Inevitable but Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(photo by Annie Leibovitz, who is as good at her job as always)
Oh yes, that will do.  That will do nicely.

I don't have the blind, seething hatred that a lot of people seem to have for the prequel trilogy, but a couple of fun characters and decent action scenes aside, they really weren't very good.  I came away from all three thinking that George Lucas greatly miscalculated, maybe even misunderstood, what it was that made the originals so beloved and doubled down on the CGI and heavy-handed metaphor, and overexplained backstories that barely even needed underexplaining in the first place.

The Force Awakens, on the other hand, did pretty much everything right, especially in establishing the balance between the Star Wars we've known before and the story we'll be getting moving forward.  There's no question that new characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, et al are the focus of the story and will presumably remain as such throughout this third trilogy, but story does well by our love of the original characters.  Their stories are advanced along in a logical manner and, crucially, they all have stuff to do rather than just playing the "Hey, it's that guy / gal / robot / drooling beastie."

Getting back to the new characters, our new leads - Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac as Rey, Finn, and Poe, respectively - are just spectacularly fun, and I'm more than happy to turn the keys of the franchise over to these three for the foreseeable future and see what sort of adventures they get up to separately and in any combination.   And like most people, I'm sure, I totally want a BB-8 of my very own and suddenly that toy one you can control with a phone app doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

Kudos, too, to the special effects team for giving us back the feeling that all of these spaceships, creatures, environments, etc. actually have weight and could exist somewhere.  My biggest complaint about the prequels is that everything looked like a video game because CGI was really not as far along as Lucas and the ILM folks seemed convinced it was (and, really, still isn't, but it is getting better... the film has two major CGI characters, and while one of them looks fantastic the other was still a little dodgy).

People expressed concerns when Disney bought the franchise, and again when J.J. Abrams was named director, and yet again when they remembered what things were like the last time we got a new slate of Star Wars movies, but for my money all of those fears were unfounded.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is exactly what a Star Wars - or, indeed, any action-adventure flick - should be, and that's a damn fine night out at the movies.

Mike Quackenbush on The Art of Pro Wrestling

If you're a fan of professional wrestling, or if you wonder what it is that makes a person become a fan of professional wrestling in the first place, you owe it to yourself to watch this short talk from Ignite Philly 16 (an event comparable to TED) by wrestler/trainer/promoter/author/podcaster Mike Quackenbush.  Watch it right now (I'll wait):

I've tried to explain (and, yeah, justify) my love for pro wrestling through the years to numerous people, and I've hit on similar points to those that Mike brings up, but he brings it all together in a way I've always wished I could (and now don't have to, because I can just send them the link... thanks, Mike!).  I was particularly enamored of the way he compares wrestling to live-action comics, and especially his description of it as "performance art," which is easily one of my favorite comparisons ever (my very favorite was said to me recently by friend Jenny, who called it "violent ballet").

Yes, it's unbelievably larger than life, and yes, results are usually pre-determined, but those factors only take away from the artistry and athleticism if you allow them, too.  Besides, everything - even sports - is better with a narrative.

It's a bird, it's... no, wait, it's just a bird.

My social media feeds this morning are about a 50/50 split between people talking about the latest mass shootings and people debating the Batman vs. Superman trailer that was released last night.  It's hard for me not to see a correlation there.

(I'm not trying to trivialize the latest in a seemingly unending string of tragedies, mind you, that's just how my mind works.  Often to my chagrin.)

Hollywood is giving us Dark Serious Superman because Dark Serious heroes seem to sell movie tickets.  Light-hearted Green Lantern movie tanked, Dark Serious Batman movies made billions, so they tried Dark Serious Superman.  Although people are still complaining daily about Dark Serious Superman a few years after the movie came out, enough tickets were sold that we now get Dark Serious Superman 2: The Dark Seriousening, Now With Extra Batman and Hey, Look, it's Wonder Woman.  The trailer promises even more of the wholesale destruction that people claimed to hate about that first one even though they dismissed similar levels of carnage in Avengers movies because those were just bug people and robots.

Hollywood says people can't "relate" to Superman as he used to be on the page (which is why the Superman on the page now isn't even as he used to be on the page).  Grant Morrison once wisely said that he thought that was really sad, because we should all be able to relate to Superman because he is "who we are when we dream," and that if we can't dream that grandly anymore it's really quite sad.

I agree with the excellent and brilliant Mr. Morrison, but I think the reality is that we can't dream anymore.  American society has a hard time relating to a character who is that selfless and heroic now because, frankly, we don't believe in heroes anymore. 

We're skeptical and cynical. 

Old heroes are often proven to be frauds at best, monsters at worst. 

New heroes are torn apart by the people and the press mere seconds after they step forward.

Innocent people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and creeds are killed at home and abroad every single day by acts of war and terror. 

And no, I don't believe we're hearing more of these stories now just because they get ratings and page views, I think we're hearing more of them because they happen more.  It's a sad state of affairs.  I try to remain optimistic, to fight the cynicism I feel inside of me, but some days it just gets to be too much.  The dream continues to slip away.

My favorite professor, the late, great Welch Everman, used to tell his classes that pop culture was important because it says about us only and exactly what we want it to say about us.  If our pretend heroes seem less than heroic now, it's probably because we don't believe there are many real ones out there anymore, maybe even that we don't deserve them.

This looks like a job for Superman.  Too bad he isn't coming.

vive la france

"Peace for Paris" by Jean Jullien
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
I was away from most media on Friday so I didn't really hear much about the events in Paris until Saturday morning.  As I learned about the tragedy - and, regrettably, started to see all the posts shouting about how the events alternately prove or disprove any political stance the person was trying to take, how everyone was thinking / reacting / grieving the wrong way (or about the wrong thing), and all the other usual social media cockamamia - the above quote from Love Actually played through my brain on repeat.

It's a cruel world sometimes.  Bad things happen.  But naive as it may sound, I do think there's a way we can fight it, or at least endure it a little better.

Be kind. That's all.  Just be kind.  Do what you can to help who you can. It won't fix everything, but everyone is reminded that they're not struggling alone and you'd be surprised how much that helps.

Sometimes you want to hear current Doctor Who moments performed by classic series Doctors. It's a thing.

I've had my issues with how Steven Moffat has handled Doctor Who has the showrunner, but the man does write a good monologue, and he gave some particularly memorable ones to Matt Smith. And while Smith delivered them well, it's fun to imagine sometimes what they would sound like coming from other Doctors.

Well, thanks to convention panels and YouTube, you don't have to imagine them at all. Want to hear the Pandorica speech at Stonehenge full of the trilling Rs of Sylvester McCoy?

Or the cool, calm, Big Finish-esque delivery of Paul McGann?

How about the closing monologue from The Day of the Doctor as intoned by the grand, dulcet voice of Colin Baker?

Or, once again, from Paul McGann?

Peter Davison reading the Doctor's "goodbye" to young Amelia Pond in The Big Bang? Done.

How about Colin Baker reading the Doctor's impassioned speech from The Rings of Akhaten?

There are more, of course, but these should scratch the itch for now. But if anyone out there manages to get video of Tom Baker reading the Pandorica speech, you let me know ASAP.

RIP Yvonne Craig

I'm late getting to this, but a sad farewell to Yvonne Craig... she starred opposite the Bat, the King, and the Kirk (two Kirks, actually... James T., sure, but also Tommy Kirk in Mars Needs Women), and held her own every time.  More importantly to my profession, she was probably the first and greatest Pop Culture Librarian of all, and she will be missed.  Rest in peace, Ms. Craig, and thanks. 

And to finally answer the musical question, whose baby was she? 

No one's.  Batgirl was no one's baby.  Because her name wasn't baby, it was Barbara... Batgirl if you're nasty.  End of discussion.

RIP Rowdy Roddy Piper

I don't know if there was an easier person in my childhood to hate than Rowdy Roddy Piper, and I loved him for it.

He was arrogant, malicious, cocky, and just downright mean.  He smashed a coconut on Superfly Jimmy Snuka's head, he smashed a Cyndi Lauper record on Captain Lou Albano's head, he led the bad guys in the Hulk Hogan cartoon (and years later would train a new generation of bad guys as one of Destro's Iron Grenadiers), and he ruined the video for "Land of 1000 Dances":

No doubt about it, he was a bad dude.  But then, as wrestlers are wont to do, he went away for a bit and came back as a good guy and my feelings turned on a dime.  I cheered him just as passionately as I used to boo him.  I think this is when I realized just how good a performer this guy really was, and why his (all-too-brief) stint as an action star made perfect sense... like him or hate him, you had to watch the man when he was on your screen.  He demanded your attention and then earned the right to keep it.

I'm gutted that I never got to meet him in person.  I had always hoped to shake his hand and tell him how much joy I used to get from just completely hating him... he seemed like the kind of guy who would really appreciate that.

Thank you for the good times, Hot Rod.  When we thought we had all the answers, you changed the questions.

And wherever you are now, they better hope you don't run out of bubblegum.

Junk Culture Rabbit Holes: Action Jackson

Action Jackson was his name!  We know this because the jaunty jingle of his commercials told us so.  He was not, however, Carl Weathers.  That Action Jackson was a totally different guy, though, come on, where's his toy line?  I wonder if they got each other's mail?

Anyway, this particular Action Jackson was a toy created by Mego as their answer to G.I. Joe, particularly the 70s Action Team era G.I. Joe.  AJ was an 8-inch tall action figure (or, let's be honest, doll) with which kids could re-enact "bold adventures" (which were his aim, also via the ) provided they bought the additional outfits, vehicles, and playsets.

What sort of bold adventures?  How about flying a personal helicopter pack, driving a stunt cycle, or being a firefighter in a heat resistant suit?  That bold enough for you?

Need more boldness?  How about being a frogman? An Aussie marine?  Karate expert?  Ski patrol trooper?  Jungle safari guide?  Or, um, a firefighter again?  That's... well, maybe not as exciting the second time around, but you know, it's a dangerous profession, so that's still bold.

Still not bold enough for you?  Okay, adrenaline junky, how about... uh, driving a jeep?  Well, really you could just wait a few years until you get your license, kid, but okay.  Or... okay, jumping with a parachute is a little more high risk, sure, but you can always just pay someone out at your local airfield and do that this afternoon if you wanted to.  And, wait, really, driving a snowmobile?

That last group of kids has some pretty achievable goals that I don't know if I'd qualify as bold or even particularly adventurous, but hey, to each their own.  I think the diminishing returns here are a pretty good indication of why this line didn't last long, but I'd totally be down for a Action Jackson "exploring the shelves of a used bookstore" set myself, so I'm not one to judge.

Pretty Sketchy: Boldly Going Nowhere for Comic Non 2015

Didn't make it to Comic-Con?  Well, you can still find some great original comic book art at Comic-Non thanks to the internet.  You can even dress in costume to do so if you want... or just sit around in your boxers.  Comic-Non is a judgment-free safe space, you guys.

Anyway, I helped ease the pain of being unable to attend SDCC by ordering this a few weeks back from a site called Anthony's Comic Book Art (click to enlarge it to the size of Captain Kirk's headache):

This is page 21 of DC's Star Trek (v1) #48 - pencils by Tom Sutton, inks by Ricardo Villagran, lettering by Helen Vesik, and snarky James T. Kirk dialog by the Writer of Stuff himself, Peter David (writing his first issue of Star Trek).  The set-up is that the crew was throwing a bachelor party for one of the created-for-the-comics ensigns, things got out of hand because Scotty, Bones, and Chekov all spiked the punch, and Kirk walked in just as someone angrily lobbed a bottle across the room.  Hence the bandage and the threats.

I loved this page as soon as I saw it... you get a shot of the Enterprise (which looks like it's talking), some shots of the crew (including Arex!) well-rendered by Sutton and Villagran, and a JTK speech that is equal parts anger, inspiration, and snark.  This helps ease the whole "left behind" thing a bit.  Thanks, Anthony!

Doctor Who and the Little Plastic Bricks (of Death) (to Bare Feet)

(Left home the weekend of Comic-Con?  Hey, me, too.  Again.  "Fair" ticketing system my ass.  But don't let it hold you back... let's make our own fun celebrate the 6th Annual Comic-Non International, the best convention of all because it's pants-optional.)

Like everyone left behind (in the non-Kirk Cameron sense, I mean), I watch all of the news coming out of San Diego this weekend with a mixture of being excited by the announcements and possessing the vindictive hope that everyone who did get to go gets herpes of the eyes or something.  This bit of wonderful that came out on Thursday definitely falls into the former end of that spectrum:

I've known for a while there was going to be a Doctor Who component of the Lego Dimensions toy box game thanks to this post over on Brick Fan (which also shows off the Portal 2 level pack), but I was planning on only picking up the level pack itself (along with a few others) for the pieces.  I've typically looked at toy box games the same way I look at collectible card games and pay-to-play MMORPGs... I don't like games I have to keep buying in order to continue playing.

This trailer changes all that, though.  I've been saying for years that a Doctor Who game in the style of the TT Games Lego series would be my idea video game, but it never seemed like it could be a reality since Lego never had the Doctor Who license.  Even when Lego announced that Doctor Who projects could be submitted for Ideas projects and one got rushed through, it never seemed like a possibility.  And yeah, a full Lego Doctor Who game may still never happen.  But with Lego Dimensions, you get the possibility of a Lego game where the Doctor, Batman, Doc Brown, Gandalf, Wildstyle, Scooby Doo, and whomever else can team up to fight Daleks with Portal guns.

Fine, Lego and TT Games.  You've got me.  I'm in.  Be silent and accept my funding, or whatever it is the kids on the internet say these days.

The best part of this, though - at least in my eyes - is that the trailer shows official Lego versions of all 13 canonical Doctors (sorry, Peter Cushing fans).  We're still not 100% sure what's going to be in that Lego Ideas Doctor Who set due out in November (at least as I type this... that seems the sort of thing they're bound to announce this weekend), but the Doctor included in that is likely to be Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor rather than any of the others.  But even if we don't get 1 through 11 and the War Doctor, the designs are now out there so you have to imagine that some bootLego minifig maker like Sheng Yuan will make them
if Lego doesn't themselves (and yes, bootlegging is wrong and what not, but if Lego isn't going to make all these extra characters they design for games, oh well).  I've wanted Lego Doctors so much I made my own, for crying out loud.

5 and 7 were particular hard to get right.
So, yeah, I'm in is what I'm saying. I don't remember ever grabbing my credit card from my wallet and yet it keeps ending up in my hand somehow.

Building a Mystery (Show)

As I'm pretty sure I mentioned somewhere in the long-distant past, I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid.  Starlee Kine has found a way to do that as an adult and I have to admit I'm jealous.

Kine has a new podcast called Mystery Show, which I suppose you could say is a bit like Serial but less life-and-death serious and more whimsically mundane (in that good way).  Basically, someone approaches her with a mystery they've encountered in life and she seeks out the solution via good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather investigation and this-could-easily-be-your-quirky-friend charm.  And as is the way of life, no one mystery is ever just one mystery, and each investigation leads to more questions to be answered and numerous rabbit holes to explore (as when a simple informational call to a Ticketmaster rep leads to a deep conversation about how we all deserve love and compassion).

Kine, like Serial's Sarah Koenig, is a This American Life alumna so that vibe and propensity for finding gripping narrative in everyday things is all over this show, but this is definitely more Donald J. Sobol than James Patterson, more Scooby Doo than CSI... though admittedly she's not likely to stumble across anything that involves unmasking an embittered amusement park owner (but it would be outstanding if she did).  I think we all have that one unanswered question in our lives that bugs us... not a thing that ruins us, but just something that frustratingly, tantalizingly makes us wonder "Yeah, what was up with that?"

Maybe if we're really lucky, Starlee will help us figure that out.  In the meantime, I'm happy to listen to her reconnect someone with their long-lost belt buckle or find out what happened to this one video store.  Just because it's mundane doesn't mean it also can't be endlessly fascinating.

Sarek and Amanda; or, What's so funny 'bout Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations?

I think that the enduring appeal of Star Trek, particularly the original series, is the unbridled and completely unironic just-post-Kennedy-era optimism (just before the rest of the 60s would beat it down), and the way it embraces and embodies a philosophy the series would eventually attribute to the Vulcans: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC).  IDIC is about celebrating what makes us different rather than shunning and eventually destroying it, and seeing all that we can achieve if we just get over ourselves, get our shit together, and get to work.  It's a nice thought, a beautiful sentiment, one that helps get me through troubled times.

One of my favorite expressions of this philosophy in the entire series is the relationship of Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda.  We only ever get a few brief glimpses of it, and the explanation of what brings these two together is never really touched upon (at least not officially... I'm sure it comes up in the spin-off media at some point, and we get a brief discussion of it in the first of the Abrams Trek movies), but what we do see is remarkable.  Vastly different in terms of point of view, disposition, philosophy, and yes, biology, but when you see them together there's no question they belonged together.  The way they looked at each other, spoke with each other, and especially touched - that way where they wouldn't hold hands but instead touched their index and middle fingers together - it's all there in the performances of Mark Lenard and Miss Jane Wyatt (as she was sometimes wonderfully billed).

Kevin Church and Ming Doyle made a fantastic comic called "The Truth" for the Trek fanzine To Boldly Zine (which can be read in its entirety here) in which they theorize how it is that these two remarkable characters came together.  It's sweet, it's true to the original performances, the characters themselves, and the world they inhabit; best of all, it shows that tightly controlling (or, alright, suppressing) emotions is a lot different than not having them at all, which is a mistake I think a lot of writers make with Vulcans.  So read it, enjoy it, absorb it, understand the amazing people who helped make Spock the fascinating character he was, and make it part of your Trek head canon along with the Diane Duane Romulan novels, Marvel's Early Voyages series, and some of the better issues of the first DC Comics run (you know, for instance).

(Click pages to Enterprise-size 'em):

Thanks to Kevin for permission to run these.  Be sure to check out his great original series Tumblr site, They Boldly Went.

Better Read Than Dead - Giving Divergence a Chance

Quick reactions to some comics I've read lately.  Haven't done one of these in a long, long time and figured it was time to get back in the saddle.  Here we go.

For the record, this ad? Does not describe this book accurately AT ALL. And that's good.
Starfire #1 - Wasn't planning on picking this up, but the involvement of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (and especially Conner's eye-catching cover) earned it a look.  The only version of Starfire I've ever been a fan of was the one from the Teen Titans cartoon, and there's a lot of her here... happy, loving, upbeat, empathic, and naive, but at the same time she retains a lot of the freedom and openness to new experiences (emotional and physical) that the original comics version did.  And thankfully, there's none of the emotionless creepy-dude-fantasy sexbot version that we saw at the start of the New 52.  There's an interesting cast of supporting characters in the making here (Sheriff Stella seems particularly cool and well-rounded), Key West is a unique setting for a superhero book, and if we can't get Conner as the regular penciler than Emanuela Lupacchino shows she'll more than suffice in the role.
Verdict: An extremely pleasant surprise.  Buy the hell out of this, folks.

Constantine the Hellblazer #1 - I've never read many comics with John Constantine in them besides maybe his Books of Magic guest appearances because I've never been a big horror guy, but Ming Doyle is a creator whose work I find interesting (and it has been fun to watch her star rise these past few years) so I gave this a shot and though still not entirely my cuppa I did enjoy it.  I liked how it the story mixed the horror / Vertigo tropes with a good scam story (which I know is Constantine's whole deal but, hey, it's new to me) and it was fun to watch events build toward the pay-off.  Riley Rossmo's art was perfectly suited, equally fun and dark in an expressive manner that called to mind Jack Davis, Tom Fowler, and Sonny Liew.  But what I appreciated most was that it told a satisfying one-and-done story that also managed to set the wheels in motion for a larger story, which is exactly what I want out of a first issue.
Verdict: Probably won't follow monthly but I'm likely to check back in when it's collected.
Not the cover for #1 but a pretty accurate representation of the book just the same.

Bizarro #1 - Jimmy Olsen takes Bizarro on a road trip to get him out of Metropolis.  Antics ensue.  You already know whether or not this is for you based on that description.  As for myself, it's basically that someone reached into my brain and pulled out what is pretty much my perfect comic book.
Verdict:  Why isn't this every comic book?

Omega Men #1 - I think I liked it?  I dunno, it was disjointed, which I suspect is kind of the point.  We're thrown into things in medias res, there's a lot of talk about a hostage or a bomb or both, a lot of people get killed real good, and there's a lot of mostly-untranslated alien language flying around which I think is supposed to add to the confusion but honestly reminded me of the long stretches of the Star Wars Holiday Special where Chewie's family goes about their business speaking nothing but Wookiee grunts.  But there's a definitely "prestige TV" feeling to this, which is the sort of thing you expect from an Image sci-fi book but not DC, and there's a definite allegory for the more unpleasant aspects of the US military & intelligence cultures from a writer (Tom King) who used to work in those worlds, so that's interesting.  Still sussing out my feelings about this, but...
Verdict: Curious to see how it plays out but will wait for the trade, where I feel it will read much better.

RIP Sir Christopher Lee and The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes

Count Dracula
Count Dooku
Saruman the White
Francisco Scaramanga, the Man with the Golden Gun
Frankenstein's monster
Dr. Fu Manchu
Sherlock Holmes
Mycroft Holmes, for that matter.

Any one of these would be career-defining roles for an actor. Sir Christopher Lee played 'em all, and so many more, in productions large and small, memorable and sometimes less so, over the course of a career that stretched about 70 years.

I first encountered him in the 1978 Disney movie Return from Witch Mountain, in which Lee and Bette Davis play a greedy pair intent on exploiting the powers of psionic twins Tony and Tia Malone.  He was a huge, looming, suitably evil presence - easy enough since he stood 6 foot 5 but had a bearing that made him seem 13 foot 180 - which was pretty much a constant throughout his career.  He was always interesting, but never more so than when he was playing the villain, and for my money, he may very well have been the best screen villain ever.  He'll be missed.

I was always more of a WWF/WWE fan growing up, so I never saw Dusty in action until he made the jump to WWF in the late 80s.  And though he rocked some questionable ring gear (his polka dot "common man" phase), he was instantly compelling and always entertaining.  Dusty had a long career both in the ring and behind the scenes, and "smart" circles is probably as famous (infamous?) as a booker (i.e., the guy who controls the storylines), his most famous contribution being the ending which bears his name, the "Dusty Finish," in which the face (good guy wrestler) appears to win a big match but then the decision is overturned due to some technicality like interference or referee shenanigans or something (if you've watched Raw for the past few years, you've seen this happen nearly every single week).

But to my mind, Dusty was never better than when he was on the mike.  I could attempt to describe a typical Dusty promo, but it's easier to let the man speak in his own words, and these are probably his most famous.  Dusty was always promoted as being the son of a plumber, a common man, a guy who, like the audience, knew hard times.  Ric Flair (arguably Dusty's greatest in-ring rival), on the other hand, well, Dusty had some thoughts on Ric Flair...

Dusty Rhodes was a true legend, an inspiration to fans and fellow wrestlers alike, and let's be honest, the man had one of the most fun-to-imitate voices of all time.

Farewell Dusty... vaya con dios to tha 'Mericun Dreem, if you weel.

Fund this Kickstarter: Cash & Carrie

 As I type this, the Kickstarter for Cash & Carrie has a bit less than 2 days to go, and it has more than doubled its initial $3,600 goal, so it probably doesn't need me to stump for it, but on the off chance that I can sway someone who might be interested and hasn't supported it yet, I figured it was worth a shot.

Cash & Carrie is a kids detective comic from the minds of Shawn Pryor (creator), Giulie Speziani (writer), and Penny Candy Studios (art).

Here's the elevator pitch, taken from the Kickstarter page:

Cash & Carrie is a comic book about two middle school detectives.  Dallas Cash is an investigator and tenacious techie who believes in the supernatural, and Inez Carrie is an investigator as well as the captain of the wrestling team who bases her crime solving skills in realism.  Together, they are best friends who attempt to solve mysteries for schools all around the world.

Inspirations for this all-ages comic book include Disney's animated series Fillmore, Scooby Doo, and the X-Files.

In their debut comic book, the strange disappearance of a school mascot, Misty the Goat, has left a small town without answers. Luckily junior high school friends, Dallas Cash and Inez Carrie, are on the case! With the help of a few friends and some intriguing clues, they narrow down the list of possible suspects... or did Misty magically vanish into thin air? If there's a mystery to be solved, look no further than Cash and Carrie!

As a lifelong fan of kid/teen detective fiction (and someone who had serious Encyclopedia Brown aspirations when I was younger), this hits me right in the sweet spot, and it's the sort of thing I can probably convince my son to read, too (even if it doesn't involve Minecraft or Plants Vs. Zombies), and that's always a good thing.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Shawn Pryor and I can vouch for his enthusiasm, his passion for good comics for all audiences, and the fact that he's probably the only person besides myself who has ever expressed positive feelings toward oddball G.I. Joe team member Hardball.  Even if I wasn't already won over by the concept itself, his hustle would get me to want to read this.

And since the project is already funded, I'll be able to.  And you can, too, since now they're deep into stretch goal territory, which so far means a lot of fun extras and a ridiculous amount (as in, at last count, about 800 pages' worth) of DRM-free digital comics for anyone who pledges over the $10 mark.  And because it's Kickstarter, there are a variety of funding levels and incentive packages available (I opted for the Justin Castaneda variant cover because it's a Hardy Boys homage).

So if this seems like the sort of thing you or someone you know would enjoy, consider helping to fund Cash & Carrie and let's see if we can't kick things up to the $8,000 or even $9,000 stretch goal levels.  The AV Club and Panels liked it, and maybe you will, too.

And now a demonstration of the investigative skills that made Barry Allen the top CSI in Central City...

From The Flash #106, story by John Broome, art by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella
This has been a demonstration of the investigative skills that made Barry Allen the top CSI in Central City.  We now return you to your local programming, already in progress.

Thoughts on a comics event I barely read (Or, Convergence: Shazam is the best thing ever and why Superman is increasingly less super)

I didn't read much of it besides a few of the tie-ins (more on that in a sec), but the news out of DC's Convergence event was that their traditional pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths multiverse was back and that every possible variation of continuity was potentially back on the table.  Bloggyverse pal Siskoid is quick to point out how much that probably is not the case, though, and those of us hoping for a return of a pre-Flashpoint, non-angsty, secret identity-possessing Superman (you know... for instance) are probably S.O.L.  Especially since the end of Convergence rather pointedly dispatches with the pre-Flashpoint Superman (along with Parallax and original COIE martyrs Supergirl & Flash).

This kind of further corroborates my theory that DC is increasingly changing Superman so that they wind up with a character that the public recognizes as the Man of Steel but is different enough from the original that they don't have to share revenue with the Siegel or Shuster heirs anymore.

But that's neither here nor there.  Though I'm convinced that's totally the case.

"Are you ready?" All due respect to Yang and JR, Jr., but I'm allowed to say no, right?

But I digress.  Aaaaaaaanyway...

If DC can access any of the former continuities they have presented to us through the years, and indeed served up in the midst of Convergence itself, then it is my greatest hope right now that they return to the world of Earth S (or Earth 5, if you prefer the Morrisonian Multiversity nomenclature) and serve us up some proper Marvel Family stories, as depicted in both the Multiversity one-shot Thunderworld Adventures (by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, and Nathan Fairbairn) and (especially!), the Convergence: Shazam two-isssue tie-in series by Jeff Parker, Evan "Doc" Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire.  Thunderworld was the highlight of Multiversity for me, and Convergence: Shazam was not only the best of the tie-ins that I read (though Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes were all good, too), but easily the best Shazam comics DC has made since acquiring the characters back in 1972.

Since at least the 80s, DC have either tried to modernize Captain Marvel & his compatriots or shunt them off into the kids' book ghetto.  Both approaches have their successes and failures (Ordway's The Power of Shazam and the Art/Franco/Norton issues of Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam especially), but all of the products of these efforts overcompensate in one direction or the other: either they must be serious or they must be whimsical, and rarely will they ever attempt to achieve a balance between the two.  But if you go back and read enough of the old Marvel Family stories, you see that balance is exactly where they lived, why they worked, and was the secret to an appeal that endures to this day.  Yes there were magic words, talking animals, crackpot inventions, and the like, but there were also monsters, spies, saboteurs, and the ever-present threat of global armageddon. Yes, one of the Captain's most infamous adversaries was a bespectacled talking worm, but don't forget that it was a bespectacled worm who went to the electric chair for the murder of 186,744 people.  I mean, jeez.

Thunderworld and (especially!) Convergence: Shazam find that balance and maintain it throughout their (for my money) too short runs, capturing the fun and, yeah, whimsy that a world with magical super powered heroes and talking bipedal tigers is going to have (because of course it will, what are ya, dead inside?), but at the same time conveying that these children(!) are in real danger every time they call down the lightning and that the fate of their fictional world is very much at stake.

Oh, hey, look, it's the inside of my brain.

I acknowledge that this is a tricky balance to achieve, much less maintain, but it has been the policy of DC - especially in recent years - that it's too hard to even try so why bother and here's an angsty Captain Marvel Shazam because that's what we know (I'm being unfair because I actually did kind of like Geoff Johns's initial Shazam story, but I'm still not wrong).  But here are two different books to come out in the last year to prove wrong that line of thinking.  Yes, Morrison, Stewart & Fairbairn and (especially!) Parker, Shaner & Bellaire are top flight creative teams that are still better on their worst days than many folks may be on their best, but still, it can be done.

And I want it to be keep being done.  Continually.  And (especially!) by the team of Parker, Shaner & Bellaire, who had already proven themselves as an excellent comics-making unit on Dynamite's Flash Gordon and I will now follow to any project they work on until pretty much the end of time.  But, ideally, that would be more Shazam comics, for which I would gladly shell out pretty much any amount DC wants to charge me.  $9.99 a month?  Sure.  Be silent and accept my funds, or whatever it is the interwebs kids say.

I know what I want out of my superhero comics now, and it's more of that.
Find a way to work in Kamala Khan and this would probably be the only funny book I'd need.

Starman: Bricks Past (or maybe Building With David '15)

The fine (if legally and morally questionable) folks at Sheng Yuan, purveyors of slightly-off-model but mostly pretty good Lego knockoff bootleg compatible minifigures recently made a figure of DC Comics character Stargirl, though she was packaged as part of a Captain America line (because "Research? What research?") and came equipped with a shield and gun.  As a fan of the character (who is awesome in the Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, btw), I felt the need to equip her properly, so I built as close an approximation as I could of her cosmic energy staff.

And then I remembered, oh yeah, the 1995-2005 Starman series by James Robinson et al. is my favorite DC series ever, and Jack Knight is in the top tier of my favorite comics characters ever, so making him became a priority.  A Lone Ranger torso, Tony Stark head, pompadour, tan legs, and one more cosmic staff later, and I was pretty happy with the results.  The torso isn't exactly right, but close enough for government work and it looks a lot better than any homemade decal attempt would.  Now all I need is a proper set of tank / night vision goggles for him.  I'm eyeing these ones from Brick Forge, so long as they'll fit over the hair piece.

And now, of course, I'm desperate to make the rest of the cast.  Here's hoping I can find a satisfactory way to make Ted Knight's head fin.

Brad Bird's "The Spirit " 1980 pencil-test "trailer"

Saw this on the Bendis Tumblr and thought it was too cool not to share... Brad Bird's 1980 pencil test kinda-sorta trailer for an animated version of Will Eisner's The Spirit. Oh, man, what I wouldn't give to see a completed version of this!

Daredevil, comics, and Marvel's cinematic Lego

I haven't had a chance to finish the Netflix Daredevil series yet - as I type this, I've watched the first 7 episodes - so I don't have a complete reaction to it yet besides maybe a "Arrgghajsderbleereeeeee" sort of foaming at the mouth from all of the awesome so far.  I also have a renewed interest in the character's comics past that I was only ever tangentially aware of at best because I had never read much Daredevil up until the Mark Waid run because all of the grim 'n gritty comics that came in the wake of the Miller stuff turned me off from ever wanting to check out most of the work that actually caused the boom in the first place, and the Bendis & Brubaker work just seemed even more bleak still.  But I'm reconsidering all that and starting to go back.  So far I really like it all, but I'm a different kind of fan and reader than I was back then (even during the comparatively recent Bendis/Brubaker years), so it may just be a time/age thing.

But I digress, because what I really want to talk about is the show itself, and how it fits into the greater Marvel cinematic/TV picture.

Back when the original slate of Marvel movie properties was announced and it was made clear that they would indeed all interconnect, a lot of people wondered how well they'd actually mesh in a non-comics environment.  The comics lifers would happily accept it, sure, but would the non-comics "mainstream" be able to buy into a world where hi-tech armored suits could co-exist with giant rage monsters, pan-dimensional godlike beings, and a genetically-modified member of the Greatest Generation flash frozen like a bag of Birds Eye peas and thawed out today... and then, more audaciously, combined into a single movie?

Obviously, they accepted that to the tune of billions of dollars, and have thrown even more disparate elements into the mix, like Vin Diesel trees and space raccoons.  That success, which seemed so unlikely a year ago, makes us all hopeful that an incredible shrinking Paul Rudd will be similarly accepted (and based on that new trailer, I think they have a shot).  I've always said that the secret of Marvel's Hollywood success in recent years is that they haven't been trying to make good superhero movies, it's that they're making good movies that happen to have superheroes in them.

Daredevil, however, has made me rethink that a bit.  That formula is still a part of the success, sure, but I think it's more than that.  What makes the Marvel Cinematic (and TV) Universe work is the same thing that makes Lego or Tupperware work: it's modular.  You can go buy every Lego set from a particular line or every container Tupperware makes and enjoy the complete experience, but you can also just pick up the individual kits/pieces that serve your particular needs and still be completely satisfied.  The Marvel movies and TV shows require the exact same level of buy-in: only as much as you want or need.  You can watch every single movie and show, follow the connections (both the obvious and the more subtle ones), and have a great experience watching an entire universe unfold, but if you only like a few or even just one of them, you can still have a completely satisfying experience.  You can move on to explore the bigger picture if you want, or you can just be happy with, say, Guardians of the Galaxy and call it good.

We shouldn't be surprised... it was the secret to their success in the comics world, after all.  For all the talk about the interconnectedness of the Marvel Universe even going back to the earliest days, when Johnny Storm would read a comic about the Hulk or Thor would fly past a window or whatever, if you just wanted to read Amazing Spider-Man, you could just read Amazing Spider-Man and be perfectly happy.  The journey to the larger experience was always an option, but it was never a requirement.

We really should have had a little more faith in the non-comics audiences.  I say we because I was just as guilty of this as anyone.  Everyone is looking to go on a journey with their entertainment, they just don't want to be forced on one.  Don't give people requirements, that feels like homework and no one likes homework; give them options and a path to follow, multiple paths, even.  Indicate how the blind lawyer vigilante and the space raccoon may connect in a roundabout fashion, but let the audience decide whether or not they want to make those connections.  Do that and they're more likely to give you their attention.  And their money.

Pretty Sketchy: X-Factor #30, p. 19 by Valentine DeLandro & Andrew Hennessy

I wrote a little while ago about my unabashed love for Peter David's X-Factor, so when the opportunity presented itself to buy original art from the series (and at a price I could swing), I had to jump at it.  This page by Valentine De Landro (with inks by Andrew Hennessy) is a beaut... you have Jamie Madrox (my favorite character from the series) using his powers, the usually immaculate M in a state of comedic dishevelment, robots, and some great reaction shots from others in the cast.

Yeah, this one's a keeper.  Thanks to Ruben at Comic Book Art Gallery for helping to put this in my hands.  I promise to give it a good home.

Less killing, more jokes (some thoughts on the Batgirl cover and other recent DC moves)

Um, no thanks.
 Credit where it's due to DC... they're awesome at pushing people's buttons.

In case you missed it, the latest thing (in what seems like a long, long chain of events) was a solicited cover for Batgirl featuring the Joker with his arm around the title character, looking terrified, crying, and severely traumatized.  The cover (which I won't post here) was one of many to be released as part of a line of variant covers celebrating the anniversary of the Joker's creation and harkened back to Alan Moore & Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke. This is a famous one-shot story from the 80s examining the Batman and Joker's relationship, and also features a scene where Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the gut (ending her Batgirl career and causing her to be paralyzed, strips her, takes pictures of her crying and naked, and maybe rapes her.  Both Moore and DC editorial have always insisted that he didn't, but it sure as hell reads like he did and even if he didn't it's still a crime of sexual assault.

So yeah.  A cover harkening back to that.  On a book that has rather famously rebranded itself as an upbeat, fun superhero series.  Poor taste AND out of place... they really hit the Daily Double there.

The cover has since been pulled - by its artist, Rafael Albuquerque, no less, not by DC editorial decision - due to threats of violence caused in the wake of the online discussion about it.  Not threats against Albuquerque or anyone involved in its creation, mind you, but against people online who said they didn't like it, because internet people have this habit lately of being among history's greatest monsters.  Gah.

I'm of two minds on this.  For one thing, it was a variant, not the main cover, and therefore the sort of thing that people could easily opt not to by and that retailers could outright refuse to stock.  It was just as much DC's right to publish it as it was someone's right to not buy it.

That being said, I'm pleased it's being pulled.  Albuquerque is an incredible artist and if his intention was to provoke an uneasy reaction he succeeded.  But as I said above, I thought it was in poor taste, and in the interest of full disclosure, I hate The Killing Joke and what it tried to do to the character of Barbara Gordon.  That other writers were able to come along, recreate her as Oracle, and build such a strong character from the ashes of the slash & burn technique applied to her is amazing.  I find it unfortunate and downright distasteful that in her current continuity the Joker's attack remains but her time as Oracle has been retconned away, but that's a rant for another day I'm sure.

Finally, it's awful that anyone on any level got threatened because of a damn comic book cover.  Get your act together, comics internet.  That's Gamergate-level bullshittery there.

All this comes on the heels of last week's announcements of the changes coming down the pike to Wonder Woman (armored), Batman (also armored, and kind of a bunny?), and Superman (Springsteen album cover), which also had people all kinds of worked up and resulted in a lot of threats and bruised feelings on the Twitters, particular in regards to Wonder Woman.  To weigh in on those (which is required under Comics Internet Law): Wonder Woman's armor makes a sort of sense though it's too busy and I actually prefer her initial DCnU look; Superman's look was slightly easier to take once I realized the red on his hands was wrapped up cape and not blood, but I still thing superheroes in street clothes is dumb (though I totally dig the Fleischer cartoon-styled S shield); and Bionic Bunny is just silly.

Maybe there are story-driven reasons for all of these, and maybe they'll even be really good.  But if you're trying to promote Big New Changes and just present more of the same stuff that people found off-putting  in the first place, that's not going to inspire many people to give it a chance.

Of course, compared to this latest flap, merely having my aesthetic senses offended seems almost quaint, and much easier to take.  Were I of the tinfoil hat conspiracy theory bent, I'd wonder if maybe that was the plan all along.

Regardless, we're all talking about them now, and that was definitely the plan all along. Button-pushing to this degree may not be a good thing, but that they are good at it cannot be denied.