Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

World's Finest Comics #5 patriotic cover"Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic."
-- General John Logan, General Order No. 11, 5 May 1868

Sunday, May 30, 2010

GameCola Recap: May 2010

I'm long overdue for a break, considering I spent the previous two months writing numerous and/or excessively lengthy articles for, the Internet's premiere videogame humor website (or so we tell ourselves). I didn't contribute much to GameCola during the month of May, but I'm quite pleased with the little I did:


- The GameCola Top 50 Videogames Ever Made In The Whole of Human History (As Far As We're Concerned): Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, for which I contributed blurbs on Mega Man 4, Star Wars Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Chrono Trigger


- GC Podcast #25: When Cowboys Wore Pink, a retro-game-themed podcast hosted by yours truly


- Deja Vu I & II, a post about how two other staff members and I played through three different versions of Deja Vu, a detective adventure game with some great comedic potential

Saturday, May 29, 2010

John Hughes, the X-Men, and Awesome Saturday Linking

I've got a good link/photo post for this first day of the long holiday weekend. Which, by the way, I hope you're all enjoying thoroughly. Hopefully the weather's nice, the BBQ is hot, the company is interesting, and the drinks are cold.

And if not...well, then I hope at least the drinks are cold.

And if even that's not the case today, then I hope you'll find some pleasure in this post, featuring some great imagery from comics artist Cliff Chiang. I have to give credit to one of our readers--he goes by that pesky "anonymous" moniker in the comments sometimes--for bringing this link to my attention.

If you're like me, then you have a soft spot for 80s films--especially those films directed by the late, great John Hughes. The link highlights Chiang's latest piece, below, which rules.
My favorite Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club, gets the treatment, as well.
These pieces, including the Pretty in Pink riff above, are all part of Chiang's own "12-inch Remix" project, wherein the artist redesigns 80s album covers to star our favorite comics characters. You can check out more of Chiang's 80s-inspired comics art right here, on his blog.

Aside from the Hughes movie art, this is probably my favorite of the pieces.
Yeah, like I said, this stuff rules.

On that note, my food's ready, so go enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 28, 2010

BookExpo 2010 Report

Before the start of the long weekend, I wanted to mention a couple of things I noticed during my day-long trip to BookExpo America on Wednesday. I’ll start by saying that this year’s show, personally, proved to be quite a bit of an improvement over last year’s show.

Aside from the fact that I didn’t have to sneak into the show, then sneak around the show as I did last year (yeah, that’s a long and interesting story for another day), this year’s BEA was a completely different world for me.

I was there to learn, and to observe, and to pretty much soak in every bit of knowledge I could from the (incredibly smart) people I work for and with. I attended an interesting panel on e-book publishing, where--surprise!--we found out that e-book sales are on the rise.

More interestingly for readers of this site, though, was the fact that the speaker’s only hands-on demonstration of the presentation came when he lifted up his i-Pad, clicked the little button, opened up the Marvel Comics app, and said, smugly, “Obviously, for comics and graphics novels, this is the game changer.”


Speaking of comics, the major publishers were all well represented at the show--I walked by the Marvel, Image, Zenoscope, IDW, and BOOM! booths, and I stopped and had a nice chat at the Dark Horse booth.

Aside from the comics presence at the show, every publisher on the planet was on display. And, while the show was shortened to two days this year (though I just read that they are bumping it back up to three days next time around) and the show was limited to one floor at the Javitz Center instead of two, there was a buzz and a feeling that simply didn't exist last year.

Sadly, there were many familiar faces I was hoping to see, but didn't, because of a plethora of reasons. (Though most of them rhyme with "lay-offs.")

The shortened schedule and the smaller venue really drew the people, and there were times during the day when walking through the (large) aisles was difficult and time consuming. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of a comics convention--a feeling that's directly opposite of what last year's show was like.

And there's more good news.

People seemed happier and more energetic this year than last. Sure, that's a huge generalization, and sure, it's good for business to smile at your booth, but there was a much more relaxed, jovial atmosphere at the show.

There were, however, many fewer "freebies" and handouts from the publishers--even the big boys. Signs of the times, I guess. All in all, the show seemed utterly appropriate for the current book market. Not too big, not too small, cautious in approach, but hopeful (and prepared) for the future.

-- -- -- --

And with that, I'll say this--happy Friday, everyone! See you tomorrow.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mega Man 10 Screenshot Gallery

Because GameFAQs has a limit to how many game screenshots they accept, and because I spent too much time lovingly capturing screenshots for a game I wasn't terribly fond of, I have created an entire album dedicated to the images of Mega Man 10, downloadable content and all.

I have done no research whatsoever to back up this claim, but I assure you that this is the largest repository of Mega Man 10 screenshots on the entire Internet. Even if that's not true, I'd wager that it's the most helpful and visually interesting screenshot gallery out there. This isn't pride talking--in my experience, screenshots tend not to be as deliberately engineered as what I've produced, especially not in such quantity: 163 screenshots, culled from at least a few dozen more, expressing as many aspects of the gameplay and as many interesting locations as possible.

Some screenshots look better than others, of course; it's particularly tricky to properly capture the essence of a 2-D action game with an 8-bit aesthetic. There are still gaps in what I have--I'm quite light on the Proto Man and Bass screenshots, for example--but I'm exceedingly happy with what I do have, and I believe they fill a void that, as far as my searching has yielded, is still quite extant.

So, enjoy a spoileriffic stroll through the halls of Mega Man 10, and please use these images as you will; no credit needed (though it's certainly appreciated).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 21

Welcome to a very special, Written on Tuesday Edition of Waiting for! As mentioned yesterday, I will be spending my comic book Wednesday at BookExpo 2010 in New York City, and I’m busily getting ready for the show.

So I’ll (try to) make this quick. Though, as we all know from past experience, I like to talk. And the chances of this post being under 1,000 words are pretty slim. Like, me understanding Final Crisis slim.

I kid, I kid.

Anyway, later this week I’ll have a bit about BookExpo--what and who I saw, what free stuff I walked away with, what the overall mood of the show was. But for today, I’d actually like to talk briefly about Grant Morrison.

See how I tied that in, there?

I’ve been reading a lot of Morrison’s work lately--both older and more recent issues of Batman and Robin through to The Return of Bruce Wayne, mostly--and I’m finding myself entirely caught up in Morrison’s stories and his storytelling ability.

Maybe even a little consumed by the stories, actually.

Which, I think, is exactly what a good story should do to its reader.

Morrison’s writing tends to be multi-layered, and usually single issues tend not to make a whole lot of sense until an arc is completed. Because of this, I’ve taken to reading Morrison’s work in large chunks--either I’ll wait for the collection to hit the stands, or I’ll stockpile several single issues and read them all in one sitting.

I did just that this weekend, starting with the last three issues of his (excellent) Batman and Robin series and ending with issue one of The Return of Bruce Wayne. Issue to issue, the stories were fine, and well plotted, and fun.

But strung together, the arc got me really excited about where Morrison is taking things.

There have been many times when I’ve started a Grant Morrison arc or event, scratched my head, bulled through the issue, and never returned. Like Final Crisis, for example. I kinda dug the story through the first couple of issues, but by the time the series ended, I was pretty much done with it.

I remember reading the final two issues quickly, more interested in finishing them than in enjoying them. Of course, they were well written, the art was great, and, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, lots of stuff happened.

Still, I remember being pretty lukewarm about the whole affair.

Same thing happened when I read Morrison’s epic, Batman: RIP, in single issues. I was underwhelmed (or is that overwhelmed?) by the story, and I was happy enough to just be done with it.

Flash forward several months, and I came across the collected edition at the comics shop. It was on sale and I bought it. And I really enjoyed it. Actually, I wrote all about it here.

In any case, what I’ve found time and again with Grant Morrison, is that his stuff makes the best case of any comics creator for comics going directly to the trade. Even more so than Brian Bendis.

Morrison has a built-in (and exceedingly literary) audience for his books, and DC can lead with him in the bookstores. So why not try going full collection, direct to the trade?

I bet it’d sell briskly at comics shops and it would be about the same as other Morrison collections at the booksellers.

Just a thought.

Bit of a tangent to start this week's Waiting for, sure, but now it’s time for this week’s comics. I promise. First up, we have a book by my favorite comics person. From Goon creator (and mad genius) Eric Powell, Chimichanga, issue two, finally ships to stores today.
After a long delay after issue one hit stands, Powell has assured his readers that issue three will follow today’s release in just a couple of weeks.

So, what is Chimichanga, you ask? Well, I’ll let the blurb (from Powell’s self publishing company, Albatross Exploding Funnybooks) do the talking:

Eric Powell, creator of the award winning series The Goon, brings his offbeat humor and distinctive style to his newest creation! A story fit for youngsters, Chimichanga tells the tale of a bearded girl, her less than spectacular traveling circus, and a bizarre creature that turns their lives upside down.

Discover Powell's first written and illustrated creator-owned series since The Goon.

Issue one was a great all-ages read--it was fun, funny, whimsical, and absurd. Needless to say, I loved it, and I’ll be happily buying issue two this afternoon (or whenever I manage to get to my shop today or tomorrow).

And speaking of issue two, here’s the copy:

Lula the Bearded Girl discovers new challenges as she attempts to integrate the uncontrollable monster she named Chimichanga into her circus family. Especially when he continues to try to fit Petunia the elephant in his mouth!

C'mon. You know you want it.

If you have kids, check this book out, flip through it in the store, and consider buying it for them. If you don’t have kids...just buy the book.

I love seeing Powell branch out from The Goon, and even though I sorely miss that series (it’s on hiatus), I will buy anything with Powell’s name on it. He’s just that darn good at this whole making comics thing.

Next up, we have a book I know very little about. It’s from IDW, and it’s written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night). Mystery Society, issue one, ships today, and promises good, creepy things from its stable of creators, as co-creator Ashley Wood and artist Fiona Staples team with Niles.

Here’s the blurb for issue one:

Nick Hammond and Anastasia Collins are the Mystery Society and bring new meaning to "underground cult" status! Stealthily avoiding the authorities, this skullduggery duo spend their time and money righting wrongs committed in the world’s underbellies. This issue, Ana defends their secret headquarters as Nick goes on a rescue mission breaking into Area 51 for a bounty that you will not believe!

And the cover, which is honestly one of my favorite comics covers in the past couple of years.
I'm expecting good things from this title, and if you'd like to know a bit more about it, you can check out a preview at IDW's site. This book just seems like it was created with me in mind, so here's hoping it lives up to (my) hype.

And, dear readers, that is where I'll have to leave you for today. I'm off BookExpo-ing and whatnot. Enjoy your Wednesday, and before you go...what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BookExpo 2010!

So tomorrow I'll be off to the this year's BookExpo America--the first time I'll be going to the show as an exhibitor. Well, okay, not as an exhibitor, exactly. But I will have an exhibitor badge, since the company for which I work will be exhibiting.

Which is kinda exciting, actually.

BookExpo is kinda like Comic Con for book lovers--it's an industry-only event for the most part (though plenty of non industry people--fans--manage to find a way in). Just like comic cons, there are tons of booths with publishers promoting their upcoming product and authors signing books and giving talks to audiences.

Like I said, it's a cool, fun place to be.

This year, the show has been cut down by a couple of days--it won't run into the weekend, as it traditionally has. Which is pretty much typical of all publishing events over the past year-plus.

Sad, really, but certainly necessary, as the entire industry continues to crawl from the wreckage of the past two years. Last year, while everyone was busy putting on their happy, excited face, underneath it all was a very palatable sense of uneasiness.

I'd imagine this year will be a little smaller and maybe even a little cheerier. We'll see, though.

Last year, when I made the journey down the West Side Highway to the Javitz Center for the show, I was in a much different place, professionally speaking.

During that trip, I ended up meeting with several people in (and around) the comics industry about a graphic novel I wrote a couple of years back. And while that sounds like one of the coolest things ever, overall, it was an okay experience.

As I sat in traffic on the way home, I felt pretty good about some things, and pretty not so good about other things. Still, overall, a decent and productive time was had.

Plus, I got to see Neil Gaiman eat french fries.

That said, in light of recent events, I'd honestly just like to forget about the entire day at last year's show. But forgetting (and, frankly, forgiving) is just not in my nature.

I went to the show with people I no longer work with, and no longer speak to. Professional disagreements, you might say, caused such feelings. And, if I had to bet, I'd say that such feelings will linger for many years.

This year, though, I hope things are different. Actually, I don't need to hope. I know they'll be different. And I can't tell you how truly lucky I feel for that.

Plus, if I see Neil Gaiman eating french fries again this year, I am so going up to say hello.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Easy Poll: Who Reads Exfanding Your Horizons?

Okay, so here's a quick and easy poll: Are you reading this blog? If so, we'd love to hear from you--numbers on a feed reader are nice, but we like the personal connection of knowing that real people--not just numbers--are reading what we write.

So, if you follow this humble little blog at all, please leave us a comment here! Doesn't need to be anything fancy; "Hi," or "I like Farkle!" will do just fine. If you don't have an account of any kind that would allow you to comment, fear not: we allow anonymous, login-free posting as well.

Thanks for reading, and we'd love to hear from ya!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Linking!

After a momentary spike back up to 41 Feed Readers, it appears we’ve finally done it. It’s official, people--we’ve annoyed the Internet. I guess it was bound to happen sometime.

I just wanna go on the record and say that I blame Nathaniel.

Our glorious, fleeting Internet fame was both glorious and fleeting. Without the glorious part. Still, you should have seen how the "power" went to Nathaniel's head. When the Secret Dutch Online Ventures Company approached us last year about buying the rights to Exfanding, Nathaniel was excited.

And then, when we flew all the way out there to meet with the Secret Dutch Company and they made their offer, Nathaniel just laughed.

And laughed. And laughed.

And then he threw his wallet at one of the guys, which, to this day, I still don't really understand.

Oh, well. Live and learn, I guess.

Anyway, on to the much anticipated (not really) Sunday Link Post (that’s actually written on Friday morning). And, man, do I have a good one for today.

On Friday, my brother and my cousin-in-law (yes, it’s a thing...he’s married to my cousin, so technically, it’s a real term) started emailing some ridiculous photos, as they do (every, single) Friday.

As per usual, most of the images they sent were funny. A couple were mean-spirited and directed towards me, and some were just stupid. Obviously, I loved them all. But this one.

This one.

Boy, did I rattle off an inappropriately loud laugh at work when it came over on the old email machine.
Some simple Googling on my part led me to the site from which this image was spawned. Motivated Photos is a fun, absurd, and (almost) harmless site wherein contributors create fake "motivational" posters.

You know, like those inspirational, "The only risk is the one you don't take" posters we all have hanging over a dusty excercise bike somewhere from way back in the nineties.

The fake posters on the site run the gamut from downright hilarious to downright offensive, and there’s plenty Safe for Work images scatterd about. But then there are gems like this one:
Which pretty much forced me to write about the site here. So, go ahead and have a look, have a laugh, and enjoy your Sunday.

'Til next time...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Exfanding Review: Iron Man 2

Earlier this month, the Exfanding crew did the dorky thing and decided to see Iron Man 2 the night it opened. The theater was packed, the popcorn was popped, and we all managed to find each other without too much hassle.

And, since the Internet was screaming for one more IM 2 review, we figured we'd be the ones to do it. Because, really, we wouldn't want the Internet to be angry with us. Adding to the fun, we've managed to drag Neko, who came out to see the film with us, into helping us to write this review.

Here's what we thought of the movie. Feel free to add your own comments and tell us why we're wrong.

Movie sequels have a tendency to be more like movie suckquels--in general, how does Iron Man 2 stack up to its predecessor?

ALEX: Did you just say “suckquel”? Is that a thing now? Um, let’s see. I might get some heat over this, but what the heck.

I liked the first movie. I really and honestly did. When I left the movie theater, I said to myself that I’d just seen the best super hero film ever made.

And then, a couple months later, I saw The Dark Knight.

Yeah. And then Iron Man was very much not the best super hero film I’d ever seen. But, like the good and compulsive fanboy that I am, I bought and watched Iron Man on DVD, and I had the same feeling. Good movie--great super hero movie--but not as good as Dark Knight.

Which, I realize, isn’t fair. But that’s the impact Dark Knight had on me. Every other super hero movie feels...inferior in comparison. Like the original Spider-Man, a movie I adored when it came out, for example.

I watched that recently on cable, and it seems...antiquated. Over the top. And a little bit hokey. More Dark Knight effect? Perhaps.

That said, I really enjoyed Iron Man 2. I liked it better than the original--I’m not the biggest fan of origin stories to begin with, so, compared to the first one, I’ll take the sequel.

But it still wasn’t better than Dark Knight.

And that has me somewhat concerned, because I think I might have already seen the best super hero movie that will ever be made.

Which probably doesn't answer the question very well. Or, you know, at all.

NATHANIEL: Tangent, dude.

It's not often that I say something like this, but I think I enjoyed Iron Man 2 as much as the first movie. Iron Man had great acting, excellent pacing, entertaining action sequences, reasonably creative stories, and snappy dialogue, and Iron Man 2 had all of that as well, but in different quantities across the board and at different times during the film. Yet, somehow, it all balanced out to the same level of fun.

Which is good, because that final boss fight was a little anticlimactic. Coulda lost serious points right there for not having a more challenging final form.

NEKO: I went into the first Iron Man movie as a complete neophyte. I had never seen, read, or heard anything about the character prior to entering the theatre. From the first moment, Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance had me hooked, and I left the theatre a dedicated fangirl. I immediately went home and looked up anything I could find on the original Iron Man comics, and when I saw how faithfully they had translated the origin story for a modern audience, I was even more impressed.

I was a little more hesitant to see Iron Man 2, if only because the trailers made it seem like Attack of the Clone War Gundams 2. I don’t mind mech battles, but I was afraid it was going to lack plot in favour of being overly action-packed. I shouldn’t have worried. There was a surprising amount of dialogue, humor, and character development. Even the smallest parts got one-liners, and the overall acting was some of the best I’ve seen in a modern film, with special awards going to Downey Jr., Rourke, and Rockwell.

Additionally, there was a good balance of fan service and romance, with only an occasional hint of cheesiness. The action sequences were shiny enough to hold the audiences’ attention, while not being overused or overplayed. (Although they did tend to defenestrate the physics manual, and the final battle was a little too Captain Planet for my taste.)

In short, I think the first movie will always hold a special place in my heart because it introduced me to a new superhero I would grow to love. However, the second movie is equally amazing because it continues the character’s story, elaborating and enhancing on the framework already established.

I have a short attention span, and Iron Man 2 is just over two hours long. What does the movie do to maintain viewers' attention?

ALEX: Stuff blowed up real good.

But actually, ya know, there was quite a bit of dialogue/exposition in this film. A surprising amount, really. And it was good, fast-paced, funny dialogue. Plus, Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t look like he’s acting.

The whole movie looks like he was just living his life and there happened to be someone filming him. He’s amazing, plain and simple, and he has the ability to captivate an audience, even if he's just sitting down and talking. Which he did a lot in this film.

And Mickey Rourke! He was great! I mean, sure, Mickey Rourke scares me enough as Mickey Rourke, but as a powered-up supervillain? *shudder*

Plus, stuff blowed up real good.

NEKO: I second Alex’s statement about Robert Downey, Jr. He has a charisma modifier of at least +6, and can fascinate a crowd at will.

The main thing Iron Man 2 does to maintain audience attention is it always give the audience something to look at, even during dialogue. Besides Downey Jr., the movie utilizes electric whips, spinning metal desk art, CG graphics, explosions, mech robots, and the many assets of Scarlett Johansson.

NATHANIEL: What was the question again?

What are a few things that particularly stood out to you about the film?

NEKO: The character development. The actors and actresses really became their roles, allowing any character development to be completely organic and plausible; evolving naturally from the events and dialogue they were presented with.

I also liked the clips of Stark’s father, because you could start to see parallels between father and son, and it helped to deepen Iron Man’s complexity.

Oh, and the entire sequence between Black Widow and the guards was merely a long advertisement for Scarlett Johansson posters.

ALEX: The acting. The one-liners. The stuff that blowed up real good. It had everything you'd want in a comic book movie. Oh, and Stan Lee's cameo was perfect.

Also, I loved the references to other Marvel characters and movies. At one point when Nick Fury was talking to Tony Stark, there was a news clip showing footage of the Hulk (the, um, Ed Norton one) rampaging through New York.

I thought (director) Jon Favreau's humor was especially evident in the sequel, and I loved that. Favreau's sensibilities skew somewhat towards the absurd at times, and I thought the scene in the fast food restaurant was But, somehow, some way, it worked.

NATHANIEL: One thing that got me was how the main villain never reacted the way I expected him to. On the surface, you've got a crazed, bitter, and brilliant man out for revenge--pretty standard, actually--but his motives and his reactions to the imbeciles around him constantly defied the stereotype. It's almost as though the bad guy existed on a higher plane than the world around him, out of phase with everything until his master plan required him to synch back up.

Also, there were a few times where I was genuinely caught off-guard by the action sequences in one of those "Oh, cool!" moments. It's one thing to do an action sequence well, but it's another thing to do an action sequence in a way I'd never thought of. Iron Man 2 surprised me from time to time, even in the little things.

Lastly, I am generally unforgiving when it comes to sudden recasting between installments of a franchise, but I was impressed by how smooth the "handoff" was between Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle. Then again, Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors, so I wasn't expecting to complain much, anyhow.

Overall, how groundbreaking, entertaining, and satisfying was the movie?

ALEX: Groundbreaking? Hmmm. I wouldn't say groundbreaking. Certainly entertaining and satisfying, though. The movie was long, as mentioned above, but the time flew by. I wasn't bored at all, and the movie moved along very quickly.

NEKO: Ditto to Alex’s statement.

NATHANIEL: I have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

What would you say is your favorite super hero/comic book film? How does IM2 stack up against that film?

ALEX: The Dark Knight. And, um, it doesn't. Stack up, that is. But lemme put that in context for a moment. Dark Knight catapulted its way into my top five favorite movies ever. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is still my favorite movie, though. Thanks for asking.)

And the thing about both Dark Knight and Butch and Sundance is that, any time either one is on TV, I sit down and watch it until the end.

No other movies have that effect on me. I'm not a huge film buff, granted, but I tend to think I enjoy quality movies. Dark Knight certainly fit that it had Batman in it.

So, yeah. Pretty much a guarantee to be my favorite super hero movie. And as good as Iron Man 2 was, it just wasn't at that level.

NEKO: That’s a hard one. I’d say Batman Begins is my favourite superhero movie, as Batman is one of my all-time favourite superheroes, although I still love Batman Returns and Batman and Robin (for Catwoman and Poison Ivy, respectively). I also have to give a shout-out to Watchmen and to Kick-Ass, both of which defied traditional comic book standards: Watchmen taking comics movies to a deeper level both psychologically and cinematically, and Kick-Ass bringing comics alive in a real-world setting.

The first Iron Man movie was an incredibly close contender, though, because while I didn’t know anything about the character, Downey, Jr. single-handedly made me want to learn more. Also, the Iron Man films leave the audience energized and pumped, whereas most of the other films are darker and don’t really have as much of a victorious feeling as a bittersweet one. Additionally, Iron Man 2 makes a great sequel because it builds nicely on, and flows directly out of, the first movie. I don’t think it would be as strong as a stand-alone film.

NATHANIEL: Gotta go with Watchmen here. Most of the superhero/comics movies I've seen were from before I got into comics, so I just categorized them as action movies, of which I already have some clear favorites. Spider-Man 1 and 2 would've been my previous picks for superhero movie, though. I like clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and I like a happy ending; I tend not to like dark and gritty, especially if it feels more like reality and less like fiction.

That's why I didn't care much for Watchmen as a graphic novel--though I absolutely respect and appreciate what it is and does, it was kind of depressing to see all this serious stuff happening to (somewhat) average people. The movie, on the other hand, felt more like an alternate reality that was, by nature, dark and gritty, and the pacing, action sequences, visual style, and unprecedented faithfulness to the source material (as much as would fit, anyhow) made the work I already respected more likeable to me.

That being said, Iron Man 2 is much more my kind of movie, and I greatly enjoyed it, but it doesn't stack up as well against Watchmen as the first Iron Man does. It's strange; I like both Iron Man flicks about equally, but the first one is the better movie. I, like Alex, am not fond of origin stories, but IM 1 succeeds because the time leading up to Iron Man kicking butt isn't just filler; it's the story of Tony Stark, who is Iron Man. And we've already established we like Robert Downey, Jr., so it's not like it's a chore to sit through.

Iron Man 1 gets bonus points for being the best-told origin story I've ever seen, and though Iron Man 2 is equally entertaining, there's nothing about the nature of the movie that is fundamentally different from any other action movie, which is why it's not up there with Watchmen for me.

Iron Man was really the launching point for the "Marvel Universe" films--you know, the ones that don't star Spidey or the Fantastic Four (and don't get me started on Daredevil)--how bright/dim is the future of the Marvel Universe on film?

NATHANIEL: The biggest thing the Marvel movies have going for them is that they're interconnected. Even offhand comments about Marvel characters and events from totally different series make the movie universe feel bigger than it really is. There's potential for growth, the lack of which has been the undoing of almost every superhero movie series. The Batman and Spider-Man movies burned through good villains at an incredible rate, to the point where there was almost nowhere left to go. Acknowledging that other major characters and events exist in your universe provides countless opportunities for a dead-end series to bail itself out, or at least to live on through cameos. Plus, it builds an interest in other movies you might not otherwise see.

ALEX: From Downey, Jr.'s iconic performance as Tony Stark to the drop-dead awesome casting of Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, I think the Marvel Universe has a bright future in film.

NEKO: I have always been more of a DC fan, mostly because I liked specific characters, although I have liked the various X-Men comics over the years and recently read through all of Ultimate Fantastic Four and Skaar Son of Hulk.

My biggest problem with the recent Marvel films (X-Men 1-3, Spidey 1-3, Dejected Hulk and Relaunch Hulk, FF 1-2, etc.) has been that they have consistently deviated from established characters and canon stories in favour of making the films more “Hollywood.” I had the same gut reaction to all these films as I did when Looney Tunes re-designed all their characters a few years back: These are not “my” characters.

Iron Man was the first Marvel film to stay true to the source character, both in plot and in spirit. Fury was also spot-on, and casting for the next Marvel film looks promising, too. As long as Marvel realizes that fans will respect them more for not changing everything they love about these characters, the future of the MU on film will be fine.

Going along with that thought: This film, more than any other, featured the integration of Marvel Universe characters--either on screen or implied through dialogue/props/secret Nick Fury files--and in that regard was very similar to a Marvel comic. Did it work on film?

NATHANIEL: I'm sorry; did you just skip over my last paragraph? Do I really need to answer this one again? ::sigh:: Alex, you can answer this. Did it work?

ALEX: Boy, did it. Marvel Films has a coherent, line-wide integration, and for the first time ever, the Marvel Comics Universe is being faithfully translated up on the silver screen. I can't wait for Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers. I really can't wait to see how those characters are handled.

More than anything else, Iron Man 2 got me completely jazzed about what's to come.

NEKO: I was happy to see references to other Marvel characters in the film. Marvel comics have always taken into account that there are many superheroes operating in the same area at any given time, and team-ups / confrontations are common.

There was one prop-related sequence in Iron Man 2 that perfectly summed up Tony Stark’s arrogance in being “America’s Superhero,” while simultaneously paying homage to another Marvel icon. It was seamlessly integrated, and packed just enough punch to get an audience reaction.

We stuck around to watch the "bonus" scene after the credits. Did it do anything for ya?

NEKO: I think it was a perfect introduction to the next movie. It was just subtle enough to leave non-fans wondering, but left just enough of a clue to make even passive fans psyched.

NATHANIEL: I'm wondering why I'm psyched. What kind of fan does that make me?

ALEX: Without spoiling it, I'll say that I liked it a lot. It was a cool nod to what's to come for Marvel, and from the reaction of the other audience members, I think most people dug it. I liked it because it worked both as an extension of IM 2 and as a tease for future films.

It wasn't some throwaway scene in a bar--it was a meaningful and important.

And I want to see the movie in which the featured character will appear. Pretty much mission accomplished on Marvel's part, I'd say.


Mission accomplished, indeed. That's our big ol' review of Iron Man 2; call us out on it as you will!

Friday, May 21, 2010

What If the Empire Never Struck Back?

Thirty years ago today, Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strkes Back made its theatrical debut. For thirty years, this film has turned people to the dork side and provided fodder for endless novels, video games, convention costumes, parodies, and who knows what else.

What if Empire Strikes Back had never been made?

Let's not mess with history just yet; let's assume that 1977's Star Wars was still the same influential hit that paved the way for Empire to be made in the first place. However, let's fiddle around with a few key circumstances that would jeopardize a sequel: unsuccessful contract negotiations, guild disputes, unacceptable scripts, budgetary woes, the utter failure of a spinoff holiday special, or a rare satisfaction with a job well done and no drive whatsoever to make another movie.

There are one-shot movies whose impact is felt as strongly as some of the biggest franchises. Think about The Jazz Singer, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Forrest Gump, or even The Blair Witch Project. Sometimes they're the topic of every water cooler conversation for a month; sometimes they accomplish something that's never been done before; and sometimes they change the face of cinema forever. Whether their time in the spotlight lasts a month or a century, they make their mark--and that's exactly what Star Wars did, even before Empire arrived on the scene.

The only difference is that Empire made that mark a permanent one.

Consider one possible scenario for a world without Empire: Countless filmmakers, toy companies, and anyone else out to make a quick buck try to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars in every way imaginable--which is what actually happened, mind you--but without a superlative film like Empire to show who the real master is, eventually, one of the knockoffs becomes just unique and popular enough to contend with Star Wars.

But by now, time has distanced audiences far enough from Star Wars that films in the same vein are being compared less and less to the groundbreaking movie. No longer in the shadow of Star Wars, new films are free to be judged by their own merits. Instead of copying Star Wars or going in a completely different direction because they could never hope to compete with Star Wars, films start trying to top each other. A sci-fi revolution begins.

Instead of a single movie franchise spawning legions of loyal followers, sci-fi fans are divided. Every young geek grows up watching different works of science fiction. There are still classics, like Star Wars, that are required viewing, but nothing with the kind of legacy that Star Wars would leave behind with a strong sequel--nothing to trump any other film that's just as influential or unique. Films like Buckaroo Bonzai get thrown around in conversation as much as Blade Runner, which incidentally doesn't star Harrison Ford because a Star Wars sequel didn't help to steer his career in that direction.

Meanwhile, an interesting dichotomy arises: Because there is no Empire, science fiction does not become a mainstream genre. Star Wars is still an enjoyable flick that's accessible to the masses, but it never becomes big enough to convert the generation who missed it in theaters. Yet, at the same time, science fiction carries little or no stigma from the mainstream because everyone's exposure to it is different--there's not a lot of sci-fi that everyone has heard of.

For some, sci-fi consists of mind-bending alternate realities; for others, it's a glimpse into the dystopian future ahead of us. Star Trek is still recognizable enough for many to equate sci-fi with strange aliens and incomprehensible technobabble, but plenty of other sci-fi works offer different definitions of the genre. However, in a world with a universally popular Star Wars sequel, virtually everyone has had the same basic exposure to science fiction--most people know about Star Trek, and everyone knows about Star Wars and Empire, so non-fans look at the similarities between the two most widely known sci-fi franchises and determine that science fiction is nothing but strange aliens and funny names.

If strange aliens and funny names are foolish to you, then science fiction is foolish to you. Congratulations, you have summarily rejected an entire genre because of surface exposure to two examples.

Without Empire to develop the legacy of Star Wars into anything greater than a single must-see movie in a sea of hundreds, there's no consensus on what sci-fi is. Even when sequels and spinoffs are produced from other works of science fiction, the general public has already had enough exposure to genre-blurring films such as The Terminator and Alien that One Big Franchise won't completely dictate their views on what sci-fi really is.

Not that science fiction started with Star Wars, of course. We've already heard about a much earlier sci-fi series called The Lensmen on this very blog, not to mention the work of Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, and several others. But with Americans, at least, if something is not extensively taught in schools or publicized in news and advertisements, your best bet for exposing the general public to it is through film.
Star Trek gave non-fans a handful of random catch phrases to quote, but Star Wars truly brought science fiction into the mainstream--and Empire made sure it stayed with the masses by topping the movie that piqued everyone's interest in the first place with even more unforgettable scenes and highly identifiable characters.

What if Empire Strikes Back had never been made? I tell ya, it'd make Return of the Jedi really hard to understand.

Just kidding.

Here's to thirty years of mainstream geekery, thirty years of inspiration for some of the finest books, comics, toys, and video games around, and thirty years of all-around impressive piece of American cinema. Long live the Empire.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

It’s been kind of a weird week here at the old blog. We’ve watched as our Feed Reader counter (that’s the thing over to the right of this post) has plummeted from the mid- to upper-forties all the way down to 19.

And that was as of Wednesday morning.

Who knows how many more people jumped ship after my long, winding, and maybe a little bit rambling Waiting for Wednesday post?

Add to that the fact that we’ve started a…um, let’s call it dangerous…poll up at the top of the page, there, and our fragile, writer-ly egos are beginning to fade away into a cave lost in the time stream (because we were hit by laser beams in Final Crisis).

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Nathaniel’s emailed me a couple of times over the last week or so, saying things like, “You know, my writing on the blog has been suffering lately” and “Why didn’t you tell me about the goose-laden Avengers Day celebration?”

To the latter, I say, there was no such thing.

To the former, I can honestly say that I think Nathaniel’s posts have been strong, solid, fun, informative, and really up to par. Just take a look at the poll up top, there. Obviously you guys agree, too!

If anyone should be having doubts about writing ability, content relevance, and overall sanity checking, it’s me. My posts have always been all over the place, they stay within my comfort zone of comics, (sometimes) baseball, and similar topics.

Like comics movies, or original comics art.

But I write about what I love, and I never want the blog to become a chore. I want to be able to sit down, have an idea of what to say, say it, and get off the stage.

Usually after revealing something overtly embarrassing about myself, or after talking for way too long.

But I write about the things that I’d like to read about, and the things I go to other blogs and Web sites to read about, and I hope my posts at least have some resonance with you guys.

On that note, we’ll have our big, Official Exfanding Review of Iron Man II coming atcha in the next day or two. So stay tuned for that. And stay tuned for some new stuff around these parts.

If nothing else, this week has made me and Nathaniel realize that we need to mix it up a bit here and try new things. So we'll huddle in a coffee shop somewhere, hammer out the top-secret details, and then we'll reveal our plan for world domina--er.

I mean, our plan for more interesting blogging.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 20

Another week, another Waiting for. The twentieth of the year, in fact! Twenty weeks into Hey! So is it now appropriate to ask if you've kept your New Year's resolution(s)?

Well, if you remember (and, really, why wouldn't you?), Nathaniel and I had some New Year's resolutions of our own.

For those of you who don't like clicking (my conveniently-placed, time-consuming-to-go-back-and-find-the-original-post) links, here's the Cliff's Notes version. I resolved to do the following over the course of 2010:

- Lend Nathaniel all the issues of The Goon that he hasn't read
- Write a real post about Mega Man, and not some fluffy nonsense piece that simply has the words Mega and Man in it
- Learn how to do all the HTML wizardry Nathaniel does with the blog
- Play a video game with Nathaniel
- Play at least one session of Dungeons & Dragons with a group of people
- Join the Facebook Collective
- Open a llama ranch in Argentina

Of those things, I've actually managed to check a few off the list. I've sat down with Nathaniel and learned some (very) basic HTML-type thingies, I played a few Wii games against Nathaniel at his house, and I've joined Facebook.

Not too shabby.

Oh! Plus, I've made some real headway with an Argentinian real estate agent helping me with the procurement of (vast, llama-friendly) land.

How 'bout you? How are your resolutions going? Hmm? No llama land, I bet. Yeah...I thought so.

Um. Right. Sorry. Let's transition from that to something else now...

So, uh, it's a pretty hefty week featuring a ton of new product, and since last week I somehow managed to talk very little about the books that were shipping, I think today I’ll focus more on that aspect of things.

For those keeping score at home, it’ll be more comics, less talky from me this week. (From here on out.) I’m sure you’re all heartbroken.

Quickly, though, an update. (You knew I couldn’t not talk about something else.) I’m a couple of weeks behind on my books again--what can I say? Old habits are like Bruce Willis, and even though I mentioned that I’d be reading new books the Wednesday they come out, with my schedule being what it is, there’s just no way that will happen.

Oh, well.

By the time I get back to town from my new office (which is a bit of a hike from my hometown), get to the comics shop before it closes, lift weights, and eat...yeah, I’m pretty spent.

I did almost read Siege , 4, though. So that was exciting.

This week, though. This week, I will read my books in a timely fashion--which means, Siege will be completed, all the new (new) Avengers titles that launch today will be read, and I’ll finally find out where Bruce Wayne has been hiding all this time.

Apparently, it wasn’t just a cave. From what I hear, there were several caves.

And speaking of the Avengers. According to Marvel, today is Avengers Day. Not sure about you, but I’m planning to celebrate, Scrooge (post ghostly visits)-style, with a goose.

Just don’t tell Nathaniel.
What other joys can we all look forward to on this, the first annual Avengers Day? Um, apparently a poster. Actually, there’s more to it than that. Here’s some info from the Might Marvel Press Release Department:

Mark your calendars and be the first person on your block to score great Avengers Day commemorative items like exclusive limited edition print featuring John Romita Jr.’s “I Am An Avenger” images, door hangers, mini-posters and more!

Plus, fans can’t miss the chance to add their own heroes to the Avengers roster by sketching on the Avengers #1 I Am An Avenger Blank Variant and purchase the stunning Avengers Poster by John Romita Jr!

Sure, there's a word or two missing in that blurb, but who cares? It's (mostly) free swag!! Hopefully your retailer decides to participate, because who doesn't want free stuff, right?

Keeping on the Avengers theme, today sees issue one of the Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita, Jr. relaunched series, Avengers. One of a slew of "Heroic Age" titles coming from the publisher this week, Avengers, issue one, is the top dog.
It's the frontline Marvel Universe book, and as such, this is where it'll be at in the MU. Bendis and Romita, Jr. on a title is about as solid a guarantee that a book will sell well as we have in comics, and throw in the fact that it's the Avengers and you have a blockbuster.

Stores are going to order tons of these things, but people (comics fans and civilians alike!) are going to be bum-rushing the shops today in search of free swag. So you might want to call ahead and make sure your retailer can set aside a copy for you.

Here's the solicitation information from Marvel:

THE HEROIC AGE IS HERE! There came a day! A day unlike any other...where two of Marvel's top creators teamed up for the very first time to create a bombastic new monthly Marvel comic that not only ushers in the Heroic Age of Marvel Comics but unleashes onto the world the most blockbuster Avengers team ever!

Who will answer the call? And will they assemble just in time...because Kang the Conqueror is here from the future. And wait till you find out why...!

Bonus back up feature: the oral history of the Avengers, part one. A brand new illustrated look at the Avengers in a way you have never seen before by series writer Brian Michael Bendis.

I'm interested in where the Marvel Universe goes, post-Siege, and I've been a Bendis supporter since I started reading the funnybooks, so I'm definitely in on this one, and I'm looking forward to it.

The other thing about this book I'd like to mention is that back-up feature from the solicitation--the "Oral History of the Avengers." I recently heard Bendis talk about this in an online interview.

He's likened the project to the behind-the-scenes interview style book about Saturday Night Live, Live from New York. Just, ya know, with the Avengers. According to Bendis, each back-up will be about eight pages long and will feature "interviews" with Avengers past and present that will cover significant events in the history of the team.

The back-up will be mostly text, but there'll also be plenty of spot art, including images from posters and books long out of print.

This is one of those things that could go very, very wrong. But in Bendis' (incredibly self-aware) hands, I think this will actually be a highlight for fans. It'll run through the two main Avengers books for several months, so by the time it's done, there will be plenty of material for a collection.

Next up, I'd like to deviate a bit from the main street and check out a few titles that might have flown under your radar. From Dark Horse, issue three of Creepy Comics ships today.
Featuring a compilation of black and white stories from a slew of creators, Creepy is fast becoming a favorite of mine. The artwork is a real throwback to the classic Creepy and Eerie magazines of (way) before my time, and the writing straddles that line between classic-style and modern.
Here's the blurb from Dark Horse:

Uncle Creepy is back with the third thick and icky issue of Creepy! This issue Doug Moench and Angelo Torres team up to tell a tale of demonic devotion and organized crime, Joe Harris and Jason Shawn Alexander wrap their warped three-parter, "The Curse," and a weird revisionist look back at the fall of the Nazi empire reveals a shocking truth-evil never dies! Plus an all-new Loathsome Lore, a bonus Creepy classic story, and more!

* Creepy debuted to rave reviews in July 2009, and the first issue sold out!

Keeping in the same vein (Ha! Get it?) as Creepy, let's move on to issue three of a new series from Vertigo--American Vampire. I caught up on issues one and two of this new ongoing from writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King and artist Rafael Albuqerque, and I'm very much a fan of the book's tone, style, and story.

Plus, the art is drop dead gorgeous. This book has a very cool premise--that vampires evolve over time, and humans "turned" more recently have greater abilities than those that were turned years, decades, or even centuries ago.
So it's kinda the opposite of classic vampire lore, where the older the vamp, the stronger he or she is.

Here's the blurb from the publisher for issue three:

The era of the American vampire officially begins as Pearl Jones declares war on the powerful coven of vampires that ended her life, and Skinner Sweet declares war on, well, everyone! Scores will be settled in blood in this installment, the third of five over-sized issues featuring stories by author Scott Snyder and the master of horror himself, Stephen King.

Obviously, I'd suggest checking out the first two issues--number one just went back to print, so both issues should be readily available at your shop. This one's so good, it gets the Official Exfanding Stamp of Approval.

And, finally today, we have an interesting offering from the folks at Wildstorm. And it's a revamp of a book that I never read in the nineties. From Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs, Dv8: Gods and Monsters, issue two, hits stands today, and it's a series that is well worth your time and money.
I picked up issue one because of the creators--Wood writes DMZ , Demo, and Northlanders--and I just had a good feeling about the book. Maybe it was the cover to issue one that did it:
And the book delivered with a new, fun, engaging story about a group of super powered people thrown back in time. Actually, ya know what? Here's the blurb from issue one of the series:

The fan-favorite series DV8 returns with the eight-part "Gods and Monsters" arc written by critically acclaimed writer Brian Wood (DEMO, DMZ, NORTHLANDERS) with art by up-and-comer Rebekah Isaacs (Drafted).

In their short history, the mismatched band of superpowered losers, freaks and masochists of DV8 have seen a lot and done even more, but it's nothing compared to this. As Gem Antonelli (a.k.a. Copycat) is debriefed in a holding cell, the story of how eight troubled teenagers were briefly gods to a prehistorical world unfolds against the backdrop of a cataclysmic disaster.

"The Day I Tried To Live" is part one in this amazing and tragic story unlike anything set in the WildStorm Universe before.

Great premise, brilliantly executed. I'm very excited for issue two today. And, just because, here's the blurb from Wildstorm about issue two:

The acclaimed writer of DMZ and NORTHLANDERS takes his first creative stab at the WildStorm Universe! To call the superpowered girl known as Bliss "edgy" is a massive understatement. Like all the DV8 kids. she's a creature with primal powers and in her case, she's the giver of either pain or pleasure.

Now, as the "goddess" Bliss to an all-female band of warriors, she sees potential in her adopted tribe and sets out to tip the balance of power in their favor. Don't miss part 2 of this 8-issue miniseries telling the story of how eight teenagers ruled a world.

Really, folks. Give this one a shot--I think you'll dig it.

And with that, I need to get going. Lots to do today, lots to do. Before I leave, though, one question--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Blame YouTube

Today, there was supposed to be a big joint review of Iron Man 2. "Well," I figured, "I've got 45 seconds of audio commentary left to record for my next Mega Man YouTube video; I can just wrap that up, get everything processed and uploaded, and still have time for writing up my part of the review."

Of course, I know myself well enough to know that 45 seconds of commentary may take me 2 hours to record if I'm creatively tapped or not satisfied with the result. The fallback plan was an easy one: If I spent all my free time working on a Mega Man video, at least I'd have an easy link post to my new video. It's a cheap excuse for a blog post, but it keeps the blog wheels turning.

However, when everything goes wrong with the video process--which is always the case, without fail--I don't even have a finished product to write about. I have to resort to a post about why I don't have anything to write about, and I thought I'd moved beyond that phase already.

The short version? I discovered a few fancy video editing special effects that make my video exactly what I want it to be, except for the fact that the video is now too complex to be saved as a real movie file.

The shorter version? I've got at least two nights of tedious retooling and revamping ahead of me.

The shortest version? Phooey.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Value of a Day Off

I work best when I've got a bighuge (one word, "bighuge") chunk of time to focus on a project. Whether it's crafting a multiplayer map for Heroes of Might and Magic III or sorting out my finances, I like to have a long period of noninterruption to ensure that I can capitalize on my enthusiasm, and to also ensure that I can afford to take a break every now and again.

Yesterday presented the largest block of uninterrupted free time I've had in, I would estimate, three months. Starting just after lunch and ending when I went to bed for the night, I had a hugemungeous (one word, also completely fabricated) window of opportunity.

There's not much to tell--I recorded YouTube video commentary, played through a Game Boy game, read a comic book, and ate dinner--but it's the fact that I could afford to take a 2-hour break from commentary that is worth mentioning. It's the fact that I got so involved in what I was doing that I, the guy who gets cranky when he doesn't eat, didn't notice I hadn't had dinner until a full hour and a half after when I usually eat. It's the fact that I accomplished in a day what would have taken me all week. Heck, I even got some necessary shopping in beforehand--yesterday was a relaxing, productive day.

Being able to step outside of my standard routine helped me to reexamine the status of all my numerous side projects. The verdict? These are my own side projects. Yes, I have a co-blogger and fellow staff writers and subscribers and others who are counting on me to carry on with these things I've signed up for--but, at the end of the day, I'm doing all this because I want to.

That's not me being selfish; rather, that's me recognizing that these are indeed side projects. I wasn't conscripted by the government to write video game walkthroughs, nor will many Bothans die in vain if I don't write a funny article. I don't want to let others down by neglecting my side projects, but at the same time, I won't produce anything anybody wants to read/listen to if I force myself to work. I've seen too many shoddy video games that were rushed to meet release dates to know that I've gotta move at my own pace.

I tried being timely and relevant to current events in my writing last month, and I can safely say that April was the roughest writing month for me in the history of this blog and of my time with GameCola. All output, no input. But yesterday was a refreshing reminder that I don't have to be timely and relevant. Perhaps it's not my style. I work on these side projects because I want to, and if you like what I do, hopefully you'll stick around for more. If I'm not finished with something because I chose to play games for two hours rather than work through that time, it's what I needed to do.

It's a philosophy that is mostly inapplicable with the rest of my life, but it's one that holds true for my side projects. Have I talked about all this before? Perhaps. But it's a topic that's on my mind, and getting my thoughts out in writing is precisely what I needed to do in order to return my focus to other topics.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Linking...Con Style!

And now for the Sunday link post. I came across this (kinda random) site Friday morning as I was trolling my iPhone. If you’re like me, you don’t necessarily love going to conventions (money, travel, hotel, crowds, smells are probably the top five reasons why cons aren’t my Favorite Thing Ever), but you certainly enjoy conventions.

The comics, the creators, the art, the games, the sheer whackiness of it all.

And the only thing better than experiencing a con first hand is to experience one through the eyes of others. Which is a fancy way of saying, I like getting all my breaking convention news and photos from Web sites, while I sit at home and...sit at home.

And I found a Web site that’s perfect for such things. Head on over to Pop Cons, where you’ll find photos from conventions of all sorts--comics, horror, anime, sports, gaming, sci-fi--you name it!

It's like Flickr for (bigger) dorks! You can post your own con photo journals, or just browse the journals of others.

I literally just stumbled upon the page, and haven’t had a ton of time to search through it, but so far, so good. It seems to be a fairly new site, so content is limited at the moment, but hopefully that will change in the near future.

Go check it out! And enjoy your Sunday, everyone.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alex Unplugged

So, after a week without electricity, Exfanding HQ is finally back up and running again and ready to thwart off all super villain attacks. Unless, of course, they use a wind attack. Because then, we’d be in some trouble.

I would so not be able to defeat the Weather Wizard.

Anyroguesgallery, cleanup begins this weekend, and so, too, does the whole catching up on a week’s worth of news online. I’ve been pretty much unplugged from the Internet since Saturday, which, in Internet Years, is like a decade.

I mean, sure, I’ll pop on every now and then at the office to make sure the world is still here--and, for the most part, it is--but it’s been a pretty busy week and time hasn’t allowed for nearly enough Web surfing.

Especially for a comics dork.

So I honestly have no idea how the Internet has reacted to this past week’s big, event-y comics. Like Marvel’s Siege, issue four, and DC’s Return of Bruce Wayne, issue one.

I’m willing to bet that it’s been a mixed bag, though. I plan on reading both titles later today, so I’ll probably post a little review in the coming week. Today, though, I plan on a mash-up of a post with some quick review-ish thingies of books, Web sites, and other ephemera that I’ve read while without power. (Is “other ephemera” redundant?)

We’ll call this brand new (and, hopefully, one time) segment, Alex Unplugged: Reviews in the Dark. Which sounds dirty. But whatever. You go a week without electricity then come up with something better. Like Alex Unplugged: Books to Read in the Dark.

Nah. Still doesn’t work. And it’s still dirty.

Alex Unplugged:

Not-so-Boring Books for the Very Bored Fanboy.

Electric Boogaloo.

Wherein Our Hero Reviews Several Comic Books.

Die Harder.

Reviews from (the Opposite of) Electric Ladyland.

When Harry Met Sally.

Okay. It’s official. We’re going with Alex Unplugged: Books to Read in the Dark. Now that that nonsense is behind us, let’s get to the reviews!

First up, we have volume one of Grant Morrison’s excellent, trippy, fun, and disturbing love letter to Bruce Wayne, Batman and Robin. Featuring art by Frank Quietly and, in the second story arc, Phillip Tan, this collection is worth checking out, even if you’re a Bruce Wayne diehard.
Starring the new Batman and Robin (or, if you’d prefer, “Batman” and “Robin”), Morrison’s latest foray into the world of the Dark Knight is everything you’d expect from the writer. Somehow, Morrison makes postmodern storytelling seem…classical in nature. Dick Grayson and Damian (Bruce Wayne's son) reluctantly team up to become the new Dynamic Duo of Gotham.
And the Frank Quietly art in the first arc (sadly, only three issues) is…hmm. What’s the word? Fantastic. No. Amazing. Nah. Un-flippin’-believable. Getting warmer. Stunning. Yeah, that’s the one. We’ll go with stunning.

Postmodern stories told with a Silver Age twist. Or is that, Silver Age stories told with a postmodern twist? Either way, this collection does right by comics, let me tell you. If you've been to a Borders or Barnes & Noble in the last month or so, you probably noticed this hardcover collection on one of those front tables. Morrison's name attracts mainstream fans, and this is certainly a good book for DC to lead with in bookshops.

And, like most of Morrison's work (I think, anyway) Batman and Robin reads better in trade. Give it a flip through the next time you come across it.

Next up, we have Ray Bradbury's The October Country. I broke out this classic collection of short stories this week, and read through a couple favorites. Among them, the haunting Scythe, a story that stays with you long after you've finished reading.
If you've never before tried Bradbury's work, I'd suggest starting here. Personally, I love short stories, and I love it even more when a favorite author releases a collection of them. I'm fairly new to Bradbury's work, and October Country and The Halloween Tree have recently become favorites of mine.

I never realized how revolutionary Bradbury's style is, and I just never appreciated how influential his works are to so many writers of the past several decades. In these shorts, I see the impact Bradbury had on so many of my favorite writers, and for me to have gone so long without reading the bulk of his work was a crime.

Consider it rectified, though.

And finally, I wanted to mention that I came across one of the absolute best blogs about writing that I've ever seen. Patrick Rothfuss, author of the new fantasy classic, The Name of the Wind (buy it, read it, love it) has a blog. And in the blog, he writes about writing. And being a struggling author. And being a published author. And being a New York Times bestselling author.

If you're at all interested in the mechanics of the craft, in the behind the scene meetings with agents and the relationship with editors, then do yourself a favor and read through Pat's blog from start to finish. There are only a couple years' worth of posts, and the whole thing reads like an incredibly personal, emotional, hilarious autobiography.

From living off whatever he could afford to being the guest of honor at conventions around the globe, from being a fanboy to meeting and speaking with Neil Gaiman, Pat's blog is a fascinating look at the life of a prominent author. Access like this is only possible because of the Internet, and man, am I glad I came across the site.

-- -- -- --

Okay, folks. That's enough for today. Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Friday, May 14, 2010

All Blogs Go to Heaven

Every once in a while, we here at Exfanding Your Horizons like to do a "theme week" where we coordinate on the topic or style of our posts. In the past, we've had Gifts for Geeks, going back to The Basics, and an ill-fated Monkey Week that never got off the ground. Without even realizing it, we've picked out this week's somber theme: death.

It all started with Alex's Waiting for Wednesday last week, which touched on the topic of character death in comics. I started thinking up ideas for a post in response to Alex's comments, and the movie trailer I saw before Iron Man 2 prompted me to adjust my post to address character death in relation to the work of J.J. Abrams. That's why I felt really weird when one of my favorite post titles in recent memory, "J.J. Abrams, Please Stop Killing People," came the day before Alex's post about the death of artist Frank Frazetta.

Alex had a bit more to say about Frank Frazetta in his Waiting for Wednesday post the following day, along with news of yet another power outage--in a sense, a different kind of death. I was glad to bring a little cheer to the blog with my review of the Mega Man fan film...except that, too, involves death. It's not a tremendous plot point, but a good deal of the circumstances of the story were shaped by someone's death. Furthermore, Mega Man struggles throughout the film with the fact that he's forced to destroy innocent robots because they've been reprogrammed against their will.

Don't get me wrong--the movie was still a blast. But death inadvertently persists as a theme on this blog. I think it's important to address the topic when it becomes relevant, but I think it's also healthy to be able to let go, or to let someone's passing be a time to celebrate how they've impacted your life, and to not let your joyful spirit perish with the deceased. This isn't a criticism of what we've written; rather, it's an observation of an unexpected trend.

Here's to an uplifting, irreverant weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Exfanding Review: MEGAMAN

Hollywood has a poor, poor track record of successfully converting video games into movies. Seriously, name one movie based on a videogame that has been better than strictly average. Resident Evil is the closest I can think of, but then again, I don't watch zombie movies, so what do I know?

People complain about movies based on books because they usually stray from the source material, sometimes don't match what the readers imagined, and often unsuccessfully capture the style and depth that make the book popular in the first place. Video games are perhaps even tougher to successfully translate into movies because of the significant difference in interactivity between the two mediums, and because the source material doesn't always provide a solid foundation for a movie.

That's why I was excitedly hesitant--scratch that; cautiously enthusiastic--when I heard of a fan-made movie adaptation of my all-time favorite video game series, Mega Man.

My first concern was about the visuals--creating a non-dorky Mega Man costume to wear to a convention is difficult on its own, but a full cast of live-action robot masters? Nobody could take the movie seriously with a Cut Man who throws silver Pac-Man boomerangs and a Fire Man running around with a lit can of Sterno on his noggin. Game Over.

My second concern was with the story--though later games in the series contain just barely enough plot to give a movie something to work with, the original Mega Man--which is what any halfway logical Mega Man movie would start with--is a bit thin on the plot.

It's all setup, really: Dr. Light is a brilliant scientist whose assistant, Dr. Wily, goes crazy and reprograms Dr. Light's robots to take over the world. Dr. Light transforms one of his peaceful robot helpers into a super fighting robot who fights for great justice. If the movie was to have any actual plot, we'd end up with a painfully prolonged telling of Mega Man's origin story. If the movie stayed true to the game, it'd be all action all the time...which sounds like a liability without a Hollywood budget to back you up.

How do you get around these issues? You deviate from the source material in a big way, which in my mind defeats the purpose of making the movie in the first place. There was no way a live-action Mega Man movie could ever work, but I'd be darned if I wasn't going to watch it anyhow.

Let me be the first to say that Eddie Lebron's Mega Man movie exceeded all expectations and almost immediately became the best movie-based-on-a-video-game in history. That I've seen, anyhow.

What I love and respect about the movie is that it stayed remarkably true to the source material and elaborated on the source material, rather than simply making things up. Though there's virtually no character development and backstory throughout the course of the classic Mega Man series, writer/director Eddie Lebron takes the tiniest details and character interactions found throughout the games and links them together to create characters, situations, and explanations that are remarkably believable.

I was surprised by the visuals. The costumes took a few liberties with the source material, but ultimately the characters looked more convincing than they would have in blue spandex and spray-painted foam. There were actual special effects as well, and three of the robot masters are computer-generated. It's far from top-of-the-line CG, but it's a serious step up from the 8-bit visuals that fans of the game should be used to, and there's a certain charm about the Dark Forces II-esque robots.

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I don't really need to write a review. The movie speaks for itself. There's a real plot with unexpectedly dynamic characters, action sequences that make the most of the budget and talent at hand, an impressive soundtrack, a solid script, a cast that excellently conveys the spirit of each character, a few really fantastic laugh-out-loud moments, and an unparalleled faithfulness to the source material.

If you're watching the film through a critical lens, you'll see an imperfect film with a lot of heart. If you're watching the film as a serious Mega Man fan, you're in for one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of the year. I'm not exaggerating: I believe I've written before about how meaningful it is to experience a favorite fandom in another medium--having a set of KISS action figures, or owning a Discworld t-shirt, for example--so to see Mega Man retold as a feature-length film--and retold well, at that--was a geeky joy of a unique variety. Everything I love about the Mega Man games, short of physically playing the games, was perfectly captured by the film, a film that holds up well even if you're not a Mega Man fan.

It's about an hour and a half, and it's about time you watched it: