Terminator 2: Judgement Day

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EPISODE 02 He said ‘He’d Be Back’ and man did he deliver! ‘Please Sir’ goes looking for John Connor and admires Robert Patrick’s epic running skills in Terminator 2: Judgement Day!  Come re-experience T2 for the first time with Miles who had never seen either film and Tom, who unfortunately saw T3 and Salvation.

 

 

Please Sir, I Want Some More! A New Podcast from WhaHappen!

People of the internet! Megan Miles and I have launched a brand new podcast where we delve deep into sequels!

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Join us as we explore…
-Continuity: Does the sequel respect the original?
-What Did We Want in a Sequel?
-What Did They Give Us?
-What Did We Love? Hate? Begrudgingly accept?
-Does the Cheese Stand Alone? (Or is it entirely reliant on the previous film?)

And finally, we ask the big question:
Did we actually want more???

A new, weekly podcast! We begin with a return to the pirating antics of Captain Jack Sparrow in…

EPISODE 01: Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Man’s Chest

Ep 01 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

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Episode 01 -Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

It’s the adventures of Passive Jack Sparrow as Disney decides that to give every possible thing it’s own plotline!  Learn why Tom hates Cannibal Island and why Miles hates Elizabeth!  The podcast adventure begins!

‘Twas The Night of the Living Dead Before Christmas

Here’s a little festive collaboration between myself and the me of 2011 (who on December 24th ALSO tried to write this and didn’t quite make it all the way through. He also didn’t have a rockin’ cool beard, but he was still a pretty cool dude.) It’s about Santa and some zombies. Apologies for the occasionally wonky rhyming scheme. Best of the season! -Tom

‘Twas The Night of the Living Dead Before Christmas
A Festive Zombie Tale by Tom McGee

’twas the night before Christmas and all through the town,
Not a creature was stirring, neither to smile nor to frown.

As he made his way across the cloudless starry night,
Santa Claus in his sleigh felt ill at ease; something just was not right.

Landing atop the first rooftop with care,
He unsaddled his bag and shook out his hair.

There is a strange scent to the breeze tonight, he thought,
As he checked his list to make sure no child was forgot.

Only two urchins at this place, he nodded and grinned
An easy start to a night he had hardly begin’d.

Down through the chimneys he flew like a flash,
Appearing next to the Christmas tree’s ample gift stash.

Digging into his bag for loot and for cheer,
He didn’t exactly notice the first zombie appear.

As Santa placed a CD dubbed “Nickelback” in bad Timmy’s stocking,
The creature shambled forward, a fat, red-suited meal he was stalking.

But then Santa heard it, the dragging and groans,
He wondered if it was Timmy, here to atone.

“Too late, young man.” He said, not looking up, “You should have been nicer all of the year,
But since coal is so damn expensive now you get this: here!”

And as he thrust out the disk, the zombie did sway,
Poor Santa Claus just couldn’t give those damned Nickelback CDs away.

“Brains!” the beast cried with all of its might,
And only then did Santa realize he was in for a fight.

“Wait a minute!” Santa exclaimed, noticing its slack jaw,
“You’re one of them zombies from that show that I saw!”

But the creature said nothing, not seeming to care,
Wherever zombies come from, they don’t have AMC there.

“Well shit,” muttered Santa, uttering a rare Christmas curse,
(Though horror fans know: only zombies? Santa could have done worse!)

The creature lurched forth, tongue wagging to-and-fro,
Santa straightened himself up and uttered an Ash-like, “Let’s go.”

He began with a jolly old shove of his hand;
Decapitation by terrible, multi-platinum selling album was the plan.

The CD case hit, full of aplomb and of grace,
As Santa stabbed the stupid zombie right in his stupid zombie face.

And with that hit the creature released such a howl,
CD cases sometimes turn out to be as powerful as trowels.

“I hope that’s your brain!” Santa boomed with some glee,
“And that somewhere Bruce Campbell would be proud of me!”

Then Santa pulled back, with one great mittened fist,
But for all of his beginner’s luck, just then the zombie swayed, and Santa missed.

The fist flew wide and the zombie lurched,
Forcing Santa to fall back toward the fireplace…where a fire-poker was perched.

For not the first time, Santa thanked glory and grace,
That some people still had a real, honest-to-goodness fireplace.

As the zombie closed in, Santa grasped at the poker,
Wishing that along he had brought Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker.

Teeth gnashing, head bleeding, the zombie moved in,
If it still had the right tendons, that zombie would grin.

But lo and behold old St. Nick found the poker in his mitt,
And thus the poor zombie’s head Santa began to mercilessly hit.

And he hit it, and hit it, and hit it again…
Until finally Santa’s hundred-year-old-elf arm felt the strain.

Panting and sweating, Santa let the iron fall,
Muttering an action hero-ey “Merry Christmas to y’all.”

But since zombies are like cockroaches, so large in number,
Over to his bulging bag, Santa began to lumber.

For his night was not through, nor Christmas at all saved…
So Santa dragged out his best zombie-killing glaive.

He had meant it for Bruce, or maybe for Romero…
Oh well, Santa thought, there’s always to-marrow!
[…They can’t all be winners, folks.]

Then with a finger to his nose up the chimney he flew,
The halls to deck with the zombies he slew.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his works,
And filled all the stockings with dead zombie jerks.

Up and down the lane-way he went,
And from nave to chaps, the zombies he rent:

The Wilsons’, the Davis’, the Ferguson’s, and more,
He killed each and every zombie; through their corpses he tore.

When finally, blood-soaked, from head down to toe,
He arrived at the house of a fella named Moe.

“Dammit, Santa!” Moe yelled from his porch, “Where ya been?
I’ve already killed fifty-five fucking zombies…what a scene!”

And to this the gore-soaked Santa merely sighed,
“I’m Santa Claus, motherfucker, and I just re-killed everyone who has ever died.”

Moe had not considered this horrible task,
But he still had one thing more of Santa to ask.

“Fair enough, Mr. Claus, and I’m sorry to ask, it’s true,
But you don’t happen to have a zombie cure in that sack, do you?”

And at that very moment, Santa had such a fright,
For it was then that he saw Moe’s infected zombie bite.

“I’m sorry, dear Moe,” Santa said with a frown,
“You’re on my nice list, only forty five names down;

“And whilst my gift this year might seem as though I’ve lost track…
My gift for you, dear Moe, is to make sure you don’t come back.”

And with that, Santa sank his blade deep in Moe’s forehead,
Ensuring that no more zombies would rise before bed.

With a satisfied nod, Santa stowed his weapon away,
Having learned a double meaning of the term ‘to sleigh.’

He’d left a path of destruction both wide and deep,
And now was the hour that he could safely head off to sleep.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a festive heat-seeking missile.

It had not been the Silent Night that he’d thought,
Nor did he deliver all the presents (that all the parents had bought),

But dammit, he thought, this was a Christmas for the ages,
A zombie slaying Christmas for the history pages.

He’d fought the good fight and killed all the ghouls-
Would that he could have stopped those Umbrella Corp. fools!

But what was done was done, and indeed so was he,
After placing a decapitated head atop the gore-soaked tree.

And to the twice-dead zombie horde he yelled ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good zombie-free night!”

Bat Affleck: The Controversy that Ignores the Point

So.  Ben Affleck is Batman.

It has been a long time since the casting of a superhero role caused as much of a collective groan and snarl from the legion of both filmic and comic fans (I think the last big one was the casting of Keanu Reeves in Constantine…)

constantineYep, close enough.

Immediately the Internet was alight with nerd rage, amplified by the fans of the Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy, whose only point of comparison for Batman is Christian Bale.  Instead we get Affleck.  Gigli‘s Ben Affleck.  Hero of the Michael Bay-verse for much of the early 2000’s.  Star of the horrendous Daredevil film.  Most recently, guy who directs movies about Boston accents and who forgets Canada had a role in that whole Argo affair (that was, you know, facilitated by the Canadian ambassador…)

“Why the hell is Ben-fucking-Affleck playing Batman?” the Internet demanded.

But to my mind, we’re asking the wrong question: everyone is so fixated on who got cast, that we’re ignoring the greater question (particularly in-light of the Man of Steel film): what kind of Batman are we getting and why?

If we’re getting the Batman I think we are, Affleck is a pretty damn good choice; but we can argue about that later.  First, let’s take a look at what we know…

50 SHADES OF BATMAN

Batman has been around a long time and a lot of artists have had a hand in crafting the stories that have become the legacy of the bat.  For example…

Kane BatmanCriminals shall fear me…?

This is the original design for Batman, as imagined by the credited creator of the Dark Knight, Bob Kane.  It wasn’t until un-lauded hero Bill Finger suggested a re-design that we got the Batman we now know and love.  As a result, there have been many, many incarnations of Batman across the mediums, from comics, to cartoons, to films (and perhaps most importantly, in the imaginings and play acting of kids…who grow up to be fans…and write blogs…). Consequently, every incarnation chooses which elements to focus on and develop, allowing for a large amount of variation, despite the character being fundamentally the same.  Grant Morrison offers this helpful summation of the eras of Batman in comics:

“[I was researching Batman’s rich history] from the savage, young, pulp-flavored ‘weird figure of the dark’ of his early years, through the smiling, paternal figure of the 1940s and the proto-psychedelic crusader of the ’50s, the superhero detective of the ’60s, the hairy-chested globetrotting adventurer of the ’70s, to the brutally physical vigilante of the ’80s and snarling, paranoid soldier of the ’90s.” (Morrison, Batman Incorporated Special #1)

The 60’s show brought us the wacky antics of the Golden Age comics (Batman meets the Native American Man of Bats!) In the films, we get a vaguely militaristic Batman in the 1989 Tim Burton film, a quirkier, cartoonist Batman in Forever, and buddy cop Batman in Batman and Robin.  The cartoon takes an interesting mix, bringing more of a noir/detective sensibility to the character and also bringing us a more developed and present Bruce Wayne (one of the most singularly interesting facets of which was both Bruce and Batman referring to all his villains by their first names, rather than their super villain names.  It’s a small touch, but an important one as Batman refuses to put up with their super villain non-sense…despite the whole ‘being dressed as a bat’ thing).

Which brings us to the Nolan Batman.  Nolan’s Batman draws its inspiration most heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, both of which are regarded as cornerstones of the mythology.  Year One features a younger, less experienced Batman training in martial arts and beginning to fight the mob corruption of Gotham (sound familiar?).  Dark Knight Returns, on the other hand, explores the opposite end of the spectrum, with a retired Batman returning to seize control of a Gotham in chaos, eventually faking his death in order to continue his work in secret (sound familiar as well?).  In order to create his trilogy, Nolan draws from many of the strongest arcs and villains in the Batman universe: we get Ra’s Al Ghul and Talia Al Ghul, two of the most important (though generally unknown to non-readers) villains in the rogue’s gallery (Talia is the mother of Bruce’s ill-fated son -and most recent Robin- Damian).  The multi-issue arc No Man’s Land saw Gotham cut off from America by an earthquake and becoming its own nation ruled by gangs (one of which was led by Commissioner Gordon) in lieu of an absentee Batman…until people start marking the walls with his logo signalling his return.  With Bane, he brings in the Knightfall arc, which involved Batman’s spine being broken and cataloged the psychological toll recovery took on him (of particular note was his sudden reluctance to leap off buildings.  A nice touch in an otherwise ham-fisted story).  These are many of the fundamental stories about Batman and make for a fairly fascinating survey of the past few decades of stories…so what do you do now?

Scooby and BatmanI smell an Oscar…

My guess is that you explore Detective Batman.  Bale’s Batman was very much a brawler and a thug, like Daniel Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale: Bale’s Batman lets others (namely Lucius Fox) do the thinking for him, rushing headlong into many fights full of piss and vinegar, leading to Rachel’s death in the second film and his back breaking in the third.  There’s very little detection, but plenty of reaction; it’s a passionate, fierce performance, but lacks the intelligence element of Batman.  This is a superhero who can, at times, operate more like Sherlock Holmes than Bruce Lee.  So, when rebooting a character so soon after an iconic take, it would make sense to explore this element of the character -as yet untapped in the live films- particularly when placing him next to a physical powerhouse like Superman.

With as iconic (and complete) a trilogy as Nolan’s Dark Knight series, you cannot simply reboot the character with a focus on the same elements: this is a fundamental issue in the new Spider-Man films; which present a better take on Peter, perhaps, but generally a worse universe and one not dissimilar enough from Raimi’s to warrant the reboot.  They’re telling many of the same stories, but with a few details and players changed. Not good enough.  Many people discussed the potential for a Batman Beyond film, something so different from Nolan’s that it could stand on its own.

Including Batman in the Man of Steel series is a clever workaround: it allows us to examine Batman through a different lens, not as THE hero of the film, but A hero of the film; something that is frequently visible in team books like Justice League and help us re-examine what specifically makes Batman Batman.

Thus, in order to figure out what kind of Batman we’re getting, we need to examine the film we’re getting him in: what kind of Batman lives in the Man of Steel universe?

Well, Zac Snyder has given us a pretty damn good clue:

REMEMBER MY HANDS
“I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come, in your most private moments.  I want you to remember my hand at your throat.  I want you to remember the one man who beat you.

In the press conference announcing Superman/Batman, the above line was spoken following the logo reveal.  This immediately set the Internet alight, as the fight that line concludes is one of the most epic ever featured in a comic book: Batman and Superman come to blows in a fight to the death.  Crazy.  (There’s a passable film version, if you’re interested, but please ignore Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller’s horrendous Batman voice). The line is delivered after Batman has defeated Superman, re-emphasizing that using his brain and technology, a human has defeated a god.  This is the grand climax of The Dark Knight Returns and the best example of a Batman and Superman fight ever.

VaderBatmanWell, except that time Darth Vader used the Force to convince Superman to fight Batman, Spider-Man, and Boba Fett…but that’s a story for another night…

That this line is the one used signals a lot of info about what we can expect (particularly given that Frank Miller is said to be consulting on the film). I gave Dark Knight Returns a re-read the other day and was surprised at how much has already been used in the Dark Knight Rises; we’ve seen reclusive, reluctant old-man Batman return to the fight and Nolan even included a verbatim set of lines (when the old cop tells the young cop that they’re in for a show) in the film.  What’s left is the entire political undertone and Superman plot, which are an incredible, incredible resource, particularly given the close relationship Man of Steel has developed with the US military.

In a nutshell: Reagan (who is ancient and uses an avatar to do his PR appearances) has been using Superman -the last, licensed superhero- to help win the Cold War (think Dr. Manhattan in Watchman).  The rest of the heroes were out on trial and generally decided to go their separate ways (Wonder Woman returned to the Amazons, Green Lantern to space), with only Superman still working…justifying the acts of war he is carrying out by the ‘doing the most good for the most people’ argument.  Batman, meanwhile, has been defiant, retiring out of guilt over Jason Todd (the second Robin)’s death (which was determined by fans calling in to vote.  LOL)

SeacrestNow if only we could vote on Seacrest…

Now, his return and large scale vigilante actions (he recruits an army) has forced the government’s hand and Superman is sent in to take him down.

The dynamic at work here is awesome and fairly characteristic of how Batman and Superman differ: Superman, the big blue boyscout, is not concerned with the big picture, failing to grasp the greater politics at work (as Bruce says, “You let them do it.  I always knew you would…I’ll assume Russia has taken the lead in the arms race.  I keep track of these things, Clark.  One of us has to.”)

Batman, on the other hand, has been keeping track of the global situation, but simply doesn’t care, focused instead on his personal crusade in Gotham. Superman works with the authorities, Batman defies them.  Superman is a trusted weapon in the army’s arsenal, Batman ends up spending half his time fighting the police force in Gotham.

This dynamic is a useful basis for what we can reasonably expect from Superman/Batman given the heavy military presence and co-operation in Man of Steel (drone killing excepted): we already have a Superman who could reasonably be expected to co-operate with the military, so we will likely see a Batman who is on bad terms with the law and has perhaps detected something sinister about the motives of those commanding Superman (think Tony Stark’s paranoia about S.H.I.E.L.D. compared to Captain America’s trust and faith in The Avengers).

This is not to suggest that Superman is blindly naive (though he can be) nor that Batman is an infallible genius (though he can be), but to suggest that emphasizing Superman’s faith in people and in doing the right thing against Batman’s paranoia and push to seek the truth yields great dramatic results and ultimately makes them great partners (and friends!)

THE_SUPERFRIENDS_1973_-_1974

But what could bring Batman to Metropolis and who could maneuver Batman against Superman?

Well, there’s this bald guy…

heisenburgREMEMBER MY NAME!

My good friend -and film aficionado- Andrew Kelly presented a useful scenario: both Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne are giants of industry; people who would likely be instrumental in the rebuilding of a city…say one that has just been decimated by General Zod.

Zod…Who everyone forgot to kneel before, in this one…

Also, since the relaunch in the New 52 (and indeed many of the Batman comics leading up to it, notably The Gates of Gotham and The Return of Bruce Wayne) Bruce Wayne has been focusing his non-crime fighting hours on building a better Gotham; like Luthor, he is now a viable business man to compete for or assist in the rebuilding of Metropolis.  This leads me to think we’ll need a more competent Bruce Wayne than Bale’s, who despite some entertaining moments seemed a bit like an afterthought.  In this, Affleck makes a lot of sense; the aging playboy with natural charm, though a bit rough around the edges.  Maybe Gotham is in New England?

As to Luthor and Batman: Luthor makes perfect sense in any mythology as a business man, but he is also is particularly well suited to the ‘alien paranoia’ argument presented throughout Man of Steel.  Luthor is always at his best when his overwhelming frustration at observing a being that is beyond human perfection drives him to commit evil acts: Luthor considers himself close to human perfection, but he cannot be Superman, an alien who is essentially cheating with powers to be the best.  This ‘us-vs-them’ mentality fits the Kryptonians showed up and tried to commit planet-wide genocide events of Man of Steel and thus opens us an interesting angle for Batman as well: Luthor can likely bring the ‘there’s a super powered alien playing judge, jury, and executioner running around Metorpolis…how do you feel about that?’ argument, which is awesome.  In Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ incredible Kingdom Come, Luthor forms a Human Rights League to band together and defeat the meta-humans, even convincing Bruce Wayne to join (albeit, as a feint), which again presents a very Man of Steel friendly scenario.

Also, Luthor is probably going to be Bryan Cranston.  Awesome.  Maybe Batman will come to Metropolis to break up Luthor’s meth operation?

This brings us around to another major point of contention we have now (and really, only in this mythology): Superman is now, very publicly, a killer.  If there’s one thing Batman can’t abide, it’s killing.

153098_v3(Except a brief period early in his career, where it was pretty much ‘kill ’em all for justice!’  …we generally ignore this period.)

In Kingdom Come, there is a beautiful argument between Superman and Batman, with Superman trying to convince Batman to aid him in putting a stop to the out-of-control younger generation of meta humans, who are killing wantonly.

“We aren’t killers, that’s why…” Etc etc

In fact, in the comics, Wonder Woman is the part of the DC ‘Trinity’ who crossed the line in the Infinite Crisis, killing a villain to huge debate from the League (this is a key point in Kingdom Come as well).  As an Amazonian warrior, the ‘war’ with super villains takes a different tone that both Batman and Superman actively oppose.  But now Superman is the killer, in a war scenario, but a killer nonetheless.  This above statement (one that sums up many fans’ frustrations with Man of Steel), is not valid in this new mythology: how our new Batman reacts to this will be instructive.

BatpunchHere’s my guess.

In a recent statement, a DC exec said we’ll be seeing a ‘QUOTE’, which seems to support the arguments above.  It dodges the pitfall of having to rehash an origin we’ve all seen one too many times (how awesome would more ‘super hero in progress’ movies be?  Here’s a hint: unless it has Nazi-hunter Magneto, pretty damn awesome) and allows us to explore a jaded, but established Batman in opposition to the newly minted Superman of Man of Steel.  Affleck’s role in The Town, which was well played though ultimately forgettable (partially because I liked the movie more when it was called Heat), was quite similar to this and he was great in it.  He’s an actor who has seen a lot, hit the bottom careerwise, and earned his way back with great roles, great direction, and greater humility.  We will not be seeing Daredevil era Affleck; we’re getting an actor we know has charm and presence, but has also seen some rough times.  He’s at a perfect place in his career (now out of the woods) to be able to use those hard times to inform a long-fighting Batman who is already kind of tired when a super powered being arrives on the scene.  I suspect we’ll be seeing a greater emphasis on Bruce Wayne and Affleck seems like a good fit; his slightly weary bearing is a great counterpoint for the steely optimism of Henry Cavill’s Superman.  It is also instructive that Josh Brolin was also up for the role-he would make a great world-weary Bruce Wayne, but I have a harder time thinking of him in the cowl.  From Daredevil, we already know Affleck can carry that (and to be fair, the cast -aside from Colin Farrell- was not the problem with Daredevil…the script and pacing were horrendous, but Affleck and Clark Michael Duncan were solid).

Ultimately, I don’t envy the casting directors who have to pick a new Batman.  It’s a delicate balancing act, let alone all the concerns of a new script and reboot, and you’re casting for a decade, not a film (don’t be surprised if Wonder Woman shows up at the end of the film…maybe played by Samuel L Jackson).  Superman/Batman is the next step toward Justice League (which was kicked further down the field by the absolute failure of Green Lantern, which was trying pretty hard to be a Marvel movie and was meant to be the start of the shared DC universe).  Affleck obviously has big boots to fill, but he’s filling them as part of a team and ensemble, not alone.  A lot of the pressure will be mitigated by having the focus shared between Superman and Batman hopefully offering him a chance to make a Batman all his own.

There is, of course, a chance that he will be terrible.  Or merely okay, which could be worse, but there was a time when the world was pretty upset that that kid from A Knight’s Tale was going to be playing the Joker.

Whether Affleck succeeds or fails remains to be seen, but it’s a mistake to assume he’ll be playing the same character as Christian Bale: we’re getting a new Batman.

And I’m pretty damn sure it’ll be better than Constantine.

Wonder L JackWomanAnd now this.

***

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN…

There’s also a neat script floating around the Internet about the failed Superman/Batman film from a few years ago, which involves Bruce Wayne’s wife dying, Lex Luthor unleashing a clone Joker, and ends with Batman suggesting they get a beer and Superman asking to go for soda instead.  It’s a really strange buddy cop film with superheroes.  Read all about it over at Geek Tyrant.

I Went to a Science Centre and an Arcade Broke Out: Game On 2.0 at the Science Centre

The Ontario Science Centre has always been an important part of my life: My earliest field trip memories involve walking the (seemingly infinite) concrete entrance walkway always seemed like the start of an adventure. Like I was heading into a secret lair of a mad scientist or Bond villain.

blofeld1His scheme? Trick you into learning with an awesome IMAX movie!

I remember thinking I could run forever down that hallway, which now feels about two metres long. It was also the location of my first date with the fiancé, when we realized we’d been dating for a month and never actually been ON a date. It was charming and strangely romantic, though I lost some points for picking an unfortunately boring IMAX film about the Hubble Telescope.

Amidst this sea of warm, nostalgic feelings, the last thing I ever expected I’d do at the Ontario Science Centre is beat the Satellite level on GoldenEye 64.

photoI went to a science centre and an arcade broke out.

Game On 2.0 is a strange beast of an exhibit, characteristic of the new age of mainstream nerd-dom, the likes of which would have been impossible to imagine even 10 years ago. The exhibit is essentially a curated arcade of gaming consoles throughout the ages, from Plinko through Pong, through Japan’s MSX and the great NES vs Sega Master System war, from the Dreamcast to the WiiU. There are even some concept pieces, from the incredible motion based Joust (more on that in a minute) to the Virtusphere, which allows you to operate as a mouse in virtual space. (and it kinda looked like the Death Star. Which is awesome.) Here’s a video of my buddy Dustin Freeman exploring it.

Throughout, there are plaques with information about the various games, genres, systems, and trends; and its here where the flaws of this unique experience become apparent. The info is rather haphazardly set, following no real flow or system and thus being generally inaccessible. They also spelled PlayStation wrong throughout (‘Playstation.’ Woof.) which is just plain sloppy; but also speaks to the greater strangeness of the exhibit itself.

Video game scholarship is still in its infancy and here we see the beginnings of how museum exhibits of the future will treat games. Sure, the info (and the flow of the exhibit itself) are a bit of a mess, but the fact that these games are on display in the first place is a marvel. These things, once viewed merely as distractions and wastes of time, are being treated instead as a cultural force and in many cases legitimate works of art (which is still a hotly contested view, as evidenced by this great clash of the late, great Roger Ebert and the entire body of the Internet)

What the exhibit gets right (and oh so right) is creating a massive arcade feeling, with hundreds of people playing a variety of games in full view of passerbys. The atmosphere of public gaming has shifted considerably over the years, going from the public showmanship of proper arcade games, to trading controllers back and forth and watching each other play single player games in a living room, to Dance Dance Revolution, to the private gaming of the early console era, to the now greatly public web videos of Twitch.tv, Let’s Play, and even Killcam replays in Call of Duty (showing you the viewpoint of the player who just killed you. Often fascinating, always frustrating), and finally the televised eSports of Korea, where StarCraft is the second national sport after baseball.

I was shocked by how stressful and exhilarating it was playing Super Mario World in full view of random passerbys, who commented, “Oh, I remember that enemy. I hated that guy.” (In reference to those damn helmeted Koopas who throw baseballs). I was aware of the scrutiny of my audience and it made the stakes much higher on the game. I think this was generally true throughout the exhibit, where the players became part of the installation during their playthroughs. It was a fascinating shift of the private sphere into the public and was generally awesome.

photo-1As The Fiancé found out, right after me.

I also got the rare joy of an adult generation of gamers, now parents, expressing supreme frustration at their kids’ lack of ability at Sonic 3 on Genesis. The same way my Dad could school me proper at Pong or Space Invaders, the new generation of parents are watching in horror as the games they mastered as kids straight up own their kids.

N00BS.

There were constant utterances (many of them mine) of “I remember that game!” I realized that I spent a bunch of time playing Monkeyball on GameCube at university that I completely forgot about until I saw it in action. I introduced the fiancé to Bubble Bobble (or Bust-A-Move) which I had spent many, many fond hours playing with my friend Sarah in high school when our 3 Hour Unlimited cards at Playdium continued to work only on that machine.

Recognizing and playing games from all corners of my past was a rare joy; I learned a lot about my history as a gamer that we often miss, now that all games are available in some form on something. By curating the game list, I was confronted with these games, rather than having to seek them out and that was both pleasant and surprising. It was the perfect blend of nostalgia and history (in particular, a series of five Street Fighter games, from the first on up to the most recent was a fascinating look at how a franchise evolved.)

I also got to try something I’ve been hankering for since I saw it demoed at PAX last year: a game called Joust, where players each hold a PlayStation Move and try to keep it as steady as possible while attempting to shake other players’.

photo-6War of the Wands

It’s a full contact game of tag and is a tonne of fun (particularly with greater numbers; PAX had something ridiculous like 50 players in each game. We had five). The Fiancé reigned triumpant for the most part, owning both me and fellow blogger Alex Kerr, though the intrepid random kid who joined us took the final game.

photo-5Full contact video games with a random kid.  Yay, science!

In addition to being the best use of the PlayStation Move to date, it was a fascinating application of gaming technology to the greater idea of play. There is a lot of great indie work like this happening with the Move and the Microsoft Kinect (some of which is being done by the talented and endlessly interesting Dustin Freeman. Check out his site for more info!) I was very pleasantly surprised to see this at the exhibit as it spoke specifically to the indie gap that was fairly prominent throughout. Where was Minecraft?

Speaking of gaps, notably missing were such genre changers as Wolfenstein 3D, StarCraft, Halo, ICO/Shadow of the Colossus, and Call of Duty. Granted, these are very mature games (though there was one Halo station, speaking to multiplayer, but it lacked the kind of critical analysis that such a game warrants.) but even a visual display of the games would have been useful. It was a noticeable gap, particularly given the outrageous popularity of online shooters.

There was also a strange lack of mobile games (aside from an awesome handheld console display); which is particularly odd given that mobile gaming has completely infiltrated modern Western life (many top paid CEOs take gaming breaks to help re-energize them when they hit a mid-day slump. Awesome.)

Which leads me to my favorite moment of the exhibit. While walking past a seated racing game, I noticed that the girl at the console wasn’t playing the racing game. Instead, she was playing Candy Crush.

photo-2Yep.  Amazing.

This pretty much sums up what’s so great about gaming: at the end of the day, no matter how many magical and historically important games there are, ultimately, we want to play what we enjoy. It was a pretty trippy moment and I was glad to capture it.

So. A mixed bag, work in progress, but certainly an interesting and worthwhile one. While the exhibit has closed, you can soon read an alternate account over at Socially Scientific, by professional exhibit designer and science-y guy extrodinare, Alex Kerr (not sure when, he’s a busy guy.  But in the meantime, check out some of the other awesome stuff on his site!)

And so I find myself playing GoldenEye at the Ontario Science Centre: adding the experience of playing a game that has meant so much to me to a place that has meant so much throughout my life.

The level is oddly reminicent of the Science Centre itself; long hallways, lots of stairs, mostly grey concrete, though there were admittedly fewer Soviet soldiers, which is probably for the best.

I’m grabbing the familiar body armour, detonating the C4 for fun, and as the elevator doors close as fire consumes the non-chalant, blocky Bond I realize something that would have delighted the bowl-cut sporting, chubby blonde kid that used to think he could run forever through that mysterious concrete entrance hallway: I found my secret Bond villain lair after all.

*With special thanks to The Fiance, Alex Kerr, Dustin Freeman, and that Random Kid for being a part of the adventure.

Man of Steel: How We Got What We Want And Lost What We Need.

It’s hard not to feel inspired when you hear the first few bars of John Williams’ legendary Superman theme. Like the hero itself, it seems to ask you to be better than yourself.

Better than you think you can be.

This tone, embodied by Superman since his inception during the Great Depression, is perhaps why there is so much controversy surrounding Man of Steel’s depiction of Superman. When the Batman films were rebooted with Nolan’s Batman Begins, the series shed the light, playful tone that had permeated the franchise since Batman Forever and thus regained some of the character’s credibility; we’ve always been okay with silly Batman (as emphasized by the truly spectacular digital comic Batman ’66) but we were ready for a more serious, more violent Dark Knight. This is, after all, a vigilante prone to brooding, leaving without saying goodbye, and beating enemies to within an inch of their life to avenge his dead parents.

Toronto BatmanOr, to eat Beef Jerky. HIS PARENTS ARE DEAD!!!

But then there’s his counterpoint: Superman. The Man of Tomorrow. The Man of Steel. An alien raised by honest, salt-of-the-earth parents to inspire and lead. Instead of lurking in the shadows, he wears the brightest colours he can find. He actively presents himself as a hero of the people and is often found helping out ordinary people.

Superman’s film history has been lighthearted and extremely unpredictable…for every “Kneel before Zod!” we have a Superman IV. Woof. Through it all, we get an inspiring, heroic Superman, ready to save the world and save us from ourselves.

But then something went wrong…both on film and in comics. After spawning an entire industry of imitators and counterpoints, we grew tired of the original. The smiling, posturing, happy-go-lucky (though lonely) Man of Steel began to frustrate us. Fuck this guy, right?

Part of the problem was that our morality started to shift: we tired of black and white, good/evil stories, as our own access to information allowed us greater and greater insight into things we thought we could believe in (NSA, anyone?) We dig anti-heroes (hi, Batman!) and increasingly thirst for vigilante justice (in fiction…the Zimmerman trial result speaks to our disgust with vigilante actions in real life).

But then there’s Mr. America, Superman. Asking us to believe. In ourselves, in something greater.

superman waiting As I said, fuck that guy. Right?

Which brings us to Man of Steel. It’s an interesting movie, though problematic. First and foremost, this is the ‘Superman vs…’ movie we’ve been waiting for (that is, until the forthcoming Superman VS Batman movie…which will be the best AROUND!). Super-powered heroes are often hard to pair up, since a regular punch from Superman should kill a mortal. The fights are incredible. Fast, varied, and all kinds of awesome. There are also some perfect moments (generally whenever Cavill actually gets to BE Superman) or the truly heart-breaking moment where Pa Kent sees Clark as a kid with a cape on.

In moments like these, the film manages to capture the very essence of Superman, summed up wonderfully in the striking image of the Man of Steel in handcuffs that can’t possibly hold him, but showing the humility and grace that mark our hero.

There’s a bunch of awesome stuff here.

But then there are the problems.

How deep these problems run has somewhat yet to be seen; much like the gradual build of James Bond over the rebooted films, the implication seems to be that this film is about the shaping of Clark Kent/Superman into the character we know (and indeed, in the scenes where he is Superman and the scene where Clark Kent is actually reporter Clark Kent we see how this could go). However, to get there, we basically have to endure a selfish, inconsiderate Clark…which I found particularly troubling during all of his “Hey Mom, guess what? I found my real parents!” scenes –which feels like most of them- as he completely ignores his adoptive parents’ feelings and contributions to his life. Yes, yes, youthful ignorance (I heard the same defence of Harry’s constant whining in Order of the Phoenix), but the strange scatter-shot of flashbacks generally only gives us this version of Clark. I found myself desperately missing the farmboy hero lurking beneath the surface…a lot of characters tell us that he’s like that (and we see heroic actions), but rarely do we catch even a glimpse of what motivates them other than ‘I have superpowers. Canz use?’

To a large extent, the first half of this film feels like a Wolverine movie without the claws.

This angrier, broodier Superman seems to be more in-line with our aforementioned shift away from black/white morality and yet sits ill-at-ease. We wanted a darker tone (Metropolis gets destroyed, thousands die), we wanted a more vicious hero (whose very existence is toted as world ending and who snaps the villain’s neck), and yet we find this Superman lacking.

The answer, I think, lies in the now famous line from The Dark Knight: optimistic Superman isn’t the hero we want, but he is the hero we need.

Angry broody Batman feels right. It fits his backstory, his motivation, and his actions just fine…but we want our Superman to be better. We want to be generally frustrated with his ‘always looking forward for humanity’ attitude, because he can hold it when we cannot. Much like Gene Roddenbury’s hopeful science fiction future in Star Trek (also lost in the new films, which are much broodier…as were the later shows), we look to Superman not to reflect our own attitudes about humanity or heroes, but to give us something to aspire toward. It is often easy to forget this, behind the shiny blue and red veneer (and godlike powers which, admittedly, made him my least favorite superhero growing up), but the reason Superman is an enduring hero isn’t because he is faster than a speeding bullet, or can leap tall buildings in a single bound (which later became flight because…comics); it’s because the Big Blue Boyscout is actually damn inspiring.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to say ‘fuck that guy.’

Perhaps we kind of need him right now.

Now go blare the John Williams theme at top volume…it might just make you want to save the world.

Or at least do the laundry.

Eroticism at Fan Expo…Yeah, You Read That Right.

Here’s a pick up line you may not have heard…
“Hey, you’re Sailor Moon, right?”

(Apologies if you are, in fact, Sailor Moon.)

  I literally watched this happen. Multiple times. And I must admit, it made a hell of a lot of sense; there are a lot of people at Fan Expo to hook up and this opening line or one like it was doubtless responsible for at least a few hook-ups.
Sex is in the air…
At the nerd convention.
…wait, what?

***

   Going to Fan Expo is a lot like going to a Jays, Leafs, or Argos game for me: all around are gorgeous women in fan apparel, who clearly share one of your interests…which is awesome.  At Fan Expo, this goes a step further: these (in my case) girl-next-door types are all manner of revealing, clever, or funny costumes of characters you may not have realized you had a thing for. (Although, the fetishization of super heroes is nothing new; Wonder Woman was created by a bondage enthusiast, the creator of Superman also released a book of BDSM comics, Super Hero XXX parodies are in high demand, and really, who wouldn’t want to bone Robert Downey Jr?) The costumes run the gamut from sexy Hallowe’en style things, to downright creative and awesome things: I must admit, one of the most attractive costumes I saw was a highly accurate and well-executed Saga costume (she was the prince of the Robot Kingdom, with the TV head). The sexiness came, very nerdily, from the depth of nerd knowledge and obscure but awesome choice for the costume.

   So, the sexiness on display caters to all tastes, particularly in the realm of the nerd, where intelligence and mutual nerdiness can be as much of a turn-on as exposed flesh (though there is no shortage of that…particularly given the lengths some go to show off, you have to check yourself upon leaving, so as not to be blatantly checking out everyone you see on the street afterwards-a kind of strip club effect, if you will).

And to clarify, this eroticism is not simply tied to straight male nerds like me, happy to see cleavage everywhere. The high degree of fetishization of Doctor Who and anything even remotely Cumberbatch-y is evident throughout Artist’s Alley, where countless images of popular male characters kissing, or posed staring longlingly have elicited sounds fairly close to orgasm in some who have rushed to buy them. Here you can find talented, professional artists, who can draw (and often just have for sale) images of your sexually perferred characters or actors in whatever situation they are comfortable drawing. (There are countless Mary Jane Watsons, Poison Ivys, and Harley Quinns that invariably cause me to miss a step).

The fiance and I have a number of pin-ups drawn by the incredibly talented Laurie B, who specializes in Disney-ified pin-ups of famous characters (as well as adorable baby versions…her GhostbustersDon’t Cross the Streams” is a personal favorite). While not as classy as the busts of busts and vaguely French nude painting of my jazzy uncle’s house (which growing up was my first exposure to erotic or sensual art), they suit our style and tastes just fine.

The term, ‘To Each There Own’ seems a highly fitting moniker for the fest in general.

That being said, as with any event (particularly one attended by a social group not known for their social skills), it can get weird and creepy. Despite the charm of the ‘Hey, you’re Sailor Moon’ line, in this particular instance it was weilded with an attitude of ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you here before.’ A standard pick-up in extraordinary terms, but a pick-up nevertheless. He followed up with, ‘Yeah, I’m Deadpool, from the Marvel Comic’; it was played as a casual exchange between cosplayers, but the clear intent and delivery were more Barney Stinson than Deadpool. He then introduced his friend and asked if the Sailor Moon and her friend were there with anyone.
At least there was no where to buy Jaeger Bombs.

There’s also the very, very creepy photo request; often involving a dude asking to either get of a photo of or with particularly hot cosplayers. This is normally within the acceptable realm of ‘Yeah, kinda gross’ but occasionally crosses the line. The fiance and I got the privilege of overhearing one such request, as a Catwoman and Power Girl were told (after posing for one photo already):

“Yeah, now stand closer together. Now turn in to her slightly. Yeah, just like that. Now, hand on your hip. Yeah. Yeah, that’s good.”

It was like hearing bad dialogue in a film and was uttered by the exact kind of nerd you’d expect to be asking two female Expo attendees to pose his way for a second shot. It was easily the grossest thing I heard all festival (second place goes to jailbait Slave Leia…bad call, 16 year old.)

And then, on the positive side, there’s the BDSM.

Lots of people rock leather at Fan Expo (thanks, The Matrix, Bryan Singer’s X-Men, anime, etc…) in varying degrees of fetish-y ways (some, not at all), but then there’s the ‘costume appropriate, but here’s a window into our sex lives’ way, which I saw on the very first day: a Deadpool had a Twi’lek (the two headed tail dancers from Return of the Jedi) on a leash. While conceivably part of the Star Wars costume, it seemed to me, rather, that these two nerds were getting to let their freak flag fly a bit (and public display is often -pardon the pun- tied up in power play). The cool thing is, that no one really seems to mind. There are grumbles about everything everywhere (guys in Catwoman costumes tend to bare the brunt of it, unfortunately, despite the fact that the dude in the leather catsuit was in better shape than anyone else I saw rocking the costume at the Expo), but it’s ultimately a safe space, of a sort. Particularly for us nerdy folk, who often don’t know how to express ourselves (sexually or otherwise). It’s a cool side effect. For all the creepiness of the photo guy, there’s good stuff like this going on too.

For me, I know the great surprise and win will always be that there are all these attractive people who share the same interests as me (which, of course, makes them more attractive). I was lucky enough to find one to be both my Expo and life companion (though we disagree vehemently about which Trek is best…a deep level nerd argument that is, of course, part of the reason I love her), but it still staggers me just how many people there are looking for -and now, in our ‘nerd is cool’ world- finding either a hook-up, or love, or even just validation that they aren’t alone, that we’re all nerdy freaks together. Growing up in the 90’s, it was kind of drilled into us that nerdy girls weren’t really a thing and that we shouldn’t expect to find a companion who shared those interests…now there are girls walking around in (surprisingly attractive) midriff bearing Halo armour outfits.

And for every in-genuine ‘Hey you’re Sailor Moon’ line, you get an incredibly genuine one, like I heard my first day: a girl tore over to a guy dressed (incredibly randomly) as Charlie Chaplain and declared, “Mr. Chaplain! Your costume is beautiful and perfect and I love you very much.”

I don’t know whether they exchanged any words beyond that, but I’m still humbled and thrilled by the fact that we now live in a world where that genuine burst of loving fandom might have gotten that girl laid.

It’s a good day to be a nerd.

As a sidenote: I know lots of guys want to be like the fast-talking, wise-cracking, badass ninja Deadpool…but when you put on a skintight Morph suit, it is your responsibility as a human to take a good, long, honest look at yourself in the mirror, before adventuring off into the world.  It shows EVERYTHING.  Please use responsibly.

The Nerd Microcasm: When There Is No Other, We’re Stuck With Each Other

An interesting thing happens at places like Fan Expo, where all we nerds are gathered together: you see, in the greater world, we nerds band together and defend each other against the rolled eyes, snorts of derision, and snarky comments that have been hurled our way since we were old enough to nerd out. But in the safe, smelly confines of Fan Expo, there is no other. There’s just us.

Quoteth Sartre: Hell is other nerds. (This is, of course, Dave Sartre, renowned Star Trek…yeah, this joke is out of steam.)

What this means, in practical terms, is that when you get all us nerds together, we stop being nerds and start just being people again, with all the quirks and qualms we have out there in the real world. Suddenly I don’t want to come to the defence of a guy dressed in an ill-fitted Batman costume, because the asshole just totally shouldered me out of the way so he could look at a fucking TARDIS cookie jar.
This becomes particularly clear in Q&As, where very, very quickly people’s true and often extrordinarily annoying tendencies begin to manifest.

For example, here’s a gem from each and every Firefly related panel for the past 11 years:
“Is there going to be another Serenity movie? Or is the series going to come back? Can you ask Joss Whedon to bring it back?” (I watched Nathan Fillion drop the hammer on a guy about this today and it was glorious). Now remember, we are nerds. By our very definition, we are obsessive, fact, and detail oriented people. We spend enjoyable hours trolling message boards, news sites, everything available sniffing out new info about our favorite franchises.

If Joss Whedon even said the word ‘Firefly’ near a Fox executive, the Internet would explode. We’d know. Immediately. Everyone.

And yet, here we are, listening to yet another idiot ask a question they already know the answer to. It’s not only infuriating, it’s vaguely insulting. These people (and god dammit they are legion: Dollhouse, Firefly, Star Wars -then that actually happened-, I even heard someone ask Shatner if he was going to write any more Tek Wars novels and he practically laughed them out of the Expo.

There are also the ones who really want to espouse their theories about a show (I watched Chief from Battlestar Galactica respond to one once, “I’m just an actor, dude. I’ve got opinions about things, but they’re no more valid than anyone else’s in the room. So, yeah. Next question?”), those who want a hug (Zachary Quinto actually let her. Class act.). Perhaps it’s having a foot in the industry and being and knowing actors, but there is a staggering amount of confusion about the fact that actors are people and not (as many seem to assume) the God Emperor of their franchise.

And then there are the walks.

In a truly classic ‘this is why nerds suck’ vein, you have never seen more actively disruptive and socially unaware walking patterns than you have at an Expo. There’s the ‘lean-forward-stagger’, the ‘I’m trying to dart nimbly through the crowd but lack nimbility’, and, of course, the aforementioned ‘swag seeking missile’ which generally cuts a swarth of awful through any crowd while loudly exclaiming to all within earshot their excitement at swag which is 99.99% of the time from a major, current franchise so it’s no mystery that it exists.

(From last year: the fiancé and I were literally shoved aside by a screaming girl who exclaimed in genuine shock and awe, “OMG! Look! TARDIS earrings!!!” If you throw a rock in any direction at Fan Expo you will hit both Doctor Who merchandise AND someone dressed as the Doctor. It’s the modern day Star Trek. These earrings should be no surprise to anyone with eyes. …unless those eyes were taken out by that rock I threw. In which case, your joy is legitimate and I am sorry for blinding you.)

And for all my ranting, I’m sure I’m in there too.

For the last two years, I haven’t had time to build costumes (as Fan Expo consistently follows a busy theatre season) and thus I’m that ‘half there guy’, the one browsing both the booths and the costumees, but seemingly oddly apart from them.
It’s a little like not wearing a costume to a Hallowe’en party. Particularly the hardcore female cosplayers give you the look of ‘Who wore a Hawiian shirt to Prom?’ thing, which is actually pretty cool. I’m being nerd-shamed and I deserve it.

And yet for all of this, the first time I heard a ‘that is so wrong’ comment from an asshole outside the Convention Centre about a larger girl in an unflattering Sailor Moon costume, I was immediately back on the side of my fellow nerds.
The nerd microcosm is a bit like a family; they’re your people, you’re stuck with them, and some of them are assholes. And frankly, it’s awesome that there’s a place where I can recognize that, because it means we’re all actually being ourselves.
Assholes and all.

Dispatches from Nerdvana: Wha Happen at Fan Expo

Apologies about the formatting, will fix tonight!

The Mr. Spock on my streetcar is violating the Prime Directive several times over.

Rather than the clever combo of a fisherman’s cap to cover the ears and awkward

racial commentary to cover the eyebrows and eyes, which has been used to great effect

in past to hide the presence of an alien on 21st Century, pre-First Contact Earth, he’s

just hanging out. Hanging out and playing Candy Crush on what must seem to Vulcan

eyes to be a hopelessly outdated piece of technology.

Most illogical.

I guess he ran out of game time, though, because he swears most un-Vulcanly and

makes a phone call. I guess he missed the whole ‘A Vulcan will show no emotion’ part

of his education (or he was in the heat of Ponn Farr. It’s hard to tell, sometimes.)

We’re getting off at the same stop, so I flash him a ‘Live Long and Prosper.’

He gives me the finger.

If I can find a working communicator at Fan Expo this year, I’m totally going to report

him to Starfleet. Maybe it’ll lead to one of those awesome court martial episodes, where

Kirk has to defend him to a by-the-book admiral.

It’s a fitting start to Fan Expo 2013.

***

Every year, I make a pilgrimage of sorts to the sweaty, crowded, and infinitely

nerdy (and hallowed) halls of Fan Expo. For the uninitiated, Fan Expo serves as

Toronto’s largest pop culture event; serving the fervent fandoms of film, TV, horror, sci

fi, comics, anime, video games, super heroes, fantasy characters, and collectors (and,

most bizarrely this year, sports fans). The Metro Convention Centre is now entirely

consumed by the event, which has spread across both the north and south buildings

and hosts hundreds fans and celebrities every year.

For many, Fan Expo is about costumes (and indeed some Cosplayers work all year

on elaborate costumes; I have seen some who never enter the Expo itself, instead

installing themselves at the foot of the escalator for adoration and photo ops) or about

scoring rare merch (or in some cases, hilariously nostalgic merch…I saw the mint

condition, unopened Ghostbusters firehouse I spent countless hours playing with going

for $400 today. Glad I still have -and played with- mine). It’s often an orgy of spending

and photography.

But for me, this is my writer’s retreat; this is where I go to hear my favourite authors,

actors, directors, and effects people unfold their craft. To hear stories from people who

I respect and admire about struggling with writer’s block, or to find acting work.

It’s a reminder that every nerd icon started out (and often still is) just a fan with big

ideas and the ability and perseverance to follow through on them.

The gorgeous women in skin-tight nerd costumes don’t hurt either.

So here I am, embarking once more unto the nerd breach to be inspired, revitalized,

and to nerd right the frak out,

…and also, to have my patience tested by anime fans wearing 6′ wide metal wings

who give exactly zero fucks about crowd control, and nerds with delusions of grandeur,

who really really want to talk at their favourite celebrity while a room of 200 people

wishes a speedy and efficient death upon them.

Game on, Fan Expo.

Fan Expo begins, as is traditional, with a massive ticketing clusterfuck.

Hobby Star, the fine people behind Fan Expo, make a yearly habit of under-estimating

just how many people are coming and -perhaps more importantly- how irate people in

fully leather costumes get when waiting in line.

Ain’t no rage like a nerd rage.

Following the signs to tickets, I blare the Pirates of the Caribbean theme (cuz

I’m cool like that, savy?) which quickly proves to be both highly anti-climactic, though

strangely appropriate. As I am continually rebuked (“No, you need to go down the

street, past Steamwhistle, to a mysterious parking garage.” “No, you have a premium

pass, that’s the north building.” “Oh, that’s actually just your receipt. You had to

click ‘1 of 1’ to open your ticket, then print that.”). Anti-climactic, because by this point

I had played the song four times (each time leading to another dead end, despite my

determination to the contrary). Strangely appropriate, because if viewed from afar, I

was the determined looking guy marching back and forth futility in a highly Captain Jack

Sparrow-y way.

Rum would have helped, mind. Why is the rum always gone…?

But finally, I had my printed ticket in hand (leaving my fiancé in line for the shady

underground parking garage, which over my time away had somehow turned into a line

of infinite sadness.)

What followed, was an almost perfect re-enactment of the ‘Jerry gets upgraded to

first class, Elaine does not’ episode of Seinfeld. I arrived to a short line to pick up my

Premium pass (behind an aggravatingly dense nerd in a suit, who repeatedly asked the

ticket lady -who was in the process of giving him his wristband- if she could get him his

ticket. Entitled Suit Nerd earned the coveted position of ‘First Punchable,’ which refers

to the list I will be running of people I want to punch at the Expo.). Got my pass and a

nice, quiet priority entrance, bypassing the frustrated masses (the fiancé, at this point,

was exactly where I left her, as they were processing same day purchases with the

majority of their windows, leaving only one for fools who want to buy a day in advance.)

We premium pass holders get in two hours early, so I was able to take in the sights of

the Expo at my leisure and scoop up a long sought after graphic novel (only to realize I

was a rube minutes later when I found it for my $25 purchase for $4 elsewhere.)

My fiancé, meanwhile, still languished in line.

Then I went to the Premium Lounge. Now, this is a lounge in the most rudimentary

sense; it’s a big fucking subterranean room with a bunch of round tables, but dammit,

it’s our room. (I had secretly hoped to be served drinks by R2-D2 while Slave Leias

danced to Cantina music…but I guess that’s the separate VIP lounge…). I even got to

watch some plebeians kicked out by the awkward 15-year old who was handing out our

premium loot bags. Bwahahaha! Nerd privilege.

The fiancé, by this point, had finally been told a second window had opened, only to

be told by said window that they were only selling same day tickets and to get back in

line for other tickets. This led to a verbal sparring match the likes of which…

Who am I kidding. The nerds revolted and the poor site manager sold them their

tickets.

Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty happy with the premium tickets by this point. I kept

this to myself.

If you’ve never been, here’s the sight that greets you when you finally pass all the

hurdles and make it to the hall.

PHOTO COMING SOON

The space is roughly divided into a large retail space (in turn sub-divided into comics,

collectables, and costumes), Artist’s Alley which is an incredible place to find some truly

beautiful art or purchase commissions from a favorite comic artist (and responsible for

the majority of the art in my apartment), and large demo areas for new video games and

film memorabilia/displays. Present in this space, one finds horror, sci fi, comics, anime,

and some gaming. There is also a food court, with a surprising amount of options (a far

cry from the ALL PIZZA PIZZA, ALL THE TIME philosophy of years gone by).

In the hallway, smaller rooms are reserved for screenings, games, seminars, and

Q&A’s (which are the core of my experience). This year, the festival wisely spread into

the second convention hall building, moving the celebrity signings and big guests into

the larger space. This also allowed for the addition of perhaps the largest ‘times they

are a-changing’ section of the Expo: the sports section. Was a time nerds and sports

fans were oil and water; now we’re sharing wristbands.

All of this was before me, as I entered the Expo…but Thursday is new and a bit slow. I

picked a couple events and made my way…

SKETCH DUEL, LEE BERMEJO VS RYAN STEGMAN

This is a unique and often under-attended event at Fan Expo and one that only

came to my attention last year (when I had been following comics enough to actually

appreciate who these people were).

The concept is a neat one: two or three artists are given an hour to draw a character

picked by the audience live, while answering questions from the audience. At the

end of the hour, the two drawings are given away by raffle. It’s an incredible way to

score some free work from top artists while also getting a peak at their process and

personality. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints, the process often proves more

enlightening than the forced responses to questions that are really only distracting them

from what they are doing, but it’s a cool process nevertheless.

The two I wanted to see are a couple of my favorites, though their styled wildly differ.

Bermejo is the artist behind Joker, Luthor, and most recently Batman: Noel, with an

incredibly detailed, almost oil painting style (which he admits is heavily influenced by

Norman Rockwell, which was a revelatory ‘THAT’S what it reminds me of’ gasp from

me). Stegman, on the other hand is a regular artist on my favourite Spider-Man comic,

using a much more cartoony style influenced heavily by Todd MacFarlane’s runs on

Spider-Man and Spawn.

One of my favourite parts of such duels is the chance to see artists draw someone

they never do (I saw the incredible Amanda Conner draw a mash-up of Daenerys

Targaryen and Marvel’s Squirrel Girl. Which was awesome beyond explanation).

This year, the requests were Lex Luthor holding Krytonite (easy for Bermjo, who did a

whole book on Luthor), Hawkeye, ‘a totally legit’ Aquaman, Dr. Who (shot down by both

artists), and finally Spider-Man as requested by an adorable little dude holding a Spidey

mask.

Stegman applauded this, so it was chosen, which is a bit of a bummer, since we see

his Spidey on a bi-monthly basis, but nevertheless the two drew awesome Spider-Men.

Part of the problem with interviewing visual artists as they work is that they often aren’t

that talkative to begin with, let alone when working. The conversation was fairly stilted,

though there were a few awesome moments between the artists, where they spoke

about each other’s work, and a great anecdote from Stegman about finding out the

entire top secret arc about Doc Ock taking over as Spider-Man from the writer Dan Slott

in a pizza place during a comic expo, where basically the scoop of the year was being

loudly discussed but went entirely unnoticed.

The end results went, improbably, to 395914 and 395915 (who were dour and moody

in victory), but were all made worthwhile by the little suggestion dude, who literally

gasped in awe when the image was displayed, “It’s Spidey!’

There isn’t a lot at these expos just for kids, but in a lot of ways, this duel was. And

that’s awesome.

There were a bunch of highly specific comic nerd things that came up during this, that

I have neglected to mention, but if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you the

scoop.

HOLY SHIT, IT’S STAN LEE.

I got chills when Stan Lee strode epically onto the stage. At 92, the man has more

energy and wonder in him than half of audience (I’m looking at you, jaded asshole

circling his guidebook instead of listening). The man is a legend, having created

Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, Doctor

Strange, and countless others. Particularly since the advent of the Marvel film universe,

the man’s creations have had an incredible and lasting effect on popular culture and

seeing the legend in the flesh was damn inspiring.

Stan is basically a cross between a kindly, eccentric, elderly uncle and an old-timey

vaudevillian showman. He is unabashedly honest about the real driving force behind

all of his greatest creation being financial (“It was my job. I had to come up with super

heroes or I’d get fired. Your boss says come up with a super hero, you damn well

better come up with a super hero.”), but is also so proud of the stories he’s told that

he practically glows. His voice, if you haven’t heard it, bares a striking resemblance to

George Carlin’s, though with a twinkle in his eye and constant sense of bemusement,

that the gruffer more cynical Carlin lacked.

He is also full of quips and glee, handling many questions with a flippant remark and

a shrug (among the best: “I wasn’t in Wolverine because it was shot in Australia and

it was too far to swim,” Question: “You’re 92, what’s your secret for living so long?”

Answer: “Don’t die.”)

But the true brilliance of Stan Lee lies in his simple, clean understanding of how to tell

a super hero story. He speaks of giving legendary artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko

the story, without dialogue, which he broke down into: the story, who the villain was,

what the villain was doing, how the hero would stop them, and the ending. Reflecting

on older comics, this model is everywhere and helped shape and define the genre. Its

a useful, reductionist attitude for a writer like myself who is generally insistent on wildly

over complicating my outlines.

I also found it found particularly interesting that Stan would only add dialogue after

receiving the art, to ensure that it synced up perfectly with the images (unimaginable in

the industry today, where scripts often resemble film scripts). This proved particularly

useful when Kirby added a random naked silver guy on a surf board to a panel involving

Galactus, since he thought a world eating super alien ought to have a sentinel that

would scout worlds for him. By accident, the Silver Surfer was born.

In his creation, Stan talks about looking at what hasn’t (or hadn’t) been done.

Spider-Man was born of a lack of teenage heroes and heroes with problems (quoteth

Stan “Superman’s biggest problem was that if he took off his glasses, everyone would

know he was Superman or some damn thing.”). Even this was too revolutionary for his

editor who killed the idea stating that people hated spiders, teenagers could only be

sidekicks, and that super heroes didn’t have problems because they were super heroes;

so Stan dumped it on the final issue of a dying book (Amazing Fantasy) and after wildly

successful sales, Spider-Man got his own book. But he’s always looking to fill a gap

which has led to some awesome, awesome characters.

Iron Man, for instance, was born of the idea of taking a character no one liked and

making him likeable. In the height of the 60s, he took all the things his audience hated

-the military industrial complex, wealth, capitalism- and combined them into Tony Stark

(who he based on Howard Hughes, a fact so obvious it has become obscure again).

The response from smitten female readers was through the roof. It was yet another

successful gamble (and he could not be more about Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.)

When pressed to pick a favourite, he begrudgingly goes with Spider-Man (his Mickey

Mouse), but loves them all. At Expos like this, you sometimes see indifference to things

people created or starred as, but Stan Lee lights up naming all of his characters. He

absolutely loves them, which is inspiring and truly touching. I suspect he loves these

heroes as much as we do.

“I’m my own biggest fan,” he grins.

And he leaves us with one final tidbit, which I think might be a Q&A first for him since

it came so far off the cuff, but he admitted that he has a terrible time with names in life

and writing, so almost all of his characters have the same letter begin their first and last

name (Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Scott

Summers, Stephen Strange, Warren Worthington, Otto Octavious, Dr. Doom, Green

Goblin…) because he could use the letter of their first or last name to spark his memory

for the other name.

As a fan and a writer, there are few more inspiring things than seeing someone who

has created all these wonderfully arresting things, still be as excited about them as you

are; and when he left the stage yelling his trademark “Excelsior!” You can’t help but be

the true believer he always called you in the narration boxes of his comics.