay plans started popping up almost immediately, all the right people were happy, and all of the right people were angered and let you know it, which made unfollowing them on social media so much easier.  Thanks for the assist, haters!

As you can probably guess, I fall firmly in the "excited for it" camp.  As I've said many times before, so much of the DC Universe has been a joyless, depressing slog since the New 52 reboot began.  Even the books I was enjoying at first soon got dragged down into the doom and gloom, too, and became so un-fun to read that for most of the last year or two, the only DC-published books I've read with any regularity have been the "off brand" digital-first stuff like Batman '66 or Adventures of Superman.  Though there were two New 52 books that lured me back into the pool, recently, and those were Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow and Francis Manapul's Flash.  They were good, clever, and really took advantage of the rebooted DCU to give fresh spins on familiar territory.  I've enjoyed what I've read of them so far, which was especially surprising because I've never been much of a Green Arrow fan, and in the original continuity I was pretty sure that the only interesting thing Barry Allen ever did as the Flash was die (I was always more of a Wally guy).

They gave me some hope that if these books could thrive, even if just for a little while, something else fun could one day bloom from out of the New 52's darkest depths.  And it looks like something finally is, though the fact that it's coming out of the Batman corner of things, which has been not only dour but bogged down in Perpetual Crossover almost since the very beginning, is unexpected.  Getting an upcoming peripheral book like Gotham Academy (also co-written by Fletcher with Becky Cloonan) was surprising enough, but to get something like this starring an established, high-profile member of the Batman Family... you could've knocked me over with a feather.  But I'm happy about it.  I love the sound of the premise, the attitude behind it (some complain this sounds more like Steph Brown than Babs Gordon; I say that's not a bad thing), and especially the costume redesign, which is as functional as it is badass.

I'm more excited for this book than I have been for any DC book in a long time, even though I'm well within the audience for whom the majority of their current books are allegedly written.  It's heartening to see that I'm not alone.

You otter be in pictures. On the internet.

Aren't you tired of cats having the run of the internet?  I sure am.  It's long past time to take the webs of inter back from the cats and letting another cute animal have a go.  Let's turn things over to the otters.

Because memes don't have a "sell by" date.
What's cooler than being cool?  Otters.

You can't tell on the screen, but this little guy's Nimoy is spot-on.

Look, Liam Neeson is going to stop making these some day, and they will need a replacement.
Otters are renowned for their master camouflage techniques.


C'mon guys, what happened to IDIC? Also, YOU MISSPELLED TRIBBLE!
Continuing on the Star Trek theme - because when I fixate, I fixate hard - I went to Boston for my very first Star Trek convention in Boston this past weekend.  I've been to quite a few comic (or mostly comics-related) cons in the past, but this was the first such event I've been to devoted to something that is largely based in another medium, the first focused on a specific property, and the first put on by convention-producing giants Creation Entertainment (they did put on a con in my home town as a kid, but I didn't go;  legend has it it was sparsely attended - this was central Maine after all - so they never came back).

I was looking forward to it, but really didn't know what to expect, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping that it'd be at least a little bit like Shatner's famous "Get a Life!" SNL sketch.  It was not like that at all, obviously, but what I did encounter was mostly positive, but there were a few disappointments.

Garrett Wang holding court in-between sessions. I get the desire for Trek actors to come back for the con circuit now... people treat them like damn rock stars!

The biggest was the cancellations.  Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Avery Brooks were all scheduled to attend at one point or another, but all had to cancel due to other engagements.  Karl Urban and Bruce Greenwood similarly cancelled.  So that's 3 Captains (4, if you count Greenwood) and the entire NuTrek presence that had been promised and all had to back out.  I'm not angry, and I'm certainly not blaming them, life happens sometimes, but it was still a letdown.  Creation got some replacement guests in where they could (Walter Koenig, Nana Visitor, a few others), so good on them for that, but still, it's hard not to feel let down there.

The dealers' room was small and sparse, too.  Given the universe of Trek merch out there, I expected to see a lot more of it for sale, but 2 small rooms and maybe a total of 10 dealers was it.

Scottymania - Not James Doohan, but AN INCREDIBLE SIMULATION!

And given what I've heard about Trek cosplay through the years, I expected to see a lot more of it.  What there was was generally really good - lots of TOS and TNG Starfleet costumes, a kid in a great Borg costume complete with light-up gun and spinning saw hand, a couple of folks in Niners (the DS9 baseball team) uniforms, an Andorian or two (always awesome), and a guy who looked uncannily like James Doohan.  But by and large, everyone looked more or less like me: geeky t-shirt, backpack, waterbottle, etc.

Sadly, no one dressed as members of the Vulcan Logicians to put on an exhibition game.
 I dunno, I guess I figured with a major city like Boston, it'd just be... bigger, more energetic.  Maybe the cancellations took the wind out of some people's sails.  Also, I was only able to go on the Sunday, so it might just have been the slower day.  It could be any number of things.

This isn't to say I had a bad time, though.  Despite all the naysaying above, I enjoyed myself.  Got to meet up with some rarely seen friends, saw some funny presentations / Q&A sessions with some Trek actors, got to meet Robert Picardo (who is excellent in everything because he's been in about damn near everything), bought a few cool tchotchkes (the Eaglemoss model & magazine of the USS Reliant, my favorite ship design; the Art Asylum/Previews phaser & communicator set; a paperback of Alan Dean Foster adaptations of the animated series), and generally got to commune with fellow geeky folks and further my appreciation of the whole Star Trek franchise and experience.

DIY 3D with non-hologram Robert Picardo!
It was a good day out, is what I'm saying.  And I'm jazzed for the 2016 convention (the shortened 2015 con tour isn't coming to Boston), which will be celebrating the 50th anniversary.  Plenty of time to finish rewatching TOS and making my way through DS9 for the first time, and hopefully even moving on from there.

Trek Wars - How I Finally Realized I Preferred Star Trek to Star Wars and Was Pretty Okay With That

It just hit me recently that somewhere in the past few years - I'm not sure when exactly - that I started liking Star Trek better than Star Wars, and wasn't sure how to feel about that at first.  Not that I ever disliked Trek by any means... I watched reruns of the original series throughout childhood, kept up with TNG as it aired (though I never watched much of DS9, Voyager, or Enterprise, though I'm getting into them all to varying degrees now), saw all the movies, etc.  But it's like Elvis and the Beatles, Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC... you can like both, but you always prefer one over the other, and I chose the fantasy adventure aspects of Star Wars over Star Trek's ruminations on the human condition.

Also, lightsaber battles are usually more interesting than conference table discussions.  Just puttin' that out there.

But in the past several years, through the prequels (which, yeah, weren't very good but still kind of watchable) and spin-offs like Clone Wars (which varied in quality through seasons but was overall pretty decent), it occurred to me that no matter the setting, all of the various Star Wars stories are basically variations on the same story: Jedi (and friends) vs. Sith (and underlings).  It can be a good story, sure, but it does feel pretty redundant to me after a while, which is probably why I was never able to successfully marathon the Star Wars movies without getting bored, even at the heights of my SW fandom as a kid.

Star Trek, however, tells a number of stories (or at least a number of perspectives of its shared universe) across its various permutations, and I find that more compelling.  Now, yeah, it has the advantage of having existed longer and hundreds of additional hours of programming to tell those stories, but even still, it feels less repetitive.  There's the overarching vision of "Let's put our differences aside and learn to get along", but each iteration of Trek takes a different approach to this.  TOS's very mission statement involved "seeking out new life," so there was a big emphasis on exploration and discovery.  By the time of TNG, a good deal of the exploring had been done, so that show was more about maintaining diplomatic balance.  DS9 is life on the frontier, far away from the watchful eyes of home where finding common ground and maintaining the peace occasionally involves actions that go beyond what is the law and focus instead on what's right (or at least the most right... for right now).  Voyager shows us cooperation-as-survival method... they don't make efforts to establish good relations with the folks they meet in the Delta Quadrant, they don't get home.  And with Enterprise, we look back at a people taking their first steps into joining a larger community... Earth thinks its ready, Vulcan thinks Earth isn't, and the real answer is probably somewhere in between.

(I'm purposely leaving the JJ Abrams movies out for now, since those are basically the Ultimate/New 52 rebooted TOS.  I've liked them both so far, they're the sort of Big Event Stories that the best of the original Trek movies are, I think, but they're more concerned with "and this is our version of _______" than I'd like, so they still feel like we're retreading familiar ground.  If I have one wish for the next movie, it's that I want it to be its own thing.)

So although I still find the seemingly endless conferencing a bit tedious (I don't care if you're talking about tachyon particles, genetically enhanced dictators from the 1990s, or life... but not as we know it, it still feels like a work meeting), I'm having fun rediscovering this franchise that I had enjoyed but never paid as much attention to because it wasn't as flashy and lacked sword fights.  And although I'm starting to enjoy DS9, which I could never get into at the time of its airing (I was one of the people making the "But how can they call it Trek when they don't go anywhere?" jokes... sorry about that; 1993 me will be suitably chastised), I find I'm particularly enamored of TOS.  The newly remastered editions are neat to look at (even if I do find myself missing the model shots), and there's something about that mid-to-late 60s mix of "gee whiz" optimism in the face of acknowledging the harshness of life that I find compelling.  It conformed to the standards of TV of the era while still trying to stretch them as much as possible.  TOS is a show that couldn't have been made prior to the Kennedy assassination and the cultural loss of innocence that followed, but that's a thought for another day.

(By the way, if you made the images used in this post, or know who did, let me know so I can give them proper attribution.  They're nice and credit should be given where due!)

Play it "Grand" (or, The Greatest Title Sequence in TV History)

If you remember Grand at all, you're probably a lot like me in that you watch way too much television.  It was a sitcom that ran for 2 half-seasons contained entirely within 1990.  Like Soap before it, it was a show that took a humorous approach to usual soap opera tropes like betrayals, secrets, unrequited love, hidden parentage... you get the idea.  It was clever (though if I'm being honest, Soap did it better), but it struggled to find a lasting audience in the much-different Cosby Show- and Cheers-dominated Thursday TV landscape of 1990.

(It does have the distinction, though, of ending season 1 on a bit of cliffhanger with a giant tornado wrecking the town, because they weren't sure if there'd be a season 2. By the time it did get renewed, a lot of the cast moved on to other jobs, assuming Grand was cancelled. So they had a nice little out for explaining why the 2nd season cast was smaller.)

One thing the show did have going for it, despite any other problems it may have faced from the network, the audience, or itself, and that's this title sequence from the first season, which is brilliant:

The song alone is great... uplifting, maybe even inspiring, in a way you don't often see in a sitcom.  If your life is looking for a mission statement, you could do worse than adopt this one is what I'm saying.  But the sequence itself is an amazing piece of television.  Go back and watch again right now.  I'll wait.

Did you see what I see every time I see this?  I hope so, because it's brilliant.  So many TV credit sequences are either just bits from the show followed up with close-ups of the actors as they get their names on-screen.  Or else they just show the characters in specially-shot but character appropriate moments... DJ Tanner talking on the phone, maybe, or Urkel playing the accordion.

Grand one-ups them all (or many-times-ups them all) by serving as maybe the most perfect introduction to any show ever.  As the characters (allegedly) sing the theme, we see each of them in their various familiar environments... first singularly or by family, and then they start intermixing.  We get every character's role in the show defined... not just individually, but also to each other, and then again to their environments.  It's a perfect little primer to the show, setting the scene and establishing relationships without a single word of exposition, and all in less than a minute.

It's smart.

It's economical.

It's... yeah, it's grand.

RIP Jamie D

Photo by Mario Muscar
If you're a fan of comics podcasting at all, you've probably heard of Jamie Dallessandro, better known as Jamie D.  He was one of the co-hosts of Comic Geek Speak, and if the CGS guys were a super team, he'd be the Ben Grimm, the Ray Stantz, the Hunk (Voltron), the Tiny (Battle of the Planets)... the loveable lunk that's the heart of the team.

Jamie D has battled cancer for the past few years, and it saddened me (and so many others around the world who knew him, or even just knew of him) to hear that he passed away this morning.

I didn't know Jamie really well - we had only met in person a handful of times - but I enjoyed those few face-to-face conversations, and the many more we had online, often about favorite kids comics past and present, or Doctor Who.  It breaks my heart to know there won't be any more of them.

One of my favorite things about his presence on the show was how he'd always greet returning guests with a hearty "How are you doing, my friend?"  These days, "friend" is such a loaded term, often associated more with "someone I'm tangentially connected to on the internet" than actual friendship.  When you heard the word from Jamie, though, you got the feeling he really meant it, even when the connection was tangential and internet-spawned.

Whatever the next step is, I hope he's at peace.  My sincerest condolences to his family and the many people near and far who knew and loved him.  Goodbye, friend.

Don't hate the fandom, hate the fans.

I love comics, but some days I truly hate comics fans. Today I read about Janelle Asselin’s recent harassment on Twitter, so it’s definitely one of those days.

In case you missed it, Asselin wrote a critique online about how she found the cover for the relaunch of Teen Titans #1 offensive because Wonder Girl, a 16-17 year old character, is depicted as having Playmate proportions. Folks on the internet – including at least one DC Comics staffer – didn’t like that, and discussed the matter with her in a calm, reasoned, open dialog.

Ha! Just kidding. What actually happened was people called her stupid, attacked her credentials, dropped the old “fake geek girl” meme, and threatened to rape her. Then they cried out about how their rights to expression where being infringed upon whenever anyone tried to point out how they were being terrible human beings. Because the internet.

Seriously. There are people in this world who will threaten people with sexual assault because they disagree with their opinions on comic book boobs. This is why the universe keeps lobbing asteroids at our planet, people.

Not every comic book fan (whether male, female, or those who identify non-binary) is like this, of course, nor are these sorts of overly entitled, persecution complex-possessing, mouth breathing Men’s Rights Activist types limited just to our particular tribe. But ours seem so much more exclusionary and desperate to maintain some misguided view of a hierarchy in which they maintain some sort of power, and even the slightest perceived threat to that tiny existence of theirs sends them into apoplectic fits. It’s tiresome. It’s loathsome. And most of all, it’s embarrassing.

Nerds of a certain stripe like to rail against the things in society that they feel are keeping them down. Jocks. Girls. Pop cultural depictions of nerdy types like Steve Urkel or the guys from The Big Bang Theory. Well, if you’re one of the people who falls into this particular group, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Ledge Riprock, captain of your high school football team, isn’t the real problem. Sally Jenkins, the girl who laughed when you asked her to prom, isn’t the real problem. Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj aren’t the real problem.

You are.

You don’t get to complain about a lack of acceptance when you go out of your way to not accept anyone, set impossible barriers to keep them from entering “the club,” or threaten someone solely because their opinion differs from yours. You don’t want to let anyone into the kingdom? Fine. I can tell you with certainty that no one wants into your hateful, awful little kingdom anyway. Enjoy that palace you’re building around yourself; it’s going to be lonely.

You get the community you deserve. Don’t try and drag the rest of us down with you. If you have issues with how the rest of the world sees and presents you, it’s because you’re out there embodying the very worst traits possible. You hate yourselves, and we hate being associated with you. Smarten up, or get the hell away from the rest of us, because you’re trying to drag the rest of us down with you and we won’t have it.

You think you’re ostracized now? Brother, you don’t know the meaning of the word.


The death of Warrior, (a.k.a. the Ultimate Warrior; f.k.a. Jim Hellwig) hit me a lot harder than I would have expected, because I was never his biggest fan.  Don't get me wrong, he was fun and memorable as can be.  Even if he wasn't the best wrestler around, he famously brought a lot of energy to the ring and was entertaining as hell on the mike; his promos are deservedly the stuff of legend:

But, well, I held a grudge.  Back in the early 90s, in the midst of his famous feud with Undertaker, the two were set to headline a house show in my hometown of Bangor, Maine, and though Undertaker showed up, Ultimate Warrior didn't.  He ended up being replaced on the card by Roddy Piper, who put on a hell of a body bag match with 'Taker (Piper ended up filling in for a lot of bigger name talent who wouldn't show up for house shows in Bangor at that time, which is one of the main reasons I'm a huge fan of the man to this day).  Not long after that, Warrior would be gone from the WWF WWE (mustn't invoke the wrath of the pandas by referring to the company's old name).  He'd bounce back into the employ of Vince McMahon a few times, of course, but just a few years later he'd be gone for good.

At time I thought "good riddance".  But back then I was a young, disappointed wrestling fan who didn't know a lot about the behind the scenes aspects of the wrestling business, so I had no idea about the professional or personal turmoils he was going through at the time.

So flash forward to the weekend of WrestleMania XXX and the Hall of Fame ceremony, and here's a guy on stage who has both hurt and been hurt, forgiving people who had slighted him, earning the forgiveness of people he had slighted, and reveling in his legacy with his wife and young daughters.  And deservedly so, I say.  It was a wonderful moment.  Warrior didn't just bury the hatchet with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts, and Vince McMahon that night, but he did it with me, too.  He certainly didn't know it, but he gave the impression that he probably would have cared if he did.  And then to see him back in character on Raw was fantastic... even if he wasn't as big or as fast anymore, he was the Ultimate Warrior again, and I was back to being 12 years old for a few minutes.

So losing him the very next day... that was just unfair.  But at least the past could be put to rest at last.

Thanks for entertaining me, Warrior.  My condolences go out to his family, his friends, and all of his fans, my fellow warriors.