Saturday, February 28, 2009

Month in Review: February 2009

February was an interesting month for both of us on a personal level, and perhaps as a result, our posts gravitated toward the things we could write about most easily: comics, video games, reviews, and personal stories/rants. That's not to say that the quality was necessarily any different from in previous months, but rather that the Affirmative Action people may or may not have called us out for our lack of diversity.

Here's what we cranked out:

- News about the trailer for the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game

- News about a fellow blogger's new site for independent publishers and creators

- An update on the status of mega-download site Galbadia Hotel

- Alex's "review" of The Empire Strikes Back

- An introduction to The Goon, and my review of Alex's favorite comics series

- Alex's real review of Return of the Jedi and the original Star Wars trilogy

- A review of the animated double feature, Hulk Vs., in which--you guessed it--Hulk smash!

- My personal ramblings on the current circumstances of my life as they pertain to the blog

- A rant about someone buying up 20 copies of Neil Gaiman's Batman comic

- A review of Superman: Birthright, a retelling of Superman's origin story

- Tales of hanging out in a comics store for six straight hours

- A discussion about the tribulations of Alex's in-the-works graphic novel

- A review of Mega Man 9, the first classic Mega Man game in about 10 years, as well as its downloadable content

- A surprise recommendation of the Daredevil DVD

- Assorted links of various kinds, version one and version two

- Stories about the entertaining and talented basketball team known as the Harlem Globetrotters

- A little rant about the Oscars as they relate to the comics industry

- A discussion about Black Panther, Madame Xanadu, and the Dark Tower comics

- An introduction to Midnight Syndicate, a music group known for their gothic/horror soundtracks

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Links and Things

So, it's Friday again, and I don't know about you, but this felt to me like an exceedingly LOOOONNNGGGG week. (As further illustrated by my hysterical spelling of "long" in that last sentence). But, as today is (finally, blessedly, and mercifully) Friday, here are some (well, OK, there are only three this week, but still) links to round up a whole week's worth of comics-related news and information and minutia.

--First, some sad news for staffers at Wizard Magazine, the long-running and oft-maligned monthly comics news mag and price guide. Wizard, like seemingly all print publications these days, has taken some major hits recently, and this news only solidifies the all-too-real fact that magazines and newspapers need to adapt or die.

Like, right away.

Now, Wizard has taken a lot of criticism online and elsewhere, mostly due to their low-brow approach to certain subjects, their *ahem* immature writing style, and their almost wholesale negligence when it comes to reporting on independent comics. And, while they do in fact deserve some of the negative vibes directed at them, I have to admit--I enjoy Wizard.

I look forward to picking up each month's issue, and I have the feeling that I'll be a reader for as long as they're in business. So, sad news, and best of luck to anyone caught in the crosshairs. In any case, you can read the story about the firings, and the overall climate of the company, here.

--Next up we have some good news for Marvel movie fans. (And comics fans in general!) Samuel L. Jackson, famous for being the only actor in history to appear in every movie ever produced, will star in...every movie Marvel will ever produce. Jackson will appear in nine Marvel films as Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and you can read all about right here.

--And, lastly, I've just found out that this March will see the first ever Comic Art Convention, to be held in Secaucus, New Jersey. And, while I won't be able to attend, you certainly can! And all the info you'll need can be found right here. The con sounds like a great idea, and a no-brainer, and I wish them luck!

Hokey Dokey, that's all she wrote for today, folks. Check back in tomorrow for some more classic blogging, Exfanding style. Oh, and Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Midnight Syndicate: Gothic nightmare soundtracks

Midnight Syndicate logoAs a Dungeon Master, I like to have music playing during my games of D&D. I have an impossibly large collection of video game music I use, but some DMs have little or nothing to work with. No real dungeon would have Britney Spears as background music.

This is why I recommend Midnight Syndicate: they produce the kind of creepy, atmospheric, and ominous music that a battle between werewolf or vampire factions deserves. Heck, they've even produced the official roleplaying soundtrack of Dungeons & Dragons, and provided the soundtrack for Robert Kurtzman's horror movie The Rage.

Check out Midnight Syndicate's official site. You can tell them I sent you. They won't care, but you can tell them anyhow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 1

As many of you are well aware, Wednesday is a day for all fanpeople to break free from their cubicles and to stand up and rejoice, as it is new comics day. Well, it is in the States, at least. I think new books ship on Thursdays in the UK--anyone know if that's correct? Anyway, what with it being Wednesday and all, I'd like to try something new, and if it goes well, maybe we'll keep it around as a weekly feature.

Now, this something new is truly a revolutionary idea--so revolutionary, in fact, that every other comics blog on the planet has already thought of it. And, most likely, they're doing it better than I'll be able to do.

But that's fine, as there are no delusions of grandeur, here. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. You should hear Nathaniel's delusions of grandeur. Ask him about them sometime. They're, well...delusional. And they may or may not involve this blog as the starting point for some kind of revolution.

But I've said too much, so let's just forget that last part. About the revolution. That Nathaniel wants to using this blog.

AnyVonDoom, on to this week's "Books That Alex is Looking Forward to Buying at the Comic Shop." (Pretty catchy, isn't it?)

First up, this week sees the release of the trade paperback collection of Marvel's Black Panther Secret Invasion tie-in. Written by the hard-boiled specialist, Jason Aaron and drawn by Marvel's next breakout talent, Jefte Palo, this story arc was fantastic.

Basically, the Skrulls come to Wakanda, the African nation where the Black Panther resides as King. And, well, let's just say that the result is...violent. (As you can clearly see from the cover image, below.) But it's also thought-provoking, as we see war from both sides of the fight in an intense tale told perfectly by Aaron.

Black Panther #39 coverNow, while Secret Invasion was sweeping through the Marvel Universe, it's understandable that you may have missed the Panther's role in the mega-event. But, in my opinion, this arc was the best Secret Invasion tie-in, and definitely worth checking out.

Next up on my pull list for today is Madame Xanadu #8, written by Matt Wagner and beautifully illustrated by Amy Hadley. Check out the cover, below.

Madame Xanadu #8 coverI gave this series a shot with issue one, and I've been onboard ever since. It's from DC's Vertigo line, so you won't see any capes and tights in this book. But, you will see great art and a time-spanning story from Matt Wagner. Madame Xanadu is a mystical character who traverses time and lives in many different historical periods, serving as royal adviser to Mongol dynasties and tarot reader to Kings and Queens.

Through her eyes, we see the fall of Camelot and the events of the French Revolution, and in this latest issue, she must solve the mysterious murders taking place in Whitechapel and catch Jack the Ripper. Like I said, the series jumps around from time period to time period, but if you're into magic and history (and who isn't?!) then I'd urge you to pick this book up.

And, lastly, we have Peter David's Marvel Comics adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower stories with Dark Tower: Treachery #6. If you haven't been reading this series, figuring it's simply a rehashing of King's classic novels...well, I think you'll be in for a pleasant surprise.

Peter David has made these characters his own, and the dark, moody (and definitely creepy) artwork from artist Jae Lee is the perfect backdrop for this world hatched from Stephen King's mindscape. Check out the cover.

Dark Tower: Treachery #6 coverSo, that's all I've got for the first edition of "Waiting for Wednesday." How about you? What books will you be picking up today? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Downloadable (Dis)content

As a follow-up to my review of Mega Man 9, I wanted to say my piece about the game's bonus features and downloadable content now that I've had a chance to doodle around with them a bit more. So, without further ado-doo, here's what the game has to offer:

Hero Mode and Superhero Mode:

Mega Man 9 Superhero Mode screenshotAs if the game weren't difficult enough already, these two modes mess with the layout of enemies and powerups throughout the game. It's the same level geography, but the placement and presence of everything else is subject to change.

All of a sudden there's a cannon firing at you where there used to be an empty platform, that big health upgrade on the ledge has been downgraded to a small one, those disappearing bricks have been rearranged into a more challenging pattern, and that trio of UFOs has called in an entire squadron for reinforcements. And if that's not enough for you, I hear that you can also download a scourge and hair shirt for yourself as well.

Time Attack Mode:

Choose any stage in the game and race against the clock to complete it in record time. You start out with all the special weapons and utilities available to you, but you only have one try to beat the stage. (Aw, quit whining, you no-hoper.) This is a simple-yet-fun addition, especially for speed run freaks and competitive types.

Special Stage:

Mega Man 9 Fake Man stage screenshotAn extra Time Attack stage that is effectively a greatly extended Dr. Wily stage with new music, loads of enemies and minibosses to fight, and as a brand-new boss at the very end. Like everything else with the game, the Special Stage gets progressively more ridiculous and culminates in a fabulous "You've got to be kidding me!" moment or two just before the end boss. Probably my favorite special feature. Sissy-pants Mediocre Men need not apply.

Endless Attack:

Like Time Attack, you are given all the weapons and only one life to get through the stage... the stage that never ends. You jump and fight your way through a series of short levels that are connected by teleporters. However, every time you hop through a teleporter, you are taken to a randomly selected level. For example, you might go from an underwater level filled with deadly spikes to a level consisting of rising and falling platforms over an expansive bottomless pit. After a while, you'll take a break from the levels to fight a boss, and then return to the endless levels.

Mega Man 9 Endless Attack Mode screenshotAlthough all of the enemies and hazards are ones you've already seen in the main game, the music is all-new, the stage designs are all completely different, and you'll see some combinations that weren't anywhere in the original game (such as icy platforms underwater). Some of the levels resemble portions of stages from previous Mega Man games, and a few are actually identical, so there's a little bit of nostalgia here as well.

There's a good variety of levels, but it is possible to survive long enough for this mode to get a bit repetitive, although the randomized order and occasional boss fights keep it interesting. Regardless, it's surprisingly addictive, and it's surely the most replayable bonus feature. My current personal best is 247 screens, but I've only played this mode a few times, so I'm sure I can do better.

Proto Man Mode:

Of all the extra content, this was the one I was most looking forward to. The mysterious and hyper-cool Proto Man is one of my favorite Mega Man characters, and I started dreaming up ideas for a video game starring Proto Man long, long ago. Needless to say, this was going to be the most spectacular bonus feature in history.

At least, that's how it was supposed to be.

Mega Man 9 playing as Proto Man screenshotProto Man Mode has all the right ingredients: the ability to slide and the ability to charge up your blaster have been restored, you've got a shield that deflects enemy projectiles, Rush has been replaced with some super-slick utilities that act the same but look so much cooler, and it's freaking Proto Man!!!

Well, here's where they went wrong (prepare for the real Mega Man snob in me to come out now):

- The charged-up blaster doesn't fire the large ball shot we've all become accustomed to from Mega Man 5-8; no, it's the weaker shot from Mega Man 4 that does just as much damage but doesn't cover as much area.

I would be okay with this (I happened to like the MM4 charge shot just as much) except Proto Man loses his charge when hit--this drawback was added in MM5 when they upgraded your blaster to balance the fact that you could now hit more stuff with each shot. So now you've got the drawback without the benefit. Lame!

Mega Man 4 vs. Mega Man 5 charge shot comparison- To charge the blaster, you hold down the fire button, and you know that you're charging because you start flashing funny colors. No surprise there. Except, unlike every other game, it takes a very brief moment before you begin to flash. During this moment, if you release the fire button, you won't shoot anything at all. Not even a regular shot or a pathetic half-charged shot, which is what normally happens. Just... nothing.

The way I play, my blaster is charged at all times unless I'm actually firing at something, in which case I resume charging the moment I'm done firing. This has been my playing style for 2/3 of the classic Mega Man series and all of the X and Zero series as well, and now I can't safely play that way. It's like showing up to a duel with a shotgun instead of a pistol, and I can't cock the weapon until I've taken my five paces and turned around.

- The shield, though delightful in theory, is unreliable; sometimes it reflects projectiles, and sometimes it's as if the shield isn't even there. Maybe there are holes in the shield that I can't see.

Mega Man 9 playing as Proto Man screenshot- Proto Man receives an absurd amount of damage from enemies. Off the top of my head, I would estimate that he takes about 2-3 times more damage than Mega Man from any given enemy.

Given that each hit takes such a large toll, it's difficult to "eye up" your health meter and estimate whether or not you can sustain another hit when considering using an E-Tank, which are especially scarce because...

- The Shop feature is no longer available. You don't collect screws, and you can't buy anything. Which means it's nine rounds of Plug Man stage to rack up the E-Tanks and extra lives necessary to even have a shot at beating the game, unless you've already mastered the other bonus features before playing this one.

This also means that you can't get the Energy Balancer (which automatically refills your special weapons' energy without switching to them), or any spike guards, or Beat, the little robo-bird who can rescue you from bottomless pits, which is especially necessary because...

- Proto Man gets knocked back twice as far as Mega Man when hit, so it's incredibly easy to be knocked into a bottomless pit by a stray bullet. And there are a few spots where this happens EVERY TIME.

- Instead of your regular blaster being able to fire three shots at a time, you've been demoted to firing only two shots at a time. If you miss or if your shots deflect off of a particular enemy, it could be as long as 1-2 seconds before you're able to fire again.

This might not seem like much, but in a fast-paced action game, such a delay feels like an eternity--imagine watching the car you're tailgating slam on its breaks, and you need to wait 1-2 full seconds before you can react.

Proto Man is supposed to be cool. Being knocked into pits by dinky little bullets and flailing around frantically in a failed attempt to fire as you get mauled to death by tiny fish that resemble Flounder from The Little Mermaid hardly make you look cool. They may, in fact, make you look uncool.

Mega Man 9 playing as Proto Man screenshotThe fact that you're playing as Proto Man and the inclusion of the sliding ability are really the only things that make this mode worthwhile at all. One would think that the charge shot and shield would help to offset the ramped-up difficulty, but the truth is that those two additions are liabilities and usually are more trouble than they're worth.

At the very least, they could make up for the unfairness by adding a new ending for Proto Man or at least some alternate cutscenes, like they did with the Mega Man X games when playing as Zero instead of X, but they didn't. In fact, all of the cutscenes have been removed outright, so even beating the game feels a little hollow when you defeat the final boss and it jumps right to the credits.

The sense of accomplishment is gone, and even the feeling of satisfaction for overcoming something difficult is absent--to use another car analogy, Mega Man 9 is like racing on an obstacle course against intense competitors, but playing Proto Man Mode is like being a part of that race in a great-looking lemon.

Proto Man is no lemon. He deserves better.

Am I happy to play as Proto Man at all? Of course! Am I irked and/or saddened by the lack of polish? You bet. It's like getting the Daredevil #1 you've always wanted, except with some dog-eared pages and a few coffee stains and no cover and a leaf of poison ivy as a bookmark.

As for the Achievements, well... I dunno. While it's neat to be able to brag to all your friends that you killed 1000 enemies, fought a boss for 10 minutes straight, beat the entire game without dying, getting hit, or missing a single shot with your regular weapon, I'm not sure that it's healthy for anybody to ever work toward getting all of those accolades. Those are the kinds of weirdos who launch gnomes into outer space.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Little Oscar Ranting

Okay, so I'm gonna preface this bad boy with a bit of a warning--this post is going to be somewhat insane, and, ultimately, pretty useless. But, I need to write about something for today, and maybe this post will make someone chuckle. In any case, here's another warning about today's insane rant:

I don't like the Oscars; I never did, and I never will. You see, I view the Oscars as nothing more than a room full of crazy rich people congratulating themselves for playing dress up. Cynical? Sure. True? You can't deny it.

That said, I tried to watch the Oscars last night. I really did. But, alas, I only made it to about three minutes into Wolverine's song and dance number. And, yes, fine, I understand that Hugh Jackman is an entertaining performer and that his opening act was good and funny and whatever,'s Wolverine.


And dancing.

And singing, while dancing.

So, beyond early channel flipping, I didn't watch last night's ceremony, and while this would normally preclude me from writing about something...well, this time it won't.

And here's why.

The Dark Knight made a billion dollars. In a recession. In the recession to end all recessions. Which means, ostensibly, that there were more than a few people who chose going to see Batman vs. the Joker over buying groceries.

And it wasn't up for Best Picture. Why? Because it was a comic book movie? Because Titanic made similar money and it got a Best Picture award back in 1997? Because too many things blew up during its running-time? Because Christian Bale sounded like he was constipated the whole movie?

Well, perhaps any or all of those reasons played into the flick not being nominated for a major award, other than Heath Ledger's Supporting Actor nod and win (and I'll get to that in a minute). Now, like I said, I think the Oscars are stupid, mostly because they are voted on in a very subjective way.

And, believe me, I get that film is art, and that the performances themselves are art, but my problems with Oscar are the same as my problems with the comics' industry "Oscars," namely the Eisner Awards.

I mean, who can say that one piece of art is "better" than another? Does that just mean a voter liked one film over another, or a particular comic art style over another? Face it, there's just no scientific formula, no college basketball bracket system, nothing beyond someone's (subjective) opinion.

And that doesn't sit well with me.

But I guess that's a whole 'nother argument. So, lemme stick to my Dark Knight rant. Clearly, I don't have the answer for why this movie wasn't up for Best Picture, but I will say that it was a good movie, and clearly one of the most important, and most-watched, movies of 2008. Heck, even its DVD sales are record-setting!

And, for those reasons alone, I think it should have been up for an award. If it doesn't win, fine, at least it was recognized as a crowning achievement in adapting a comic to the screen.

Anyway, rant over, but before I wrap things up, I wanted to say something about Heath Ledger's win last night. I'm stealing this thought from a Kevin Smith podcast, but I think it really puts Ledger's performance in perspective.

Ledger took a character who had already appeared, quite memorably, in a previous movie and made you completely forget about Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the character in 1989's Batman. Now, taking anything away from Nicholson is pretty much impossible...taking the Joker away...well, that's just incredible. So kudos to The Academy for recognizing that.

Oh, and Spicoli won another Oscar. So that's something.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Evening with the Harlem Globetrotters

Harlem Globetrotters 2009 Spinning the Globe group photoI'll be the first to tell you that I'm not a sports guy. I played a bunch of different sports when I was in elementary school and early middle school, but I jumped ship when things became less about just having fun and more about leagues, winning, and picking up cheerleaders (which, I suppose, would technically fall under "just having fun.")

Furthermore, I'm not particularly fond of watching sports. For me, Super Bowl Sunday is about hanging out with people, watching funny commercials, and eating lots of food--the bowl of vegetable dip is super enough for me. And though there are a few sports I do enjoy watching in person from time to time, often the highlight of any game is the hot dog I get.

Yes, I like food. Lay off, man.

All that being said, I am happy to report that I attended a sporting event last night that I truly, greatly enjoyed--and I didn't even have anything to eat! You see, my father and I went out to see the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters.

A Harlem Globetrotter does a slam-dunkThe Globetrotters have been around since 1926, but I swear these guys didn't look any older than 30. The lineup included men with names like Special K, Bam Bam, El Gato, and Tiny (who, ironically, was rather tall), and though they played basketball, it was unlike any game I've ever seen.

The Globetrotters can do things with a basketball that seem to defy physics, or at least the normal standards of human coordination. Before the start of the game, each player is introduced and has a chance to show off his crazy basketball skills, rolling a ball off of his back and around his arms, or spinning a ball on his finger and then relocating the spinning ball to his shiny bald head. Words really don't do justice to these guys (their skill, not their baldness).

The game itself was, ostensibly, a basketball game, but there was so much theatre involved even non-sports-fans could have a great time. There were occasional breaks where their mascot, Globie (or any of Globie's alleged family members) came out and got launched into cans of Campbell's Soup or, in one case, ate one of the audience members whole.


The players cracked jokes, performed amazing tricks, brought out slapstick humor, pulled audience members onto the court, chased after the referees, argued with the coach of the other team, and put on little theatrical shows in the middle of the game. And yet, they still played a mean game of basketball.

The Globetrotters are kid-friendly; they're a riot for the young'uns in the audience, and they honestly make the adults feel like kids again. And considering a ticket to see them probably costs about as much as it does for you to go out for dinner one night, it's affordable family fun.

Check out their website here, and you can read more about there history here on the PBS website.

If you get a chance to see the Harlem Globetrotters, I would highly recommend going. Unless you're planning on getting eaten. We need as many readers as we can get.

The Harlem Globetrotters mascot lands in a pile of huge soup cans
[Pictures from The Globetrotters are good, clean fun, so there are no foul shots.]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Links and Things

Today, some stuff to go and check out, courtesy of Ye Old Internets.

--First up, trailers of Marvel's Ultimate Alliance 2 video game are online, and by all accounts, it looks really cool, and it looks to follow Marvel's Civil War storyline from a couple of summers ago. Check out the game's official site, here. And you can check out the latest trailer right here. The game hits stores this Fall, so start saving up!

Fun fact about the trailer (and the game, I suppose). A school in my hometown actually gets blown up in the game (and in the Civil War comics), and that seems to be the crux of its storyline., right?

Sure it is.

--AnyEwok, on to the next item. In more Marvel-related news, Fox aired three new trailers for the upcoming Wolverine movie, called X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here's the official site, complete with video. I initially had some doubts about this flick, but I have to say, these latest trailers look quite good.

And, like all much-hyped movies, there is also a much-hyped video game release to go along with it. Check out the official site, right here.

--This week, the 2009 Eisner Hall of Fame nominees were announced, and you can see the entire list of comics legends here. For those unfamiliar with the Eisners, they are the highest honor given to comics creators, and they are handed out every year at the San Diego Comic Con. The awards are named for Will Eisner, whom many consider to be the father of graphic novels.'s Kindle 2 drops next week, thus doing its part to expedite the death of paper.

--Legendary comics artist Gene Colan announced on his Web site that, for a short period of time, he will be taking commission requests. If you want a customized piece of art from one of the true greats, you can get information here.

--This might be incredibly old news to some, but I just found out about it, so it's new to me! Check out this blog right here, written by, among others, comics writer and editor Mark Waid. There's some really interesting stuff posted, and if you have any interest at all in how comics are made, this blog is a must-read!

Well, that's all I can scrounge up for this week. Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Exfanding Recommends...

Daredevil in the rainSome of you may remember a little movie from way back in 2003 starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, and Colin Farrell about a blind man from Hell's Kitchen who practices law by day and is a vigilante superhero by night. Right, so, oh hold on a second, Nathaniel's just popped his head in and--what's that? No one remembers or even cares about--?

Ah, I see.

Well, regardless of its place in the pop culture pantheon, that little movie was called Daredevil, and while you may not remember it, well...OK, fine, so pretty much everyone else wants to forget everything about it, too.

And even though there were some, uh, almost good scenes in the movie, for the most part, it wasn't exactly The Godfather. (Actually, it wasn't even Godfather III). And the problem with that is, the Daredevil character inherently lends itself to a Godfather-esque crime story.

And, yes, for all you DD enthusiasts out there, I know that the Director's Cut of the film, while certainly not perfect, does improve upon the theatrical release quite a bit.

The real question you may have right now is, "why in the heck is he talking about a DVD release from over five years ago?" And the answer to that is simple--I just found the DVD under a pile of other stuff last night, and while I couldn't stomach a viewing of the film, I did pop in the extra features.

So, while Affleck's stupid maroon costume was...well, stupid and maroon...we here at Exfanding Your Horizons (read: Alex) did, in fact, find something pretty cool about the original DVD release. Included on the bonus disc is a special feature entitled Men Without Fear: The Creators of Daredevil.

Basically this is a series of interviews conducted with comics creators who have worked on Daredevil through the years. Included in the 60 minute documentary are, among others, Stan Lee, John Romita and John Romita Jr, Gene Colan, Frank Miller, and Brian Bendis.

Now, as I've mentioned in the past, Daredevil is one of my favorite characters and Frank Miller, Gene Colan, and Brian Bendis are some of my favorite creators. Oh, and Kevin Smith is featured in the doc, as well. And it was Smith's run on the Daredevil comics series that actually introduced me to the character.

So, for all you DD fans out there, if you don't own the disc (because the movie itself has become a repressed memory), try to seek it out in the bargain bins, or rent it, just to watch this feature.

The best part, in my opinion at least, is Frank Miller's quasi-maniacal rantings on the character and his world. Through that interview, you really get to see what was going on inside Miller's head when he was writing, I think, the very best superhero comics ever.

Miller's run on Daredevil in the 1980s (starting with issue 168 when he took on both writing and art chores) is legendary amongst comics fans, and with good reason. His Daredevil was an adult book, a mature readers title set in the Marvel Universe proper.

It was grim, gritty, certainly violent, but thought-provoking and revolutionary. And, in the interview, you get to hear about why Miller did some of the things he did on the book, and why he put Matt Murdock through some of the most torturous events in comics history. For that ten minutes alone, this doc is worth checking out.

So, grit your teeth if you must, but try to find a copy of this DVD, skip the movie, and head right over to the bonus features.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exfanding Review: Mega Man 9

Well, folks, it's official: I have a Nintendo Wii. Despite my opinion on the added physical effort that motion-sensitive controls bring, I had two very big reasons for wanting a Wii:

(1) Playing games such as LEGO Batman and LEGO Indiana Jones with my girlfriend; and
(2) Mega Man 9

Mega Man 9 stage selection screenshotI'm a Mega Man fanboy like nobody's business, and having to wait to play the latest game was to me what waiting for both an Obama/Spider-Man crossover comic and a Neil Gaiman Batman comic were for Alex. At least.

So at long last, I have played through Mega Man 9. There's downloadable content, a Time Attack mode, Achievements, and other nonsense that never would have made it into a Mega Man game of my day, but I've hardly begun to scratch the surface of those yet. I'm talking about the real meat of Mega Man 9, which is... uh... Mega Man 9.

You know what? I really enjoyed the game. Maybe even loved it. Sequels of long-dormant franchises are never this good. It feels like a modernized Mega Man 2 influenced most by Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 6, but there are moments, features, and even entire stages that bring back memories of basically every game in the classic series.

What I like about it:

Mega Man 9 screenshot- Extremely challenging but usually not unfairly difficult--the difficulty borders on "not fun" a few times, but the learning curve is excellent, so it's still usually your fault if you die. (Not my fault; your fault--you made me mess up!)

- Music is really well done, and is a worthy addition to the soundtrack of a series defined by great music.

- An honest attempt was made to create an actual, sensical plot, complete with a good number of cutscenes (for a Mega Man game, anyhow).

- Nice variety of special weapons that all have a chance to shine. A+ for requiring the use of Rush Coil and Rush Jet as puzzle-solving tools!

Mega Man 9 screenshot- I actually laughed out loud on several occasions. Some of those laughs were from amusing cutscenes, some were from the little touches that show the game's polish, and some of those laughs were in appreciation of some truly diabolical puzzles and challenges. They tickled my little fiendish amateur game designer's heart.

- The ending was very satisfying. Nothing ruins a game like a lame-o ending.

- A feeling of continuity throughout--that is, the game honestly felt like a Mega Man game, and not some other game with "Mega Man" in the title. Connections with previous games helped this.

- Probably some other stuff that's not coming to mind right now. Gosh, I loved that stuff.

What I'm not so fond of:
Mega Man 9 screenshot- Mega Man can neither slide nor charge up his primary weapon. I can survive without the fully-powered blaster as long as the special weapons make up for it (they do), but the inability to slide drastically reduces the Blue Bomber's maneuverability.

- Most of Hornet Man's stage. It felt too much like Top Man's stage from Mega Man 3, and I really dislike Top Man's stage. And most of Mega Man 3.
- Some of the weapon names. Black Hole Bomb? Plug Ball? Tornado Blow? Please. This blog is probably going to be flagged for adult content just for writing those names.

- Although the weapon assortment is great, almost every weapon is similar or virtually identical to another weapon in the Mega Man franchise (most prominently from the X series), which is to be expected after dozens and dozens of games.

Mega Man 9 screenshotBehold, the 8-bit versions of the weapons of Spark Mandrill, Sting Chameleon, Crystal Snail (sorta), Gravity Beetle, and Blast Hornet! As for the remaining weapons, they're basically amalgams of previous boss weapons: a Wind Man/Tengu Man/Astro Man combo, a Wood Man/Star Man combo, and some sort of Fire Man/Yamato Man combo, minus the fire shield. It's a laser trident that fires straight through enemies, so there's really a lot of combinations you could propose.

- A couple of songs are directly recycled from Mega Man 2. Not remixed, mind you--they're the exact same song. Not a major issue, but it feels more like an obvious attempt to capitalize on MM2's popularity rather than a tip-of-the-hat or an effort to feel more retro.

Mega Man 9 screenshot- A few of the bosses. I won't name names, but there were two or three that were too tedious or flat-out difficult for me to enjoy them.

- While I like what they did with them, the end credits weren't entirely in the same style as other games in the classic series, which wasn't much of a bad thing but just felt a little strange to me.

- Probably some other stuff that's not coming to mind now. Gosh, I hated that stuff.

Bottom line: Mega Man 9 is absolutely worth your 1000 Wii points, or whatever method of payment your console uses (Cabbage, maybe? I don't know what XBox users use).

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to start practicing for some of those Achievements. I'll have absolutely no gamer cred at all if I can't beat the hardest game in the classic series without ever getting hit. At all.

Mega Man 9 screenshot(Oh, a protective barrier is hardly a new weapon, but we love Jewel Satellite anyway.)

Suggested additional reading: A review of Mega Man 9's downloadable content.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

...Everyone Would Do It

I've previously mentioned on this blog that I am in the process of creating an original graphic novel with the intent to sell said graphic novel sometime this year. And, while the whole process has not any stretch of the imagination, the past few days have proved to be especially...enlightening.

So, long story short, it looks like I may have lost my artist. And, since comics tend to have quite a bit of art in them, this falls under the category of Not A Good Thing. Now, the book's originally planned release date is early summer of this year, but with what's going on...well, honestly I have no idea when the book will be completed.

Which is pretty lousy, let me tell you.

Without going into too much detail about the project, I will say this. It has been a labor of love. Countless hours researching and writing the thing--and believe me, that was the fun part. I mean, researching is fine, especially when it's a topic in which I have some interest. And, for me at least, writing is just plain fun. But, countless hours were spent just getting the thing to where it is currently.

And that's completely glazing over the (many) times I had to grit my teeth and deal with publisher comments and editorial "suggestions," and there were certainly days (read: "weeks") where I just wished the whole thing would go away.

But, after quite some time (and after quite a few--ahem--arguments with editorial) the script was written, and the search for an artist began. Which was, as I soon learned, the very beginning of The Hard Part.

But, I found an incredibly talented artist, and when pages started coming in, I really just can't put into words how happy I was. And then, when pages...stopped...coming in, well I just didn't want to face the reality that the artist was going to have...issues...with deadlines.

As bad situations tend to do, this one got worse and worse until, finally, I needed to do something. So a call was made, then an email was sent, and a long Sunday afternoon discussion was had.

And, for this very moment at least, pretty much everything relating to this project is up in the air. Will we find someone else to draw the book? Will we meet some kind of satisfactory conclusion and the artist will come back on the project?

Who knows? Certainly not me.

But what I do know and what I realize now more than ever is that making comics is hard work. I mean, I knew that going in, and to be completely honest, I have pretty much called each and every bump in the road before they happened. And I dealt with each issue as they came, and for the most part, I think I won.

Well, at least, I was winning.

So stay tuned if you'd like, and maybe some things will become clear. I'll try to drop a few updates on the blog, and who knows? I might even place an ad for artists right here on the site.

But for now, the only thing bouncing around constantly in my head is a Tom Hanks quote from A League of Their Own, when he says of baseball, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The what makes it great."

So at least I've got that going for me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Comics and Me

I have a sad, and slightly embarrassing story I'm gonna tell today, but it ends all heartwarmingly, so it's OK. This past Saturday, I spent about six hours in a comic book shop. Lemme clarify that statement. I spent six hours in a row, in the same comic book shop. This past Saturday.

Says something about a person, huh?

But, in my defense there was the biggest sale in the store's history, and a good buddy of mine was in charge of said sale, and I told him I'd spend some time and hang out, and maybe even help out if need be.

Of course, mostly becasue I'm just not very good at a great many things, my buddy needed no help from me whatsoever. Regardless of that fact, I stayed at the shop pretty much from open to close.

Now, sure, I spent quite a while pouring through back issues and graphic novels finding some really great deals and spending way too much money, but I also talked to a ton of different people.

Different, but like-minded people.

Comics fans, all. And some gamers and sports card collectors mixed in as well. But, essentially, people with a very similar mentality when it comes to their fandom of choice. And I have to say, it was a lot of fun.

Sad as that sounds (spending a whole day in a comics shop) I had a really good time. Becasue I don't have much more than an hour a week in which to visit my LCS, there are many people I see once every few months, and even in one case, a guy I hadn't seen in almost five years.

Actually, that guy was a good dude named Dan, and he used to own a comic shop not far from where I live. And, when I first started getting into comics, Dan's was the shop where I'd buy my books. And on Saturday I got to tell him that he had a pretty big part in my comics education, and his store was a main reason why I still read comics today.

I told Dan this, and I got to thank him for that, and he told me how much he appreciated it, and I thought that was cool. I hadn't seen Dan since his shop sadly closed its doors those five years back, but he recognized me and we talked for a bit.

And I guess that's what I wanted to get across in this post. I spent maybe a half hour a week at this guy's store over five years ago, but even so, he remembered me and we got to talking about comics, and work, and whatever. And I guess that says a lot for a hobby like ours--a hobby that is too often mocked and ridiculed by people who have clearly never read Watchmen or Dark Knight or The Copybook Tales or The Goon or Box Office Poison or Bone or Sandman.

And I know I spend (too) many words on this blog screaming about how great comics are to anyone who'll listen to me, and I spend way too much time playfully (and sometimes not so playfully!) picking on the hardest of the hardcore fanboys out there.

But Saturday really drove home the fact that ours is a good, and even close-knit community of like-minded people. And even though you and I have never met, well, if and when we do, at least we know we'll have something in common.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Exfanding Review: Superman: Birthright

Let me say this right now: I am not, and never shall be, a Superman fan. Anybody who's ever played through a video game using an invincibility cheat code knows that, while being indestructible might be fun for a while, the game ultimately becomes rather dull because there's no challenge. And whenever a little green rock shuts off Superman's God mode, he's a pansy. And if I wanted to read a story about a pansy, I'd go back and look through my middle school memoirs.

It doesn't help that I don't really care about the other main characters. As far as I've seen, Jimmy Olsen is just a dude, and Lois Lane really isn't my type. And, limited as my Superman exposure has been, the only Superman villain I've ever seen is Lex Luthor, who is just a dude. Okay, so I've seen a single cameo by Brainiac, but there were so many other superheroes there at the time that he very well could have been a Green Lantern villain for all I knew.

Superman: Birthright coverAnd, on a personal level, Superman's just not that interesting to me. I don't mind "perfect" characters who don't really have any flaws, but I've never picked up any personality vibes from Superman other than the HERO vibe, which is the vibe I get from most superHEROES anyhow. Based on what I've seen, Superman is--after taking away all of his powers--just a dude.

Despite all this, I still decided to give Superman a try. I chose Superman: Birthright, which is a retelling of Superman's origin story with a hefty dose of Smallville.

starts off with the obligatory scene of two desperate parents on the collapsing planet Krypton in which they strap their baby to a rocket and launch him into space for safekeeping. Fast-forward to that infant, now Clark Kent, as a young man who's trying to juggle being a hero with keeping his powers secret amidst a particluarly volatile ethnic conflict in West Africa.

From there, Birthright goes on to establish how Clark Kent first ended up at the Daily Planet, how he first met the alliterative likes of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, how he decided on that bright blue costume, and how putting on glasses clearly makes him someone other than Superman.

There's plenty of action, of course, but one of Birthright's greatest strengths is how it develops the characters and their relationships. We see Clark's parents as actual parents who have undergone the joys and hardships of having an unstoppable alien for a son. We see Lois Lane as a tough-talking woman with a passion for her work. We see Lex Luthor not so much as a villain but as an extraordinary man whose life circumstances have twisted him to seek whatever he wants through any means necessary.

Superman: Birthright sample page of Superman confronting Lex LuthorHeck, I was rooting for Lex Luthor half the time. Birthright makes him out to be a pretty awesome and complex character, and so much more than just a dude.

Jimmy Olsen, however, is still just a dude.

So Birthright does pretty well in the story department, at least as far as the characters go. It hasn't radically changed my view of Superman, but I at least appreciate the key players a little bit more, and it certainly has inspired me to become a criminal mastermind like Lex Luthor when I grow up. He's my new hero.

It's the art that's really hit or miss with me. Most of the time, the art is quite good, and there are certainly pages and panels that really capture the sheer power of Superman, but I have issues with the way the faces are often drawn. They often look... unnatural. And I'm really not fond of the sort-of-futuristic-but-not-really costumes of the Kryptonians, but that could just be me. The "S" that Superman wears is the symbol of his people, but it just looks strange with the Kryptonians. Like if the sickle on the flag of the USSR were paired with the Arm & Hammer baking soda logo.

Other than that, the artwork looks great.

What I'm getting at here is that Superman: Birthright is a safe bet if you're looking to get into Superman comics, or if you're looking for a fresh take on Supes' origin story. You might not like everything about the story, and you might not like everything about the art, but it's good enough overall for the guy who dislikes Superman to say he kinda liked it, so that should count for something.

Superman: Birthright sample page of Clark Kent flying

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Rant Time

Since Nathaniel's post yesterday was both grounded and sincere, I figure it only makes sense to follow up today with something much...less...grounded. But still quite sincere. Quite dorkily (and somewhat pathetically) sincere. So, here goes.

There are things in life that annoy me. Things like flat tires, stolen credit card numbers, and people who talk during movies. There are things in life that anger me, like rising interest rates, unfathomable cost of living increases, and Ewoks.

And then there are things in life that downright make me want to rant like a madman. And, this past Wednesday (new comics day) something happened that triggered this need to scream bloody murder. But, before I can do so, a little back story is necessary.

Now, it's well known around these parts that I am a fan of Neil Gaiman's writing, and that I am a fan of the fictional comic character, Batman. So, what this boils down to is that, if you have Neil Gaiman write a Batman comic, then you pretty much have Alex's money.

Quite simple, really.

And, wouldn't ya know it, this week saw part one of Neil Gaiman's two-part Batman story entitled Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? hit comic shops. There's the awesome Andy Kubert cover to the book, right down there:

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? cover
Please take another moment to reflect upon the awesomeness of the cover. Done? OK, we'll proceed then. As you might expect, come Wednesday morning, Alex was excited to purchase the above comic book. And, since I'm annoying myself by using the third person, I'll stop. And apologize. So, sorry about that.

Anywho, I was pretty psyched to read this book, and it was going to be the first book I picked up off the shelf at my LCS. And, though I typically don't have time to read through my stack of comics until the weekend, the plan was to read the issue that very night so it wouldn't be spoiled online.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

In this case, said plans were ruined by a speculator (the lowest form of anything, anywhere, by the way) coming into the store and purchasing 20 copies of the book.


The store ran out of its stock by the time I arrived, so the owner made sure to order more immediately, and they should arrive in time for this weekend. Which is completely fine with me, since like I said, I usually don't read the books until then, anyway. And, yes, I have successfully managed to NOT have the story spoiled...well, not yet, anyway.

And, though I was a bit perturbed by not being able to get my greasy little hands on a copy of the book, I certainly wasn't angry at the store. What were they going to do--NOT sell product? Especially in these times, every sale matters.

Instead, my rage is squarely (and appropriately) concentrated on the speculator. Because he is a jerk. Speculators (and greedy companies) did their very best to kill comics in the 90s, so whenever I hear stories like this, it makes my skin crawl.

What the heck is the guy gonna do with 20 copies of a book that's not in limited quantities, and is readily available? Sell them on Ebay for...cover price? Get all of them graded, then sell them for...about the cost of grading? Build a little fort to stave off an Ewok attack?

Stuff like that baffles my mind, man. And it leads me to this week's Exfanding Your Horizons Public Service Announcement:

Don't be a speculator. Just read your comics.

OK. Rant over. Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Slight Detour

I'm not planning on making a habit of this, but today I feel it's necessary for me to take a break from our regular geekcentricity in order to mention a bit about what's going on in my own life. With any luck, what I'm going to say will connect to what we normally blog about enough for me to get away with it this time.

I've got a lot of writing projects on my plate right now. In addition to keeping up with this blog, I've been working on a new column for next month's GameCola as well as a review of Mega Man 4, which is my all-time favorite Mega Man game and, as such, is the most difficult to write about. Beyond trying to do the game justice, I'm having a tough time making it funny, which is what GameCola's all about.

Furthermore, I've got an FAQ for the PC game Jetpack that I've been trying to work on enough to release an updated version, but progress has been excruciatingly slow because I'm rarely in a mood to both play computer games and write something informative simultaneously.

I find that I've been especially worn down because I've been spending a good portion of each day searching for a new job, and scrolling hopelessly through one job after another that you're just not suited to is enough to drain the creative juice out of anybody.

So I've been taking time to relax by playing video games and reading comics. I'm playing Final Fantasy VIII right now--my first foray into the realm of 3-D Final Fantasy games--but when that's done I'm going to be reviewing that for GameCola. I'm ready to start the final episode of Sam & Max: Season One, but I'm holding off because I know that I'm going to want to write a review for GameFAQs once I finish.

I've sort of put comics on hold, though, because I'm trying to read Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost, and I just can't bring myself to pick it up and finish it. It's not bad, but I really don't think Wonder Woman is my kind of comic. Too much mythology for my tastes.

Oh, and I've been struggling with technology issues in an attempt to be a part of a GameCola podcast. It turns out that finding a relatively inexpensive computer microphone that actually works--I'm not talking about high quality, mind you, just about basic functionality--is more difficult than I ever imagined.

Despite what it sounds like, GameCola stuff hasn't completely taken over my life, but I've been focusing on it so much because there are deadlines, tangible results (well, as tangible as anything on the Internet can be), and other people counting on me, which are all things that I've been subconsciously missing about having work. I thrive on being productive in some way--accomplishing or producing something--which is why moving at a glacial pace through FFVIII and not having any luck with endless hours of job searching haven't been particularly uplifting. (Not that FFVIII has been un-fun, mind you.)

But I could at least work on the blog, right? Sure, but writing up introductory posts to hobbies and fandoms requires more effort and brainpower than I'm usually able to muster these days, and I've barely left my computer long enough to find anything new to review. This blog is a great outlet for my creativity and geekiness, but it's a challenge for me to write freely when I've got other things weighing on my mind. And I thank and commend Alex for picking up the slack for me these past two weeks.

So I'm just asking that you bear with me for the next few... several... however long it takes for me to get back into full-on blogging mode. If you've been thinking about contributing a guest post, now would be a most welcome time for that. And telling all your friends about Exfanding Your Horizons would be even more welcome, because we'd reach 5000 hits that much quicker and I could look forward to subject Alex to another one of my fandoms even sooner.

Thanks for reading and sticking with us, and I really do hope you'll keep coming back. And that you'll tell all of your friends. That's key. I've got posts about FoxTrot, board games, Superman, and personal experiences with the Nintendo Wii in mind for the near future, in addition to whatever other randomness might arise, so don't expect another one of these heart-to-hearts for a good long while.

Now, get us out of here, Mr. Sulu. Best speed to Krypton.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Exfanding Review: Hulk Vs.

Hulk vs. posterLast week I picked up the latest Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD release, entitled Hulk Vs. So today, I'm going to write a quick review of said movie. Mostly because I have no idea what else to write about. Oh, and actually, this review is...almost...topical.

Well, way more topical than reviewing... say...Star Wars.


Anywho, on to the review. Now, I like cartoons (The Simpsons being my favorite show and all), but mostly I get tired of cartoons about comics characters very quickly.

Don't get me wrong, I loved (and still love) Batman: The Animated Series, which many fans consider the pinnacle of that form of storytelling. However, other than that show and choice episodes of Justice League and maybe the 1990s Fox X-Men cartoon series, I always hated how the TV show adaptations of my favorite characters seemed to ring so hollow.

And, yes, I get that cartoons are for kids, but so are comics, right? (He says, sarcastically...and a little meanly...before making himself a little sad.)

But this DVD is different, as it is written and produced by Marvel Comics writers, for, well...Marvel Comics readers. Out of the series of movies released by Marvel Animated, Hulk Vs. is certainly the most "adult" of the flicks, what with plenty of blood and even some Bart Simpson-esque light swearing.

Wolverine in Hulk Vs.That said, let's backtrack so I can explain things a bit better. While the title is rather odd and tough to write in the middle of a sentence in fear that readers will think I've reached a premature end to said sentence, Hulk Vs. (this is not the end of this sentence, by the by) is actually two movies.

In one movie, Hulk fights Wolverine. And, well, Hulk smashes Wolverine. Quite a bit, actually. And in the other movie, Hulk smashes Thor. And most of Asgard.

I'll start with my favorite of the two flicks, Hulk Vs. Wolverine. Now, while the story opens with the title characters slugging it out, this film is more of a Wolverine back story than anything else. And, as such, it is quite good. We see bits and pieces of Wolvie's past in the Weapon X Program and we also see former Weapon X teammates, such as Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red, and Deadpool.

Yep--Deadpool! Everyone's favorite merc-with-a-mouth.

Now, for those of you who just read that last paragraph and went..."uh, when did Alex stop talking about things I know existed?"...well, that's the main point I want to make about this film.

See, it's kind of an inside-joke thing. So, for fans familiar with the Marvel Universe, and with Wolverine and Deadpool specifically, this is a must-watch movie. I loved it, as they are two of my favorite comics characters. And instead of going into a big long background post on the two characters, I'll instead reccommend that you go out and read the following comics, as a much better intro.

To get into Wolverine, I'd suggest reading Greg Rucka's first run on the character's main book, which relaunched in 2003. You can check out the single issues as well as the trades here. There's also the classic 1982 Wolverine mini-series, by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and you can check out the classic cover art to issue one, below.

Wolverine comic book miniseriesAnd for Deadpool stories, Daniel Way's current series is quite good, and very funny, so I'd suggest checking that out. It's also been suggested that I go back and read the various Cable and Deadpool trades, which are also out now.

All that aside, back to the movie review. Like I mentioned, this film is more violent than others Marvel has put out, and when you have these types of characters involved, the violence is not only appropriate for such a film, but necessary. So, yes, there is blood splattering and limb-tearing and gun wounds to'll see.

And all that stuff makes this movie a keeper for Marvel fans. Oh, and Deadpool really does steal the show, with some of the funniest one-liners in comics movie history.

Hulk vs. WolverineSo, go out and grab this if you're into these characters, or even if you'd like to get a little taste of Weapon X before the Wolverine feature film starring Hugh Jackman hits theaters in May.

Now, onto the second movie on this DVD, Hulk Vs. Thor. The plot can be summed up in Thor's own words when he says, dramatically and with more than a little dread in his voice, "The Hulk has come to Asgard."

Hulk smashes stuffI'll start right off by saying that I enjoyed this flick a lot. Way more than I thought I would, actually. Like I said, I'm a big Wolverine fan, so I knew that movie would be right up my alley, but while I like Thor, I'm just not that familiar with his background and supporting cast.

I mean, I know Asgard is his home and his evil half-brother Loki typically tries to mess things up for him, but other than that Thor is a bit of a mystery to me. Even so, I found myself pretty invested in this flick.

The art is great, and the scenes of Asgard are striking and everything you'd expect from Marvel Comics. In terms of storytelling, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and we have some nice Bruce Banner emotional beats in the story. Certainly more than the Wolverine flick, Thor focuses quite a bit on the Hulk, and Bruce Banner, while still managing to tell a great Thor story.

And now for the Classic Alex Wrap-Up, because today's post is quickly becoming a short novel.

Both movies have some flat out great action sequences (shockingly violent, even) and while the premise of the flicks is basically "Hulk fights everyone," there's great story and character-driven plots behind both.

So, I say to thee, go forth them. Or Hulk will smash you.

'Kay. Bye, now.

Hulk vs. Thor

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

...Of Trilogies and Ewoks

Take note, dear readers, for, on this day have I ridden to the top of Space Mountain and seen the Face of Lucas.

Or, in other words, I have finally finished watching the original Star Wars trilogy. Twenty-plus years of skillfully, happily avoiding anything to do with said movies, dashed by three nights of...well, watching said movies.

But that's OK, because I have to admit that I liked all three films, despite the fact that sci-fi/space fantasy isn't exactly my thing. That said, I do in fact have a ranking of the three movies, and I think this post will focus on that simply because it's kinda pointless to give a plot summary "review" of three movies that everyone (including me!) on this planet has already seen.

Before I do so, however, I would like to state that I found the movies and their overreaching story points to be wholly compelling and, quite frankly, these flicks were fun to look at. Now, while I'm in no rush to see the prequels, I would happily re-watch any of these three movies, which I think is saying something since I refused to even acknowledge their existence for so many years.

And now, because nobody asked for it, here's my list from favorite to least favorite: 1. Empire 2. New Hope 3. Return of the Jedi. Now, OK, I know this is probably blasphemous or whatever, but here's why I ranked them as such.

I felt like Empire was the best film of the three, and the overall sense of despair at the end of the film was...welcome in some ways. Now, that makes me sound like a not-very-well-adjusted individual and, while that is likely the case, all I'm sayin' is that sometimes it's nice when the bad guys win.

No Disney ending, no Snoopy dance finale.

And, sometimes, we need that. Now, besides the whole dark peek into Alex's twisted mindscape thing, I really found the teacher/student relationship between Yoda and Luke to be engaging and interesting. And, even though I was well aware of the reveal at the end of the film, I was still intrigued by what I was seeing and emotionally invested in the characters.

So, that's why I dug Empire so much. Now, onto the blasphemous part. I list Return of the Jedi as my least favorite of the Star Wars movies for one reason.

And that one reason rhymes with Ewoks.

Jedi was fast becoming my favorite of the three flicks, when, all of a sudden...well, you know. Little Ewoks doing little Ewok-y things. And that, while not ruining the movie outright for me, did change my opinion of it.

Oh, and I also wished that Darth Vader turned around and killed Luke Skywalker at the very last.

No Snoopy dance, indeed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Exfanding Review: The Goon

Goon punches lots of zombiesIf it weren't for Alex, I can assure you that there's virtually no chance I ever would have picked up The Goon. It's got zombies. And vampires. And while I enjoy throwing such things at my D&D players, I really don't care for the whole monster/horror genre.

I mean, just look at that picture up there. Does that look like the kind of thing I'd use as my desktop wallpaper? Heck, I wouldn't even post that picture on my blog!

But, as Alex has pointed out in his introduction to this series, The Goon is not so easily categorized. Which is why I not only read through everything he gave me, but also why I enjoyed it.

The Goon Lagarto Hombre coverFirst of all, it's funny. Funny goes a long way with me. I'm not talking about clever wordplay and exquisite puns; I'm talking about things so unexpected and absurd that you can't help but laugh.

The issue pictured on the left, for example, features a phenomenal parody of the Giant Monster Battle genre, starring a Godzilla-like character who spews out some of the most hilariously bizarre dialogue I've ever seen.

Also in The Goon you'll find comedic references of all sorts, ridiculous fake advertisements, and even a Hellboy cameo. Plus, the 1930s gangster feel that pervades the comic just makes everything a little bit funnier and even further removed from what's normal. The humor varies from random to disgusting to borderline offensive (depending on how you feel about hobos), but it's always fresh.

One of the things I appreciate the most about The Goon is how absolutely anything can happen. Between the magic of a zombie priest and the crazy inventions of a dangerously brilliant scientist, there's no creature or situation that can't be concocted.

What's amazing is that Eric Powell ties all this insanity together into a cohesive world that has history and depth. As The Goon goes on, there are very real moments of compassion for the characters, and some big revelations and neat plot twists that make The Goon more meaningful than being simply a "monster/horror comedy" series.

Once again, The Goon defies such simple categorization.

No matter how absurd, disgusting, or dark The Goon may be at times, it's so inventively written that one can't help but continue reading. I haven't become a raving Goon fanboy, and I'm not about to start buying my own copies when I can still borrow them from Alex, but I can honestly say that I like The Goon and am happy to have been introduced to it.

The Goon cast in an old-timey photograph
[Images from]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

An Introduction to The Goon

Two covers of The GoonAs per our number-of-hits-wagering-game-thing that Nathaniel and I have going with this blog, it has come time for Nathaniel to sit down and read the entire run of Dark Horse's comics series, The Goon.

And read it he has.

However, before Nathaniel launches into his official review of the series, he asked me if I would be so kind as to write a short intro about the book, which, of course, is my favorite comic of all time.

So I will try. Now, I've written about The Goon before, and even on an official comic review site, and you can check that article out right here. I point to this article (for the umpteenth time) because I like the way I described the series in its opening paragraph.

But, to simply link to an article already written would be cheating and, as you may have noted yesterday, I managed to cheat quite a bit on my Empire Strikes Back "review." So, instead I will write an introduction proper for, in my opinion, the best comic book on stands today.

However, since I have tried in the past to convince Exfanding readers to pick up the book, and I've talked about some plot elements and things, I figure this post would be best served as a how-to guide for getting started with the series.

So, let's begin with the obvious question, then.

"What is The Goon?" you may be asking. "Well," I'd answer, "I'm not quite sure, actually. I mean, it's a lot of things, really."

The Goon The Vampire Dame Had to Die coverIt's a comic series about a mob enforcer named Goon and his maniacal little bug-eyed pal, Franky. It's the story of a town living in constant fear of a corrupted preacher who raises the dead. It's a lushly-penciled world inhabited by some of the craziest, scariest, and funniest characters in comics today.

The Goon is a strange mix of horror and noir wrapped up in a monster smash-up comic of the past, all thrown together with elements of the classic gangster story and avant-garde humor.

And it's all drawn (beautifully, hauntingly, and hysterically) by Eric Powell, who is also the writer and creator of the series.

The Goon, which reaches its tenth anniversary issue in March, is handily collected into trades, starting with Volume Zero: Rough Stuff, which features Powell's earliest Goon stories.

Now, compared to later volumes, the art in this trade might be considered a bit rough at the edges (hence the name) but the stories are a great peek into the twisted mind of Eric Powell, and story points that recur throughout the series are raised.

The Goon Rough Stuff coverAfter this initial three issue run (originally published through Avatar Press, then re-collected and now sold by Dark Horse Comics) Powell decided to self-publish the series under his own imprint, called Albatross Exploding Funnybooks. This venture lasted four issues, and they are collected in the trade, entitled Nothin' But Misery. Here's a picture of the cover, to make things especially easy.

The Goon Nothin' But Misery coverNow, I would suggest that someone looking to get into the series should start right here with Misery. It serves as a nice introduction to the world of the Goon and Franky, and you really don't need much in the way of backstory. The one-shot tales contained in this volume are not essential to the over-reaching plot of The Goon, but like I said, this is a good place to get a feel for things and see if it's your cup of tea.

Now, the next trade, Volume 2: My Murderous Childhood, is where the action really picks up. This trade, and all subsequent volumes, comprise the Dark Horse run of Goon issues, and the real story starts here.

The Goon My Murderous Childhood coverAs the title indicates, we learn about Goon's past, and the events that have shaped him into the character he is today. As the volumes continue, you'll notice that the quality of Powell's art improves seemingly with each issue, and by the time you make your way to the current Goon stories, you'll agree that Powell is one of comics' greatest talents.

Now that you know where to start, I think I'd like to briefly say why I love this series so much. It is one of very few comics out there that I read on a month-to-month basis that I also pick up in trade form. Now, while some may think it's simply crazy-talk to buy something twice, I'll say this in my defense--because I own the trades, I can give them out to friends and hopefully get them hooked on comics. That's how much faith I have that people will like this book if they would give it a shot.

So there.

And I can proudly say that The Goon is the only comic I have ever managed to collect a complete run of, and quite frankly, it is the only book I've ever felt the need to seriously collect.

I love The Goon because of its horror undertones, and its great characterization, and its beautiful and unique art and its avant-garde style, and its laugh-out-loud hilarity. So, if you're tired of the overabundance of superhero-fare out on the market today, or you simply want to try something completely different, then I encourage you to pick up one of the trades, or even a single issue off the stands.

And now that I can't yell anymore from my soapbox, we'll end with a quick announcement. Sometime in the very near future, Nathaniel will post his review of the series, and his impressions on the comic. (And he better have liked it. All I'm sayin')

But for now, I'd like to leave you with this page from issue 8 of the series. (Enlarged for your convenience.)

The Goon page sample where Goon punches out a big lady