Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wizard World St. Louis--fourth time's the charm!

Well, 2016 marks the fourth anniversary of Wizard World St. Louis, as well as my fourth consecutive trip thereto. It also marks the THIRD consecutive trip I’ve managed not to leave behind anything important, like, oh, I don’t know … MY ENTIRE BAG OF CLOTHES AND TOILETRIES!!!! Yeah … still a bit bitter about that one.

Anyway, we were very glad (indeed, blessed) that our pal Tim was able to come along for the ride again this year. He had an absolute blast with us in 2014 but had to miss last year due to some unforeseen (and pretty lousy) circumstances. Thankfully 2016 saw him in better circumstances, and with the band back together we journeyed to St. Louis for what was to be one of our best convention experiences ever! 

We maintained our yearly tradition of eating at Jack in the Box our first night in town. I loaded up on egg rolls and tacos, and let me tell ya, they were DELICIOUS! The remainder of our Friday night consisted of playing Cards Against Humanity at our friend Tom's house and drinking the unholy moonshine that still lurks in his freezer to this day. 

Finding a parking space took some effort. Turns out there was a hairstylists' convention in the America Center the same weekend as the comic convention, so there was an interesting mix of people with elaborate costumes and people with elaborate hair. I wonder if anyone was there for BOTH ... In any event, we were most assuredly there for the comics. 

Although Brett's and my hair were very much on point.

One of the headlining guests this year was Charlie Cox, who plays lawyer by day, vigilante by night Matt Murdock on the Netflix series Daredevil. Co-star Jon Bernthal (formerly of The Walking Dead), who plays the Punisher, was initially scheduled to attend but cancelled three days prior to the event, which is a shame because I had planned to have them both sign my copy of Daredevil #183. I got Cox's autograph; Bernthal's, alas, will have to wait.

It's still pretty awesome, though!
As part of my "Charlie Cox VIP Package" I got two Wizard World-exclusive Daredevil comics from one of their previous conventions. One was the regular edition and the other had a rare black-and-white cover. I received the comics as I redeemed my tickets at registration, and the Wizard World staff member offered to put the comics inside the free "swag bag" I got. I declined, saying I'd rather put them with my other comics where they'd be safe. In retrospect, what happened next is funny. At the time, though ...

I found a space where I could sit down and dig into my laptop bag full of comics. I selected a book 
that had a particularly roomy bag and opened it up, intending to slide the new comics inside with it. Now, this was the first time I had ever opened this bag; it was a blank sketch variant of a book I already had, so I'd had no reason to open it up before. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the bag was held shut by Tapezilla. We're talking some STICKY-@$$ TAPE. And naturally, I got the tape stuck to the cover of my brand-new, black-and-white, convention-exclusive, worth-a-quarter-of-the-cost-of-admission Daredevil comic. I IMMEDIATELY started to panic, and started to gently peel the tape back. I cringed as little bits of the cover started to peel off with the tape. And then I died a little inside as the other side of the cover got stuck to the tape, too. I ended up mangling the cover--HORRIBLY. And no, I didn't take a photo of it. In fact, I couldn't bear to look at it anymore, and gave it to our friend Cody, who drove up separately that day.

The first thing I did after the tape debacle was seek out Lou Ferrigno, who had just set up for the day. My buddy Ryan had paid me in advance to get a comic signed for him (the issue of Iron Man where Tony first takes on the Hulk in his Hulkbuster armor). Ferrigno was supposed to be charging $40 for autographs, which I coughed up immediately, but when I pulled out the comic he shook his head and said, "It's $20 more for a comic." That ... was a little disappointing. But soon I was off to meet Charlie Cox!

I think just about all of us ended up getting photos with Charlie. Cody, in fact, swiped a Sharpie off somebody's table and got Charlie to sign his T-shirt as he was being herded in for a photo op. Cody, I salute your audacity, even if I am a bit appalled at your petty thievery. 

Tim and I couldn't resist grinning like idiots. Mean mugging just
wasn't an option. :D 

I also got to meet James Marsters, most famous for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Marsters was easily the nicest celeb I met that weekend, and his Wizard World "handler" was nice, too. I had wanted to meet Marsters at the inaugural Wizard World St. Louis in 2013, but had been low on funds. I mentioned that to his handler this year, and he said I would have been welcome to come by and say "hey" whether I bought anything or not. Not all are like that, as I discovered with Ferrigno, and neither are their handlers, as we would discover later. 

But for now, let's just bask in the moment!

I also got Marsters' signature on one of my mom's Buffy comics for her birthday. She was very surprised!

Best. Cover. Ever.
With the best caption ever. 

This year marked the biggest group of nerds we ever assembled, as Ed, Brett, Tim and I had brought Tom, Cody had brought his friend Keara, and our friend Meghann met us there. Although we went our separate ways across the convention floor pretty quickly, for one fleeting moment we came together to make use of Keara's selfie stick. 


That evening, Ed was in line to meet Doctor Who and Jessica Jones star David Tennant, who drew a MASSIVE crowd (as did fellow Doctor Who alum Matt Smith, who had also been a guest in 2014). Brett, who had a media pass, attempted to get photos of Tennant at his panel, at which point a Wizard World staffer told him he couldn't take pictures. Brett flashed his media pass, at which point the staffer said, "Sir, I'm in charge of the press here. No pictures." This struck as as counterproductive, as the whole point of having press at the event should be so the press can provide free promotion, and photos of the headlining guest would provide great publicity. But hey, nobody asked me, and since I'm no longer a journalist I have no stake in it regardless. 

I couldn't afford to get Mr. Tennant's autograph, but I DID
get this Wizard World exclusive signed by the wonderful
British artist Rachael Stott!

While Ed was in line, Tim and I hiked to Star Clipper, a St. Louis-based comic shop that had recently moved from the Loop to downtown. It was a half-mile from the convention center to Star Clipper, and we had less than an hour until it closed, but we portly fellows made the brisk walk in 30 minutes. I can't stress enough how nice the store is, and how nice the staff members are. I got some great deals on some great comics, and I convinced Tim to give Totally Awesome Hulk a chance (it's totally awesome). 

On Sunday, Tim and I got to meet Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage on Jessica Jones. He is a very big, very handsome man, and I'm excited to see him play Cage (I don't have Netflix, so I'm pretty much stuck waiting until the series FINALLY gets a DVD release). 

Sweet Christmas!

I also got lucky with a dollar bin Sunday morning. The guy clearly didn't want to lug everything back and was offering 50 comics for $20, so I loaded up. If I'd had more money, I might have bought a full 100. 

There was also a delightful assortment of cosplayers, including Sub-Zero and Frost ...

Just chillin' ...

These folks from Borderlands ... 

Few characters frighten me more than Tiny Tina.

This epic meeting of Xenomorph and Sith Lady ... 

"Buster, if you wanna keep that tongue, you'd better
keep it in your mouth!"

And this delightful assortment of characters:

Two Deadpools, Death, and ... a zombie pirate?

I also got to stroke Deadpool's unicorn, which was an honor most rewarding. 

"Nice, kid ... now stroke the horn."
On the way home, we once again stopped at White Castle, which ... isn't exactly my favorite part of the trip. But they have decent fish and chicken sliders, at least. And the good company always makes up for the "eh" food. 

When we got back to West Plains, we went to Brett's house to catch the season finale of The Walking Dead. Though ultimately uneventful (and cliffhangery), it was a pretty good episode, and I'm very excited to see more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan (and of course, I'm eager to see more of Lucille). 

Right now I'm planning ahead for Wizard World Tulsa, which is scheduled to have Michael Cudlitz, James Marsters, Sebastian Stan and Michael Rooker among others. I'm also thinking about Planet Comicon in Kansas City, but I most likely won't have enough money to attend that one so soon after St. Louis. 

Long story short, it was a great weekend spent with great people, and I can hardly wait until next year! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice review

When I first saw Man of Steel at its midnight premiere at the good old Family Cinema in West Plains, Missouri ... I loved it. I was completely blown away by the action sequences, awestruck by the magnificent visuals and captivated by Michael Shannon's fearsome portrayal of General Zod. When I got home that night, still feeling the rush of the final battle, I wrote and posted a glowing review on this very blog. But the next day, once I'd had more time to think about it, I started to realize there really were a lot of problems with the film, most notably Ma and Pa Kent. FREAKING Ma and Pa Kent. That's why, after watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice at its premiere last night (this time at the Glass Sword in West Plains), I decided to wait a day before writing my review.

"This town ain't big enough for the both of us, pilgrim."
"We're from different towns, bruh."
"I don't care, we're gonna fight anyway!"
Here's my calculated, considered reaction: it's okay. It's ultimately just a beefed-up version the trailer (with a not-at-all surprising twist ending if you know what happened when Superman fought Doomsday in the comics), but it's worth the price of admission just to see the unparalleled glory of Batfleck on the big screen. And let me tell ya, he IS the definitive live-action Batman. Y'see, opinions have long been polarized as to who is the superior Batman, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. I'm of the opinion that Keaton was the best Batman and Bale was the best Bruce Wayne, and Val Kilmer was actually the best synthesis of both (because Bruce Wayne and Batman really are two very different characters). But Ben Affleck, God bless him, nails it. He's a 40-something Batman who is sick and tired of seeing his city ... his family ... suffer. He's a brutal fighter, willing to break bones, use firearms or even kill if he has to. He's seen too much ... lost too much. But he's far from broken. And even though he's a very dark character ... he's a lot of fun to watch.

Jeremy Irons, too, nails it as Alfred, outclassing Michael Caine in my opinion (though I would argue he's still slightly edged out by Michael Gough as the definitive Alfred). He's the voice of reason, the dry wit that counters Bruce's grim determination. He's still very much the doting butler we know and love, but he's not running around in gloves and coattails. His real work is in the Batcave, not polishing silverware. And the bromance is strong with Bruce and Alfred. I'm very excited to see more of their verbal exchanges in the next Batman film.

Poor Henry Cavill, though ... he's a great actor (loved him in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and perfectly suited to play Superman ... but not THIS Superman. He should be playing the classic Superman, the smiling, friendly, good neighbor and true American we know and love, red trunks and all. That's not this Superman. This Superman is kind of a sad-sack. Cavill does the best he can with what the script gives him to work with, but he doesn't have much. He's just kinda there as a generic almighty figure for the paranoid Batfleck to plot against. And he has precious little screen time as plain old Clark Kent, which is unfortunate because the movie desperately needs more Clark. But the lovable, dorky Clark ... not the brooding almost-hipster he is in this film. Hopefully now that the initial distrustful meeting between Bats and Supes is out of the way, we can start to see a lighter tone in future DC films. The dawn of justice needs to shine on the tone of the franchise as a whole.

The fight between Batman and Superman is great, by the way. And in the immortal words of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Batman stomps a mudhole in his @$$ and walks it dry. It's great! Batman fears Superman because he thinks he's not a benevolent god but an inhuman monster, and he pulls out all the stops to bring him down. In the end it isn't Superman's godlike power that saves his life but his humanity, and that realization helps Batman to reconnect with his own humanity as well. The fight has numerous callbacks to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and it's a lot of fun to watch Batman's strategic mind in action.

A lot of people complained when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman, saying she was too skinny, couldn't act, etc., but I'm here to tell ya, she is a joy to watch onscreen. Gadot is beautiful, capable and cunning, and during the final fight with Doomsday there is a moment where we see just how fierce a warrior she is. She's a peacemaker first, but she loves a good scrap. And let me tell you, I got freaking goosebumps when I finally got to see the DC trinity fighting together against a common threat:

"You can run, Snyder, but you can't hide!" 

That threat, of course, was Doomsday. When I first saw Doomsday in the trailer, I was a little displeased, but he turned out to be not as shoehorned-in as I expected. An unholy medley of human and Kryptonian DNA, he starts off looking like a cave troll from The Lord of the Rings but soon morphs into the spiny monster we all know and either love to hate or just hate (I've never been a fan, personally). The fight is pretty great, though, and is frankly better than its comic book inspiration in that Superman actually tries to take the fight off-planet instead of slugging it out all the way to Metropolis. Although the comic version of Doomsday is a one-trick pony, whose only offensive abilities are super-strength and sharp edges, the movie version adds heat vision, energy absorption and a visually epic energy pulse to his repertoire.

Now, ANYBODY who has read "The Death of Superman" KNOWS what happens when Superman and Doomsday tangle. It's right there in the title--you can't have Doomsday without a dead Superman at the end. Does Superman die at the end of Batman v. Superman? Ummmm ... well ... sort of. And it's done in an absolutely perfect and heartrending way. But don't worry ... before the credits roll the film makes it abundantly clear we won't have to worry about seeing the Reign of the Supermen in the next one.

The jury's still out on whether or not we'll see the Super-Mullet, though. 

Now, even though Doomsday is the physical Big Bad, the TRUE villain is Lex Luthor, as played by Jesse Eisenberg. And y'know what? He's great. He is a creepy little son of a gun, a quirky, neurotic control freak consumed by jealousy and not just one step but leaps and bounds ahead of those he would make his enemies. He is pure evil, and when the scope of his schemes is revealed it's kinda mind-blowing.

True, he does look like a little twerp:

But he completely won me over the instant he appeared onscreen, when he greeted the audience with a very Mr. Burns-esque salutation.

Points if you're imagining it now. 

As for the supporting cast, Holly Hunter is fun as the senator leading a committee to hold Superman accountable for his destructive actions. It's a role that could easily have been "generic annoying authority figure," but she brings a lot of charm and intelligence to it. Harry Lennix returns as General (now Secretary) Swanwick from Man of Steel. Laurence Fishburne is a wonderfully cranky Perry White. Scoot McNairy plays the even more cranky Wallace O'Keefe (and NOT Jimmy Olsen, thank goodness, as the initial speculation led us to believe), who blames Superman for the loss of his legs during Zod's invasion. Diane Lane's Ma Kent is also a bitter old biddy, and she pretty much tells Clark he can let the world go to hell for all she cares. Great advice, Ma. No lectures on power and responsibility from you, I see. Also--and this made me cringe more than anything else in the movie--Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) returns in a dream sequence. I cannot stress enough how much I HATED Pa Kent in Man of Steel, and this film conveniently forgets the fact that even though Pa DID tell Clark he was sent there for a reason, he told him not to be a hero in the same breath. Pa Kent was a tornado-suicidal idiot who had zero faith in his son, and seeing his stupid face in Batman v. Superman made me legitimately angry.


Then there's Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I still don't think she was the best casting choice for Lois, lacking the feisty edge of Margot Kidder, Noel Neill or Phyllis Coates, but she's a distinct improvement over Kate Bosworth from Superman Returns, so at least there's that. She's the emotional center in Clark's life, not just his love interest but, as he says, his world, and she plays a pivotal role in the film's penultimate battle. Also ... *ahem* ... we get to see a lot more of Lois than I ever would have expected. Let's just say people are going to be utilizing the "pause" function a LOT when the DVD comes out.

And this was the PG-13 theatrical cut!

Here's the problem: this movie does what it set out to do, and that's it. It sets up the Justice League (including glimpses of douchey, not-Grant Gustin Flash, Aquaman the Barbarian and winner of the "Why Am I a Founding Member of the Justice League" award, Cyborg).

"How is freaking CYBORG in this movie while we take a backseat?"

It also costs Lex his hair (though not in the way you'd expect). It teases the next Big Bad (Darkseid--and although we don't get to see him, per se, WE SEE PARADEMONS!!!!). And that's it. There are some great visuals, some incredible fight scenes and a couple of quality emotional moments. But there's really nothing that merits a second viewing other than checking out Lois in the bathtub and watching Batfleck hurt people. That's unfortunate. It's not the labor of love The Avengers was, and even though I'm definitely excited to see the what's next for the DC cinematic universe (especially Suicide Squad and the next Batman film), Marvel is definitely still top dog in terms of movies.

Final verdict: 3.5/5. It's worth seeing in the theater, maybe even twice if you can hit a matinee, but you might oughtta save your money for Civil War instead.