Monday, August 31, 2009

Breaking News...

Well, this was going to be a very nice, short little tired-on-a-Monday-morning post, but this just broke over at Comic Book Resources (and, I'm sure, other sites). Disney has bought Marvel Entertainment. Click the link, read the story.

It's some very interesting stuff, and honestly, I'm not real sure how to react to it. Marvel Entertainment means the comics, the characters, the toys, the MOVIES, the whole shebang. Every. Single. Thing. that Marvel owns.


This is some big, honking news, folks. So big that Bleeding Cool News (Rich Johnstone's comics news site) is not opening on my browser, and I'm assuming it's due to the insane traffic they must be experiencing now.

According to CBR (and Newsarama), Disney will pay out $4 billion to acquire Marvel. There will be a teleconference with investors (hear that, Nathaniel?) later today, and I'm sure there's going to be a ton of coverage all week on the comics sites.

What does it mean for the comics? The creators? The movies? Honestly, I'm going to go out on a limb and say not much in terms of the near future, but really, who knows what will happen down the road?

Marvel characters in Disney Theme Parks?

Kurt Russell in every Marvel movie?

One thing's for sure--the Internet is bound to break in half today.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sundry Side Projects

To follow up on my recent post concerning, in part, my creative geek endeavors, I'd like to familiarize you with some of the geek stuff Alex and I do outside of this blog, as featured in our magnificent sidebar. Most of these have already received attention at one point, but there's no harm in bringing them up (read: advertising) them again.

Maleev sketch of Dardevil YellowAlex's Comic Art Fans Gallery

A collection of the original comics art Alex has collected, including pages and sketches from such artists as Eric Powell (The Goon), Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man), Kelley Jones (Batman), Richard Moore (Boneyard), David Finch (Moon Knight), and many more.

Alex's Review of The Goon

Alex's short-yet-informative review of The Goon #21, posted on the illustrious Comics Bulletin website.

Nathaniel's D&D Guest Posts

In-depth guest posts concerning, respectively, adjusting the difficulty of battles and addressing issues with campaign continuity in Dungeons & Dragons, written for the roleplaying blog Beneath the Screen.

Nathaniel's Jedi Knight II Levels

Jedi Knight II multiplayer level, Shadow ArenaCustom-built multiplayer levels for the PC game Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast; no new levels have been added for several years, but the ones there include a fairly simple arena with some surprisingly attractive lighting, a complex tower with narrow hallways and a variety of areas with destructable walls and floors, a multi-tiered vertical level that drops you into the game with a randomized weapon each time you respawn, and a level that is essentially a tremendous elevator shaft with platforms that rise and fall at various rates.

Red, a Flash gameNathaniel's Articles at GameCola

My contributions to humorous videogame website GameCola, including an amusing column called Flash Flood that covers various Flash games and animations, my participation in several silly podcasts, and funny reviews of games such as Pong, No One Lives Forever, and about half of the classic Mega Man series.

Nathaniel's Reviews at GameFAQs

Video game reviews that tend to be a little less irreverent than the ones at GameCola, including reviews of Zork, Final Fantasy V Advance, and the Space Quest series, among others.

Nathaniel's YouTube Channel

Videos of me playing through different Mega Man games, complete with retrospective audio commentary. In addition, there are bonus videos of bloopers, interesting glitches, amazing feats, and other fun things that didn't make it into the final videos for each game.

Screenshot from Mega Man 4

Friday, August 28, 2009

Exfanding Review: Spider-Woman Motion Comic

Spider-Woman Motion Comic imageThe Digital Revolution is coming.

Fine, so it's been here since the early-to-mid-nineties. Still, the Comic Book Digital Revolution has kinda been spinning its wheels for a while, trying to find its way in an ever-changing marketplace.

We've all heard about the "latest, hippest" wave of new-fangled digital comics, and how paper will disappear because of it. And, of course, every time a company has tried this route, it's been met with either abject failure, or complete apathy from fans. (Is "complete apathy" redundant?)

Now, I'm a paper person myself, and I don't much care for the whole "let's make everything on the computer" pitch, partly because I work in the paper biz, and partly because I like paper.

Curmudgeonly diatribe aside, I absolutely understand this drive towards digital, and the sprint that many companies are doing, away from paper. The Amazon Kindle and other reading devices like it allow the user to download content immediately and to carry as many books as possible with them at all times.
Stack of booksBut, personally, I enjoy going to bookstores, and comics shops, and I'm one of those people who will haunt those places until Skynet takes over everything.

And maybe even still then.

I kinda cringe when I see things like Kindle, because I've noticed that the Borders and Barnes & Nobles in the area aren't stocking as much new stuff as they once did. And let's not even get started on independent bookshops taking a hit this past year, because that's just depressing.

And, while digital reading devices aren't all to blame, they are definitely a part of it. And so's Amazon itself, of course. And let's not forget that there's plenty of blame to go around throughout Borders and Barnes & Noble, too.

Perfect example, a few weeks ago I was in one of the two stores--forget which one, and it really doesn't matter--and I wanted to buy the follow-up to (the very entertaining sci-fi debut novel by Jonathan Barnes) The Somnambulist. The follow-up, entitled The Domino Men, was released earlier this year.

By all accounts, The Somnambulist was a pretty major release, and every store has a copy in stock. So, using the logic that Barnes is popular, and that Somnambulist sells (why else would it be in every store, right?) Domino Men should also be in stock, right next to Barnes' debut. Yes?


So, I check the correct section and see that, while Somnambulist is there, Domino Men is not. So I check the store's computer to see if it's easily purchase-able. And I find that, according to the computer, it is, in fact in the store.

Maybe it's on one of those "featured" tables out front, I think, and head over that way.

Nope, not there. So I go to the service desk for help, and a very nice lady tells me that, while it is in the back room, it's already been boxed up to be sent back to the store's warehouse.


"I know," the nice lady says, with a forlorn expression, "It's as if we don't want to sell books to people."

That was a long winded way of saying that the big chains do as much damage to themselves as all of the other forms of media encroaching upon their bottom line. Sorry about the digression.

Back to Spider-Woman. I promise.
Spider-Woman Motion Comic bannerSo Marvel has released its first digital comic, which they call a Motion Comic, with a brand new, in-continuity tale. Written by Brian Bendis and with art by (Bendis' Daredevil artist) Alex Maleev, the company has spared no expense to make a huge splash in the market.

I think it paid off quite well. For .99 cents (if you purchase before September 2--then it goes to $1.99), one can download the first installment (which has a running time of around ten minutes) from iTunes, and get the story before it is eventually collected in comics form.
Another Spider-Woman Motion Comic imageSome of you have no doubt seen other "motion" comics, such as DC's Batman: Black and White or their digital version of Alan Moore's Watchmen.

Both were good, but not great. Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D., on the other hand, is by far the best motion comic I've seen. While the characters don't move as they would in a cartoon, parts of them do. Like Spider-Woman's hair blowing in the breeze. The movement is well used, but not over-used, and it is done artistically.

The voice acting is top notch, and, frankly, with all the dialogue Bendis writes, it has to be. There are a few times when I was very aware that the actress playing Spider-Woman was reading comic book dialogue out loud, but for whatever reason, it seemed to work just fine.

The story concerns Jessica Drew's (Spider-Woman) actions and mental state in the aftermath of the big Secret Invasion event. During that storyline, it was revealed that





the Jessica Drew who has been running around in the mainstream Marvel Universe was actually a Skrull. And not just any Skrull, but the Skrull Queen. And the real Jessica Drew has been held captive on a Skrull ship for an indeterminate amount of time.

So, yeah, you can see how Jessica might not be in the best of places, mentally, at this point.

And that paranoid mindset allows for some compelling stories to be told. In this issue...uh, episode...Jessica is approached by the government agency S.W.O.R.D. and she is asked to become an agent. Leery of, well, everyone, at this point, Jessica must make a decision as to what her next move will be in a world that has become unfamiliar and threatening for her. And this story will follow the ramifications of her decisions.

The series is a bit tough to describe, just because something like it has never really been attempted. Bendis and Maleev really created a new comics language as they tell this Motion Comic story, and it's something I'd suggest all fans should check out. I know this sounds stupid, but this is literally a "motion comic." There are panels, and the characters move in the panels, but the whole time you get the feeling you're watching a comic book come to life.

And I don't mean to say that it's a similar experience to seeing Watchmen or Spider-Man on the big screen. This is literally a comics page jumping to life in front of you. And something like that has just never been accomplished before with digital comics. So in that sense, Spider-Woman is a triumph.

And, because of the execution, I think this whole Marvel Motion Comics thing is going to be around for a while, and that Marvel absolutely chose the right creative team for their launch book in this endeavor. Spider-Woman features a good story, a very interesting (and readily accessible) premise, it's Bendis so it's well-written, and the Maleev art is stunning.

And, apparently, the proof is in the pudding, as the episode ranked as high as #2 on iTunes' Top Television Episodes sales chart. So, while I want to see paper stick around forever, and I will always prefer to read a comic or a novel or a newspaper in print form over their digital doppelgangers, Marvel has taken a great forward stride in creating high quality, marketable digital product.

Now, some of you might be asking, but Alex, what does this mean for comics shops? And, although I am usually all-knowing, in this instance, I honestly can't even begin to speculate. I mean, I'm assuming that Marvel won't be releasing all of its line digitally before releasing in print, because then the direct comics market as we know it would die off.

And I don't mean like Bruce Wayne.

I'm talking main character in Kirkman's Walking Dead series, here.

And here's where my review gets all negative and preachy. Comics shops can't make money off of digital comics. They just can't. And that's not right. Will the comics shop go the way of the Dodo anytime soon? Well, many have gone away in the past several years, and there's a smaller number of comics shops in the U.S. today than at any point over the past decade.

And digital product will not help those numbers.

The dilemma (for all media-based companies, really) is that digital is clearly the way to go. It's easier, faster, cheaper, and better for the environment. We live in a world where we carry around the Internet in our hands, and with it the global community. Technology is changing at an unreal pace, and to ignore that march towards the future would be stupid on the part of the comics industry.

But how can you effectively turn your back on the direct market, and the retailers who have made comics what they are today?

There are no easy answers to this, and I think in the coming months we'll see what else Marvel (and, I'm sure, DC and Dark Horse and Image) have planned in the way of digital content. But to think that they're going to stop at one or two brand new, in-continuity series is naive.

We'll see more of this stuff, and it'll be good and new and shiny, and even paper die-hards such as myself will go and buy this stuff. Because it's cool and hip and relevant. Because there's no need to figure out how to store these things. Because it will kill the Collector Mentality. And, as I mentioned, Spider-Woman is good comics, plain and simple. This is something I'd buy in a shop with no hesitation when it's collected.

But it's also something (the Motion Comic, I mean) that I'd show to someone who has never read comics, and I'm positive they'd enjoy it. This is comics on the verge of something bigger and better, folks.

All Good Things, for sure.

But, again, the issue becomes the retailer. What the heck happens to them? What happens to our Wednesday Ritual? What happens to the old school fans who just will not go for this? What happens next?

I hate to end this on such a buzz kill, because I really liked the episode. But I just don't know where we go from here.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Oh ho. Blogging. Yes... I remember blogging.

Between writing new posts and compiling old posts for the upcoming book collection, last week was spent in preparation for the celebration of this blog's birthday. On top of that, I was continuing to assemble footage for the Mega Man bonus videos I've been periodically releasing since the completion of my run of Mega Man 4. (I'll make a formal announcement about these bonus videos once they're all finished, but in the meantime you can watch for them out on my YouTube channel.)

The point here is that all my free time toward the end of last week was spent in geek output. With the exception of a few rounds of Mario Party 5, there was very little geek input.

In fact, I'm finding that more and more of my free time is dedicated to geek output these days--expressing my geeky self through creative endeavors such as blogging, working on YouTube-related things, and writing video game reviews. That's all fine with me because I love being creative, but until this week I hadn't realized how much I've been missing geek input.

From Saturday up until last night, virtually all of my geek activities were input-oriented rather than output-oriented. My, how the tables have turned.

There are three reasons for this: I wanted a respite from creative output because I had done a lot of blog work at the end of last week; my part-time job suddenly became a full-time 8-to-5 job for this entire week, leaving me somewhat drained at the end of the day; and I started coming down with a gross cold this past weekend that has kept me from doing any audio commentary for the Mega Man videos and has put a serious damper on my enthusiasm for geek output.

For the first time in a long time, I've let go of the intangible deadlines for my videos and reviews.

I read through all of Alex's trade paperback of Moon Knight (the one written by Charlie Huston) in one sitting.

I started reading Robin: A Hero Reborn, which I picked up during The Great Comic Shop Expedition of '09, which, in retrospect, really does count as geek input for last week.

I watched the sci-fi movie Logan's Run for the first time, and I rewatched The Naked Gun, a comedy that I know I had seen before but somehow couldn't quote a single line from it; this is probably some kind of movie sin.

I caught up on the GameCola YouTube videos of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, which I had been slowly watching over my lunch breaks.

I went back to playing Final Fantasy VIII and have vowed to finish it so that I can start playing any one of the games in my backlog, every one of which I am guaranteed to enjoy more. (Oh, you can bet there'll be a GameCola review on the way after I finish that game.)

I skimmed and read through all of Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide, which is an informative and mildly humorous handbook to addressing a variety of interesting and fictional Star Trek situations. Specifically, I read the book while playing FFVIII, during all those interminable monster summoning sequences. I may also have eaten a bowl of ice cream at the same time, thus proving I can effectively multitask.

Heck, I even sat down and watched a whole episode of Mythbusters tonight, and I never watch TV anymore. Of course, I followed that up with finishing the final preparations for my next Mega Man video's audio commentary, so it all evens out.

Throughout all of this, I did my best to minimize the fact that, for whatever reason, I would not be engaging in any kind of creative output until Alex handed the blog back to me, or until I started feeling better again. When my creative projects get sidetracked, I tend to get crankier than I do when I don't get to play video games or read comics, so I had to keep reminding myself that it was okay to wait another night or two before I produced anything else.

After a day or two of relaxing and enjoying the results of other people's creative output, I began to appreciate being a passenger once more in the Microbus of Geekdom. Or whatever metaphor appropriately expresses what I'm getting at.

Well, the blog is in my court again, and I feel almost like I could possibly be in good enough shape to do some recording tonight. Still, the geek input was refreshing, and I think it'll help my creative mind to find some sort of a balance if I continue to set aside regular time for geek input; it's probably better for my sanity and creativity if I take a break every now and again.

That being said, I'm going to let Alex post tomorrow so I can work on my Mega Man video tonight.

That logic works, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 26

Before we get into this week's Waiting for, I wanted to mention that I did, in fact, pick up the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game yesterday. What's more, I even managed to take the game out of its cellophane wrapping.

I haven't played it yet, but that's mostly because I fell asleep at an embarrassingly early hour last night.

I also wanted to mention how not-so-easy it was to actually purchase the game. Just as I was about to leave the office and head over to the local Gamestop, I got an email from a buddy saying that they were sold out. It was only about 1:00 at that point, so I was pretty surprised.

Like an idiot, I didn't pre-order the game, so my glass half broken mentality set in, and I started to resign myself to the fact that I wasn't going to get my hands on the game anytime soon.

So I decided to work through my lunch hour (as usual) and maybe head to the mall at the end of the day. Then I thought, wait, there are a bunch of stores in malls. One of them must still have some copies left.

A lightning bolt to the head, that.

I called the FYE, and was assured that, yes, they had plenty of copies left. I asked if I could have one held for me, and I was told that, while it's not neccessary, it would be okay. He took my name, and that was that.

I left for FYE later in the afternoon, and when I got there I told the guy at the register that my name was Alex, and that they were holding a copy of Arkham for me. He replied, "Wait, the Alex from Exfanding Your Horizons?" And I said--

Okay, fine. That didn't happen.

Anyway, holding is not really the word to be used in this case.

You see, even though it was almost 3:00, they still hadn't even opened their Tuesday shipment of DVDs, CDs, and video games yet. So the guy at the register said he'd need my name and number to hold a copy.

My response was, "Um, but it's in the store."

So, because I'm a pain in the everything, they had to go into the unopened boxes of product and fish out a copy of Arkham for the PS3. But I got my copy, and I left the store happily. (And minus $63.77)

And with that, let's get to the comics. This week is HUGE in terms of floppies shipping today, so that $63.77 is going to haunt me a bit as I head to the LCS this afternoon.

Seriously. Tons of books. And good ones, at that.

There are some major releases from DC and Marvel, including the first issue of the latest Kevin Smith-penned Batman mini-series, Batman: Widening Gyre, as well as a metric ton of Dark Reign tie-ins from Marvel.

There's also a tiny little book that will finally ship its last issue, almost a year after the previous issue came out. But I'll go into that in more depth a bit later on.

First, a quick rundown of the Big Two.

As I said, DC hits the shelves hard today with issue one of Kevin Smith's latest foray into the world of the Dark Knight in Widening Gyre.

Batman: Widening GyreNow, Smith recently wrapped a three issue Batman story called Cacophony, which was met with some mixed reviews, but sold very well. I read it, and liked it, but then again I'm a Smith die-hard so my judgment may be clouded.

One of the things that people seemed to hone in on with Cacophony was an offensive scene involving the Joker in issue one. It was a pretty unnecessary addition, in my opinion, but whatever. It's Kevin Smith, and there's going to be stuff like that in the things he writes. DC knew what they were getting, and readers should have, as well.

That scene aside, though, issue three of that series includes one of the best Batman/Joker conversations I've ever read in comics. Really. It was that good, and it makes the mini-series a must-read.

Anywho, on to Gyre. Smith friend Walt Flanagan will be doing the art for this series, and there will be (stunning) Bill Sienkiewicz covers throughout. Flanagan did the art for the previous Smith series, and while it wasn't mind-blowing by any stretch, it was certainly solid.

Here's the blurb about what to expect from Gyre:

Once again, Kevin Smith--the fan-favorite creator behind GREEN ARROW and Daredevil-- teams up with Walter Flanagan--the artist on the acclaimed series BATMAN: CACOPHONY--for an all-new adventure starring The Caped Crusader.

The stakes are high as Batman encounters a new vigilante under his wing amidst what Smith describes as a "backdrop of romance, intrigue, and geek-bait guest stars galore."

Trust us when we say that it's as awesome as it sounds. BATMAN: WIDENING GYRE is just the start of things for Kevin in the Bat-Universe so get on board now!

This issue will be 48 pages, and it carries a $3.99 price tag. DC has announced that Smith will be introducing a brand new villain, and that he'll be writing much more Batman in the near future, so if you're a a fan of his, I'd suggest getting in on the ground floor of things.

Across the street, Marvel has a comical number of Dark Reign tie-ins out today, so if you're following that story, you get to choose from a handful of books. But, for my money, the Brian Reed-penned Ms. Marvel series is one of the shining examples of a great storyline within a large event.

Dubbed "The War of the Marvels," this arc deals with Carol Danvers' (Ms. Marvel) "death" and resurrection. The only problem is, someone else has taken up the mantle of Ms. Marvel in her absence. And, instead of keeping the real Ms. Marvel in a cave in Grant Morrison's head (oooh, DC you got burned!), Reed brings Carol back within two issues of her demise.

Today's issue, number 44, continues the tale, and the two Ms. Marvels fight. And the Avengers (both New and Dark, mind you) fight. Lots of fighting, lots of action. This is great summertime super hero fare, and I suggest you check it out. My only caveat would be that the art, while stunningly rendered by Sana Takeda, is a bit too cheesecake-y for my tastes.

War of the MarvelsStill, this book has been great since its re-launch a few years back, and Brian Reed deserves a ton of credit for making this a must-read book in the Marvel Universe.

And, finally, we get to the book that I am most excited about. As you know, I've lauded The Goon as being a "little indy that could." Well, if Goon is the little indy that could, then this next book is the littlest indy that could.

Richard Moore's Boneyard is a title I've talked about in the past on the blog, and it's a book that is near and dear, for several reasons. First, it's by an incredibly talented writer/artist who doesn't get nearly enough credit for the amazing work he does. Second, it manages to achieve the toughest thing to do in comics--it's laugh out loud funny, and Moore's comedic timing is dead on.

And third, it's this tiny little black and white thing that's say sporadically...from a small press house, and yet it manages to keep a solid enough fan base that every arc had been collected in trade. Actually, last year NBM (the publisher) began collecting the series in color, as well as in black and white.

Boneyard imageBoneyard is a rare book in the comics landscape in that it has no trace of super heroes, it's still printed issue-by-issue in black and white, and it has remained at NBM for its entire run.

Another Boneyard imageToday's issue 28 is bittersweet for fans of the series. On the one hand, we finally (FINALLY!!) get to read the last installment of this series. But on the other hand, this is it. The last issue. No more Boneyard. And, while 28 issues might not seem to be a staggering amount of product, remember that Moore is the writer, artist, letterer, and editor of the title.
Boneyard coverI wish this series would receive more attention from the mainstream comics press, because it's one of those "bridge" books that has the ability to hook outsiders into the comics medium. But it won't receive the press that it deserves, mostly because the world would end if we didn't get another interview with a "hot" mainstream artist on the big news sites.

Listen, you guys know me. There's nothing wrong with the mainstream comics industry. I love it to death, and I will continue reading the big, honking cross-overs, and I'll continue to go to conventions and shake hands with mainstream creators.

But there's no reason (No. Reason.) why the smaller publishers shouldn't get the coverage they deserve online, or in the printed comics press. What's more impressive--completing a mini-series for Marvel or DC, with financial backing and a team of editors and coordinators, or making your own comic?

Because I'll take the latter. Believe me. I know.

So, anyway, while new readers really shouldn't jump on with this final issue of Boneyard, I would urge everyone to check out the trade collections (they are very cheap, and they're all on Amazon).

That's my diatribe for today. Everyone enjoy New Comics Day, and before we go--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alex Writes About a Video Game?!

Batman: Arkham Asylum artThat's right. Today I am going to write about a video game, because today I am going to buy a video game. And that's a pretty rare thing around these parts.

Now, I'm not what you'd call a "gamer." Either video game-wise, or table top game-wise, or really any kind of game-wise. My entire video gaming "collection" consists of the latest baseball game--MLB '09 for the Playstation 3--and the latest Madden Football game, also for the PS3.

I enjoy playing sports video games, mostly, and I find that they can be a great way to unwind after a long day at the office. Still, I probably manage to play only an hour or two of Playstation a week.

And I have never really been excited about the release of a game. Okay, maybe when I was 12, but certainly not at any point after that. I typically have no idea when games are released, and frankly, I really don't care.
The Joker in Batman: Arkham AsylumIf I happen to be in a Best Buy, or a mall, or whatever, and I see a game that looks interesting, I might pick it up. The last game I bought on such a whim was the Wolverine movie tie-in, which is still sitting (forlornly) in its cellophane wrapping.

I have to say, though, the box looks good.

But today my (embarrassing) streak of video game-lessness will come to an end. And it will be glorious. For you see, today, August the 25th of 2009, the greatest video game of all time hits store shelves.

(Okay, fine, so I have absolutely no way of knowing if that last statement is true.)

Batman: Arkham Asylum ships today, and from all advance reviews on the Web, it seems like this game will be the Batman experience that has been woefully missing from consoles since...well...forever.
Batman: Arkham Asylum screenshotI have several Batman video games from systems long dead and buried, and they not with the good. Many Bat fans will agree that, for whatever the reason, developers just have never been able to capture the comic book world of Batman in a game.

Until now, it seems.

Arkham is written by acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini, TAS Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy reprises his most famous role along with Mark Hamill as Joker, and the graphics appear to be stunning (and creepy as all get out).

The premise of the game is a good one--Joker is taken to Arkham on a stormy night, but soon after takes over the Asylum and Batman must fight his way through different bad guys to re-capture his greatest nemesis.

Top notch voice acting, top notch graphics, and an excellent storyline usually make for an excellent game. Since this bad boy ships today, and I won't be picking it up until tonight, I can't say for certain how this game will turn out. But, like I said, the buzz is pretty big, and the demo I saw in a store last month looked amazing.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the launch trailer, courtesy of Comic Book Resources. Check it out.
Batman: Arkham Asylum coverLet's hope the game plays as well as it looks. Because then, we'd finally (FINALLY!) have a Batman game to be proud of.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Exfanding Review: Vertigo Crime

Last week, I talked about my excitement regarding the newly released Vertigo Crime imprint from DC Comics. Well, the first two books of that imprint hit shelves last week, and I had the chance to read both of them over the weekend.

The two titles were Filthy Rich, written by Brian Azzarello and with art by Victor Santos, and Dark Entries, a John Constantine (Hellblazer) story written by noted crime novelist Ian Rankin and illustrated by Werther Dell'Edera.

Filthy Rich coverNow, Vertigo has been pushing this line for many months now, and their PR department certainly managed to raise the bar high in terms of expectations. In comics, hype must always be taken with (more than) a grain of salt, though, so I tried to go into my reading with a level head.

I couldn't.

The hype was just too much, and I honestly went in expecting something revolutionary. Something that would hook non-comics readers into our little world. Something that would POP out on the bookshelves at Borders or Barnes & Noble, and catch the attention of a college kid. Or a thirty-something crime fiction/noir fan.

So, what did we end up with?

Quality stories, for sure. And I found the art, while maybe not up to the standards of many mainstream fans, definitely serviceable. Both artists are European, and they bring a shadowy, dark style appropriate to each book. I guess the question I have is, why not go with a well-known DC artist (Marcelo Frusin for the Constantine story, for example)?

Still, the art was fine, and the stories were entertaining enough. BUT.

The books are much smaller than your average floppy comics/trade paperback, as they are a little larger than the typical Manga collection. Why did Vertigo decide to go in this direction? Probably because, spine-out on a bookstore shelf, these kinda look like "real" books.

But not exactly.

And I found that pretty strange. Also, the paper quality isn't great. It's not Manga, newspaper-quality thin, but it's pretty darn close. But Manga doesn't cost twenty dollars. The hardcovers were very nice, and fancy, but this was another case of "great expectations leading to little disappointments," as the outer quality of the cover belied the inner quality of the paper.

Yes, fine, these books both clocked in at around 200 pages, but most trade collections at least come close to that number, especially Vertigo trades, and those books rarely see a twenty dollar price tag.

So the consumer (me!) was paying for a big name creator, a pretty cover, and a ball of hype.

Unfortunately, I think the whole, newly-branded Crime imprint hurt the possible acclaim these books might have received had they been issued as normal-sized trades. Because, as I said, both stories were well-crafted, top quality tales from the best possible writers.

In the case of Dark Entries, what we got was a classic, late-80's type John Constantine tale, and Filthy Rich was everything you'd expect from Azz--hard boiled plot, lightning fast pacing, cool, hip dialogue, and a couple of twists and turns along the way.

Dark Entries coverBut I don't want this "review" to be about the stories. And I know that sounds pretty stupid. But hear me out. I want to review the form, the package, these stories came in.

Because, certainly, Vertigo was hoping that these books would be cross-market sellers. But all I kept thinking as I read either title was, boy I wish this were comics-sized.

Now, I have to admit, when I first picked up the books at my LCS, I went, "Oh, this is kinda cool." But as I started reading (both books in one sitting, mind you), I kept getting annoyed at the small size of the books.

Comics are big, and they are the anti-novel. What I mean is, comics are big because we need to be able to see (and appreciate) the art.

This small size screams marketing ploy to me.

You know, the whole, "Hey, cool twenty-something! Look! This isn't really a comic! It's a book! You can read it on the train and not feel ashamed!"

So, we're now trying to get more people into comics by tricking them into reading something that doesn't look like a comic? Grr.

This is probably the strangest review I'll ever write, because I liked both stories, but hated the packaging. Maybe I'm wrong, and this is the new wave of comics.

I don't think I'm wrong, though.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Exfanding Your Horizons Turns 1 Year Old!

It’s official: Exfanding Your Horizons is one year old! Happy Birthday to us!

Portal cakeThis calls for something gimmicky and reflective, so Alex and I have come up with a bunch of questions we thought might be halfway relevant to the occasion. Because we’re so awesome, we’ve gone the extra mile and answered all the questions we came up with, too!

Our blog rules.

Are you surprised the blog has lasted this long?

Alex: Um. Yes and no, I guess. When we decided to start it up last year, we were both in a creative abyss, with work at our company really starting to get to us. As it turned out, Nathaniel and I were assigned to the same project in the office, and I think it’s safe to say we were both pretty fed up with it.

I think it was just the right time for something a little different, and for something that would allow us to have our little lunchtime and break room conversations about comics and conventions and video games…all the time, and whenever we wanted.

Nathaniel: Not to sound overly self-confident or anything, but I’m actually not surprised the blog has lasted this long. I collect side projects like crazy old women collect cats, but I stick with them if they’re both personally satisfying and appreciated by other people.

Polyhedral diceI worked on perfecting a homebrew Super Mario World for about five years because it was fun and because other people were willing to try out my deathtraps time and time again. I played a nearly unhealthy amount of Dungeons & Dragons all throughout college because it was a blast and because there were other people who needed me there as a DM or as a player.

If it had just been me sitting down to blog for myself to help me maintain my sanity through the roughest patches of that project, I might have let the blog slip away after things began to smooth over. However, I stayed on board because Alex wanted to keep blogging. I stayed on board because we started to grow a base of regular readers. I stayed on board because I like to write about geek stuff. We both vowed to blog for ourselves, whether or not there was an audience, but once there was an audience, blogging was that much more meaningful to me.

Still, if we were to lose all our readers tomorrow and Alex were to finally don a cowl and start fighting crime instead of blogging, I would keep on a-writin’. I wouldn’t have signed on for this if I didn’t enjoy it, and I wouldn’t have stayed on board if I didn’t enjoy it. But having a co-blogger to support and to have support me, along with fans who (presumably) kept on reading and occasionally commenting because they were interested in what we had to say, helped to keep the blogging momentum intact.

What's the best part about blogging?

Alex: I have to say. When we first started, there were days where I’d go, “Oh, boy. It’s my turn again, and I have nothing to write about.” There haven’t been many of those days since, and it’s a very fun way to get my geeky out of my system before (or during) work hours. Also, because I tend to write every day, either for work, or in my spare time for my comic(s), I always find writing for the blog to be a great way to warm up and get the hamster in my head to spin that little wheel.

But the absolute best thing was when we realized there were people out there (whom we didn’t and still don’t know personally, and whom we didn’t offer candy to) who read this blog. Who read our words, about things we love.

And I know we don’t get that many hits, but I can honestly say that I am floored every single day that people come to the site, and read what we have to say. That’s so awesome.

Nathaniel: I’m all about seeing value in the work I do. I’ve used blog posts as writing samples for job applications; we’ve been able to publicize new blogs and obscure news stories that weren’t getting a whole lot of air time at the time; we have faithful readers who have been enjoying our work for months. It’s rewarding to share my geek passions with others, and the blog is a wonderful outlet for all those geek conversations I’m not having now that I’m not constantly hanging around other geeks, as I was in college.

What's the worst part about blogging?

I guess the easy answer would be to say, “Finding something to talk about every day,” but since Nathaniel and I switch off, I never actually feel that way. So, I guess the “worst” part about blogging is when 11:00 AM rolls around, and I’ve forgotten that it’s my turn to post.
When that happens, you all get to read a “Links and Things” entry. Sorry about that.

Nathaniel: The worst part is finding something to talk about every day and having the time to write it. Usually the posts that I’m most interested in writing require lots of explanation, pictures, and sometimes even research, and that all takes time to put together, and it’s especially easy to get distracted when sifting through pictures and cool new facts about the geek stuff you love. I’ve often given up video games to write for this blog, I’ll have you know.

How long do you plan to continue with this blog?

Alex: That’s kinda like asking Frodo and Sam when they’ll stop their silly journey and go back to the Shire with all the dancing. Really. It’s just like that.

I wanna keep it going for as long as it’s fun for us to write (and read), and for as long as we have something to say.

Nathaniel: Ah, but in the case of Frodo and Sam, there’s a clear endpoint; I’m not sure that’s the case with this blog. Besides, if the alternative is dancing, then I have no intentions of ever stopping!

How have you changed since starting this blog?

Alex: Well, last week I grew a beard.

Al Borland from Home ImprovementWhich was followed by the realization that, apparently, there are some spots on my face that can’t grow hair. Like, at all. I’ve had a goatee forever, and I’m one of those guys that shaves on Monday morning, and has to shave again on Tuesday night. But, as was evidenced by the missing chunks of hair on my right cheek and across my throat…I will never attain Al Borland-dom.

What was the question?

Oh, right. How have I changed? Hmmm…well, I’m still incredibly devoted (read: chained to a desk) when it comes to my job, I still don’t really know how to leave the office behind…um…sadly, I don’t think I’ve changed much over the past year.

Actually. I’m much more open with my dork-hood, which is a Very Good Thing.

And I’m still terrified of spiders. So there’s also that.

Nathaniel: Up until this blog started picking up steam, I had only read a handful of comics, most of which were random issues that other people had picked up for me on a whim. I keep these few comics in a cluttered old toy chest. Now I have an entire shelf filled with trade paperbacks. Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Star Trek, Star Wars, and even some Japanese stuff… and the library keeps growing. Thanks to this blog, I’m becoming a comics geek!

What are a few of your favorite posts?

Alex: Since all of my posts are brilliant, I’ll say…all of my posts. And maybe one or two of whatsisname’s are kinda good. Like when he wrote about food. Or orchids. Wait, no. That wasn’t him. Sorry.

Actually, I loved Thursday’s post about our trip to four comics shops—that was excellently done. And I really enjoyed all of the “Back to Basics Week” posts, which involved a heck of a lot of writing. I really liked Nathaniel’s Father’s Day post, too.

Nathaniel: In general, my favorite posts are the ones we both collaborate on and the ones that truly exemplify why we wanted to blog in the first place. To quote our mission statement from the sidebar: “We've joined forces to introduce, explain, discuss, and demystify various hobbies and fandoms to promote an understanding between geeks and to spark an interest in the things that interest us.”

In addition to the posts I pointed out as favorites in our first Year in Review, the posts Alex just mentioned are personal favorites as well. Guess you’ll just need to wait for our next Year in Review to see the official, finalized list!

Of all the fandoms your co-blogger has introduced, which is your favorite?

Alex: My who? Oh, right. Him.

Probably Star Wars. No, definitely Star Wars. It may have taken nearly 20 years, but somehow Nathaniel was the first and only person to successfully get me to sit down and watch those flicks. And I actually liked them, to boot.

Except for all that flying around in space, of course.

Nathaniel: It just wouldn’t be right to say anything other than The Goon. I’m not big on zombies and their ilk, but The Goon is so funny, eclectic, and surprisingly deep that I couldn’t help but get dragged in.

The Goon roughs up some zombies
What are your favorite things that have happened this year to the fandoms that have been introduced on the blog?

Alex: For me, it was The Goon movie being officially announced, with Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti as Goon and Franky, respectively. It’s AWESOME to follow a little indy book as it developed from this tiny black and white thing to one of Dark Horse’s bestsellers. And to see all the critical acclaim and widespread recognition the book has received is cool, because I feel like I was there (with a small handful of others) when no one knew what it was.

It’s always cool to see talented (and nice) people, like Eric Powell, succeed in an industry that’s dominated by a very clich├ęd set of rules and properties. Here’s this book about monsters and gangsters, and crazy people and absolutely no super heroes. It’s near impossible to “brand” the title because it’s so hard to succinctly sum up what it’s about, and still…it’s managed to become one of comics’ hottest properties.

And Powell self-published, and maxed out his credit cards, and took a HUGE risk. And it paid off. However you look at it, that’s just cool.

Ahh. I haven’t had a good Goon sermon in a couple of weeks…

Nathaniel: Obviously, I was thrilled beyond belief to see Mega Man 9 (even though that technically happened last year, but I didn’t get to play it until this year).

Watchmen posterAlso, I was astonished by the Watchmen movie—I wasn’t so fond of the graphic novel (though I appreciated its merits), yet I genuinely enjoyed the movie and quickly got a hankering to see it again, which never happens to me. I can’t watch the same movie twice unless it’s been at least a few months since the last viewing, excepting in very rare circumstances.

I found Watchmen to be about as perfect a comic-to-movie translation can be, and even if critics didn’t all enjoy the film, I still consider it to be a triumph.

Concerning the new Star Trek movie... hm. I'm glad Star Trek is alive and well, but I have my misgivings about the direction of the franchise, so I'll just have to wait for the next movie to make a final decision about whether or not the new movie belongs in this category.

What is the single geekiest purchase or decision you have made as a result of this blog?

Alex: Four comics shops in one day is pretty up there for me. Oh, and as I’m typing this, I’m wearing a Batman logo t-shirt, which is something I NEVER would have considered wearing a couple of years ago.

But THE geekiest thing since this blog began? And, “starting a blog called Exfanding Your Horizons” doesn’t count, huh? Okay…lessee…oh, I know.

It has to be my infamous all-day at the comics shop.

Yep, that wins.



Nathaniel: Ditto, ditto, ditto. See also: Deciding to read almost every trade paperback I pick up from cover to cover in one sitting.

Any closing remarks?

Nathaniel: Well, to celebrate this terrific occasion, we’re putting together a book of all the posts we wrote in our first year of blogging. We intend to keep a few extra copies on hand to give away in future contests as well. Furthermore, there’s an Exfanding Your Horizons t-shirt in the works, and we may also give some of those away in future contests. Lastly, there’s been talk of getting our own domain for this blog, but we’ll keep you posted about that.

That’s all I’ve got. How about you, Alex?

Alex: I like pie.

Oh, and thanks for reading!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Exfanding Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

People often dream of what it would be like to time-travel, imagining how incredible it would be to hang out with Socrates, walk around the Wild West with Billy the Kid, get psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud, go bowling with Napoleon, and spring Abe Lincoln and Gengis Khan from prison.

Personally, I'm more interested in the future--What will my potential children and grandchildren be like? What's in store for humanity in the long run? Dude, where's my flying car?

Imagine, however, if you could time-travel... but you had no control over where or when you would go, and every time you reach your destination, you show up without any clothes. You know; the kind of naked that gets you arrested on the street.

On the one hand, you could run into a lot of trouble showing up to a party, shall we say, not dressed for the occasion. Traveling back to a day in the deep of winter would be terribly unpleasant. And what if you kept going back in time to witness the same tragedy over and over?

On the other hand, you'd gain a wholly unique insight about your future and other people's pasts. You might get another chance to spend just a few more minutes with the loved one you lost long ago. And maybe, just maybe, you'd have a shot at fixing the greatest mistakes of your life before they happen.

The tradeoffs are huge, but would you do it?

Furthermore, if you were just an average person, could you fall in love with someone who does time-travel like this? Would you stay with them if they frequently disappeared in the middle of dinner and didn't return for a few weeks? Would you be able to stomach the anxiety of knowing that their life is in real danger every time they travel, and there's nothing you can do to help them?

But what if a refreshingly more youthful version of your loved one dropped by as you grew older, or if a refreshingly more mature version of your loved one paid a visit to you in your youth? What if your time-traveling mate knew the future and could allay your worries about how your life is going to turn out?

The tradeoffs are huge, but would you do it?

For the characters of The Time Traveler's Wife, there isn't much choice about it. Henry DeTamble was born a time-traveler, and Clare Abshire began falling in love with him long before he had ever met her. Think about that one for a second.

The Time Traveler's Wife book coverAs a book, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is a complex work that explores virtually every aspect of how time travel can affect a person's life, for better or for worse--and often it's not so clear where the lines between better and worse are.

Told through a series of journal entries by Henry and Clare, respectively, The Time Traveler's Wife gives readers a profound understanding of the main characters, and it's all too easy to imprint yourself on the characters if you share any of the same qualities with them or if you've ever been in a complicated, awkward, or overwhelmingly strong romantic relationship.

The Time Traveler's Wife is decidedly for more mature readers; there's sex, gore, profanity, and some soul-crushingly tragic situations that, if you are truly invested in the characters, will emotionally tear you to shreds. Speaking from experience, if you're a very sensitive or emotional person, or if you are so in tune with the characters that it feels as though the events of the book are actually happening to you, make sure you've got a stockpile of tissues and a very big stuffed animal or a loved one to hold on to as things fall apart. Trust me.

Despite all this, The Time Traveler's Wife is my second-favorite book, and it only trails behind Jurassic Park because there's a major plot twist in The Time Traveler's Wife that wrecked the direction of the book for me, resulting in an ending that was suitable for the situation but unsatisfying on a number of levels for me. Your results may vary.

So how is it such an apparently tragic book could have such a great appeal to someone who refuses to watch modern TV shows because they're all depressing and too much like real life? Easy.

I found the writing to be brilliant and rife with humor, thought-provoking dialogue, clever (and sometimes really warped) situations, and creatively vivid descriptions. The story zigzags across large portions of Clare and Henry's lives, bringing out the joy, sorrow, laughter, anger, sensuality, surprise, confusion, frustration, and anticipation they experience as their lives and relationships change--the full range of human emotion is covered, and the feelings are authentic.

Like many books, The Time Traveler's Wife has been adapted into a movie, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. Hopefully you didn't read that last sentece as, "Many books get adapted into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams." Unlike most books, however, I would recommend watching the movie version after reading the book, not before.

It's all too common for a movie to differ too much from its source material, adding or omitting or altering things that upset fans of the book, but this is not so much the case with The Time Traveler's Wife. The movie version effectively conveys the spirit of the book through an adapted version of the story that hits most of the major plot points, and the film captures the feeling of unexpectedly traveling through time and randomly appearing all over the place even more successfully than the book, thanks to the instant gratification of seeing everything happen all at once rather than reading through a paragraph or two before being able to form that same picture in one's mind.

Some changes had to be made to keep the movie at a reasonable length, and many things (such as the deep character development and the format of the book as a series of journal entries) probably would not have translated well to the big screen, so I for one have no problem with the way the movie was handled. For the most part. But I'll discuss that in a moment.

I suggest watching the movie after reading the book for a few reasons: First, the movie is really more of a visual outline of the book than anything else, so it works as an opportunity to experience the book through a different medium, but it lacks the character development and emotional depth of the book to make it a very memorable stand-alone movie; most of my emotional reactions to the movie were a result of remembering how I felt at that point in the book, so I expect the film to be a fairly shallow experience for people who haven't read the book.

Now here's where my biggest qualm comes into play: Because the movie is more of an outline that hits the major plot points but doesn't delve too deep into the characters, I felt it was more important for the characters to look and sound the part than for them to act the part. It's impossible to find actors that look exactly how everyone pictures the characters, but Clare is introduced in the book as "a Botticelli by way of John Graham: huge gray eyes, long nose, tiny delicate mouth like a geisha. She has long red hair that covers her shoulders and falls to the middle of her back. Clare is so pale she looks like a waxwork in the candlelight," and moviegoers get generic brunette Rachel McAdams.

Rachel McAdams in The Time Traveler's WifeGranted, I think she and the others did a fine job bringing the character part of the characters to life, but, simply in terms of appearance, McAdams did not belong at all--and it doesn't look like they even tried to dye her hair red or make her skin pale. Maybe I'm making too big a deal of this, but imagine what it would look like if Ray Romano was cast as Thor without any additional makeup or a wig, and that's essentially the effect I'm talking about here.

Here's the second and more important reason I'd watch the movie after reading the book: The movie manages to soften the emotional blows of the book by gradually preparing viewers for the tragedies that are to come, leaving out some of the most traumatizing (but nonessential) events, and modifying some of the most hopelessly depressing parts so they're actually bearable. In a way, I enjoyed the book more after watching the movie; considering just how much I identified with the characters, it was a personal relief that in some alternate reality somewhere, Henry and Clare had been spared some of the horrible things they had gone through elsewhere.

But I didn't read the book or watch the movie just to get depressed. Just as in real life, you take the bad with the good, and the good found in The Time Traveler's Wife is phenomenal. Not everyone will like the book (or the movie, for that matter), but at the point in my life when I first read it, it struck a chord with me in a way that no work ever has. The characters were impossibly real, the story was compelling and surprising, the writing achieved a perfect harmony of detailed descriptions and excellent pacing, and I felt like I was there.

The Time Traveler's Wife is relentlessly engaging, and even though it doesn't have genetically engineered dinosaurs, it's still an amazing read.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

1 Day, 2 States, 4 Stores

There are two rules that need to be stated right up front, before this post can begin.

1.) Geeks do geeky things.

2.) Geeks with blogs about geekdom do super geeky things.

Like, ridiculously, jaw-droppingly geeky things. In my geek career, I have done several things that, in hindsight, I look at and wince a little. Like leaving for a convention before the sun came up, only to sit in an empty parking lot for two hours in the freezing cold, and arguing about why Brian Bendis is better than Dan Slott.

Or staring, doe-eyed (and utterly silent), as Neil Gaiman ate a small container of french fries. Or, watching Trekkies II before leaving for work two days ago.

You know. Those sorts of things.

But today. Today was something different. Something, I daresay, epic. If I were a humble man, I'd say it was nothing, really. Just some driving and some spending of money. Since I'm not a humble man, I'll instead say that today's journey was nothing short of Tolkienesque.

Yes, it's a word.

And, yes, I stand by my claim that the Great Comic Shop Expedition of '09 that Nathaniel and I set out on early yesterday (and conquered yesterday!) is comparable to saving all of Middle Earth, and scouring the known world, ignoring the fact that our little hobbit feet should have never brought us as far as they did.

But, fear not, for our hobbit feet never faltered.

Okay, maybe we got a little dehydrated at one point. And, fine, maybe at another point I really had to make a stop after drinking two cups of coffee.

Oh, BUT!

There was a giant spider, whom we vanquished heroically. (Fine, so the "giant" spider wasn't exactly a face-hugger.) But we did vanquish our foe. (Fine, so by "vanquish," I mean, we left it alone on the door of my car and, as Nathaniel said, in a heroic-sounding voice might I add, "Let the wind take care of it.")


You really can't underestimate the epic-ness of this day.

But I'll let Nathaniel tell the full story.


It was a dark and stormy night.

Before me was Alex's elegant new car, shining in the brilliant morning sun. How fitting that the first road trip of this grand geek chariot would be one to a comics shop.

Make that two comics shops.

The plan was simple: Eat lunch, visit our local comics shop, and then head north to another comics shop. No work, no meetings, no curfews, and only a vague concept of a budget. This wasn't a shopping trip, though; this was a geek excursion, no different from a day at a convention or an amusement park (but with fewer people dressed up in animal costumes, or as lovable Disney characters).

Our first stop was a nearby diner, which we ate.

...Where! Where we ate! Sorry about that.

Burger, onion rings, and milkshake; omelet, toast, and coffee. This is the kind of stuff Superman has before saving the world, except he can keep the onion rings warm with his heat vision.

We felt like heroes. On a journey. A Timeless Journey, you might say.

A Timeless Journey store signOur LCS was unlike we'd ever seen it before: pleasantly calm, on a Wednesday! The anticipated mid-lunch-break rush consisted of... us, really, and a father looking for the latest issue of Archie Comics, in which Chandler finally proposes to Monica, or something like that.

I headed back to the trade paperbacks and Alex perused the latest issues. Somehow between the two of us we picked out an issue of Wednesday Comics my girlfriend was looking for--I had a list of requests from her, and buying back issues in the store is cheaper and easier than getting them online. So I'm told.

Our thought here was to buy most of our comics there at our LCS (customer loyalty and whatnot) and to pick up whatever we couldn't find there at our second destination. In terms of spending, Alex won the first round, which means he actually lost because he spent more. Shh! Don't tell him! I don't want to spoil his "victory."

I won the second round, though. My plan was to lose miserably, and I actually succeeded, if you consider "losing" to be "winning" here, keeping in mind that winning is really losing.

...You get it.

Cave Comics logoIt seemed like a flawless plan at the time: Drive all the way up to Cave Comics, pick up one of the D&D books off the shelf (they're also a gaming store), maybe grab a cheap TPB I didn't see at the other place, and then transform into Alex's tagalong sidekick whose superpower is to ask obnoxious questions about comics he's never heard of.

Well, I didn't count on them having D&D Miniatures.

For a good long while I was keeping track of all the latest miniature releases, but I've been slipping ever since my last D&D session several months ago. I completely missed that a new set of minis had been released--a set with not-so-mini minis (which are my favorites) that are visible inside the package. No random guesswork.

When I saw those unexpected packages of minis on the shelf, my eyes bugged out and my jaw dropped a little. I began inspecting these magical miniatures. A translucent frost giant. A vicious-looking green dragon. A Borat. I mean, uh, a Balrog. And a gigantic beholder.

I may have gasped a little bit when I saw that last one. There was a security camera mounted right above the minis and pointed directly at me, and I'll bet my reaction is priceless.

Speaking of prices, I then foolishly went over to the wall of TPBs. And I think I'll end that train of thought right there. Some time later, Alex found me on the floor, surrounded by boxes and boxes of comics.

Oh, wait; let me clarify that: I was picking out a comic from the very bottom shelf, and comics shops naturally have boxes and boxes of comics all over the place. Stop confusing the readers, Nathaniel.

Judging from the lightness of my pockets, I suspect I left my wallet at the cash register. I still walked out with two discontinued rulebooks for the price of one, so that was more of an unrelated D&D run than a comics run.

And that was it. We went home.

Rather, we started to go home. But we had no work, no meetings, no curfews, and only a vague concept of a budget; why not hit up the other comics shop in the area, Legends of Superheros?

Why not, indeed.

Legends of Superheros logoAlex clearly won Round Three, though my purchase of a single booster pack of Magic cards hardly counts as competition. At this point I was really only looking for the items from my girlfriend's comics request list that hadn't yet been obtained--in case you're wondering, you should give up right now if you're trying to locate issue #4 of The New Adventures of Old Krypton, or whatever the book is called, because it just doesn't exist. We searched four different comics shops, but to no avail.

Oh, did I say four comics shops?

You see, the story should have ended there. "And then we went home." That sort of thing. Except we decided to make a small detour after we left. Perhaps it was the heat, or possibly the pervasive "new car" smell, but we soon decided to find a place to stop for a drink. I was in the mood for an exotic soda of some sort, something gourmet, or at least not a general Coke or Pepsi product; I've seen the likes of Boylan's and Stewart's at a Starbucks and Carvel, so maybe there was one of those nearby?

Yes, there was a Carvel not too far away. And it was right around the corner from another comics shop.

Aw, what the heck. How often do we get the chance to spontaneously visit four different comics shops in one day?

We ended up at a tiny place in Mount Kisco, NY, called Comix Plus. Wow, emigrating from Connecticut for comics. Comix Plus has a minimal comics selection but entire walls filled with collectables from superhero action figures to models of the cars from the James Bond movies. Best of all, there was a glass case filled with trading/playing cards, the most memorable of which were cards inspired by the unforgettable 1996 film The Adventures of Pinocchio, starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

Folks, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Star Trek: The Next Generation borg figurineMy favorite part was the curio case filled with Star Trek figurines from the early 90s, and I found it impossible to resist the inexpensive Borg figurine, from the era when the Borg wore funny black jumpsuits with parts of appliances glued to their bodies, before they became the really creepy doom cyborgs we all know and love.

Alex, however, simply browsed. I won Round Four.

It's worth pointing out that before we entered the shop we needed a place to park, and our parking meters were obviously dysfunctional. Alex pulled into a space and we went to feed the meter, but we apparently were doing it wrong because the meter started flashing the word "FAIL" on its little screen. We looked at about five parking meters in a row that were all blinking
"FAIL" at us.

Eventually we found a meter that still had time left on it. Alex went to drop in a coin, but I was able to halt him just in time so he didn't do something to trigger another message of "FAIL"--in retrospect, I think our mistake was trying to put money in the meter. New York parking meters apparently encourage you to keep your money because parking must be free. I will remember this the next time I drive into the city.

The conclusion to our trip was a refreshing one: we stopped at Carvel for sodas. Not ice cream, though. Amazing. It had been a few hours since our last drink break, which was back at Alex's house after we left A Timeless Journey. A wise, brief, and enjoyable break, just as this one was. We sat outside Carvel for a little while, listening to a woman SPEAKING ON A CELL PHONE AT A LOUDER VOLUME THAN NECESSARY, and reflecting on the day.

It wasn't about the comics or the minis or even the onion rings; the whole point of our excursion was to get out of the house, escape from reality for a while, spend some time together as friends, drink up the atmosphere of comics shops, and marvel at the fancy artwork and at THE VOLUME LEVEL OF THAT WOMAN ON THE PHONE. We didn't have to buy stuff to enjoy ourselves, but there's a certain joy about picking out comics and bringing them home, and we're certainly going to use everything we bought. Right now that pile of comics is being used to make my bedroom more flammable, but I will get around to reading them all in good time.

Hang on; I just figured out why Alex started off by calling me a hobbit. Frodo and Sam have this quest to destroy the One Ring, right? And they get rid of it by tossing it into a volcano, right? Well, it's not exactly the same, but it turns out my girlfriend got a plastic Black Lantern ring that day.

Maybe we were supposed to put the ring in the parking meter!