Sunday, January 31, 2010

Month in Review: January 2010

January was a month of significant changes. First, we started pretending like we're a real website and got our own domain, Second, we started posting on Sundays, which were formerly declared a blogging holiday. Third, Alex started up a new naming convention for his weekly comics news feature, Waiting for Wednesday. Fourth, if it weren't for a guest post called Kendo: Modern-Day Swordplay, we would have lost our license to call this blog "Exfanding Your Horizons," because we hardly did anything of the sort; neither Alex nor I formally introduced a single fandom this month.

However, we did plenty of other kinds of writing:

- Alex's New Year's resoutions for me, and my New Year's resolutions for Alex
- Our Year in Review, a retrospective look at our favorite posts of 2009
- A joint review of Seven Samurai, the final installment in our introduction to the films of Akira Kurosawa
- Volume Two of Waiting for Wednesday, issues one, two, three, and four
- A review of the book Comic Con: 40 Years
- Alex's tale of how bad he is at video games
- A celebration of the return of GameCola, a video game humor website for which I am a staff writer
- A review of Superman: Red Son, an alternate-reality story where Kal-El ended up in Soviet Russia instead of a farm in Kansas
- A discussion about Star Trek playsets and action figures, parts one and two
- A celebration of our domain change to
- A discussion of spoilers in comics
- A review of the James Cameron film Avatar
- A discussion of how reprinted comics are affecting shelf space where comics are sold
- A story about a fun day trip Alex and I took, and the good things to come out of it
- A lament about the challenges I face in recording Mega Man videos for YouTube
- A random Sunday post about the ridiculous Italian Spiderman
- An unexpected interlude about how my little sister is engaged
- A story about my rise, fall, and gradual return to being an avid reader
- A tale of reading comics during a power outage
- A discussion of the Apple iPad, especially as it relates to the comics industry
- A celebration of the blog reaching 15,000 hits

Saturday, January 30, 2010

15,000 Hits!

By the time you read this, we may or may not have reached 15,000 hits. This is wishful thinking based on our current hit total. I'll be out of town this weekend, so I'm writing this post in advance in the hopes that maybe you, our loyal readers, won't make me look like a big fat liar.

So... get hitting, if you please.

Admittedly, watching the inscrutable number on the hit counter gradually rise has lost some of its excitement since we got to 10,000 hits; I think that extra digit at the front is throwing of the aesthetics or something.

Also, our readership has greatly expanded since the days when the only person driving up the hit counter was Alex, who was checking to see if anyone new had visited the blog in the past five hours--we no longer send enthusiastic e-mails to each other every time the hit counter goes up and it's not Alex.

Still, we started a tradition back when we reached 1000 hits--Alex and I had a bet whether or not we'd make it to 1000 hits by the end of the year; the winner of the bet got to expose the other guy to a new fandom, no objections allowed.

Since then we've taken turns getting each other involved in our favorite fandoms every time we reach such a milestone, but we've had to make adjustments to accomodate for the increased rate of hits. I could very well be making this all up at this point, but 15,000 hits was my turn, and then we'll probably wait for 20,000 for Alex to make his next move, and then we'll shift it to every 10,000 hits.

That's all in the future, though. Let's talk about right now. Assuming that "right now" is a time when we've actually reached 15,000 hits.

Here's the eternal challenge: Most of my favorite fandoms involve outer space or playing video games. Alex doesn't like outer space and he doesn't really play video games.

Tough noogies, as they say.

I'm sure I'll come up with something not-spacey and not-gamey for next time, but I would be remiss to hold out any longer on showing Alex at least one of my two absolute favorite sci-fi shows.

The options on the table: Star Trek and Firefly/Serenity.

Star Trek is my favorite fandom, period. (Mega Man just barely gets second place.) While Alex has seen a little bit of the original Trek, there are some key gaps in his education. There are plenty of ways to go about getting someone into Star Trek, but I'm looking at this as my one shot to give Alex an appreciation of Star Trek without overwhelming him with space, which is omnipresent in Star Trek.

Should we go with Star Trek, my plan would be to show Alex a few classic episodes of The Original Series such as "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "City on the Edge of Forever" (unless he has seen them, in which case I'll pick others). Then I'll sit him down to watch Star Trek II, III, and IV, as they make up a nice big movie story arc, plus II and IV are traditionally the most popular of the movies, and I know Alex will like IV because there is very little space.

If Alex so much as feigns interest in Star Trek by the time this is all over, I may continue on and show him a handful of Next Generation episodes, followed by Generations and First Contact. This, like the Star Wars prequels that he still hasn't watched, will most likely be a secondary project to pull on him when he least expects it some time down the road.


The alternative is that I could show Alex all 14 episodes of Firefly and the movie Serenity, which might go over better because it's essentially a western that happens to be set in space. If I can actually con Alex into watching Next Generation as well, both the Star Trek project and the Firefly/Serenity project would take roughly the same amount of time.

Besides, we just watched five films by Akira Kurosawa; if we watch one, maybe two more of his films, we'll have spent the same amount of time there. Plus, Alex had me read the full run of The Goon, so don't whine that this is gonna take forever.

So there you have it. Star Trek or Firefly/Serenity. I'll leave it up to you to decide. Stew on it a while, and I'll be putting up a poll (hopefully) tonight so that you can weigh in.

Choose wisely. I might never get Alex to watch sci-fi again.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Apple's iPad: The Game Changer?

Apple iPadHear any big, geeky news lately?

Remember when Brian Bendis said the Internet would "crack in half" over the surprises in Marvel's House of M mini-series? Well, finally, that prediction has come true.

Yesterday, (either good or evil, depending on your view of things) overlord Steve Jobs unveiled the much anticipated Apple tablet. Er, I mean, iPad. And, just in case Apple was worried about others not giving this new piece of technology the proper amount of hype, Apple itself is calling the iPad a "magical and revolutionary" product.

And I guess, if you think about the world just five years ago...the iPad is pretty revolutionary. If you think of the world 20 years ago, the iPad is pretty magical. Whenever I use my iPhone (which is pretty much three-quarters of always), I can't help but think that making a flying car would be simpler than figuring out how to make the phone work.

It's incredible that the technology exists for such a device, and I think the iPad is Step One in taking the smart phone and the laptop to a whole new level. Between smart phones (not sure if that's one word, or two, actually) and paper-thin laptops and touch screen capabilities, the stuff that's out there makes most of the tech in the Batcave anachronistic in comparison.
Detective ComicsAnd, I have to say. I'm pretty excited by the announcement, and I want one. Now.

For you see, I've converted to the Cult of Mac over the past year or so, and while the transition was a slow one, I'm glad I've made the switch. I have a Mac Air laptop and an iPhone, and I love them both as if they were my children. Meanwhile, my clunky little Dell PC sitting on my desk at home manages to annoy me every day of my life.

So, yeah, when Apple unveils the new shiny, I'm usually pretty jazzed.

And the iPad is definitely new and shiny. There are a few questions I have about the product, and I really need to research it (and possibly wait until the first wave is out and an updated OS ships by next year) before taking the plunge.

That, and my inclination to believe that all machinery is inherently evil will add at least a month or two to my waiting time. What can I say...I've seen Terminator one too many times.
Superman ComputerAnyworlddomination, I want to eliminate my desktop PC completely, if I can, and I think the iPad might just push me in that direction. Like I said, I need to read up on the device, and I need to have a hands-on run of it in-store when it ships.

But for now, there's nothing but speculation and pointless reviews online about a product we won't actually see until March, and I'd like to chime in. I don't have much else to do today, and I like jumping on bandwagons, so I figured this would be a fun, easy post.

Then I started to really think about the potential ramifications that the release of the iPad might have on the comics industry, and I realized that whole "easy" part will have to be thrown out the window.

But I'll get to that in a minute.

I think the iPad will do a couple of things, and their impact will be felt immediately. First, digital readers are going to get punched in the face. Kindle and nook do not offer full color on their screens, so right off the bat the iPad has a major advantage when it comes to downloading magazines and newspapers directly onto the device.

Second, since almost every promotional image I've seen of the iPad has featured the front page of the New York Times to show what it can do, I'd say the potential for newspapers is great.

Third, netbooks are going to start looking a lot like laser discs. For just about a hundred bucks more than the average netbook out there, one can buy an iPad and use it for a great many things that are not at all possible on a netbook.

To me, those are the most obvious effects this new reader/netbook/phone/word processor/video player/iTunes-enabled device will have. The less obvious affects will come into play in the comics industry--and I don't think Apple really cares about the comics industry all that much.

There's been a lot of talk on comics podcasts and Web sites about how the reader will change comics, since its screen is perfect comics-reading size and it provides incredibly high quality images.

Personally, I am amazingly conflicted when it comes to this subject. I don't like digital readers, but I get them. I understand the need/want for them, and I completely agree with many of the arguments for devices like Kindle and nook.

They save space and the downloads cost less than the physical book.

Still, I'm a paper man. It (was) my business for the better part of the last four years, and I was a victim of the shift to digital. The publishing industry as a whole is at a crossroads--mostly because people in the industry were at the very same crossroads five or six years ago, but simply didn't want to face the facts.

I love actually owning, and holding, and reading books. And I hope that generations to come won't be robbed of the experience a reader has with a novel or a comic book. There's something special and warm and fuzzy about re-reading a dog-earred copy of one's favorite book, and to lose that feeling would be tragic.

All this, of course, is not to mention the impact that might be had on brick-and-mortar comics shops.
Midtown Comics
[Photo:, Secret Lives of Comic Store Employees]

But the future is knocking on the present's door, and it's time for the publishing industry (comics, especially) to get up off the couch and see who's there.

So, to make sure I get to all of my points on this thing, here's a list of questions I have about the effects this new reader might have on comics.

1. Will all the publishers create product for the device?
2. If and when publishers fall in line, what will their price point be for single issues? For collected editions?
3. How will this affect indy comics?
4. What about Diamond?
5. And, seriously, what about comics shops???
6. How about the collector's market? How will shrinking production numbers of actual paper product affect collectibility?

Those are the biggest questions I have about the iPad and comics. Obviously, I don't know the answers to all of them, but I have an opinion on each. So, okay, let's take these one at a time.

1. Will all the publishers create product for the device?

While DC is staying mum on the subject for the moment, Marvel is not. According to comments made by a Marvel executive yesterday...they will not be rushing into production of iBook-enabled product. Check out the following interview, from Newsarama, then come on back.

Don't let Marvel fool you, folks.

I think it's safe to say that every comics retailer in America shuddered yesterday when Steve Jobs was demonstrating the iPad. And Marvel knows they need to assuage the fears of retailers. Now, I've heard some very good arguments on podcasts about how Marvel and DC should embrace this new media, and if they don't, it'll mean sure death in the market.

And I think Marvel and DC both know that. But, since the device isn't even street ready for 60 days, I think the two biggest comics companies are playing it cool for the time being.

I'd bet the house that there is going to be product from both companies on the reader very soon. Personally, I think the only question will be if they have both single issues and collected editions up for sale.

Which leads me to...

2. If and when publishers fall in line, what will their price point be for single issues? For collected editions?

Here's the rub. Price point is the one, key issue that will either make or break the iPad as a viable comics reader. A single issue, one time download (not a PDF that can be saved forever on the device) simply cannot cost more than $1.00. If the price point creeps any higher than that...what's the point? If the floppies sell for $1.00 a download, the upside for readers is enormous.

Think about it. The same stories, for cheaper, and without the hassle of storage.

But if the downloads go for the same price as a floppy, then I don't see the point in not buying the physical product.

3. How will this affect indy comics?

This is the comics contingent with the most to gain from the iPad, I think. A while back, Diamond (the comics industry's biggest, and really, only, distributor) announced that, for a book to be included in their catalogue, it must sell a certain number of copies.

This new mandate led to many indy comics creators and self publishers pulling out of store distribution. Why? Because they simply couldn't sustain the numbers that Diamond was demanding.

This was a huge blow to indy comics, and many, many talented people were left scratching their heads as to how to get their product out to others. Because digital readers make printing physical copies wholly unnecessary (and therefore eliminate a huge portion of the overhead for making comics), the iPad may be just the thing to boost indy comics sales again.

4. What about Diamond?

As much as I'd like to say, "what goes around, comes around," in this instance I really can't. Diamond is big and lumbering, and I think they'll live without the inclusion of the indy books. So small press creators shouldn't run through the streets of Maryland throwing I told ya so's at Diamond's offices.

What Diamond can't sustain, however, is if the Big Boys head to the digital aisle in full force.

If comics go mostly (or even partially) digital for good, then Diamond has a major problem on its hands. Sure, they'll still sell hardcovers and statues and toys, but, if the industry paradigm shifts too far, where exactly will they be selling this stuff to?

5. And, seriously, what about comics shops???

Ah, yes. For any who feel that digital comics distribution is a victimless crime, may I turn your attention to your local comics shop and the nice folks who run it? What in the world are they going to do if comics go digital?

Can they sell digital product in their stores? Can record shops sell digital music in theirs? Yeah. I see Bad Things on the horizon for comics shops.


6. How about the collector's market? How will shrinking production numbers of actual paper product affect collectibility?

Marvel and DC comics sell in the tens of thousands. Not a huge number, but high enough so that modern issues are virtually worthless. There's plenty of supply to meet demand. However, think about what could happen if there are many, many fewer physical, paper comic books being produced.

Take the following as an example.

Let's say that Marvel moves 60,000 units of New Avengers digitally for a dollar, and only manages to sell 10,000 actual books, priced at $3.99. What, then, would that do to the collector's market?

In this example, five, ten years down the road, there will be a tiny number of paper comics available to the secondary market. Many fewer copies of these comics will be in existence than even some of the rare Silver Age titles that today go for exorbitant prices.

Will the paper products be worth more? And will comics shops be able to survive dealing only in the back issue market?

Jeez. I dunno.

I do know that many stores are ordering many fewer copies of floppies and trades and statues and, well, pretty much everything, as the market currently stands today. Digital comics in a hip and cool distribution method mean that new readers--in stores, I mean--will be non existent.

New readers, in general, will most certainly go up. People download stupid, useless Apps to their iPods because they're "cool." They'll do the same with comics, I guarantee you that.

So, in conclusion (since I'm getting dizzy), I'll leave you with this. The comics industry may have finally found a way to introduce new readers--new, younger readers--to their characters. Actually, they didn't find it--it kinda just dropped in their lap.

But how will they react? Will DC run from the new technology? Will companies like IDW and Dark Horse lead the revolution? Will the small press become the Next Big Thing? Will digital comics on the iPad change absolutely everything, or will you and I still spend our Wednesday afternoons hanging out at the counter of our favorite comics shop?

We'll see.

For now, I'm interested in your take on the matter. Because Thanos knows I've been talking for WAY too long.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blackout Reading

Eiffel Tower lightningAs mentioned in this week's (epic and brilliant) Waiting for Wednesday, Exfanding HQ went dark for a while on Monday and Tuesday. A huge storm brought with it huge winds and lots of water, and an electrical box on my, apparently.

And it took the electric company just under 24 hours to repair.

So there was plenty of time to sit around and look at the wall. No job searching, no email, no blogging, no Newarama-ing. Because I had forgotten to charge my iPhone the previous night, I was left pretty much cut off from the world.

Sure, I had a battery-operated radio, but I'm talking about being cut off from the World of Geek. 1010 WINS is a very good local station, but they don't give much help in the way of comic book news.

Nor do they mention things like what Neil Gaiman did over the weekend, or if those friendly folks on Lost ever managed to get off the island, or why the Apple Tablet might change the face of everything forever.

There was plenty of talk about downed trees and power lines and it was really rammed home that the Jets won't be going to the Super Bowl in two weeks. There was a smattering of political stuff--mostly about how the Dems hate the 'publicans, and vice versa.

But nothing--not a single thing--about Marvel's Siege mini-series, or DC's Blackest Night.

And so I came to a couple of conclusions.

Firstly, the real world is no fun. Secondly, I need to grow up. And thirdly, I thought about how I just can't imagine comics fandom without the aide (or hindrance!) of the Internet.

I started reading comics in 2003, at a time when the Internet And it was being used by creators and publishers and fans to talk about books and series and things to hate.

When I first started reading comics, I did feel like it was an insular little bubble, limited to those in the comics shops come Wednesday afternoon. Or, in my case, Thursday night, since I at first tried to avoid the whole "comic book crowd" that flooded into the local shop on Wednesday.

I know, I know. So judgemental.

But then I did some Googling, and I found a metric ton of Web sites devoted strictly to comics. And then I found official sites of writers and artists and publishers. Flash forward a few years, and there are now up-to-the-second Twitter pages that tell us what Geoff Johns had for dinner last night.

The sheer amount of stuff available online today is far, far greater than it was just under seven years ago. And the stuff that was available just under seven years ago was wholly un-thought of 14 years ago.

And it was pure science fiction 24 years ago.

For a fan in the 1980s to be able to speak directly with John Byrne, at any given point during the day, was so far out of the realm of the real that it was laughable. Today, on his forum, Byrne regularly engages his fans and even starts discussions on his own. Same goes for Peter David, who was one of the very first authors online.

While Byrne's forum is somewhat limited to fans of the artist (which is understandable!), David's has comments from those who regularly disagree with him. And, being Peter David, he usually adresses such discussions.

Yep, today you can even go online and argue with the writer of your favorite comic book. Again, the stuff of fantasy in the days of fanzines.

Brian Bendis' Jinxworld forums are some of the most popular comics spots online, featuring discussion boards for Bendis and a stable of other high profile talent. There are consistently hundreds of people on the site at any given time, and the same goes for the ComicBloc forums, which house Geoff Johns and others.

So, as I sat there in the dark, these are the things I thought of.

And when my attention span did that wonderful thing where it disappears and my mind becomes the anatomical equivalent of a hamster who has fallen off his wheel, I searched up and down for a mini book light, so I could read some comics.

And read some comics, I did.

In one sitting, I started and finished the following trades: Northlanders, volume one, by Brian Wood, Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimatum, by Brian Bendis, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, by Damon Lindeloff, and Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, by Neil Gaiman. I also started the latest novel by Charlie Huston, entitled Sleepless.

Early on Monday morning, as I usually do, I searched online for jobs. I found two that I wanted to apply for, and as I was busily tweaking my cover letter for each position, BOOP. Everything went dead.

Knowing that there wasn't anything more I could do, I actually managed to sit down and relax for a minute. I wasn't worried about potentially missing that Perfect Job that would only be posted for a limited while on some obscure site.

I didn't have my iPhone booping and beeping all day long with calls and texts and emails. I just had an intimidating stack of trades and hard covers in front of me, and nothing but time to read them. And that was fantastic.

And then the basement flooded and all things fantastic turned into Waterworld.

But it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 4

I've been in the dark for the past 24 hours. And, unlike my usual obliviousness to a great many things, I mean it quite literally this time. We had a pretty major storm up here at Exfanding HQ, and the lights went out just before 10 am on Monday morning.

It's now Tuesday morning at about the same time, and power has finally been restored. And what's the first thing I do with the electricity back on?

Write up this week's Waiting for Wednesday, of course!

And after a night of emptying buckets and buckets (and gallons and gallons) of water from a threatening-to-flood basement, I can honestly say that there's no place I'd rather be!

Well, okay, maybe in bed, asleep, is a little more truthful. But still.

The sump pump in the basement stopped doing its thing when the lights went out (obviously), and after over eight hours of steady, hard rain...well, let's just say things got a little ugly down there for a while.

When the lights finally came back on, though, I was running through the basement like George Bailey down Main Street.

Crisis averted, and now I can focus on comics and job searching. Probably not in that order, mind you, but at least neither one of those things involves gallons and gallons of water.

Speaking of comics, let's dive right in (EDIT: oh, I just realized in reading this thing over that "dive right in" is a pretty funny line in this mean, I wrote it intentionally, because it's a pretty funny line in this context...right).

I honestly have no idea what books ship this week, mostly because I haven't had a computer since Sunday night. And my iPhone wasn't charged, so I had to turn it on intermittently throughout the day to check email and voice mail and to not drain the device completely.

You know, in case of a Skrull invasion.

So hang on a moment as I check out Diamond's site to see what's on the way from publishers this week.

[Elevator music plays softly...]

And we're back. Okay, so, it looks to be one of those stupid big end of the month shipping schedules. There's a ton of stuff coming out today, including some major event books, such as Green Lantern, issue 50 and Justice League: Cry for Justice, issue 6, from DC, and New Avengers, issue 61 (a Siege tie-in) and Captain America: Reborn, issue 6, from Marvel.

You really can't go wrong with any of those titles, but I'm especially interested in New Avengers, since it's written by Brian Bendis and it will address the whole Captain America reborn-ing thing.
New AvengersAnd you know it has to be a good issue, mostly because of the way Cap is pointing at you. Well, that and the solicitation info hints at some big things a-coming. Check it out:

Steve Rogers makes his triumphant return to the Avengers, but is he too late? With the SIEGE on Asgard begun, he must act swiftly, but who can he turn to and trust in a world with Norman Osborn in charge? When the gods fall, what chance does a Super Soldier stand? The biggest shake up since DISASSEMBLED starts here!

Sounds interesting, and as is the case with anything written by Bendis, I'll be there.

This coming weekend is going to be my big, "catch up on Marvel" weekend, so I'm really looking forward to getting to the current point in the overreaching story arc of Siege. That said, I've pretty much had enough of Reborn. I'm caught up with that book, but I haven't yet read the Who Will Wield the Shield? one-shot.
Captain America RebornReborn was/is a good series, well told, and with great art. But the way the ending was spoiled--Marvel released that Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? one-shot, which gave away the ending of Reborn , before issue 6 of Reborn hit shelves) left a sour taste in my mouth. The spoiler just seemed unnecessary.

I'll pick up the final issue of Reborn, just to finish off the story since I'm already so deeply invested.

Moving on, the DC side of things is equally event-driven, as the over sized Green Lantern issue promises to keep Blackest Night rolling along. DC's done a nice job in keeping this story (mostly) self-contained, and I've been happily following the main Blackest Night book and Geoff Johns' Green Lantern series.
Green Lantern Blackest NightIt's one of those events that the reader gets out of it what he or she puts into it, and one can follow along by reading just the bare minimum of titles. Which is a bit of a switch, since DC was not long ago the worst culprit of the "read everything or you're lost" event.

Here's the blurb for this week's Green Lantern:

BLACKEST NIGHT spreads with an over sized anniversary issue! Surrounded by friends and enemies, Hal Jordan goes into battle with a being he will never defeat – the Black Lantern Spectre! Can Saint Walker, Sinestro and the others put a stop to this bizarre Spectre rebirth?

Plus, Atrocitus reveals a tie to a power that may make him the most unbeatable of all the Lanterns!

Moving out of the overtly mainstream universes now, from Marvel's Icon imprint, Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. (finally) bring us the last issue of Kick-Ass. With the movie from Lions Gate coming out this summer, this series has hit a long stretch of delays.

But now, finally, we get issue eight of this flat-out insane fever dream of a super hero title. Millar--known for such over-the-top mainstream series as Civil War, Old Man Logan, and The Ultimates--lets loose on this book. Curses and blood fly at about the same frequency, and Romita's art perfectly complements the style of the writing.
Kick-AssOf course, this is a mature readers title, and anyone who might be even a little squeamish should probably pass on the book. Here's the blurb from Marvel:

THIS IS IT!!! The final confrontation as KICK-ASS and HIT GIRL test their mettle. Bodies will fly and bad guys will die as the biggest surprise hit super hero comic of the twenty-first century reaches shocking new heights! Who will live? Who will be morally outraged?

MARK MILLAR (WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN) and JOHN ROMITA JR. (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) know the answers—and they hold NOTHING BACK in what’s sure to be the most talked-about single issue of the year!

Publisher hype (not to mention all CAPS in a solicit) is funny, and usually just something I shrug off as I wait to see for myself. But with a series like Kick-Ass, the reader really never knows what in the heck is going to happen next.

I'm assuming the trade for these eight issues will likely be out sometime around the theatrical release of the film, so if you haven't yet checked the book out as the floppies shipped, you might have a bit of a wait on your hands.

Still, if you're a fan of super hero mayhem like The Authority, then I think Kick-Ass will be worth the wait.

And, finally, another Marvel title. From Brian Bendis, the Ultimate line sees a bit of a shake up today. Ultimate Comics: Enemy, issue 1, ships this afternoon, and it promises to bring some surprises to the Ultimate Universe.
Ultimate EnemyBendis has been killing it on the new launch of Ultimate Spider-Man, delivering fun, fast-paced, new, and thoughtful stories to a character who has had a million writers tell a million different Spidey stories.

Here's the blurb:

Who is the face of true evil in the Ultimate Universe? What is the biggest secret the world doesn't know? Join the gathered heroes as they embark on an adventure unlike anything seen in Marvel Comics…and that's a promise!!

Ultimate Universe co-founder, BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (Ultimate Spider-Man, Secret Invasion) and rising star Rafa Sandoval (Avengers: The Initiative) unveils this important new chapter in the most exciting line in comics!

The current Ultimate Universe is exciting and different, and between Bendis' Spidey and Mark Millar's Ultimate Avengers, it's been a lot of fun in recent months. I think Marvel saw that the books were getting a bit stale, and so they shook things up with the line-wide event, Ultimatum, and now the relaunched titles have gotten a much-needed shot in the arm. So I'll be on board for Enemy, and I look forward to what else they have in store for us.

And that's my list for the week. As I said, there's tons of new product coming, so what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eat any good books lately?

Magic: The Gathering: Whispering WoodsI used to be an avid reader. This was in middle school, back when we started off the school day with something like 30 minutes of SSR (short for "Sustained Silent Reading," or, as some of my classmates preferred, "Sit down, Shut up, and Read"). At the time, I read nothing but science fiction with the occasional fantasy book thrown in (mostly Magic: The Gathering novels), and I went through them like they were tissues. Erm...the kind of tissues you...wipe your eyes on?

Anysimile, I was big into reading until I got into high school, at which point my free time slowly started to disappear. More time was devoted to homework and new activities were added to my schedule, and there came a point when I had to be very selective about how I spent my free time. Previously I could read a book and play video games and watch TV, but now I usually had time for only one of these.

In the long run, video games won out over books, and TV was never much of a contender to begin with except when it was Star Trek. Between all the required reading for school and the stress-relieving qualities of blowing stuff up on my Nintendo, books started to lose their appeal as a pastime. I didn't stop reading entirely, but the books I did read were few and far between.

By the time I got to college I managed to read a few more books a year than I had been reading, mostly because I was invited to play Gilderoy Lockhart at a midnight party for the release of one of the Harry Potter books, and I figured it might make sense to read the books so I knew who who this character was.

The DaVinci CodeFunny thing is that, eventually, not even the character knew who he was. Well, I read the whole series anyhow, and I even snuck in The Da Vinci Code because people began talking about it incessantly; I could scarcely participate in any of the conversations around me until I finally read it, at which point no one was talking about it anymore.

My book reading habits tapered off after college, and comics became my literature of choice after Alex's influence sank in. It wasn't until about a year ago that I started reading not-comic-books again: I found myself without a job, so reading was a nice way to take a break from job searching without getting too unfocused.

Plus, when I was pursuing a possible career as an English teacher, it made sense to catch up on books that I as an English teacher probably should have read, such as The Joy Luck Club. Furthermore, there was a period when all the women in my life kept giving me books to read, which is why I've read Good Omens and The Time Traveler's Wife, two books I would have been unlikely to pick up otherwise.

Reading proved to be something that I was missing from my life that I didn't realize I was missing. I did some theological reading, which appealed to me both as a Religion major and a Christian in a perpetual quest for truth and self-improvement. I read about how to better my job search and land a career that's right for me. Heck, I even read the labels on cereal boxes, but then again, I've always done that.

I brought out a book that I should have read a long time ago called Mark Freedom Paid, an anthology of war stories from my grandfather and the men he served with in World War II. The stories alone are incredibly valuable, but the book is enhanced by the artwork of the late Sam Kweskin, who served with my grandfather and who worked at Marvel Comics for a time.

Mark Freedom Paid illustration by Sam KweskinI'm no history buff by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew a bunch of the guys whose stories are in this book--this wasn't a history lesson; this was a chance to learn more about where my grandfather and his buddies had been.

I continue to have at least one book in progress at all times nowadays, even if I need to put it on hold for a while. (Books aren't alone in this regard; even video games have taken a backseat to many of the projects I've been working on.) The last two books I picked out were a little...out of character, though. Both are memoirs of people I've never heard of.

What could possibly possess me to do such a thing?

The answer, my friends, is food. Food makes almost everything better, including, in this case, books.

The Gastronomy of MarriageThe first book I picked up is called The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love, by Michelle Maisto. It's the story of a couple's relationship as told through the meals they share and the food they prepare, complete with real recipes at the end of most chapters so that you can actually make the often-delicious food the author is talking about. I can relate to a good many things presented in the book, and the unique approach (as far as my experience goes, anyhow) of centering the story around food was what persuaded me to read through the whole thing.

The second book I picked up is called All the President's Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir, by Roland Mesnier with Christian Malard. This one is the tale of how a rowdy young man from a small village in France became the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House, serving every president from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. I don't follow politics and I'm not into rags-to-riches success stories of any scale, but there's something about the behind-the-scenes perspective and the constant talk of desserts that's appealing to me.

All the President's PastriesBesides, there are priceless stories like the one about how Prince Charles came to the White House and locked up in awkward confusion when given a cup of tea, as he had never seen a teabag before and didn't know what to do with it. These kinds of stories put a more human face on the public figures who I only know for their deeds. I'm always more interested in politics and history when there's a story involved, but even then I find I can't always relate to the story, which is why lots of sugar and pastries are helping to hold my attention.

Reading, eh? Yes, it's good to be reading again. However, it's not so much a pastime these days as it is an opportunity for growth. Back in middle school, the books I read were largely for my own entertainment and rarely, if ever, found any application beyond giving me something fun to do; these days I usually seek more than just entertainment from my entertainment. The books I've been reading have sparked conversation with others, raised some interesting ideas and questions, enriched me personally, and have still held my attention enough to follow through with finishing them.

Not too shabby, right?

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Unexpected Interlude

Life is full of surprises. Sometimes the surprises that happen to someone else can be just as major as the surprises that happen directly to you.

One RingMy little sister is engaged.

I make it a point to avoid talk about anything strictly personal on this blog, but after toying around with the possibility of writing about the wonderful Mega Man X Official Complete Works book I recently purchased or my first night of playing Dungeons & Dragons in over a month, I realized that this is simply too big not to mention.

However, I promise I'll try to keep it geeky.

My sister and I have always been very close, and I have had the distinct pleasure of introducing her to more hobbies and fandoms than I can begin to count.

This is the little sister who would commandeer my computer to play The Sims or take over my television to play Super Mario RPG. This is the little sister who willingly sat down with me to watch all of Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and even a few James Bond flicks after having revealed that, somehow, she had never watched a single one of them all the way through. This is the little sister who used to sit down and play Magic: The Gathering with me. At least, I think that was her; maybe I'm thinking of my friend Larry.

She's the hip youngster who used to sit in on meetings of my video game club when she came to visit me at college. We occasionally watch anime together. She occasionally borrows my comic books. She occasionally quotes a line or two from Monkey Island at me. She occasionally requests that I throw together a one-shot D&D quest for her when she's in town. I assure you she knows the lyrics to most of the "Weird Al" songs I have on my computer.

Yet, amazingly, she fits right in with a crowd of non-geeks. She's into all sorts of "normal" activities for a girl her age. Like football.

Every once in a while she'll catch me doing something like humming a song from Donkey Kong Country in public. She'll ask me, "Are you humming Donkey Kong Country?" I'll say, "Uh...yes." She'll shake her head and respond with, "Dork."

Yes, I'm a dork.

But who's the one who recognized I was humming Donkey Kong Country?

See? I think she turned out just fine.

...And now she's engaged. This fact is still sinking in. It's exciting! It's weird. It's a very good thing. It's definitely going to affect my and my family's plans for the future in ways we probably haven't thought of yet. Bottom line is that I'm happy for her and her boyfr--erm, fiancé.

That might take some getting used to. But it's something I'm happy to get used to.

Congratulations, little sis. You just say the word, and I'll hop on your wedding cake. For old time's sake.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Random Sunday Posting

When Nathaniel and I started this blog, we made the decision that we'd post daily, Monday through Saturday, and try our best to never miss a day. For the most part, we have actually managed to stick to that schedule over the past year-plus, so, because we're masochists, we've now come to the conclusion that we should try to post on Sundays, as well.

But instead of a full-blown post about some nerdy thing or the other, we figured it might be fun to mix things up a bit, and to post whatever we want to on this final day of the week.

These random Sunday posts will cover anything and everything, from links for things we've seen online to Store Spotlights covering different comics and gaming stores that we've been to.

We're also planning on using guest posts in this time slot, so if you have a favorite comics or gaming or toy store that you'd like to mention here, please send a post in! And of course, if you want to write about something completely different, that's fine, too!

Just shoot either one of us an email: Nathaniel or Alex.

And now, without further ado, today I'd like to present you all with the Stupidest YouTube Video I've Seen This Week--Italian Spider-Man.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Time, well...spent.

As I record a run of Mega Man 5 to put on YouTube, I find myself constantly prioritizing. In order to make my videos look as excellent and entertaining as possible, I typically spend a great deal of time making things perfect, or as close to perfect as I'm willing to get. Most of the time, if I sit down to record a stage, it's the only thing I get done in an evening. If it takes me more than one night, however...

That's when things start to get ugly.

Mega Man 5 screenshotI love playing Mega Man, but the insane tricks I force myself to pull off require a good deal of practice and effort; sure, I'm playing video games, and it can certainly be fun, but it's hardly relaxing. In general, if I go too long without doing something like reading comics to unwind, bad things happen.

Naturally, I should take a break from time to time.

It's been frustrating, though; I had nearly the entire game recorded, and then I looked back on a few videos and noticed my recording software couldn't keep up with the SHEER AWESOME and started skipping and sputtering, almost always during the most exciting parts of the video. This would not do. My only real choice was to tweak some settings and re-record everything in the hopes that my recording software would fare better.

I had originally planned for this to be released by the end of 2009, audio commentary and all. When things got busy, I revised my goal to having all the video footage by the end of 2009, and to be done with the voice recording a few weeks later.

At this rate, I'm looking at late February, if I'm lucky.

Mega Man 5 tigerI am so desperate to record these videos at a faster rate, but in a way it's a creative process: just as you can't force a writer to crank out a brilliant novel in a week, you can't force me to produce a spectacular run of Mega Man 5 just by having me devote all my free time to it. I'll get frustrated, burn out, stop having fun, and feel like I just wasted two hours on a stage I would have breezed through if I had just done something relaxing and tried the stage again the next day.

During my run of Mega Man 4, I had to come to grips with the fact that I can't afford to devote all my time to making my videos absolutely perfect. I get the feeling that the message this time around is that I can't force myself to produce high-quality videos; I need to be patient and work at them when I'm relaxed and focused to make it worth my time.

I'm trying to rush for the sake of my YouTube fans, who have to wait for absurd lengths of time for any new material from me. But, for the sake of my YouTube fans, I think that, ultimately, I'm going to need to take my time.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Good Things

Today didn't start out too well. A couple of bumps in the road, if you will. But it managed to get progressively better, and I even learned a few new things along the way.

Like (very, very, very) basic HTML, for starters.

Yep, I can now (theoretically) change the layout of this here blog, and make a bunch of stupid and pointless widgets do their stupid and pointless things. I won't, of course, since I'd much rather have a blog than a blank page on the Internet where a blog once stood.

I also learned about Facebook.

And finally signed up for Facebook. Apparently, I was the one guy. The last remaining holdout.

I was legend.

But now I have a Facebook page thing just like everybody else, and Nathaniel showed me a whole bunch of things to do on said page that I have already forgotten how to do. I did sign up for the Exfanding Facebook page, which was probably a good idea since I have some vested interest in the site.

As Nathaniel showed me all of these things that I should have learned years ago, I couldn't help but think of myself as the old man yelling at clouds, or the last dinosaur to look up at that huge fireball in the sky. But now I'm hip and all social network-y.

I give it a week. Two, tops.

Anyway, after the computer lessons, we decided to set off to find a comics shop located (somewhat) in our area. It's one that I'd seen online in the past and just never had the chance to actually find.

It's located near a mall that I visit pretty often, and I've always ventured out just a little ways from the mall, trying to discern just where in the heck this store actually was. I failed on several occasions.

So today we figured we'd try to find it. With the help of my iPhone's map and secure in the knowledge that we are two relatively intelligent and capable grown ups, we decided, really, what could possibly go wrong?

Let's just say it's a good thing Columbus didn't have Nathaniel as his navigator.

Still, after driving a bit in the wrong direction (and passing a seemingly endless strip of land that needed only a smattering of cows to complete the hilarious image of two city folk hopelessly out of their element), and then passing the store (twice!) because of its...interesting...venue, we finally found a parking spot right in front of the place.

The store itself was tucked into a small strip mall, and its entrance was literally facing away from the street, so there was no way we could have actually seen the place from the car. Had my iPhone not told us that we were, indeed, on our desired location, we probably would still be driving around.

So I parked the car and we walked up the small set of stairs to the shop. The windows were completely covered in posters and the door was closed, so we couldn't sneak a peek to see what we were getting ourselves into.

Now, understand, I've been to a great many comics shops in my time, and I've been to some downright scary ones, so I wasn't too worried. But I think Nathaniel had his reservations. And, I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much.

And then we opened the door.

Copybook Tales comics shopLike I said, I've been to a great many comics shops. But this shop was something completely different. The space was small, but somehow the owner managed to fill the store with trades and comics and statues and toys and original art and back issues and never once did I feel that the store was cramped.

And the selection.

Wow. I was just blown away. From the high-end back issues and statues, to the diverse selection of new comics and trades, to the owner's friendliness and knowledge of his product line, I was just flat-out impressed with this place.

Typically, comics shops fall into one of a few traps. Maybe the store overwhelms its customers with superheroes, or it focuses solely on back issues, or it only carries new books, or the staff doesn't seem to know what the heck the customer is talking about.

Not this place. It balanced being an indy-friendly shop with being a super hero store. It had an entire room devoted to back issues, and two walls filled with new product. The trades and hardcovers were arranged in a way that they were easy to find, and there was equal shelf space for Brian Bendis and Jeff Smith.

It was nice to come across a shop (off the beaten path a ways) that doesn't fit the typical comic store mold. The journey made it all the more fun, and now I really can't wait to go back. Plus, the shop's name is Monkey Head Comics. So it has to be good. For anyone in the area, check it out. It has the Official Exfanding Stamp of Approval.

So, yeah.

Just a quick post today about a fun day, a good find, and a new haunt.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cutting Back

Barnes & NobleI'm starting to notice a couple of disturbing trends in the comic book industry, and I'm not just talking about things I see in the comics shops this time. These trends are becoming more and more apparent every time I enter a chain bookstore, and after talking to a buddy in a different state this morning who said the same thing, I'm Officially Worried.

We're being pushed out of places like Borders and Barnes & Noble, relegated to the back of the store on a shrinking and rarely updated shelf. I've spoken about this before, but today I want to look at it from a different perspective.

I've come to the conclusion that, first and foremost among the problems in comics right now is the ever-growing amount of reprinted material being produced by the various publishers. What's disturbing about this particular trend, though, is the ever-shrinking amount of reprinted material that's actually available for sale.

In comics shops, bookstores, and even online in some cases, collected editions are becoming harder and harder to find--especially if you miss a book's "street" date.

From every publisher, we are being deluged with a constant onslaught of hardcovers and paperbacks and Deluxe Editions and Absolutes and omnibus(, and there is no sign of that stopping any time soon.
Lots of booksWhich in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. But take into consideration the fact that many comics shops are cutting back on the amount of trades they're ordering, and then I think we have a bit of a new problem.

For the first time ever in the comics industry, reprinted material is readily available from publishers. Unlike the 1980s and 90s and the early 2000s when collected editions were mostly unheard-of except for the most extreme cases, we as fans can now count on every publisher to reprint their single issues.

And I'm talking everyone here--from Marvel and DC right on down the line to smaller houses such as Devil's Due and NBM.
Lots o' booksAnd that's great! Especially with so many comics-related films and TV shows out there, the chances of a new customer strolling into a shop have never been higher.

So when that new customer walks into your LCS and asks for Batman: The Long Halloween because he heard it helped inspire the recent films, acquiring that trade might just be the first step in getting that person on board the comics bandwagon.

Conversely, if that LCS doesn't have the trade...well.

Chances are that potential customer is going to do one of three things. First, he might just forget about it and never come back. Second, he might try local bookstores or online sellers like Amazon, see that their prices are lower than the books in the comics shop, and never come back. Or, thirdly, and rarely, he might decide to special order the trade through Diamond, right there in the store.

And then proceed to wait two weeks for a book he'll pay full cover price for.

I say two weeks with the assumption that there's no holiday in between and taking for granted that the LCS will receive all of its orders from Diamond precisely when they're told they will. Which, as any comics fan knows all to well, might not happen.

DeadpoolIn the case of a book that's as high profile as Long Halloween, I'd bet that 75% of comics shops will have a copy in stock on that day. But how about some of the recent Iron Man trades and hardcovers written by Matt Fraction? Or maybe the huge amount of Deadpool-related books currently flooding the market?

If my LCS is anything at all like yours, there's a good chance the store will only have one or two copies of recent trades available on the day the book comes out. Taking that a step further, my LCS has a fairly new policy that they will not order any new hardcover collection unless a customer asks for it specifically.

And why is that? Well, as they say in politics--it's the economy, stupid.

Hardcovers are obviously more expensive than the softcovers, and the fact that they ship months in advance of the cheaper softcover is annoying and, frankly, a turnoff for many customers. Surely, if a customer wants a hardcover the day it ships, he or she can special order the book from Diamond.

The problem with that is, the Diamond Previews catalogue costs $5 and you'll need to order the book three months in advance. And on the retailer's side of the coin, I know from talking to several store owners that, just because a customer orders a book, that doesn't mean he'll actually purchase the book once it ships.

Personally, when I was working full-time and knew that the money would always be there, I would buy Previews and order in advance. Now, though? I'd never order something (even if I really want it), just because who knows what the financial situation will be like in three months? I'd never stick my LCS with a book I ordered but can't pay for.

Still, stuff like that happens all the time.

So, let's say a shop gets three special orders for a hardcover of the latest Thor series from Marvel. If I'm that store owner, I'd be wary of ordering more than one or two copies for display because there's a chance that one or more of the customers who special ordered the books won't actually buy the books.

Again, in the case of my LCS, they don't order any for display because they've been burned (and burdened) with extra copies in the past. And at between $20 and $35 a pop, who could blame them?

Nathaniel and I have been to pretty much every comics shop in our area, and I've noticed a drastic change in ordering policy for collections at each one. One copy for the store, maybe two, tops. Even if the trade is somewhat popular.

As mentioned above, I spoke with a buddy who is currently living in another state, and he said he's been having a heck of a time finding the Marvel Essentials black-and-white reprints at his local shops. And the bookstores by him don't carry anything new, either.

So it's not like this is a totally isolated incident.

And it's getting pretty frustrating for me, because I no longer pre-order books and I can't get to my LCS on Wednesday before 3:00. So the chances of a copy of a popular book still being around by the time I arrive is slim.
BooksAnd like I said, good luck trying to find something at Borders in the following weeks, because they, too, are cutting back on the amount of comics they order. In the stores by me, it's at an alarming rate.

So, to recap (and hopefully wrap things up). We have much more reprinted material shipping every week from every single publisher, but somehow, these books are harder to find than collections of only a year or two ago were.

My question to you all is, have you noticed the same thing in your neck of the woods? Or am I going insane here all by myself? Usually, with me, it's the latter, but I think this one time it might actually be the former...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 3

IciclesToday I heard a new phrase that is sure to add to the (ever-growing) list of things that will keep me up at night. Independently, the two words that comprise this particular phrase are harmless enough, I suppose. Put together, though? Not so nice. Judge for yourself:

"Hiring Freeze."

Okay, granted, the word "freeze" doesn't exactly conjure the nicest of images. Still, put together, don't the words "hiring" and "freeze" just make you feel all warm and squishy inside?

Yeah, me too.

See, just before Christmas, I interviewed with a company that is, frankly, the perfect fit for what I want. It's in my field (which is becoming a major problem, as many publishing houses have cut staff and in some cases...don't exist anymore), it allows for growth, and the location is near perfect.

So I had the interview, and it went well, and then last week I got a call from the publisher at the company, asking for references. This, I was told by people I mentioned the job to, was a good thing.

And, apparently, they were right. It meant that I was on the short list for the gig, and at the very least, I'd get a personal phone call (from a real, live human being!), telling me that I didn't get the job. Which, at this point in my job search, would be a win.

This morning, I got an email from the publisher, telling me that the position has been frozen, and that she'd get back to me when So, yeah, back to the drawing board, I guess.

Granted, I didn't stop my job search because I had the interview. Quite the opposite, really, as I applied to more jobs in the past month than I did in November and the first half of December, combined.

I guess it's reassuring to know that I'm on a short list for something, though. Even if that short list exists on an alternate earth, in a different dimension. At this point, I'm ready to apply for the position of "lackey" in Latveria.

But, as it does every week, Wednesday brings new hope. And, if not hope, then comics. And sometimes that's just as good. Recently, I've been reading as many books as I can from my long-standing pile of new comics, so I'm now actually making some progress.

I'd say I'm still just about three months behind on most things, but I'm getting there. Not everything I'm reading has been great, and it's helped to really trim the fat when it comes to buying new books each week. I've even managed to successfully wait for a trade, and not buy any of the single issues!

For those of you who might be wondering, the trade is Thor, Volume 3, by J. Michael Straczynski.

Today, though, I'd like to do a little off-roading, if you will. We're gonna take Waiting for off the beaten path a bit as this week sees the release of a handful of less publicized titles and smaller press books that look pretty interesting.

So, in the spirit of advocating the less hyped titles out there and assuring financial well being (mine, mostly), let's start with Vertigo's latest series. From madman comics visionary Grant Morrison comes Joe the Barbarian, issue one.

And, since it's Vertigo, this number one issue will be on sale today for one dollar. A full comic--with both story and art--for a buck. Vertigo is great, and their decision to price every new number one at a dollar and every volume one trade at just under ten dollars is just what the industry needs.
Joe the BarbarianIt's also just what the fan base needs in this current, wonderful economy. Vertigo seems to listen to its readership, and genuinely give a hoot about the people buying their product line. Sure, they have the mega conglomerate backing of Warner Brothers to help them in their not-so-Robin-Hood-like endeavor, but hey, Marvel's got Disney now, right? I bet it'll be no time at all before Marvel starts giving us new product for a buck.

Yeah, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Anyway, here's Vertigo's description for Joe the Barbarian, a series that just seems...interesting:

Having an overactive imagination can get a kid through a lot, but it doesn't change the facts: Joe's still the kid in school that can't fit in. He's the victim of bullies. His dad died overseas in the Iraq war. And then there's the Type 1 diabetes he has to live with.

So is it insulin-deprived delirium or something much, much bigger that transports Joe to a land inhabited by all his toys – from ninja commandos to action robots to magical knights to star fleet captains? Is Joe really the savior of this wild fantasyland that's been held under siege by dark magic and evil forces? With the help of a samurai rodent, is he ready to take back besieged castles and win the freedom of an oppressed people? Or is he just an over imaginative boy who could die if he doesn't take his meds?

White-hot writer Grant Morrison follows up his phenomenal BATMAN AND ROBIN with an epic adventure that's Home Alone by way of Lord of the Rings accompanied with to-die-for Art by future superstar Sean Murphy (YEAR ONE: BATMAN/SCARECROW, HELLBLAZER).

This book sounds eminently interesting to me, and I really am looking forward to seeing if it delivers. Personally, Morrison tends to be hit or miss, and when he misses, I usually close the book feeling very confused. He's kinda like Warren Ellis in that regard for me. Sometimes it's gold, sometimes it's techno-babble that might as well be another language, written for a whole different reader.

For example, I love Morrison's Batman: Gothic and All Star Superman, but his latest foray into the mainstream DC Universe, Batman and Robin, just didn't do it for me. Neither did Final Crisis, for that matter. I tend to like his non-licensed work, though (my favorite being a long ago graphic novel called The Mystery Play), so I'm confident that Joe will be a good read.

And, really, for a dollar, how can I go wrong?

I'm hoping my LCS ordered a few copies--I have faith, because my shop has gotten all of the Vertigo one dollar number ones so far, and with Grant Morrison attached, I'm willing to bet they ordered a couple extra copies.

Next up we have another lesser known book, written by Dark Horse's Scott Allie, called Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders. This is the second Dark Horse Solomon Kane series, and by all accounts, it looks to be a solid series.
Solomon KaneThat said, I need to come clean a moment here. I did not love that first Kane series, which came out about a year ago from Dark Horse. Understand, though, that Solomon Kane is one of my very favorite literary characters, written and created by the incomparable Robert E. Howard.

Although he only wrote a handful of them in his lifetime, those Howard Kane stories are riveting and wonderful and dark and creepy, and I just felt like the first Dark Horse series fell short of what the character could--and should--be.

The series picked up quite a bit in the last issue, though, so I have high hopes for this new series.

Now, with a movie coming out soon about the character, there will certainly be an increased interest in the original Howard stories. That, or since many people don't have the attention span to sit down and, y'know, read a book, they might turn to the comics instead.

Which is a shame, because Howard's short stories are well worth the time.

Still, if the movie gets people into the comics shop, then I'm all for it. But let's get back to the comic at hand. Black Riders takes place after the first Dark Horse series (which is available in trade for around $15), but this new mini is a stand-alone tale, so finding the first book is not necessary to understand what's going on.

Basically, all you need to know is the following--Puritan warrior fights supernatural evil.

Pretty fantastic high concept, isn't it? And here's the blurb for this week's issue one:

Taking place after the events in Solomon Kane: The Castle of the Devil--but written to stand on its own--this new series delves deep into the horrors scattered throughout Germany's Black Forest. When Kane comes across gypsies being terrorized by roving bandits, he's not sure what's worse--the bandits who wish to rob and rape innocent travelers or the evils that spew forth from the forest, intent on killing every man and woman around!

With creature designs by Eisner Award-winning artist Guy Davis, this series uses Robert E. Howard's "Death's Black Riders" fragment and the "Rattle of Bones" short story as springboards to launch into a suspenseful and terrifying new excursion with Howard's troubled Puritan hero.

Dark Horse's new Solomon Kane series features the return of writer Scott Allie and artist Mario Guevara (The Lone Ranger and Tonto), who are joined by colorist Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi) and cover artist Darick Robertson (The Boys, Transmetropolitan)!

"With art and writing that perfectly captures the pulp weirdness of his birth, Solomon Kane officially becomes the only Puritan I've ever been a fan of. Don't miss out on these weird tales, you'll regret it." -Ed Brubaker

If you like Howard's Conan stories, or if you're interested in seeing what Van Helsing could have been if it was done right, check this book out. I'm gonna buy the first issue and hope the creative team can pick up where they left off with the last issue of the previous series.

And, finally today, a book from BOOM! Studios, who had an impressive 2009. Between Mark Waid's hit series, Irredeemable, and the spot-on Die Hard: Year One by Howard Chaykin, BOOM! has been on a roll. This week sees issue number two of the Irredeemable spin-off, Incorruptible, hit shelves.
IncorruptibleIt's the story about a bad guy gone good, and last month's issue one was a good start for the new series. That issue should still be around, so check your shop if you missed it.

BOOM! not so quietly made their presence felt in the comics world last year, and I think we'll be hearing and seeing a lot from them this year, as well. With Waid running a tight ship, BOOM! stands primed to elevate itself to Dark Horse status in the industry, and that's saying a lot about a new entity in a volatile market.

Here's the blurb for this week's issue:

Last April BOOM! Studios showed the world that MARK WAID IS EVIL with the smash-hit series IRREDEEMABLE. Now BOOM! shows the world that Mark Waid is...INCORRUPTIBLE! In this new ongoing, the reformed super villain Max Damage and his sidekick, the less reformed Jailbait, set out on their first mission--to extract vengeance against an old ally who must be brought to justice and who holds an important key to Max's plans to bring down the Plutonian!

If you're a fan of Irredeemable, then this new series is a no-brainer. And if you're just looking for an interesting spin on an old cliche, then I'd suggest checking it out.

I'm running a bit late, so I'll have to end this right here. It's a good week of comics, and I hope you all find something worthwhile at the store this afternoon. That's it from me. What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Exfanding Review: Avatar

I felt like the only person on the planet who didn't want to see James Cameron's Avatar.

First came the hype: James Cameron is coming out of cryostasis to make a movie. JAMES. CAMERON. And he's bringing back Sigourney Weaver. SIGOURNEY. WEAVER.

Avatar James CameronNext came the previews: The movie has BLUE ALIENS. And PRETTY JUNGLES. Never before have we seen ANYTHING like BLUE ALIENS and PRETTY JUNGLES.

Avatar Blue AliensThen came the reviews: Avatar is AMAZING. Avatar is SO PRETTY. Avatar is THE MOST INCREDIBLE MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN.

Avatar Pretty JungleThen came the box office numbers: Nathaniel DOESN'T CARE about EXACT FIGURES, but Avatar basically jumped to the top of the charts, surpassing even Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

I mean, why shouldn't I want to see Avatar?

Although I am an unabashed science fiction fan, I usually don't care much for fantasy, which should be baffling to anybody who knows how much I enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons. That's a discussion for a different time, but it's worth mentioning here because Avatar appeared to be a strictly fantasy movie with a little bit of technology thrown in. While it looked pretty enough, I can think of several other things that are pretty that wouldn't cost me $10-$20 and consume almost three hours of my time.

Besides, the movie trailers didn't do much to appeal to my kind of pretty. Sure, it looked like there were action sequences, but I like my action sequences to have big explosions and laser beams and lightsabers and creatively choreographed martial arts and whatnot. The movie preview showed a big mech right out of StarCraft beating up on a forest animal. Whatever.

Avatar Goliath-type mechMore importantly, I am an unabashed science fiction fan--blue aliens are nothing new to me. Plus, anybody who's read my reviews of Space Quest II or Space Quest: The Lost Chapter might suspect that I'm not wild about jungles being the most frequent backdrop of an adventure. Furthermore, I'm not big on military movies, so the fact that the military is heavily involved in the story wasn't much of a selling point, either.

Jeez, the only way you could get me out of my house to see Avatar was if my girlfriend bought us both tickets for a 3-D presentation in IMAX.

I will say this: Avatar is very pretty. A great deal of care and creativity went into every little detail, from the swishy movements of the aliens' blue tails to the patches of ground that lit up when the characters stepped on them. Avatar is, if nothing else, a visual spectacle, though it's hardly unique.

Avatar's visuals are some kind of amalgamation of countless fantasy and sci-fi works: there are glowing plants that remind me of those huge Phazon-irradiated mushrooms in Metroid Prime; there are wolflike jungle creatures that look remarkably like displacer beasts from the Dungeons & Dragons monster manual; and those big mountainous islands floating in the sky are right out of Chrono Trigger, not to mention any number of nonspecific fantasy landscape paintings. Honestly, there wasn't much of anything in the movie that I hadn't already seen elsewhere (aside from the fact that the aliens can interface with pretty much anything--animals, trees, each other--through what are essentially organic USB cables attached to the back of their heads; that was pretty neat).

Avatar floating rocksHowever, I don't need every movie I see to blow me away with novelty and surprises. The fact of the matter is that Avatar pulls all of these different elements and ideas together in such a way that nothing feels like a cheap ripoff of something else. The film isn't a series of neat action sequences that flagrantly steals from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings; rather, the movie tells the story of the characters who inhabit a thoughtfully crafted universe that just so happens to have a spaceship that looks like it was borrowed from the movie Sunshine.

Yeah, nobody told me there'd be a big spaceship at the beginning of the movie. It's not on screen for long, but space? In IMAX 3-D? Cool! Cool cool!

So Avatar is, indeed, a pretty movie, and the action sequences are just as visually engaging. I will also tell you that there is at least one very large action sequence that involves one or more of the following: big explosions, laser beams, lightsabers, creatively choreographed martial arts, and whatnot. (There's a whole lot of whatnot.)

Avatar helicoptersBetween the ambient eye candy and the varied action sequences--really, each action sequence is quite different from the next, though most involve fantasy jungle animals--Avatar is a visual treat, and it's even more impressive than it would otherwise be, thanks to the huge IMAX screen and subtle-yet-breathtaking 3-D.

But is "pretty" enough to make Avatar a good movie?

I'm not talking about whether Avatar is entertaining; I'm talking about whether Avatar is a good movie, an all-around solid cinema experience that doesn't disappoint. The cast; the script; the music--all that other stuff that people pay attention to when they aren't overwhelmed by the fact that those ALIENS are BLUE.

As it turns out, I don't have much to say about most of the non-visual-effects aspects of the movie. The actors all fit their roles extremely well, and the acting was neither overwhelmingly terrible nor knock-your-socks-off exquisite. The sweeping orchestral music went well with the action in the film, though once or twice it reached the verge of melodrama. The dialogue accomplished what it needed to with a laugh or two along the way, and that's that.

Avatar cast planningI was mighty impressed with the pacing of the fairly lengthy film; the employees at the theater made a big deal about its running time of 2 hours and 40-something minutes, but it didn't feel long, at least to me.

Me, the guy who starts to squirm anymore if a movie is longer than one hour and 40-something minutes.

Whereas the good pacing of Seven Samurai was related to the constant cycle of anticipation and subsequent reward/release, Avatar's good pacing had more to do with how most anything nonessential was cut out. Often it was up to the viewers to use their imaginations and/or apply basic logic to figure out what happened, because it wasn't shown on film. You don't need to see the characters waking up every morning or talking over breakfast unless it's immediately relevant to the plot. Avatar only showed the things that kept the story moving and the things that were pretty enough to stand on their own without plot, and I'm very pleased that even the "throwaway" details usually come full-circle and become important again by the end of the movie.

I love it when a work connects back to itself, especially when it's connecting back to details that the audience largely took for granted at first glance. Good storytelling, says I.

Still, Avatar is not without its flaws. Yes, the story is a little predictable. I mean, if you've seen FernGully, you know how this is going to pan out. Misunderstood natives + greedy businesspeople + trigger-happy military + a few people who sympathize with the natives = I really don't need to spell this out for you. In fact, I believe you'll enjoy the movie more if you know nothing about it other than that it's pretty.

Avatar Big TreeIt's not the predictability that bugs me about Avatar; in fact, there were a few little twists along the way to keep the plot a little fresher, so it wasn't 100% predictable. No, what bothered me was the inevitability of the major turning points in the plot. Conflicts caused by characters who were, ultimately, too one-dimensional for things to happen any other way.

There were no Jurassic Park moments of, "Well, if you would have just stayed in the stupid vehicle, there wouldn't be a t-rex trying to eat us right now." There were no Romeo and Juliet moments of, "Well, that duel could have turned out better." The major conflicts aren't products of bad decisions and unexpected circumstances; rather, they all seem to have been predestined from the start--if you leave a starving college student in a room with a microwave and a bowl of Easy Mac, what do you expect will happen?

That being said, the scene in the movie where the Big Conflict officially began made me angry. This will require a few paragraphs of semi-vague *SPOILERS* to explain myself, so bear with me a moment. For something like two hours, the hero tries to develop a trusting relationship with the natives so he can use diplomacy with the natives so the businessmen can get what they want without sending in the military to slaughter everyone. Things go incredibly well. Then the military goes in to slaughter everyone, because nothing in the first two hours of the movie had anything to do with altering the direction of the plot.

The first two hours are there to make you ooh and ahh at the visuals and form emotional connections with the characters, and then the Big Conflict starts and completely disregards any progress up to that point, instead choosing to emotionally hurt you, the viewer, because you foolishly formed some kind of attachment to the characters and their world.


Avatar Michelle RodriguezNot that I was head-over-heels in love with the characters or anything, but I was starting to get a little invested in the characters and in the dynamic and interesting way of life that the blue aliens had. If Bad Stuff started happening because of a character's mistakes or events that didn't pan out so well, I might have been okay with it, but the whole situation happened because JAMES. CAMERON. wanted to grab you by the heartstrings and swing you around the room.

Or something like that.

Organic plot development, how I long for thee.

When the Big Conflict started, I needed to sever any and all emotional attachments to the film because the conflict was making me angry at both the characters and the storytelling, which is the worst kind of angry to have in a movie. The fact that I had to sever my emotional attachments in order to not get angry at the movie made me angrier still. Seriously, I mighta chucked my bucket of popcorn at the screen if nobody had been sitting in front of me.

Avatar just good businessOf course, you could argue that the conflict needed to be so anger-inducing to justify all the action at the end of the movie, and you could argue that all the cool and good stuff that happens afterwards makes up for it in the end. You could argue that.

Still, I've watched plenty of movies where a terrible conflict was set up perfectly, without me ever tightening my grip on the soon-to-be-hurled popcorn tub. Ever since watching Serenity and reading The Time Traveler's Wife, I've become a lot more sensitive about the horrible things writers do to their characters, and I no longer have any patience for bad things happening for the sole purpose of eliciting an emotional response.

Despite that anger-inducing section of the movie, I found, much to my surprise, that I enjoyed Avatar. Is it a pretty movie? Most definitely. Is it a good movie? Not exactly. It isn't bad, but I don't think Avatar has what it takes to withstand the test of time.

Avatar jungle animalOnce it leaves the theaters, the visual appeal--the film's strongest selling point--is going to decrease somewhat. On an average-sized television without 3-D glasses, it'll still be neat, but not the visual spectacle it was meant to be. In another decade or two, I expect most sci-fi or fantasy movies with any kind of a budget will look as pretty as Avatar, or will at least come close enough. And while BLUE ALIENS and PRETTY JUNGLES might be wildly unique to Joe Moviegoer right now, it's only a matter of time until a more innovative sci-fi/fantasy movie appears surprises both the general public and the crusty old naysayers like myself.

Besides, Avatar only reinforces that such "geeky" genres as sci-fi and fantasy have a place in the mainstream; it's only a matter of time before Joe Moviegoer starts branching out and experiencing Metroid Prime and Dungeons & Dragons and Chrono Trigger and sees that Avatar may have done things well, but it wasn't the only one.

Avatar may be popular now, but I don't believe it has the staying power to stand up against the kinds of movies I anticipate we'll see in the next decade or two. To its credit, however, it is the first film that I have seen that so evenly balances fantasy and science fiction, and the way the two are integrated is refreshing. That's gotta count for something. And because of Avatar, I can finally ease up on my slightly exaggerated displeasure with Zoe Saldana's portrayal of Uhura in the 2009 Star Trek film, because she actually did very well as a BLUE ALIEN.

Avatar Whoa Blue AlienOverall, Avatar was pretty, entertaining, pretty entertaining, and totally worth the price I paid for admission.