Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

Pop Culture Questions: Only the Lonely Edition

Friday, October 11th, 2013

question-mark-63979_150I had a sudden flash of inspiration this morning and for whatever reason I have a bunch of new Pop Culture Questions to ask (and answer, naturally).  I also have Roy Orbison’s song “Only the Lonely” stuck in my head at the moment because I was thinking about making this edition all about lonely or isolated characters.  But then again, a lot of these guys do make friends along the way, so maybe they aren’t really all that lonely after all.  Either way, I think they are all great characters and certainly deserving of a little attention, so here’s my two cents on them.

Will Bolt be all right after the events of Bolt?

 Disney’s Bolt tells the story of a dog who is the lead star in a hit TV show filmed in Los Angeles in which he is portrayed as a secret agent.  Bolt has been led to believe that his fictional secret agent life is real (the show’s director surmises that, “If the dog believes it, the audience believes it.”), which has in turn caused him to become intensely protective of his owner, Penny (played wonderfully by Miley Cyrus, years before that whole “twerking” thing got out of hand).  One day, the director decides to set up a “cliffhanger” to increase the show’s ratings, and so Penny is “kidnapped” right in front of Bolt’s eyes (in reality, she is just taken off the set and hidden away from Bolt).  The poor dog is heartbroken and determined to get his owner back, so he subsequently breaks out of his trailer, accidentally gets trapped in a shipping box bound for New York City, escapes his confinement, and goes on an epic cross-country journey to reunite with his owner.  By the end of the movie (kind of a spoiler here, but since it’s a Disney movie, I don’t think it should be much of a surprise), Bolt has reunited with Penny and they both (along with her mom and a few tagalong friends Bolt meets on his journey) retire from acting and move to a ranch house in Oklahoma, far from roving TV cameras and any hint of danger, where Bolt can live out the rest of his life as a normal fun-loving dog.

I love this ending, but I have two major problems with it.  One: Are Bolt and his family truly safe from the TV world?  Who’s to say there isn’t some TMZ-type gossip monger out there looking to do a “Where Are They Now?” segment on Bolt and they’re slowly narrowing down the spots he could be hding in?  I know from experience that once those cameras find him, they’ll just keep on coming and never, ever leave.  In this age of Google Earth and elaborate information sharing and social networking, the odds of Bolt and his family simply disappearing from public view are, in my view, slim to none.  Two: Is Bolt capable of thinking and behaving like a normal dog after all he has been through?  He’s a TV dog who, until just recently, thought he was an action hero.  He’s hard-wired to dodge bullets, subdue bad guys, and routinely perform extreme feats of derring-do.  And you expect me to think that Bolt is just going to forget about all this stuff and go back to fetching a ball and sitting, rolling over, and doing all the normal things other dogs do?  I can easily imagine Bolt one day snapping back into TV hero mode and nearly taking a bite out of the mailman who he perceives as an agent of the “green-eyed man.”  One thing’s for sure, though: he’s definitely going to be the most athletic, agile pet on the block.

Do Garfield’s Halloween plans for this year include crushing loneliness?

Whenever Halloween comes around, I always seem to recall a particular sequence of Garfield comic strips I first came across in one of the orange fat cat’s excellent reprint collections.  It first ran in newspapers from October 23-28, 1989 (check out all six strips in the sequence in this RetroJunk article) and is quite possibly the weirdest and most thought-provoking series of comic strips I have ever read.  Garfield wakes up one fine Monday inside an abandoned, boarded-up version of his house.  There isn’t any food in the house, and more disturbing, Jon and Odie are nowhere to be found.  Garfield looks around a bit and discovers that the house has been sold and that neither he nor his family have lived at the house in years.  By the end of the week, the feline has nearly succumbed to loneliness.  In desperation, Garfield admits that he needs Jon and Odie.  After he does this, things suddenly turn back to normal.  Jon and Odie are back and the house is just as it has always been.  Garfield embraces Jon and Odie and the week ends on a happy note.

These Garfield strips are very special to me.  They are rather insightful about the human condition and the need we all feel (or should feel, anyway, I think) to depend on and help others to survive.  As much as Garfield likes to belittle and tease Jon and Odie, he needs them in order to keep his sanity.  Without them, he is just a cranky cat with a knack for routinely eating every morsel of food near him.  Such a creature couldn’t possibly survive for long without a little help and love.  Good thing Jon and Odie have plenty of love to go around.  (By the way, the article mentions that the Garfield sequence bears a strong resemblance to the “Valse Triste” sequence from the Italian film Allegro non Troppo.  I really like this piece of animation with a ghostly cat wandering around an abandoned house; it makes a perfect companion to the comic strips, so check both of them out and tell me what you think of them.)

Does this Squidward “Alone” sequence from SpongeBob Squarepants truly stand alone as the greatest expression of loneliness in animation history?

Okay, deep breath here: the above clip from SpongeBob episode “SB129” features Squidward Tentacles standing in a white void (well, it’s not entirely white: there are a few colored squares off in one corner and an astonishingly weird series of sound effects filling the void slightly) and expressing satisfaction at finally getting away from the eternal (and yellow, porous, and spongy) bane of his existence.  After he says he is all “alone,” he shrinks down into nothingness while versions of the word “alone” in various fonts, sizes, and shapes pop onto the screen.  All of those “alones” shrink down and disappear, too.  I have seen this sequence literally tens of hundreds of times since it first aired in 2000, and I still can’t figure it out.  Is Squidward literally alone?  Is he just imagining the void and all those people saying “alone” over and over?  Where is this white void, exactly?  What time and space does it occupy?  According to the SpongeBob Wiki, it’s called “Nowhere.”  I don’t know about you, but I sure think this place certainly takes you somewhere all right.  Also, how would you know if you were in the middle of “Nowhere?”

How do you feel about loneliness?  Do you feel better alone or with company?  Do you like the Lone Ranger?  Fill the comment box below with your thoughts; sentences make it feel less lonely.

Considering Closing Credits

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I was checking out YouTube the other night when I came across a video of the closing credits for one of my favorite shows from the past.  Watching it again, it moved me in a strange way and it caused me to think of other closing credit sequences which have stayed in my memories, in some cases long after the shows they were part of stopped airing.  The shows may now be over, but the curtains have never closed on these end title gems in my mind.

Astro Boy- 1st ending theme, Japan only

The video above is the one I was watching that inspired me to write this blog post.  It’s from the 2003 Astro Boy TV series that aired for only a short while in the U.S.  I’m a big fan of Osamu Tezuka’s Japanese robot hero, and I think this series is one of the best depictions of him ever done outside of the comics.  There were a lot of changes made to the series for its U.S. airing, though, including changing the closing credits sequence.  The end title sequence in the video (without all those annoying names in front) is one of the things that I was never able to see in the show’s original U.S. run, but I discovered it a few years later on YouTube, and boy, did we miss out on a real gem!  In the sequence itself, the main character, Astro the boy robot, is looking out over Metro City during a sunset, possibly contemplating some mystery of life judging from his tapping feet and his apparent wiping away of a tear (don’t laugh, he does shed a few tears in the show’s final episodes).  As the sequence ends, he looks over his shoulder at the viewer and gives a big smile, as if to say, “Don’t worry, it’s all right.  We’ll meet again soon.”  I find this sequence very moving in its simplicity, speaking volumes in a minute and a half.  I wonder why this sequence was never used in the U.S. version (or on the DVD either, for that matter).  Is it because Astro is sitting on top of a building and the show’s translators were afraid kids might duplicate such an action?  Darn shame, because I think this thing is just beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it used in some way if the series ever comes back on the air.

Blue’s Clues– Clap, Sweep, Clap, Clap, Clap

I loved Blue’s Clues when it started airing in 1996.  It’s combination of simplistic problem solving, cute visuals, and the seemingly naivete of host Steven Burns was very appealing to me for the longest time, and I’ll still watch an episode from time to time for nostalgia’s sake.  One part that I think a lot of people forget about when they talk about the show, however, is the closing credits right after Steve’s “Now It’s Time for So Long” song.  Most viewers might flip to another channel after that song, but not me.  I stuck around just to see Blue, Tickety Tock, Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, and all the other characters dancing around while the credits rolled, something you don’t really see these days because they speed the credits up to add more commercials.  Also, I wanted to hear what instruments or sounds would be added to the theme’s basic bass line and “clap, sweep, clap, clap, clap.”  Depending on the subject being addressed in that particular episode, you could hear anything from wind chimes to industrial machinery to an energetic piano solo.  It was an extra thing that made each show that much more special for me, like a unique snowflake.

The Flintstones/The Jetsons– Pet Peeves

I am attracted to closing credits that give the viewer something extra beyond just listing the names of the show’s production crew.  In the case of The Flintstones and The Jetsons, I was able to see a few more minutes of funny cartoon scenes, an awesome way to end a show.  Both of these shows’ iconic ending sequences involve household pets.  Fred Flintstone gets locked out of his house by a smart-aleck saber-toothed cat, pathetically calling out, “Wilma!”  George Jetson gets stuck on the treadmill while Astro the dog (Wow, Astro’s both the name of a robot boy and a dog!  That name sure gets around the cartoon world!) and an unnamed cat watch with delight as George calls out pathetically, “Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!” (You’d think she would; maybe she lets it happen to deal out some kind of cosmic justice to George or something.  It certainly couldn’t be for his health.)  These things will happen every single episode until the end of time (or until people get sick of watching these shows, but I don’t think that’ll happen for a long time).  I have never thought that these endings were particularly funny in any way, but I do smile when I see them.  They’re like comfort food, one last warm feeling before heading back to the present day where cats don’t have saber teeth and treadmills don’t normally suck people under them repeatedly (and don’t hang out in midair on the outside of a building, for that matter).

Spongebob Squarepants– Ukelele Ditty

You may not know it from watching it today, but Nickelodeon shows used to have closing credit sequences, too.  A few years back, though, they stopped showing these for some strange reason, probably to fit in more commercials, I guess.  It’s too bad, though; I used to enjoy listening to the familiar strains of some of them, but none more so than the Spongebob Squarepants closing music.  It plays over a static screen of flower print and standard credits, but I feel that the music is much more outstanding than the visuals.  It’s a continuous ukelele riff that was sometimes used as background music within the show itself, and I guarantee that you’d likely know what show it’s from just from hearing it.  In my mind, it’s an encapsulation of all of the happiness and simple pleasures I have gotten from watching Spongebob’s antics for the first, tenth, hundredth, maybe even thousandth time.  The only place I usually see this sequence now is in “Nick on Demand” showings of Spongebob on digital cable systems and on DVD compilations.  It’s quite the reversal from how often I saw it just a few years ago.  May it rest in peace, floating ever on through the flotsam and jetsam of TV’s past.

Before this discussion of closing credits comes to a close, I’d like to know: Do you have a favorite TV closing credit sequence?  What do you like about it?  Do you still see it anymore?  Open up about your favorite closings in the comments.

Weekend Thoughts: Feb. 24-25, 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

When I started this blog, it was my intention to post at least one new entry every weekday while taking weekends off to rest and recharge.  During my first weekend away from the blog, however, I noticed that there were a few things I wanted to write about based on what I had seen and heard during the two-day period.  Therefore, I have decided that that from now on, my Monday entry will be devoted to various  thoughts I came up with during the weekend based on what I have experienced.  This way, every day of the week can feel like they have a home here.  My base thought is presented in boldface followed by my personal opinion and analysis.

The bonus puzzles in Wheel of Fortune can be ridiculously hard and unfair sometimes.  I was playing a version of Wheel of Fortune on my iPad over the weekend, and I noticed that some of the puzzles used during the bonus round turned out to be a very obscure turn of phrase that I doubt would occur to most people.  I often feel frustrated when I see such puzzles turn up on the TV version of Wheel, but at least in that context they provide an interesting problem for contestants to solve and even if they don’t get it, they usually have enough money and other prizes to have done a good half-hour’s work anyway.  Such puzzles in the video game, however, leave me feeling like I am missing something.  There is a line of logic the puzzle writer sometimes follows which does not occur to me as a player, not just because I picked the wrong letters, but because the kind of English phrase being used just isn’t one I would use normally.  Unless its something I might commonly use or hear other people using, there’s a good chance I won’t get it.  I think it would probably be the same way for most people.  If I was writing a puzzle for a game like Wheel of Fortune, I would first test it out on a focus group before unleashing it on the larger public.  I feel that such puzzles need to be understood by a wide variety of people in order to be successful thus keeping the videogame just as exciting and interesting as the television show.

The old and new styles of Spongebob Squarepants actually do go well together.  Nickelodeon programmed a seven-hour marathon of Spongebob Squarepants episodes for Sunday; I watched quite a bit of it.  It was a mix of episodes from two different eras of the show, one consisting of the first three seasons, and the other containing episodes released from season four onward after The Spongebob Squarepants Movie came out.  Normally, I consider these two eras to be wildly different from each other based on the changes in the animation teams that made them and the different styles of humor on display during a typical episode from each era.  Shockingly, I found the episodes picked for the marathon fit very well together thematically and had roughly the same sense of humor emphasized throughout.  I happily gobbled down the episodes like popcorn and left feeling satisfied, but also wanting more.  Even though I am a big fan of the show, I haven’t felt that way about Spongebob in a long time.  This marathon was a much-welcomed surprise, and I wouldn’t mind seeing another one like it soon.

Even after a 150 year separation in time and space, there still can be such a thing as “too soon.”   I was watching the Academy Awards with my parents on Sunday night, enjoying the attempt to merge host Seth McFarlane’s controversial style of humor with a more sedate, understated event like the Oscars.  For the most part, everything I saw worked on a basic level and didn’t take away from the glamour and honor the event typically displays.  He did show off his talents for song and dance in ways that I thought were very tasteful.  However, there was a weird moment involving a McFarlane joke which my mom and I had slightly differing opinions on.  Shortly after mentioning the movie Lincoln as part of a monologue bit, the host joked that the only actor who ever truly succeeded at getting “inside” Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth (his assassin).  Naturally, the entire audience seemed very uncomfortable about this joke, prompting McFarlane to comment on this by saying something along the lines of, “What, don’t tell me that after 150 years, that kind of joke is still too soon.”  My mom was very disgusted by the joke and McFarlane’s response to the audience’s groans, and I can understand why.  Lincoln’s death at Booth’s hands remains to this day one of the great tragedies of American history.  Any attempt to make light of it could be considered unthinkable by most people.  However, I think McFarlane was pretty brave to even attempt to do something like that on such a prominent stage, and to his credit, his “too soon” line went over much better with the crowd.  I thought the “getting inside Lincoln’s head” part was a slightly clever turn of the traditional meaning of that phrase, and the way that that particular moment was just about the edgiest thing McFarlane did all night made me glad that he held his composure on one of the most important nights in Hollywood.  Not to mention that having seen and heard some of his edgier material myself, in my opinion, it is not the worst thing he has ever done, and thank goodness he didn’t try anything worse!

On that note, I believe it is time we let this weekend blog post come to an end.  I hope all of you enjoyed it.  Please leave your recommendations and other thoughts in the comments.