Monday, October 24, 2016

Movies: An Honest Liar

James Randi (magician “The Amazing Randi”) has long been one of my biggest heroes. A magician and escape artist, Randi made a name for himself in the 1950s as one of Houdini’s heirs, and broke many of the great man’s records along the way. I became aware of Randi while following his debunking of so-called psychics and his quest to find someone who could prove they possess authentic psychic powers. This documentary follows Randi’s life and career, his battle against endless fake supernaturalists and reveals many surprising secrets about Randi and those around him.

Randi was born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in August of 1928. He saw a magician as a child and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life. At sixteen he ran away, joined the carnival, and never looked back. This is also the beginning of his first secret. From a boy, James Randi knew he was gay. He kept it a secret from the world until he came out in 2010.

The film takes viewers through Randi’s performing career, on the stage, on television and in the movies. He was a favorite on Johnny Carson and appeared in many other television shows. It also covers his battles with not only false psychics (are there any other kind?) such as Israel’s Uri Geller, but also occasionally with scientists who wanted so badly to believe they had found proof of honest-to-God psychic powers. The film includes the famous clip where Randi informed the Tonight Show prop people how to easily thwart Geller’s “powers” and show him as a fraud. It worked perfectly. Unfortunately, Geller went on to a fruitful career with his tricks, although he no longer claims to be psychic.

Randi’s other secret is a shock and comes out here for the first time. Over 25 years ago, Randi met a young man named José Alvarez, and they became romantic partners, which they are to this day. What no one knew was that Jose had a devastating secret of his own. During filming for this documentary, the government raided Randi and Jose’s house and arrested Jose. Randi admitted to knowing Jose’s secret. The filmmakers reveal what that secret is and why Randi went along with the deception. Never trust a magician.

The documentary does tell the tale of Jose’s arrest, consequences and how it affected his and Randi’s lives together. Overall it depicts a fascinating man and his life, warts and all. A man who has done so much good for the world and the truth. An exceptional film about a captivating man who veered off quite far onto the road not taken.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Con Report - Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016

Alas, the 2016 Cincinnati Comic Expo has come and gone. But what a show!

Thanks to some fortunate circumstances, my friend Steve was able to get us 3-day passes to the con, in return for some video work done for the fine folks at HLM Productions. We helped videotape the celebrity panels at the con. I’ve never been to a con for three days in a row, I wondered if I would find enough stuff to do. The answer was a resounding yes.

On Friday I walked the con floor and made notes about the folks I wanted to meet and vendors I wanted to visit. The bulk of the evening was spent at the Stan Lee presentation.

Stan the Man
At 93, Stan Lee is still a phenomenon to be reckoned with. Stan came into the exhibit hall greeted by thousands of adoring fans. He was accompanied by his assistant Max, who sat down with him at the display table. They opened up the floor for questions, and the line was immediately filled with eager fans. Stan is a bit hard of hearing, so Max had to repeat most of the questions loudly in Stan’s ear. Stan answered the same questions he has heard for years, but managed to be gracious and engaging with each answer. He told the crowd how he created Spider-Man (he put the hero in the last issue of a cancelled book, Amazing Adult Fantasy, and the character just took off). Editor Martin Goodman hated the name, insisting no one liked spiders. On The X-Men, the book was supposed to be called The Mutants, but Goodman insisted no one knew what a mutant was. He was right, Stan mused, but Goodman liked X-Men, and who knew what an “X-Man” was?

Stan and his assistant, Max
Stan is extremely careful never to criticize Marvel, its comics or its movies. So I was surprised to hear he didn’t care for Dr. Doom in the 90s Fantastic Four films. “He didn’t have the body armor or the backstory of the original Doom,” Stan pointed out. I like those films, but I do agree with Stan’s criticisms. The perfect Fantastic Four movie has yet to be made. Speaking of films, Stan has already shot cameos for four upcoming, unreleased Marvel films. Not to be morbid, but I’m sure Marvel is using him as much as possible while he is still around.

Stan's Question Line
My friend Matt Tauber chats with Stan

Couple Married by Stan
Near the end of the presentation, a young black man stepped up to the mic to engage Stan. He said he had heard Stan had the credentials to marry couples and asked if he would marry him and his fiancée, who was in the audience. Amused, Stan said “Sure!” and advised the young man he should see a “real” official after the wedding to be sure everything was legal. The couple stepped up, Stan said the usual stuff and the young man kissed his bride. That got a thunderous standing ovation.

It's Stan Lee Day in Cincinnati!
When Stan’s time was up, the convention organizers presented him with a certificate from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley marking September 23rd, 2016 as “Stan Lee Day.” Stan seemed touched and many photos were taken.

Stan having a blast!
Stan had the entire crowd eating out of the palm of his hand for the entire presentation. Can you imagine, everywhere you go every day of your life, people do nothing but ask for your autograph, tell you that you made their childhood and list the reasons they revere you? It must be wicked amazing to be Stan Lee.

As part of the convention pass provided by my friend Steve, a photo op with Stan Lee was provided. I was incredibly excited about that. I’ve met Stan a few times before, but have never gotten a photo with him. I got the appointed time from Steve and made sure to be prompt. Four people were allowed in each photo with Stan. I was supposed to meet Steve, his son Daniel and Daniel’s friend Matthew for the shot. My girlfriend Terry was with me to see Stan. Steve was filming some of the panels and the costume contest for the con. It turned out he was not able to attend the photo session—very disappointing since his video work made everything possible. Instead, Terry was able to jump in and we got the following shot:

A motley crew
Why didn’t anyone tell me I was fat? That is embarrassing ... Unfortunately, we were not able to engage Stan or spend any time with him. It was form the group, snap the photo, move on, repeat. Although we didn’t have to pay due to our passes, the VIP/photo package was around $350, and a LOT of people were in line. Stan had a good financial weekend, as he always does at cons. “Idol o’ millions,” as Ben Grimm used to say.

David Mazouz from Gotham
There were many other celebrities there selling photos and autographs. The only one I wanted to meet was Teddy Sears from The Flash. Teddy played Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick on Flash Season 2 last year (among other parts), and I’ve always loved that character. Sears’ autograph was affordable so we got in his line. He had a unique system—whether fans bought anything or not, he spent five minutes or so with each person or group who approached, just chatting. I chose a nice color Jay Garrick photo to have signed:

Teddy Sears as Jay Garrick
Terry and I engaged Teddy. As he signed my photo, we discussed the con, meeting Stan (he was extremely respectful of Mr. Lee) and his role on The Flash. He recognized how venerated his character was, and how some of the show’s imagery captured the comic’s iconic moments. He wished us well and was on to the next group. An affable fellow.

Terry and I spent the rest of the evening in the convention hall, seeing exhibits and looking at art, props and clothing for sale, and admiring the cosplay. It was her first comic con and she didn’t run screaming. I appreciate that.

The missing link, MTU #4
Sunday was the original day I was going to attend the con. My friends Eric, Tyler and I met early and Eric and I got down to some serious comic book shopping. The first booth we ran into was full of dollar boxes. I filled some holes in my Avengers and Fantastic Four collection, he pulled out enough books to start his own comic shop. We love bargains! We then checked out a few booths with cheap graphic novels, but their selections were a bit sparse. I think the dealers were low on stock for the year and had not replenished lately.

I found a dealer with a great Silver Age comic collection he just bought. I looked through a lot of it and found way too many books I liked. I needed only one book to totally finish the series Marvel Team-Up from the ‘70s, MTU #4. He had one in great shape for an excellent price, so I picked it up. Another series complete! Other huge finds were Avengers #6, #20 and #28, all in great shape. This dealer wanted to take home as few books as possible, so I was more than eager to help him!

Avengers #6
A bought a few other small things, and a print from artist Nen Chang. Her booth was stuffed with absolutely beautiful artwork, prints and sketches. I chose a print of a stunning woman with cascading red hair. While wrapping it up, she told me it was the Red Witch from Game of Thrones. I love the connection, since I’m a huge GOT fan. Here’s the print:

For the Night is Dark ...  
The one and only Neal Adams
My last bit of business before I left was to drop by and see my favorite comic book artist, Neal Adams. Neal is the Grand Old Man of comics and has been drawing since the mid-‘60s. The man doesn’t lack talent, energy or strong opinions. And he is the greatest comic book artist of all time, just ask him (and I heartily agree). I wanted to get a photo of Neal for the blog. When I got there, he was in the middle of a cosmic-level rant about art and young artists to an attractive young woman. I stood there politely for around 10 minutes; Neal didn’t even slow down. I had to pee, so when he stopped for a breath I asked politely if I could snap a photo.

“You can,” Neal said, irritated, “But you shouldn’t interrupt the conversation.” He was right, and graciously accepted my apology. He struck a pose, I snapped a photo, then headed for the men’s room. Hey, when you have to go you have to go! I’m sure Neal would understand.

Being at the con three days allowed me to take a lot of fun photos. Here they are:

Terry with the Darth Vader Patrol
A very nice Harley Quinn
Some Disney Fairies
Ye Author confronting a dangerous Predator
Spider-Man villain Mysterio
Love this animated Supergirl
Jay Garrick from The Flash TV Show
Black Canary
More Disney characters
Rogue/Leia and Gambit/Han Solo. Really. 
Very young Huntress and Black Canary
This remote control R2-D2 actually worked
Dr. Fate and a cross-dressing Green Arrow
A ... hot chick and ... the Toxic Avenger?
Playing hooky from Hogwart's

All in all, one of the best cons I’ve ever been to. I got to camp out at the con three days in a row, met and got a photo with Stan Lee, found some fantastic deals and introduced Terry to the world of comic book nerds. This is really one for the history books—how am I going to top this? It will surely be fun trying. And a very special thank you to my friend Steve for getting me in and making the Stan photo happen. I owe you one, pal!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chuck's Comic of the Day



Chuck’s Comic of the Day features, as promised, reviews of one comic every day. Chuck covers superheroes, sci-fi, crime and other comics. Sometimes he features guest reviewers—today it’s me! I cover Birthright #19, a fantasy comic from Image. Check it out below, and be sure to check Chuck’s site every day for a new review!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Comics: Bone: Coda (and my nemesis, Jeff Smith)

Bone writer/artist/creator Jeff Smith has always been my nemesis—although he doesn’t know it! I think his comic book Bone is a true masterpiece. It shows a level of craft and creative vision that is rare in any medium. It’s funny, scary, suspenseful and joyful, all wrapped in a package of cartoony goodness.

Bone: Coda is one final story of the Bone cousins, as they make their way across the wastes to their home in Boneville, after having a grand adventure in the uncharted Valley. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone are travelling home with their baby Rat Creature Bartleby in a rickety old wagon. Being the Bone cousins, the trip does not go smoothly. Of course they crash their wagon, run low on food and are scooped up by a giant vulture as a potential meal. The story is fresh and funny and belongs in every Bone fan’s library. The rest of this small paperback also contains a commentary on the Bone phenomenon by creator Jeff Smith, as well as comics historian Stephen Weiner’s Bone Companion, a critical treatise on Bone and its history and influences. It’s a fun and informational package, packed with photos and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

So why is Jeff Smith my tongue-in-cheek nemesis? I keep trying to meet him at conventions, and he stymies my every attempt! It began years ago at the Mid-Ohio Con held in Columbus Ohio, where Smith lived at the time. I took the first few issues of Bone for Smith to sign, then found him on a Saturday afternoon at the con. Smith and his lovely wife Vijaya were sitting alone at their table. Smith was reading something. I thought I was lucky, catching them with no one around. I asked if he would sign my comics. He didn’t look up from his reading material. Vijaya politely told me he was finished signing for the day, I’d have to come back tomorrow. I thought this was strange—the con had hours to go and he was just sitting there. Why did he come, exactly? I explained I would not be there the next day—I only had a few books. She basically said too bad, and Smith never looked up. That’s okay—no artist owes a fan time, a signature or anything else. I did get a bad vibe from being ignored, but not the end of the world.

Cut to a few years later at Mid-Ohio. A beautiful new Bone package had just been published. It was the single-edition, color Bone book. It was gorgeous and I seriously considered buying one, even at the outrageous price of $150. Smith was at the front of his booth, signing for a long line of fans. I got to the end of the line to at least have him sign my regular comics, the same ones I had brought years ago. I stood there a few minutes, considering the purchase of the new book. One of the booth assistants approached me. He told me the signing line ended with the fan in front of me.

“Is Jeff taking a break?” I asked.

“No, he is finished signing for the day after this group.”

“It’s 1:00 in the afternoon, that’s a little early, isn’t it?”


I thought that was weird. I’m not sure Smith did many convention appearances, especially in the Midwest. He sure didn’t seem to like signing books.

“Can I still buy one of the Bone color single-editions?” I asked.

“Yes. They’ll be for sale all day. They are $150.”

“Would he at least sign that for me?”

“No. He is finished signing for the day. You can come back tomorrow if you want,” I was informed.

“This is my only day at the con. So if I buy a $150 book, and the author is right here, signing books, he won’t sign the book for me?” I asked.

“No,” came the reply. “He is done signing for the day.”

“What if I buy it and come back later to pick it up—I could come back at the end of the day.”

“No. No more signing today,” the worker informed me, and walked away.

Again, this is America. If an author wants to put out an expensive book, come to a convention to sign it and meet fans, then refuses to sign anything or meet fans, that is definitely his prerogative. But he shall not have my money or patronage! You know, unless he comes back to town again. I still don’t have a copy of that cool Bone color single-edition. But if I ever buy one, and Jeff Smith comes to a local convention—I guess I need to get in his line really, really early! Or, perhaps I’ll wait in line for an hour, step up to Smith with my new book and he’ll say, “Sorry, done signing for the day. Come back tomorrow!”

Essay on Cultural Appropriation

Author Larry Correia
Cultural Appropriation is one of the dumbest ideas the left has created. It's an incredibly stupid notion that basically says people can only dress like, discuss, eat foods from and write about people from their own culture. Any other behavior is culturally insensitive stealing. That's not how life works. As usual, ace writer Larry Correia explains perfectly why any thinking person should culturally appropriate whenever possible. Read his thoughts here, with the brilliant essay "Writers should be Cultural Appropriating all the Awesome Stuff.” 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Comics Capsule Reviews

Lady Killer 2 #1: This sequel to last year’s Lady Killer serves up more of the same absurd suburban madness. Josie is a normal 1950s housewife who happens to be an extremely thorough contract killer. This issue opens at a Tupperware™ party that turns deadly for two of the attendees, as Josie carries out a contract taken out by their relative. Then she meets her husband’s sexually harassing boss at a backyard barbeque (not sure he has much time left on earth after that) and ends with a final brutal murder. Ace artist Joelle Jones writes solo this time, without the aid of former conspirator Jamie Rich. The results are just as deadly. The book is worth it for Jones’ art alone, as she is a fine artist, storyteller and designer all rolled up in one. Recommended for those with strong stomachs.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Lake of Fire #1: My enjoyment of history/sci-fi mashups runs deep; Predators in WWI, Cowboys vs. Aliens, Dracula vs. Sherlock Holmes. Lake of Fire is a new series pitting Medieval French knights against some giant invading alien bugs. Writer Nathan Fairbairn and artist Matt Smith pull off the story with panache and style. In 1220 AD, a burning spaceship crash-lands in the French Pyrenees. Local villagers start disappearing and a suspected witch is blamed. Dispatched with an unpleasant churchman to investigate, knights Theobald and Hugh think there is something more to the rumors of monsters eating the locals. The priest traveling with them has made up his mind the “witch” is to blame, so off they set to “question” her. On the way the bug-monsters attack, immersing the entire party into the battle of their lives.

Writer Fairbairn has a good handle on the medieval mindset and a creative take on the stranded aliens. They look like mindless monsters, but do they have an agenda? Are they thinking creatures? And what about that “witch?” Is she really involved? I’ll definitely stay with the book to find out, this one is a winner.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

ROM #2: IDW does such a good job with their licensed comics. I don’t read every title, but the ones I follow generally have strong creative teams and are faithful to the source material. For ROM, the source material is the ‘70s Marvel iteration of ROM: Spaceknight, a title I grew up with and loved. Those stories were mostly by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema. This time around the story is guided by writers Christos Gage and Chris Ryall, who do a terrific job. David Messina does the art and is also terrific. ROM is a Spaceknight, a humanoid alien infused with mechanical parts and armor tasked with fighting the evil Dire Wraiths. The Wraiths have infiltrated Earth, and only ROM’s special equipment and weapons can identify and fight them. The trouble is, to human beings it looks like he is disintegrating other humans, while actually he is dispatching the Wraiths. ROM is gathering allies while on Earth, in the form of a soldier and a cop, both black females. So far, ROM is being pursued by the police, the army and a town full of Dire Wraiths, who have weapons he has never been exposed to. Those are a lot of forces arrayed against him.

Gage and Ryall have not only captured the spirit of the best of the original ROM series, they have expanded the characters and mythology to be even more interesting and exciting. Looks like the ROM franchise is back and in good hands, with thrilling stories, great art and new characters. If you’re not already, time to get on board!

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Future Quest #4: I don’t have a bad word to say about this comic. On the contrary, any comic that merges the best of the Hannah-Barbara cartoon characters so seamlessly in one epic story deserves nothing but praise. Interdimensional disturbances have threatened the Jonny Quest crew, the Herculoids, Space Ghost, Harvey Birdman and even the mighty Mightor. There is even a backup story featuring Frankenstein Jr., a forgotten favorite of mine! The mystery is enticing and every group or character has their moment to shine. This book is fantastic and is by far the best thing published by DC Comics.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Skybourne #1: So the biblical Lazarus, after being resurrected, apparently fathered three children; Abraham, Thomas and Grace Skybourne. They’re all super strong, invulnerable and immortal. Some of them are tired of living and have tried different ways to kill themselves (and failed). Grace Skybourne fights the good fight, taking on bad people and terrorists to protect the world. In this premier issue, she discovers King Arthur’s sword Excalibur and tries to liberate it from the bad guys. After dismembering most of the terror cell who currently have possession of the sword, she runs into an actual threat. Could this be the original wizard Merlin? If so, he doesn’t seem very friendly ...

Writer/artist Frank Cho is one of the finest artists to ever draw comics. His writing isn’t bad either, as he sets up a non-stop action first issue with a massive shock ending. The best comics leave readers desperately wanting to see what happens next. Well, I can’t wait to see what happens next! Outstanding story and art.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Han Solo #3: Marvel is still doing a bang-up job with the Star Wars books and their spin-offs. The latest solo title is ... you guessed it, Han Solo! It’s a fun high concept—Han is rescuing a Rebel spy, using a grand starship race as cover. He enters the Millennium Falcon of course, and is understandably torn between his mission and winning the race. It is a point of pride after all.

In this issue, the Falcon is one of only four ships left in the race. Han has to navigate the ship very carefully through an asteroid field, then finally stop to make his rescue. Conflict comes from an unexpected source when a bounty hunter comes for ... Chewbacca? That’s a new one.

Writer Marjorie Liu loves these characters and has their voices down perfectly. She captures Han’s arrogance, Leia’s frustration and Chewy’s ... grunts? Anyway, well done and a nice dose of the original SW crew.  

Rating: ***½ stars out of 5

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Movies – Suicide Squad

I’ll get right to it; Suicide Squad is great. The reviews are decidedly mixed; I’m not sure what critics were expecting. Even some genre critics have been harsh; I’m not sure why. It’s the best DC Comics property movie in years—probably since The Dark Knight.

The premise mirrors the classic ‘80s comic, mostly written by John Ostrander (one of the best comics writers of all time) and his late wife Kim Yale. Task Force X, nicknamed the Suicide Squad, is made up of supervillains doing dirty jobs for time off their sentences. The mix of personalities and actors in the film are well done, the chemistry is dead-on and there are even some laugh-out-loud one-liners, a first for a DC movie. Especially good are Margot Robbie as a sexed-up Harley Quinn (nothing wrong with that) and Will Smith as the assassin Deadshot. I wasn’t too pleased with the race switching at first—Floyd Lawton is white in the comics and it’s a pretty big part of his identity—but Smith did such a great job it ended up not bothering me at all. I suppose there is room for two Deadshots in the DC Universe!

In the movie, June Moon, possessed by the ancient entity Enchantress, also resurrects her brother and starts a path of world domination. They attack New York and the Squad has to stop them. The group bonds on this first adventure and manages not to kill each other (or soldier and squad leader Rick Flag) in the process. Overall the writing is sharp, the dialog is funny and the action is paced well.

There are some minor nitpicks—I didn’t understand what Enchantress was doing to conquer the world. She creates, as Deadshot put it, a “floating circle of garbage” that was supposed to “kill all the armies” or some such nonsense. That made no sense, but I suppose it didn’t really have to. It was bad and the Squad had to stop it. Also, I loved the Amanda Waller character (played by Viola Davis), but one scene depicted her as a crazed serial murderer. That is not Amanda Waller and is a huge character mistake in the film. That scene also made no sense. Jared Leto was fine as the Joker.

Overall Suicide Squad is fun, escapist entertainment that I really enjoyed. I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequel in a few years. Finally, a DC Comics movie worth seeing!

Rating: ***½ stars out of 5