Saturday, July 31, 2010

Month in Review: July 2010

July was a strange dichotomy, characterized by nearly equal parts wonderful and tragic. In a somewhat similar way, our posts alternated between two opposites: almost everything was either short and fluffy or lengthy and profound. We ended up covering a lot of ground this way, producing a surprisingly diverse array of material.

See for yourself what July was like:

- A recap of my contributions to videogame humor website in June

- A dialogue about the rising production costs of comics

- A celebration of American Independence Day

- A recap of my insane one-day Mega Man marathon, and a more philosophical follow-up reflection on the whole experience

- Alex's weekly comics news / spotlight / rant / nonsensical ramblings feature, Waiting for Wednesday, volume 2, issues twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, and thirty

- A story about unloved music CDs

- A tale of the search for Batman, issue 608

- A reaction to an oversensationalized career move by basketball player LeBron James

- Bonus videos to compliment my YouTube run of Mega Man 5

- A post that barely qualifies as a post

- A brief reflection on the lives of comics creator Harvey Pekar and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and a follow-up on the work of Harvey Pekar

- A countdown to Comic-Con, more anticipation for Comic-Con, excitement about Comic-Con, and a retrospective of Comic-Con

- A few words about marathoning movies and video games

- A reaction to photos showing off the Thor and Green Lantern movies

- An introduction to the Rocky movie saga, six movies about life, love, and boxing

- A discussion about having to abandon one's favorite fandoms

- A discussion about balancing a social life with alone time

- The story of how I almost didn't become a gamer

- A news story about Darth Vader robbing a bank

- My view of the difference between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as it pertains to a slew of bad news in my own life

- An introduction to Happy News, a website that's exactly what you think it is

- Alex's spoiler-free perspective on the space western TV series Firefly and its movie continuation, Serenity

Friday, July 30, 2010

Exfanding Review: Firefly and Serenity

Some things need to be stated right up front. That's just the way of things.

I am a Joss Whedon fan.

A big one, in fact. Still, I have never seen one of his shows as it aired on television. Even recently, and despite the fact that Dollhouse was on FOX for a year or two, I tend to be completely disinterested in whatever the man is doing, as he’s doing it.

Which is strange, since, as I said, I am a Joss Whedon fan. A big one.

Actually, let’s take that back--I do follow some in-progress Whedon--I read all of Joss’s comics as they ship. See? I really am a fan.

I guess I just don’t watch very much TV, is all. I don’t like commercials, and besides, pretty much everything on TV is horrible. And, on the off chance that something may not be horrible, I really don’t want to have to wait a week to watch the next episode.

Currently, the only TV show that I watch on a regular basis is HBO’s True Blood, which has no commercials. Still, the wait between shows is annoying, and re-watching season two on DVD has been much more enjoyable for me than was riding the season out as it happened. What can I say? I’m an impatient person.

But back to Whedon for the time being.

I think Buffy was one of the best ongoing TV series ever--and I’m not talking about best-ever “genre” shows, here. I’m talking, Best. Ever. It had pretty much everything I want from a story--deep, personal and emotional connections to the characters, a fun and funny, and alternatively horrific and deep, narrative, and elements of horror and the supernatural.

I think the drama of Buffy is on par with that of any show that’s been on TV in the last two decades. So, yeah. Kind of a fan. But that didn’t mean I watched the show while it was on television. I actually pretty much just scoffed at it while it enjoyed its nice, long run on the networks.
But then, after reading a couple issues of Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, I decided that I needed to try out a show or two of his.

Clearly, this guy could tell a story. So I bought season one of Buffy on DVD, watched the first couple of episodes, kind of liked them, watched a couple more, got a little more interested, got to the three-quarter mark, and couldn’t stop.

How had I missed this show? How had I ignored it for so long?

I bought the rest of the series on DVD over the course of the following weeks, and I proceeded to watch the entire series, one episode a night, and two on Sundays, for the next few months.

Buffy became my latest obsession. (Which, coincidentally, was the first name we came up with for this blog--My Latest Obsession, I mean, not Buffy--but we decided against it for some reason or another.)

Anyway, after I finished the very last episode of Buffy, I graduated to the Dark Horse series, and tried to follow Joss wherever he went (not literally). I watched Dr. Horrible many months after it was released online, and I loved it. I read Fray, and loved it. I continued on with Astonishing X-Men, and loved it.

I’d become a bona fide Whedon fan.

But I’d never watched Firefly.

That needed to be rectified. And so a poll was put up (or a hit number was reached and Nathaniel tricked me into believing that it was his turn to Exfand my horizons, though I can’t remember the last time I subjected him to one of my fandoms...), a decision was made, and there was a series to be watched.
Sure, it took us about six months to get through, but we did it. Well, I did it. Nathaniel had already seen the series, twice, I think. This past weekend, we finished the last episode and we sat down and watched the movie sequel, Serenity.

But all that’s inconsequential, because I was sold on Firefly after about five minutes of the first episode.

How had I missed this show? How had I ignored it for so long?

The world, the characters, the action, the drama. The funny. Oh, the funny. The Whedon twists, turns, and heartbreaks. The awkwardness of an awkward conversation. The gun fights with the laser pwew sounds.The horses in space.
Like Buffy, Firefly was world building at its finest and simplest. Here's the situation. This is what happened in the past. Here's what needs to be done to ensure our future. Here's how we're going to do it. Here's what goes wrong.

As with all of Whedon's properties, the ensemble cast of Firefly and Serenity --and their relationships with one another--worked brilliantly. Each character played off the others in a way that just felt real and organic.

And made me as a viewer feel like I was part of it all. A little sad/pathetic? Sure. But true, nonetheless.

Now, I could go into plot details and the like, but Nathaniel's excellent (and vintage!) post on the subject covers the basics, and besides, I stink at recapping/summarizing.

What I will say is this. I developed a stupid amount of affection for these characters. And, with any good story, it's not where the characters go, or what they do. It's who they are, and how they do things, that matters.

The main character--Captain Malcolm Reynolds--is a good guy. Until he's not. He's too human, too real of a character to be simply a good guy. He's not Batman. Or Superman. Or even Spider-Man, the everyday hero of the comics, with shades of grey and moral dilemmas and aunts to take care of and the rest. Still, Spider-Man throws on a costume, and he does what is right. Every. Single. Time.

Captain Reynolds, on the other hand, does not. Simply put, he is how he is, and that's why he does what he does.

His past as a soldier on the losing side of a war is essential to his being, and through red hot flashes of wrongness, there's an underlying morality and kindness at the heart of the character.

He just doesn't show it.

And so Mal does things he knows to be wrong, and he regrets, and he has to live with his decisions. He's a tragic hero that we root for, and despise, and ultimately root for again.

Jayne is an idiot. He's a fighter who drinks and punches too much and he thinks way too little. During the course of the show, we see what matters to Jayne--money, gold, money, women.

And yet we love him.

Somehow, Jayne's idiocy makes him endearing; his brutality makes him amusing; his total lack of concern for anyone who isn't him makes him real, and a threat, and a wonderful foil.

Wash is the funny one. The harmless one. The guy we can all identify with. Kaylee is the one with the good heart, the girl next door. As mechanic, she is quite literally the heart of Serenity. Zoe is the strong one; she makes things work. Without her, the crew--and the Captain--would be hopeless.

Shepherd Book is the reason, the moral fiber, and just enough of a mystery to make him both fatherly and dangerous at the same time. River is the enigma. Simon is the protector. Inara is the contradiction; the exemption to the rule.

The archetypes are all pretty conventional, very familiar, and yet they feel...different...somehow. And that's the beauty of what Joss Whedon brings to his work.

As we read, or watch, we feel like we've read it and seen it before. His work reminds us of the very best things we've ever come across--in sci-fi, in fantasy, in drama, in comics, in comedy--but they still feel new and fresh.

And that's the beauty of Whedon, and the beauty of Firefly.

I look forward to finding the next thing, years after it has ended in its original form, and asking myself, How have I missed this show? How have I ignored it for so long?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Share Your Happy News

After Tuesday's somewhat somber post, I think it's time for some happy news that syncs up better with all the good stuff Alex has been reporting about Comic-Con.

Thus, I present to you

Happy News is precisely what it sounds like--to quote its slogan, "Real news. Compelling stories. Always positive." Just like most other news sources, there are columns and categories such as Sports, Science & Technology, Health, and Business/Money, but the stories are guaranteed to be some combination of fun, uplifting, and informative. Depressing and trashy are out of the picture.

Happy News gets its material from all over the Internet, including everything from MSNBC to Brigham Young University and The Jerusalem Post. My pick of the week is a story from CNN about how soccer player (or footballer, if you prefer) David Beckham single-handedly increased LEGO sales by 663%.

There's a lot of good news to be found, if you know where to look. Got a great story to share? Post a link in the comments section; we'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 30

Welcome to the first post Comic-Con edition of Waiting for Wednesday. It’s obviously been a crazy week in the world of comics, and there’s still so much news that broke over the weekend that I could dedicate a week’s worth of space on the blog to writing about just what was announced from Marvel and DC.

And, while I won’t be doing that, I figured WfW is the perfect place to talk about some of the comic book-specific news coming out of the show. Monday’s post focused on the Big Stuff--the movie and TV news, mostly--but, just as it tends to happen at Comic-Con itself, the comics stuff got lost in the mix.

This year especially, I think comics were pretty much completely overshadowed by the deluge of Hollywood news, stars, and trailers.

Which is okay, I guess, because that’s the kind of stuff that gets picked up by mainstream media outlets and spreads the word. The more people who go and see Scott Pilgrim, the better, right?

So that’s cool, but it’s also important to remember that there would be no Scott Pilgrim movie if there wasn’t a Scott Pilgrim comic. And there’d be no Scott Pilgrim comic if there wasn’t a Bryan Lee O’Malley behind it.

And Comic-Con--while celebrating comics in new media is important--needs to focus just a bit more on the creators the show itself possible.

Anyway, that’s a whole tangent that I don’t need to get going on.

I did want to just mention a couple of comics-type things announced at SDCC that have me excited and/or surprised, though. For example, Marvel announced that they will be publishing CrossGen comics, a move that many were anticipating since Disney bought Marvel. (Disney bought the CrossGen properties when the publisher folded several years back.)

This is Very Good news for fans, since CrossGen put out some of the best non-superhero comics on the market in the early 2000s. Their stable of creators featured a veritable who’s-who of the comics industry, including talent like Steve McNiven, Steve Epting, Mark Waid, Butch Guice, George Perez, and Chuck Dixon.

I got into comics right at the time CrossGen was having their financial problems, so I missed out on a lot of good books. Because of the issues surrounding CrossGen’s eventual bankruptcy, series were only partially (or not at all) collected in trades.

I'm really looking forward to getting new editions of trades and hard covers from the books that saw print, and maybe even some new monthlies! And since many of the writers and artists who made CrossGen a premiere outlet now reside at’s hoping some cool stuff is on the way.

The only other thing I wanted to mention today is that, as they do every year, DC has released podcasts of their SDCC panels. These include a great DC Writers panel, several spotlight panels on Vertigo and Wildstorm books and creators, and plenty of DCU news.

You can check them out here along with slideshows and videos from the show.

I always look forward to these recordings releasing after the show, as I feel like DC gives its fans a chance to get in on the action of Comic-Con, even if you didn’t have to wait on line and fight your way into one of the conference rooms.

Or, ya know, leave your house at all.

So go check them out--they’re well worth your time, I promise. And they’re free! Which is always good. With that, let’s get on with the show. Here’s what I’m looking forward to buying today.

First up, we have Wonder Woman, issue 601, from writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Don Kramer. As it's widely known, JMS is taking over both Superman and Wonder Woman for the next year or so at DC.
And, while there has been some griping from fans (mostly over the fact that the two characters are pretty much off-limits to all other DC creators over JMS' time on the books), Wonder Woman appears to be headed off in an interesting direction.

It's a little sad, though, because (previous writer) Gail Simone put together one of the great runs on the character over the past two years.

Put JMS brings with him a built-in fan base, and orders on this title are going to increase, across the board. Here's the solicitation information from DC:

Best-selling comics writer J. Michael Straczynski (THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Thor) smashes all your expectations of Wonder Woman by launching an all-new era for the Amazon Princess! Spinning out of the mind-bending events of WONDER WOMAN #600, Diana must face the biggest mystery of all – who destroyed Paradise Island?

Don Kramer's art was great in the 6-page preview of the series featured in Wonder Woman, issue 600, and his past work on Batman and JSA was stunning.

So, yeah, I'll be on board for the first couple of issues, to see where it's going.

Next up, we have a book I know nothing about, save what I've seen in some scattered previews online. From Moonstone Books, Vampire, PA, issue one, ships today. I know, I know. What is Moonstone, and what are the chances of your store actually carrying their books, right?
Well, you might be surprised--Moonstone publishes those great Phantom books, as well as a bunch of other pulp books. They have a strong presence in the shops in my area, and in chain bookstores, as well.

So, why Vampire, PA, if I know nothing about it?

Last year at the Baltimore Con, I met the Fraim brothers, two great artists who worked on Antiques: The Comic Strip, a personal favorite of mine.'s vampires! Here's the blurb from Moonstone:

From the writer of Zombie-Proof comes this trip to Western Pennsylvania’s oddly vampire-rich environment!

Vampires in suburbia? Dean Marklin didn’t think so. In fact, he didn’t believe in vampires at all. Then he met one. Then he met lots more, and they all wanted to kill him! Now he’s a vampire hunter, and he’s pursued by a beautiful vampire while he tries to hold onto what’s left of normal life. How do you think that’s working out for him?

The Fraim Brothers have a great, classic style, so I'll read pretty much anything they're attached to (even if vampires are the new zombies in comics currently). Seriously, check out the Fraims' website--they offer amazing commissions at amazing prices.

And with that, I'm out. But before I go--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Difference Between TNG and DS9

My original post for today was not an uplifting one: It has been a very difficult two months for me and for many people I know, and I have reached the point where I can no longer escape into works of fiction to completely avoid the pain, nor can I stomach any more of the bad news that has been arriving on a weekly or even daily basis.

As I wrote the post, I came to realize that the post wasn't written for an audience--it was written for me. Granted, I often write for myself and hope others find that interesting, but still. This blog is often a forum for my more profound thoughts, a place for geeky catharsis, but this time was different. This time I was writing out all the words that were obstructing the words I wanted to write. There is a time for personal reflection, and there is a place for serious discussion, and even I know that there are times when it's simply not appropriate to be silly, but the fact is that there's simply too much good to dwell on the bad forever, no matter how terrifying and heart-wrenching it has been.

Allow me to explain.

I've been going back and forth between watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I grew up with and have seen virtually all of, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which I tried to follow when it first came on the air and stopped watching near the beginning of Season Two when I determined that it was too dark and political for my young tastes.

In Next Generation, there is always a happy ending. No matter how much pain and suffering the characters endure, with rare exception, the good always outweighs the bad. What I've observed so far about Deep Space Nine is that there is no happy ending. There is no silver lining. Things happen, and either they make things worse, or they make things a lot worse. No matter how much good there is in an episode, the immediate or long-term ramifications of the bad usually manage to smother it. Even with an episode that ends on a positive note, there's a persistent feeling of entropy, like everything is gradually headed toward utter disaster--the worst is always yet to come.

Personally, I prefer to live with the hope that better things are on the way, and that the best is yet to come. My original blog post was headed in the Deep Space Nine direction, and while the honesty and candor of something that tells it like it is may have resonated with people, the end of my post was not shaping up to be very hopeful. I may not be able to escape all the slings and arrows of the world, but I can at least do my part to keep this little corner of the blogosphere geeky and cheerful for those who still can.

We've all got serious stuff to deal with at some point in our lives. We deny it, we hide from it, and sometimes we even confront it, but at the end of the day, we can only move on if there is something to move on to. I'm not saying it's healthy or even possible to completely move on from some things, but if Star Trek: Voyager taught us anything, it's that there's always the hope of ending up where you want to be--even if it looks like it'll take 75 years to get there--as long as you start moving in the right direction.

For all the bad that has transpired these past two months, there has been a tremendous amount of good. Between getting settled in to my very own apartment, making a day trip this past weekend with two of my best friends, sharing dinner and Star Trek with my sister almost every night for the past few weeks, and marathoning the Rocky movies with my Special Someone, I've got a lot to smile about--and that's just the beginning.

Call me idealistic, but I'm convinced that there's too much to enjoy and look forward to in this life to be forever pinned down by the serious stuff. I realize now that I've been overwhelmed because I can't escape far enough from the tragic and the depressing. Instead of retreating, I should be advancing--pursuing the hobbies and passions that make me happy, and that, in whatever little way, help to make this planet a better place for others who could use something to smile about.

Stay tuned for scenes from the next Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Comic-Con Wrap Up

Well, as it does every year, somehow the comics industry has made it through San Diego's Comic-Con. As usual, there was plenty of big news from all of the publishers--both large and small press--and Hollywood's presence was felt, greater than ever, on each day of the show.

Stars like Bruce Willis, Angelina Jolie, and Harrison Ford (!!!) were all on hand for the insanity, and we got our first looks at exciting new movies, TV shows, video games, and--oh, yeah--comic books.

There was so much stuff going on at the show that it was even kind of difficult to keep up with breaking news on the various comics sites online. Still, there were a few things that stood out in my mind that I'd like to talk about briefly here.

So, what follows is a very-not-complete list of things I found interesting from this year's show, each with a brief explanation as to why I found these things so interesting.

Right. So...

--DC's biggest panel was clearly their Green Lantern movie panel, which featured a very short (and visually lacking) teaser of the film that was still met with loud, prolonged cheers from the audience.

I mean, sure, if you're going to a Green Lantern movie panel--one that you probably waited in line for hours to get into, no less--you're going to be excited by what you see there.

Still, from all accounts online, it appears that there was some very positive buzz coming out of the panel. And Ryan Reynolds, as he always is at these things, was very funny and interacted well with the crowded-to-capacity room of fans.

He even recited the GL Oath to the delight of some kid in the audience who was clearly a plant to trip the actor up. (Actually, from what I've read, it was a very cool moment, it made the kid's day, and Reynolds even signed a comic for him. Very cool.)

--The late Will Eisner's seminal work, A Contract with God, will be adapted for the big screen. Contract is widely considered to be the first graphic novel as we know the term today.

Contract as a film? It's certainly cinematic in the way Eisner brilliantly told the story. I hope Hollywood can do this book justice.

--AMC's upcoming Walking Dead adaptation was the talk of the Con, and the video footage shown at the panel was met with nothing but positive reaction.
You can check it out here. Lots of zombies at the show, and it's clear that AMC is going to have a huge hit on their hands.

--Harrison Ford--the real, live Harrison Ford--showed up to his first Comic-Con ever. And he did so in handcuffs. Go. Read. Awesome.

--The first Thor trailer was shown, and Chris Hemsworth was on hand to give countless interviews about the film.

Mixed reaction going into the show about this film, much better now that people have seen props, costumes, and action. Nerdom breathes a sigh of relief. For now.

--The full cast of Marvel's upcoming (and frothily anticipated) Avengers movie showed up and...ahem...assembled for the first time, on stage in front of a raucous crowd. The line-up included Jeremy Renner, who was just announced as Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo, who was announced as replacing Ed Norton as the Hulk.

Here's Joss Whedon telling you why this is cool.
--And, finally, the biggest news of the Con for me came out of The Goon panel, which featured Eric Powell, David Fincher, and Paul Giamatti.

They teased the heck out of this film--which they are now actively shopping around to studios. The nearly three minute trailer was played three times during the panel and was met each time with louder cheering from the audience.

Giamatti expressed his love for the book, and his hope that it gets picked up by a major studio very soon. The buzz was incredibly positive, and dozens of sites picked up the trailer footage, which will no doubt help the movie along.

Ahhh! So cool...

I could literally go on all day with news from the weekend, but I really, really have to go. and stuff.

But I'll have more comics-centric news as the week goes on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Apparently, the Teller Belonged to the Rebel Alliance

Sometimes, there are things that happen that just...well, they somehow seem utterly appropriate while still managing to be all sorts of wrong.

Case in point--a couple of days ago, Darth Vader robbed a bank. With a gun.

Here’s the article. You pretty much only need to look at the photos to get the gist of it.

Thanks to Dr. Nick Riviera for sending along the link, and for pointing out the best line of the article:

The Dark Lord of the Sith made off with an undisclosed amount of money from the Setauket Chase Bank branch.

Yep. Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

-- -- -- --

Enjoy your Sundays, everyone, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How I Got Into Gaming

Little-known fact: My career as a gamer nearly ended not long after it started. I almost turned out to be a normal kid.

Rewind to a time when I was much younger, back in the age of single digits. We had an old Atari 2600 with a good selection of games at my grandparents' house; I have fond memories of climbing up to the guest bedroom and trying my tiny hand at Frogger, Yars' Revenge, and Haunted House, taking on Raiders of the Lost Ark with my father, then taking him down in Combat. I grew up on gameplay, not graphics, and those simple-yet-challenging time-waster games honed my skills and helped to shape my notions of what a video game should and should not be.

I wanted to have a gaming system at home, and Santa Claus was generous enough to bring me my very own Nintendo Entertainment System one year. Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt came standard, of course, but there were two more games to keep the cartridge company: Gradius and Crystalis. Quite a nice selection, actually--a platformer, a primitive first-person shooter, a sidescrolling space shoot-em-up, and a top-down action-RPG.

Duck Hunt never held my interest for too long; my aunt also had an NES, and I'd occasionally play the game at her house when we were over to visit, at least until I discovered the superior Hogan's Alley. Like anyone else who's ever played with the Zapper peripheral, I stood close enough to the TV that my gun tapped the screen as I fired. Those ducks never got away.

Super Mario Bros. didn't fare much better. I liked all the running and jumping, but the controls were just too loose compared to the necessarily rigid Atari games I was used to playing, and I just didn't have the attention span to play all the way through the game in one sitting, especially when the levels started getting more difficult and repetitive.

Gradius was a lot of fun, especially when I got my dad to go in for the 2-player mode (lots of fond memories of playing video games with my family members), but it wasn't a question of attention span--we simply weren't good enough to last longer than stage 2 or 3. Getting to stage 4 was pushing it, and anything beyond that required the use of Game Genie. I cheated my way through most games when I was younger, but it helped me to feel a sense of accomplishment that encouraged me to keep playing.

Crystalis was my favorite, though Gradius came close. This is another game my dad played with me for a while, but even with Game Genie, we reached a point where we physically could not proceed: the first boss of the game, a teleporting vampire, was utterly invincible! The hero's sword just clanged off his cape! It was hopeless. What a dumb idea, to make a video game that people can't beat. I put the game on the shelf, and I almost put my gaming career up there with it.

Gradius was fun, but given its linear nature and lack of replay value when the only progress made is by using cheat codes that allow you to maintain all the best weapons and shielding the whole time, there wasn't much reason to go back after a certain point. Duck Hunt was still an OK diversion, but I was a creative enough lad that there were other ways to occupy my time. Super Mario Bros. had just gotten old.

My Nintendo actually sat unloved and unused for a period of time that might astound anyone who knows how much I enjoy video games. It probably would have been abandoned even sooner if it weren't for the rule my parents enforced that I could only play video games for an hour a day. That's a rule that was in place for several years, though the time limit got more flexible as time went on, but it definitely helped to keep me from developing an unhealthy dependency at such an impressionable age. Good parenting, I say.

This is the part where I would have grown up to be...actually, I'm not sure what. Probably more bookish and into television. Video games were expensive, so my game library wasn't really expanding. I played video games with my friends when I was over at their houses to visit, but the few I remember are ones we were really bad at. Games were fun enough, but I was just as happy to play Magic: The Gathering or run around on the playground pretending to captain a starship.

I tried out Faxanadu and The Legend of Zelda at other people's houses. I rented The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout from the local video store. My babysitter brought her alien Game Gear and let me try Columns. My friend's father was always playing a different SNES RPG every time I came to visit. I borrowed my grandmother's Game Boy to play Tetris. I got Final Fantasy as a birthday gift, but I ended up being too chicken to enter the final dungeon for fear that my whole party might get killed off.

I was exposed to a wide variety of games, and I got a lot of enjoyment out of video games, but there was no groundwork in place for gaming to turn into a real hobby. I'd reached the end of what I could do with my home library of games, and I typically didn't have enough time or practice with other people's games to make significant progress.

There were definitely games I liked, and I talked about video games with my friends enough to suggest that I was a total fanboy, but I had yet to find a game that ensnared my attention and captured my imagination the way, say, Star Trek had. I enjoyed Super Mario Bros. 2, for example, but I wasn't drawing up my own levels at home or doodling pictures of the characters during school, which I absolutely did with a few other games.

Things quickly changed when I discovered the stash of Nintendo Power magazines belonging to the son of someone my mother was friends with. I was lucky enough to acquire a small stack to bring home with me.

Despite all the video games I'd played, it wasn't until reading a magazine about video games that I truly became interested in the hobby. As I turned the pages, I discovered fascinating worlds and exciting adventures to be had--clearly, Nintendo's sneaky plan for having a self-promotional elite hint magazine was working.

Dragon Warrior promised an immersive world of strategy, exploration, and dangerous monsters--not too far off from some of the reasons I liked Star Trek at the time. Flashback: The Quest for Identity looked like a neat blend of the platforming I'd come to love and the creative puzzle-solving I enjoyed--plus, there were aliens, and I was already well on my way to being a huge sci-fi dork.

There were many games that caught my eye, but one stood high above the rest. My game library suffered from linearity and repetition; this game seemed to have a limitless replay value. Most of the games I knew had memorable bosses but forgettable stage enemies; this game's foes, both large and small, were simply oozing with character. Most of the games I knew also had a tiered weapon system, where every weapon you got was just an improvement on the old one; this game gave you choices, and each weapon had its own distinct abilities (something I appreciated about the swords, armors, and spells in Crystalis).

This game was different. This game was more up my alley than anything I'd ever seen. This game was Mega Man 2.

That year, Santa brought me Mega Man 4.

Initially, I was ready to sack the elf responsible for the mix-up. Still, it was a Mega Man game, and I really didn't have any other video games to play at the time, so I gave it a shot.

I failed miserably. That game was hard. Eight stages to choose from, and I couldn't get anywhere.

But, I kept going, and it wasn't long before Mega Man 2 got pushed to the back of my mind as a curiosity. The controls were responsive, the gameplay was right up my alley, the music was great, the visuals were pretty, and the game was just complex enough to stay interesting despite repeated Game Overs. At first, it was all about exploration--try out a new level, see what the game has to offer, see how far I can get. Then it was about strategy--determining which stages I had the best shot at defeating, and figuring out how to defeat the boss if I ever got that far.

Once again, this was a bonding opportunity for me and my father, as I distinctly remember calling him in for the showdown against Dive Man so that he could monitor my energy so I could pay attention to the fight and reserve the E-Tank to the very last moment.

There was an incredible sensation of accomplishment for the victory, and the reward wasn't just that I'd get to go to the next stage--I got a shiny new weapon that'd bring me continued success.

I think that password may still be excitedly scribbed down in the instruction manual somewhere.

That's when I knew this was my game. It was a long and difficult road to make any kind of progress whatsoever in Mega Man 4, but each success led to greater success, and by the time I reached the fortress stages, it was sheer skill and willpower that kept me going to the end. I even packed up my NES and brought the whole system on vacation just so I wouldn't have to go a week without playing. I was hooked.

When you put that much time, effort, and focus into something, that something becomes a part of you. The experience of spending weeks upon weeks to beat Mega Man 4--a game that I can now breeze through in just over an hour--is one that shaped who I am as a gamer. I've rarely worked so hard in my life for one of my fandoms, and most of the other examples I can think of are also Mega Man-related.

I can't give Mega Man 4 all the credit, but I can trace so many aspects of my life as a gamer back to that game. I'm a Mega Man nut because I think the games are fantastic, but Mega Man is the game that truly got me into gaming as a hobby, a passion, and not just something to do instead of watching TV.

Somewhere around that same time, I picked Crystalis back up. With the wisdom I'd gained from playing games like Final Fantasy, I realized my character was not yet strong enough to take on the indestructible bat boss. If your level is two low, your sword simply clangs off of the enemy you're trying to hit. I puttered around a field and a cave for a while, hacking apart blue blobs and slaying tiger men, and after a time I was able to defeat the boss that almost prompted me to abandon gaming. I'm glad I went back, too, because Crystalis ended up being one of my all-time favorite video games.

Despite its tendency to cause frustration, gaming is still one of the best stress-relievers I know. It's a chance to escape from the outside world when I need a break, but it's also a way to immerse myself in music and visual art and feel like I'm actually accomplishing something all at once.

Gaming has allowed me to connect with people whose interests might not otherwise match up with mine, and it's the reason I'm letting my creativity run free on the Internet with GameCola articles and YouTube videos. Gaming has kept my inspiration flowing through good times and bad, and I've made new friends from around the world thanks to this silly little hobby. It's even helped me to connect with my family on a different level than usual, and it gives me an excuse to wear some really fun t-shirts.

Everybody's got a hobby. I've got a lot, but I might just be a gamer above all else. My geekdom started with the Atari, continued with the NES, stuck around because of friends and family, and became a full-fledged fandom with Nintendo Power and Mega Man. It's part of my history, it's part of who I am, and, I hope, it will be a part of my future.

Someday, I want to be there with my son or daughter, shouting, "USE AN E-TANK NOW!!!"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Comic-Con Madness

So, in my lead up to Comic-Con post from the beginning of this week, I left out something that, to me at least, will be the Most Important and Awesome Thing to happen in San Diego.

By far.

I mean, sure, we’ve already found out that Guillermo Del Toro will be remaking The Haunted Mansion for Disney, and that The Walking Dead has generated a massive amount of buzz thus far...

But there is news that trumps all of these things, combined.

As alluded to in the comments section a couple of days ago, Dark Horse writer/illustrator Eric Powell will have a Friday evening panel dedicated to the forthcoming Goon movie from producer David Fincher and Blur Studios. (Which, of course, is based on the comic series of the same name. And that series just happens to be the Greatest Comic Ever, Officially.)

And I’m kind of a fan.

What’s more, in advance of the panel, the people at Blur Studios released a 30-second teaser trailer for the animated film, featuring the voice talents of Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.

And MTV's excellent Splash Page ran the teaser earlier this week. You can check it out right here.

Like I said. Most Important and Awesome Thing to happen in San Diego.

But wait...there's more. This evening's panel will feature plenty more on the movie, and there's a promise of an extended trailer. And MTV has promised to show the trailer immediately following the conclusion of the panel.

Can't...contain...giddiness...any longer...

And the reason I didn't post right after that first trailer hit the Interwebs, basically, was because I was too amped up. Too nerded out to post coherently. (Well, "coherently" for me, anyway.)

I'll have a follow up once the new trailer hits, followed by a Comic-Con wrap up proper early next week. There's also my official "Alex Finally Watched Serenity and Firefly" post coming next week.

So keep staying tuned...and happy Friday!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Best and Worst of Both Worlds

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won't name any names, but I've been playing a video game that involves a battle of two interconnected worlds, each of which draws power from the other one for survival. As one world thrives, the other slowly perishes, until the flow of power is reversed--like a cosmic hourglass. This is how I feel about my life at this point in time.

Here I am, living in my brand-new apartment, all by myself, except for a guest who's staying the summer. For as much of a solitary creature as I am, I am acutely aware of how much I've needed the company throughout the past several weeks. I get edgy when I don't have my alone time, but the emptiness can be overwhelming when I've got no one to be alone from. It's been good to have the company, for more reasons than are necessary to list.

The world where I am a social being, sharing things with others and enjoying spending time together, is thriving. The world where I am alone, utterly independent, and wholly focused on my own activities is crying out for help.

In this solitary world, I gain creative powers less than or equal to my wildest imagination. I run with the creative vibe for as long as it lasts, and I take breaks when I see fit. When other people are with me, I work my side projects and pastimes around them. When I'm on my own, I work myself around my activities.

This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing; it's just how I operate. I've been so involved in making custom video game levels that I've worked straight through lunch without so much as a passing thought, until my ravenous stomach started nibbling on itself around four in the afternoon. I've stayed up until three in the morning working on a blog post for the next day, despite having to wake up for work in another few hours. I say it's worth it if I'm satisfied with what I've been working on.

I had a nice little burst of creativity that lasted a few days. I wrote up my first thoroughly official Exfanding post in too many months to count. I produced three new articles for GameCola, two of which were quite substantial. I recorded footage for my next three or four "Flash Flood" videos. That's to say nothing of the generally productive domestic things I accomplished. I had my alone time, and I took full advantage of it.

There was, however, some balance. Though I was alone the whole week, I had company a few nights. I even got out of the house. Some social time, some alone time. Now, the social world has sapped away almost all the energy from the solitary world, and I'm using my last few iotas of isolation to write this post. As I wrote about in a previous post, things aren't quite in balance.

Yet, I know that when the company leaves and I'm on my own again, I'll start longing for company before long. Creativity needs something to run off of, and there's only so much inside me I have to burn before I need to be recharged by other people. Furthermore, there's only so much I want to creatively output without spending time with others, strengthening the bonds that are as valuable and enduring as anything I could put out on the Internet for longevity.

I'm shifting between two worlds, and it's an either/or situation: either I have company or I don't. My apartment isn't big enough to hide away from anyone else who's there, nor am I quite close enough to any of my friends or family to just run next door whenever I want to break the solitude. I appreciate that I'm in an apartment situation with other people who I occasionally see popping in and out of their homes, but I haven't gotten to know anyone to the point where I was at college where I could leave my door open and randomly drop by someone else's room for an evening.

There is a balance to be had, but not just yet. For now, I'll make the most of the social and solitary opportunities, and try not to melt down when I've got too much of one or the other.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 29

On this Comic-Con Eve, we all gather ‘round the Tree of Dork to give thanks for all of the geeky goodness that has been brought to us this past year.

From the triumphant (and profitable!) return of Tony Stark to the impending premiere of Scott Pilgrim, comic book movies once again ruled the world.

Except for Jonah Hex.

He ruled nothing, and he liked it.

From the death of (SPOILER!) Nightcrawler to the return of (NO SPOILER, SINCE IT DIDN’T REALLY HAPPEN YET! it’s the title) Bruce Wayne (kinda...maybe...he’s a pirate!); from the end of sales juggernaut that was Blackest Night to the beginning of the moderate success that is Brightest Day; from the shifting around of DC and Marvel editorial (Geoff Johns was named King of Continuity, officially) to the announcement that Stan Lee will be writing for BOOM!’s been a typical, wacky, too-much-fun-for-one-fanbase-to-handle year in the comic book industry proper.

In these past twelve months, we got the best Batman video game ever, an international surprise hit in Kick-Ass, and the biggest indy comic since that last one in Image’s Chew. We saw the X-Men take on the vampires and the JLA take on the JSA (and, sometimes, the JLA took on itself, which was fun).

We watched anxiously as Disney bought Marvel, and we jumped up and down at the news that Frank Darabont will be bringing Walking Deadto the small screen. We looked on in both abject horror and giddy curiosity as comics featuring the first appearances of Batman and Superman sold for well over a million dollars, each.

We lost comics luminaries Dick Giordano and Harvey Pekar, and the industry will never be the same without them.

There were Sieges and Dark Reigns, series finales and even a comic book “skip” week. But we made it. We got through. And now we stand at the precipice of another Comic-Con, another 4-day mega-event that puts geek culture on the Big Stage, in front of the whole world.

So give yourselves all a big pat on the back, and brace yourselves for the next 12 months. But first, to celebrate the moment before geekdom explodes tomorrow, I’m going to the comic book store this evening.

And this is what I’ll be buying:

Speaking of multimedia sees the release of True Blood, issue one, from IDW. This is the official tie-in to the (excuse the term) monster hit HBO series, and you can bet your bitten neck that this book is going to sell out, quickly.
Fans of the show are (*ahem*) ravenous (I should know, since I’m one), and with Comic-Con this week, IDW is going to sell tons of copies of this issue.

Typically, I shy away from TV or movie tie-ins (mostly because they’re mostly horrible), but IDW is the unquestioned king of the licensed property. They do amazing work with already-established characters, and I’m willing to bet that this book is going to be great.

Like I said, I’m a big fan of the show--which I think is one of the best-written series on TV right now--and so I’ll be sure to grab a copy. Coupled with an aggressive digital push, IDW will be selling limited editions of this book in San Diego.

Here’s the solicitation information from IDW:

Alan Ball’s hit HBO series, the sensually sizzling story of the lives and loves of vampires, mind readers, and all manner of creatures, comes to IDW!

Blood and sex mix on a hot rainy night at Merlotte's, when Sookie and her friends are trapped by a vengeful spirit who feeds on shame. People die and dirty secrets are revealed as Sookie, Bill, Eric, Sam, Tara, Jason, and Lafayette and are all coerced to dig deep and tell painful memories from their past—those things we all have locked within us that we never tell another living soul!

Bon Temps, Louisiana has never been stranger, or more twisted, in a story co-plotted by TRUE BLOOD series creator Alan Ball, with a script by David Tischman (Bite Club) and Mariah Huehner, and lush art by David Messina (Star Trek: Countdown).

This is one of those mythical cross-over titles, where non-comics people will come into the stores looking for their copies. Just like with Marvel's first series of Stephen King's Dark Tower books, IDW has the right people excited about True Blood.

Let's just hope they're able to keep them excited.

Next up, we have a book that I love, for some very not-so-clear reasons. But, since it is the day before one of the biggest collectors' events in the world, I figure it makes sense mentioning it here.

Today sees the release of the 40th annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. And, even though I'm not huge on the whole, comics as collectibles thing...this book is pretty important for anyone who has even a passing interest in collecting, or in learning about the history of the hobby.
I've bought a copy two of the last four years, and I plan to pick one up this year, as well. As far as comics price guides go, Overstreet is king. But the real meat of this book--for me, at least--comes in the hundred-plus pages in the front of book.

There, retailers, experts, and collectors all talk about how certain comics have increased or decreased in value over the past 12 months, and why. There's also several features on historic events, characters, and creators throughout the book, and--oh, yeah--the hundreds of pages of the actual price guide.

The other thing I love about the Guide is the ads! There are literally hundreds of them, and they range from colorful to downright pompous. But they're all great. So, yeah, I suspect that this is a book that people interested in the topic will be buying for sure, and everyone else will look at it as a giant paperweight.

Anyway...time to go. But before I do--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Day to Go...

Since today’s the day before Preview Night at Comic-Con--which is the official kick-off to the geek event to end all geek events--I figured I’d talk a bit about the show, and the encroachment of other media onto the show.

And then I decided to do a Google search for "Comic-Con," and I ended up getting a little mad. But I'll get to that in a minute. First thing's first.

I’ve heard many people say that San Diego is no longer a “comic con.” Instead, it’s become a multimedia, multi-genre, pop cultural mega-fest, featuring everything from major movie studio announcements to quarter bins filled with raggedy old comics.

And, even though the latter is becoming about as rare as a copy of Action Comics, issue 1, there are still dedicated comics dealers at the show. Sure, they're no longer the focus of the show; but they're there.

And I think it's important that Comic-Con has become this multimedia beast-this looming Lovecraftian monster of geek--because it brings the good that the industry has to offer to the masses.

I mean, sure, maybe there's just a bit too much of this:
But, c'mon! Who's that really hurting?

These days, Comic-Con is the launching pad for new movies, in most genres, and major directors and actors know that San Diego is the must-attend show of the year.

Which, I think, is a good thing. Comics characters are just as viable as an myth or folktale that's lasted centuries, and they deserve their time up on the big screen. But what would Comic-Con be without some controversy, right?

Check out this article, over at the Huffinton Post. Once you're good and annoyed, go check out this response, from a blogger at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Once you're done there, go check out this from the LA Times, telling us why Comic-Con is so important.

Finally, get your geek shoes ready, do your hair and make-up, and brace yourself for Nerd Prom 2010!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Time to Jump Ship?

I just finished playing The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and after my experience trying to complete Final Fantasy II's Bestiary, I didn't waste any time scurrying to the final dungeon after it became available, though there were still at least two hours worth of sidequests to complete (if not more). The prospect of spending most of my sidequest time in dull transit to/from the interesting place I wanted to be wasn't so thrilling. I may have finally learned my lesson. I actually jumped ship, and I don't feel bad about it.

This, however, concerns me:

It's the future of Mega Man, and it's starting to look like I might need to jump ship on my favorite video game franchise. That's one of the worst fanboy feelings there is--needing to abandon your favorite fandom because it's going places you don't want to go.

Hi, Star Trek.

Perhaps "abandon" is too strong a word. I'll still go see the next Star Trek movie. I'll continue to watch this whole Mega Man Universe thing develop; after all, its way too soon to be jumping to any conclusions, let alone jumping ship. But I like satisfying conclusions, and if this is going even remotely the way I'm expecting it to, my two all-time favorite fandoms will have ended on a disappointing note before transitioning into something too different for me to want to follow.

In the meantime, I'm cautiously awaiting Metroid: Other M, which I've deliberately read next to nothing about. All I know is that it's looking a little too cinematic for a Metroid game, and I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with the gameplay.

Then, in the back of my mind, I'm anticipating the next Tales of Monkey Island game, mostly because the ending of Telltale Games' episodic series left the fandom in a weird place that may or may not be resolved to anyone's satisfaction.

There's that new Predators movie out in theaters. I like the Alien films way better than the Predator ones, but because they're in the same continuity, it's kind of my responsibility as a fan to see this latest installment, though the gore-fest that was Alien vs. Predator: Requiem and the new trailer don't give my faint heart much enthusiasm to go.

Dungeons & Dragons left the rules for version 3.5 in the dust and has been pressing on with 4th edition for some time now. I have no plans of ever owning a 4e rulebook, and I've even stopped looking at the new D&D Miniatures that are being released.

I haven't watched much of the last two seasons yet, but Stargate: SG-1 underwent some significant cast changes over the years, and the little bit I saw of the later episodes just didn't hold my interest the way the rest of the series had. I can't speak for Stargate: Atlantis beyond the first season, but from what I've heard and seen of Stargate Universe, this latest spinoff isn't shaping up to be anything I'm interested in, should I ever manage to catch up with everything else. Fingers crossed that the Universe suffix doesn't so drastically affect Mega Man.

I don't even know where Star Wars is anymore. I saw that CG Clone Wars movie and caught the last half of a TV episode in the same style, but I got irrevocably lost after it went beyond the movies.

I'd rather not dwell on the past, but I'm a creature of habit, and I know myself well. It's going to be tough keeping up with any geeky thing I really like if these trends continue, and if my predictions have any merit whatsoever. I'm running out of favorite fandoms that are still going, and still going in directions I can and want to follow.

Man, it's a good thing I don't keep up with new comics, or else I might be complaining about Batman or Siege or whichever one it is that people have objected to. Though, at least with comics, there's a greater chance that someone else will pick up your favorite character/series long after it's gone somewhere unpleasant.

On the bright side, if everything I love goes sour, it'll save me lots of money throughout the rest of my life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rocky: Love, Friendship, and Boxing...A Movie Series with Heart

The saga of boxer Rocky Balboa is unique in its depth, quality, continuity, and widespread appeal. The six movies that make up the Rocky series tell a compelling, meaningful, and action-packed story that's just as appropriate for Sports Night as it is for Date Night. With its heart-pounding (and head-pounding) fight scenes, organic and often funny dialogue, and remarkably believable characters, Rocky's got more than enough to please people from all walks of life, regardless of race, color, or Creed.

The six Rocky films follow the life of Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa, a no-name fighter whose tough exterior and punchy speech belie the sensitivity and wisdom within, a man who literally and figuratively rolls with the punches and goes wherever life takes him. Rocky suffers some hard blows both in and outside the boxing ring, but he draws strength from his friends and family and regains clarity when he returns to his roots as a boy from urban Philadelphia.

Indeed, the Rocky saga is one of triumph over impossible odds, faithfulness to the ones you love, remembering who you are and where you came from, and beating the snot out of big, burly men. Strong character interactions cover a wide range of emotions, and varied storylines offer a chance to reflect on everything from social status to intercultural tensions to growing old and being past your prime.

Each Rocky movie culminates in a big fight, but the road that leads there shapes what happens there, and the ramifications of what happen in the fight are rarely confined to the boxing ring. They're not movies about boxing, nor are they movies that happen to have boxing in them: the Rocky films chronicle the life of this guy named Rocky Balboa, period. This is emphasized by the fact that the films span thirty years, the first having been released in 1976 and the last in 2006, so the actors grow older with their characters.

From a cinematic standpoint, the films are very much a product of their time period--the music and storytelling style make it very easy to pinpoint the year or decade each film was released--yet there's still a timeless feel about them.

Almost without exception, each film picks up exactly where the last one left off, enhancing the sensation that this is indeed a story rather than just a bunch of movies. Even so, it's the actors who truly sell the story aspect--Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and many others make their characters come alive to the point where you forget anybody is acting.

Rocky also perfected the art of the montage: every film has at least one training montage or flashback sequence that helps to illustrate how things are changing and how things have changed (or stayed constant). The montages are interesting enough on their own, but when you throw in composer Bill Conti's triumphant "Gonna Fly Now" (AKA "Theme to Rocky") or Survivor's incredibly catchy "Eye of the Tiger," the montages can become very uplifting and powerful.

In contrast to almost any other non-trilogy movie series, and almost without exception, each Rocky picks up exactly where the last one left off, or close enough that you can use your imagination to fill in the gaps. This makes the Rocky series an excellent choice for a movie marathon: Sure, you can watch one at a time, but the films are better in pairs, trilogies, a quartet and a pair, or all six in a row (c'mon; what else could you possibly need those twelve hours for?).

Regardless of how you watch the films, it's almost essential to start with the first one (though each film has enough flashbacks and explanation for you to jump in anywhere, if you have to, I guess). However, I've heard multiple people say that the first movie was okay, but it didn't enthuse them enough to bother with the rest of the series.

Take my advice: Watch Rocky, and if you don't vehemently hate the film, watch Rocky II. The first two movies are different enough from each other that you'll almost certainly play favorites, and I've found that Rocky II is the film that gets naysayers hooked.

If you're still indifferent to or turned off by both movies, you'd best stop there--the standard of quality is fairly consistent across the series, and if you haven't been won over by the end of II, then there's just no hope for you. If you have been won over, then there's really no reason not to see the saga through to its completion, unless your interest honestly begins to wane after III or IV.

That being said, here's my take on each of the movies, with as much brevity and as few spoilers as I can muster (I.e. this might only make sense if you've seen the movies, so go watch them):

Rocky: Origin stories tend to be among my least favorite installments in a series, and Rocky is no exception. It's largely a character study, with the action and conflict only really kicking in toward the end; the flip side is that the movie establishes a solid and complex foundation for the other movies to draw from, so I respect Rocky for creating a world with characters who are interesting enough to follow through five more movies.

Rocky has earned the critical praise it has received due to the strong script and outstanding performances, but like with Star Wars, I find myself more interested in what's to come than what's being established. An incredible amount of material from the first film influences or is referenced in the later films, so whether you're looking as it as a movie classic or as a critical part of a larger series, there's no excuse to skip this one.

Rocky II: Overall, this one's my favorite. Other films may have more exciting final showdowns, better music, and manlier plotlines, but Rocky II is my favorite for the same reason that Mega Man 4 is my favorite Mega Man game--of all the installments in a series I already know I like, this one does the least to bug me.

Rocky III: Despite the introduction of "Eye of the Tiger" and the celebrities brought in for the occasion, the entire first half of this film makes me feel mildly uncomfortable. The tone is a bit more serious, and (as is necessary to the plot) everything feels a little off. Perhaps it's more exhilarating because it serves as a release from all that discomfort and anxiety, but the second half of the movie is fantastic, and really helps to cement why this is a fan favorite. Interestingly, I like the second half of III more than I like all of II, but I like all of II better than I like all of III. Figure that one out.

Rocky IV: This one should have been my favorite film in the series. The kind of pumping electronic 80s music that's right up my alley, good pacing, dramatic fight scenes, a good message at its heart, and bad guys who are very clearly the bad guys (though their motivations are understandable, and the good guys aren't painted in such a great light, either, so it works out well).

What's holding it back? There's a little too much flashback montage and a little too little character development leading up to the final confrontation. Equally as important, I have to suspend my disbelief a little too far in certain spots, especially when it comes to a certain...piece of technology. I still think the movie is great, but with a few changes, it could've been even greater.

Rocky V: Sly Stallone himself once said in an interview that, when rating the Rocky movies on a scale of one to ten, he'd give this one a "goose egg." Big fat zero. I can't say I'm quite as harsh, but I'm definitely on the same page here--this is the only movie in the series I genuinely don't like. Interesting tidbit: Stallone directed every Rocky movie except I and V, which were directed by John G. Avildsen. I and V are my least-favorite Rocky movies. I'm not blaming Avildsen; I'm just noticing a connection.

Rocky V bothers me because I don't like any of the new major characters, who feel more like exaggerations or symbols than the real people I've come to expect from the series. It's the darkest movie of them all, with a lot of bad things that happen and never get a satisfying resolution like in Rocky III.

The last fight in the movie just feels wrong, and it only gets worse when the heroic Rocky theme starts playing. The conclusion leaves me feeling empty and like there are still some big issues that are unresolved; if you view the movie through the filter that the characters are symbols, then it's not as bad, but the fact of the matter is that I like approximately 25 minutes of the movie, and it just keeps getting harder to watch as time goes on.

Rocky Balboa: I normally object to resurrecting a franchise more than a decade after the last sequel, but in this case, I can absolutely make an exception; Rocky V is a weak place to end such a strong series. I actually like this movie a great deal--though the script isn't as clever and quirky as in some of the other films, it's highly introspective, and a fitting way to close off a series that has covered so much ground over such a long period of time.

It's about moving forward when it looks like there's nowhere left to go, and it's about closure, and these themes work well for the characters and the movie series itself; plus, that's to say nothing of the people who can relate to those themes. Especially after marathoning the entire Rocky saga over the course of a day or a few days, Rocky Balboa serves as a superb way to reflect on the life of this underdog boxer and to process how you've just watched thirty years of a person's life develop over the course of about twelve hours.

So there you have it. Six films that, together, tell a story of courage, love, friendship, and pounding grown men into submission. If you've got a movie night coming up, give Rocky and Rocky II a shot, and make sure you've got a clear favorite before moving on to Rocky III--we wouldn't want to have a split decision.