Sunday, January 24, 2021

Book Review: Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, and Other Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television, Films and Video Games by Peter David

Book Review: Mr. SuluGrabbed My Ass, and Other Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television,Films and Video Games by Peter David

How are you guys and gals doing? Well, I hope.

With all the crazy going on in the world—the ongoing pandemic, political unrest, economic woes—it’s important to carve yourself out some healing “me time” anywhere you can get it, including from the world of popular culture.

For me, the publication of Peter David’s new amusingly titled book, Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, andOther Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television, Films and Video Games, was a great way to escape real-life drama for a while, have some laughs, and reconnect with an old colleague (of a sort). McFarland, a company that has published some of my books, sent me a review copy, and it was a welcome sight in my mail box.

Before I get to the book, let’s discuss the author.

A “writer of stuff,” Peter David isn’t exactly a household name—such is the lament of many a writer toiling in relative obscurity—but he is well-known among comic book fans for his critically acclaimed 12-year stint on The Incredible Hulk, plus his work on such titles as Aquaman, Supergirl, and Spider-Man 2099. Star Trek fans still ask him about Imzadi, his Star Trek: The Next Generation novel where Commander Riker and Counselor Troi get it on, and he’s had work appear on The New York Times Best-Seller List. If you’re the type who reads TV credits, you may have seen his name attached to such shows as Babylon 5 and various superhero cartoons, including Young Justice.

My first recollection of seeing Peter David’s writing was in 1990, when I worked at Lone Star Comics, a retail chain in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. During my lunch breaks, I would read the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide, a weekly, tabloid-sized newspaper that began as The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom in 1971. David’s always-entertaining, often-provocative “But I Digress” column ran in CBG from 1990 until it closed up shop in 2013. I wrote reviews for the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide for over a dozen years, and I was proud that my work appeared in the same publication as such an accomplished writer.

David’s titanic talent with the typewriter (or computer keyboard) is indeed on display in Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, an autobiographical trade paperback weighing in at 219 pages, with a cover price of $29.95. Yeah, it’s a little pricey for the format, but it’s a fun, breezy read that covers the highlights of David’s writing career, his run-ins with various celebrities, and certain aspects of his personal life. David is a bit of a nerd (in a good way), so you’re not going to get the kind of salacious revelations you might read in a rock star bio (which is actually refreshing), but his encounters with Hollywood hotshots are fascinating. Was he really Will Smith’s bodyguard? Did he watch Star Wars with Mark Hammill? And exactly why did George Takei’s grab his ass? I won’t spoil the details behind those anecdotes here.

Oh, and Stephen King visited him in the hospital when he had a stroke (a particularly interesting part of the book), and he got to interview William Shatner when he was just a teenager—thanks to author Robert Ludlum!

There’s something in this book for just about every geeky persuasion. Comic book fans will love the “Make Mine Marvel” and “Comics Stuff” chapters, aspiring writers as well as comic book junkies will enjoy David recalling how he got back into comics and became a professional writer, and science fiction fans will absolutely gobble up David’s stories about writing Star Trek novels, scripting Babylon 5 episodes, and dealing with the late, great Harlan Ellison—there’s an entire chapter on the acerbic dark fantasy and science fiction author. It seems that everyone involved with science fiction has an Ellison story (including yours truly—I met him at a Diamond Comics retailer seminar and will likely relate that memorable encounter here at some point), and David is no exception.

By the time you finish David’s autobiography, you may know more than you ever wanted to about the author, such as the fact that his daughter Caroline never learned to crawl and that it was difficult getting another daughter, Shana, to take a nap when she was little. However, the book never gets bogged down too heavily by any one topic, and David injects enough humor into the proceedings that you’ll likely never get bored by any chapter. He speaks glowingly of his kids and his current wife while resisting the temptation to trash his ex. I can certainly respect that, though the trashing, which he implies in the book is something he could easily do, probably would have made for fascinating reading.

Overall, Mr. SuluGrabbed My Ass is a well-rounded autobiography that never overstays its welcome. You wouldn’t necessarily want to binge-read it in a single afternoon, but it is fun to read a chapter here and there in your spare time, such as during your subway work commute or while you’re waiting in line at the post office. Or, when you just want something agreeable to read while you’re unwinding after a long day at work.

Now, excuse me while I go research a short-lived TV show called Space Cases, which I had never heard of prior to reading this book. David created the show with Billy Mumy, who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space. Not unlike this book, it sounds well worth checking out!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Top Celebrity Deaths in 2020

 Celebrity Deaths in 2020

Many celebrities die each year, but with 2020 being so notable as a terrible time thanks to the novel Coronavirus, the celebrity deaths last year seem especially poignant. A number of the famous people who passed during that time impacted my life in a positive way, so I decided to highlight some of them here.

The celebrities in question are listed in order of importance to me personally, but that of course doesn’t mean their lives were more valuable than the others—just that they made a difference in my life.

1. Eddie Van Halen

I saw Van Halen blow the roof off of Reunion Arena in 1984 and headline the Texas Jam in 1986. I drew Van Halen's cool logo countless times on my school folders. Smiling when so many rock stars snarled, Eddie had the creativity and power of Hendrix. He could make his guitar sound like a rocket ship taking off or a volcano erupting. He was a virtuoso who continued honing his craft through the Van Hagar era, even though we metal head teenagers preferred “Ain't Talkin' About Love”—in fact, that's my first memory of Van Halen—listening to the brilliant, mind-bending opening riff of “Ain't Talkin' About Love” in my brother's car. He had a Pioneer stereo with four speakers and a 100-watt amp and would play Van Halen’s debut album so loud I thought my ears would split open. But I loved it.

2. John Prine

When my brother-in-law and I went into the comic book business together during the early 1990s, we spent a lot of time together, ordering new comics, pricing inventory, doing trade shows, running our two stores, etc. And there was usually music in the background. While my musical tastes tended toward the harder stuff like Black Sabbath, KISS, and Iron Maiden (though I enjoy a variety of other genres), he was more of a folk rocker, listening to Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty. During this time, he introduced me to country folk singer John Prine, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music. To this day, I listen to Prine on a frequent basis, everything from the heartbreaking “Hello in There” to the whimsical and hilarious “Dear Abby.”

3. Mary Higgins Clark

When I was a kid, my mom did me the tremendous favor of taking me to Half-Price Books and a couple of mom-and-pop bookstores fairly near our house. We also went, as a family, to thrift stores on occasion. It was at these second-hand shops where I discovered that you could buy comic books, Peanuts paperbacks, and copies of MAD magazine for as little as 10 to 25 cents each. After one of these excursions, Mom introduced me to the works of thriller author Mary Higgins Clark, an author I read before Clive Barker, Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, or Rod Serling. So yeah, Clark, famous for such novels as Where Are the Children? (1975), A Stranger is Watching (1977), and The Cradle Will Fall (1980), was a big influence on my literary genre of choice.

4. David Prowse

In 1977, I was 10 years old. Wow, what a time to be a kid. Not only did the Atari 2600 come out that year (it was too expensive for us, but I played the heck out of Atari at various friends’ houses), Star Wars debuted on the silver screen. Inspired in part by the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (check out the opening text crawl on 1939’s Buck Rogers), Star Wars changed cinema forever and made quite the impression on me, who saw it at the local mall theater with my brother. While David Prowse didn’t voice Darth Vader (that was James Earl Jones), he struck an imposing figure in the black costume—virtually every gesture he made and every step he took was menacing. Years before, he played Frankenstein’s monster in a couple of Hammer films. Darth Vader + Frankenstein = awesome.

5. Olivia de Havilland

Decades before most people considered it problematic, Gone with the Wind (1939) made its broadcast television debut on NBC on November 7, 1976. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell, the classic film aired in two parts to huge ratings, with the second part airing the following day. My dad had no interest, so my mom and I went to the back bedroom and watched, transfixed before the colorful characters, Old South charm, and grand visuals and sweeping musical score. We watched it together several times over the years after that. I thought Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) was the epitome of cool, and I had a major crush on Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh). But it was sweet Melanie Hamilton, played endearingly by Olivia de Havilland, who gave the movie its heart. She was also great in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), another one of my favorite films of the era.

6. Fred “Curly” Neal

I grew up in a suburb of Fort Worth, but we rarely went into town. We drove to Dallas for the occasional Mavericks basketball game and were frequent visitors to Arlington to go to Six Flags and Rangers baseball games, but I guess my dad didn’t see much reason to go to Fort Worth, despite such tourist attractions as the historic Stockyards, the Water Gardens (prominent shooting location for Logan’s Run), several world classic museums, a world class zoo, Trinity Park, the botanic gardens, etc. But one cold winter night we ventured downtown to the Tarrant County Convention Center to see the Harlem Globetrotters, which featured the charismatic and comical “Curly” Neal at point guard. I had seen them on TV before, but there was nothing like witnessing their antics live: the half-court shots, the buckets of confetti, the crazy dunks and even crazier dribbling, the punking of their foes (The Washington Generals). In short, the Globetrotters were super entertaining, and it was great watching them in their heyday.

Honorable Mentions:

Dawn Wells: As the adorable next-door type girl on Gilligan’s Island, she was my first crush. I cringed when she got shot in the face in The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), my first experience seeing an R-rated movie at the theater.

Kenny Rogers: Such hits as “Lady,” “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” and “Coward of the County” were a big part of the soundtrack of my young life.

Charlie Pride: I loved listening to Charlie Pride in my dad's truck when I was a kid. "Burgers and Fries and Cherry Pies" takes me back to the '70s as much as any song by any singer or band.

Max von Sydow: He was great as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980), one of my favorite films, and even better in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), where he played a snooty artist.

Fred Willard: My brother and I grew up watching Fernwood Tonight, and Willard was great in a small role in This is Spinal Tap (1984), where he told the band: “We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I'm not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll.”

Jerry Stiller: The comedy legend entertained for decades and decades, but he’s perhaps best known for playing George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld, one of my favorite sitcoms. “Serenity now!”

Little Richard: He did nothing less than play a major role in inventing my favorite genre of music: rock ’n’ roll. “Good Golly, Miss Molly!”

Chadwick Boseman: I was stunned at the passing of Boseman, who was only 43. He had quite the career, playing such iconic figures as Jackie Robinson and James Brown. His portrayal of Black Panther actually made that relatively obscure Marvel Comics character iconic.

Joel Schumacher: Some blame Schumacher for ruining the Batman movie franchise with the campy Batman & Robin (1997), where the Dynamic Duo’s costumes had nipples. However, I’ll always remember the director for creating The Lost Boys (1987), the endlessly entertaining hair metal vampire film.

Alex Trebek: What a class act. Smart. Articulate. Semi-funny. My son loves Jeopardy, and we have a good time watching it together as a family. We’ll miss watching him host the show when his episodes run out later this year.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Batman's Sidekick Robin, a.k.a. The Boy Wonder, Turns 80!

Robin Turns 80!

Batman’s sidekick Robin debuted in 1940 in Detective Comics #38. While he was 8 years old when he debuted, he’s been around as a character for 80 years now. My, how time flies when you’re galivanting about Gotham, combating crime!

In that legendary first appearance, The Flying Graysons, comprised of young Dick Grayson and his father and mother, are putting on a high-flying trapeze act in a small town outside of Gotham City. During a particularly dangerous act—the triple spin—Dick watches from below as his parents “fly through the air with the greatest of ease.” But then the ropes snap, and they plunge to their death, much to their son’s horror. Gangsters running a protection racket had put acid on the ropes as the circus owner refused to pay for said protection.

Watching from the audience is Bruce Wayne, who, as Batman, confronts young Grayson after the accident and warns him not to go to the police because the town is run by Boss Zucco, and he would be dead inside of an hour if he told the cops. Bruce takes Grayson into his home as his ward, has him swear an oath to fight crime and stay on the path of righteousness, and trains him in boxing, jujutsu, and other such disciplines. Grayson is already a trained circus acrobat, so he’s a quick study. And, poof, a superhero sidekick his born!

The story was written by Batman co-creator Bob Finger (who didn’t get sufficient credit for his Batman work for many years), the pencils were by Batman’s more famous co-creator Bob Kane (who would often claim sole credit as Batman and Robin’s sole creator), and the inks were provided by Jerry Robinson.

In an old interview with Finger, who passed away in 1974, the scribe revealed the inspiration behind the boy sidekick. “Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob,” he said. “Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn't have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking. I found that as I went along Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That's how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea.”

The debut Robin story is primitively and quickly told (obviously, you can’t simply take a child you don’t know home from the circus right on the spot, even if their parents get killed), and the art is crude compared to something like Hal Foster’s work on Prince Valiant, the adventure strip that debuted in newspapers the previous year. However, there’s a lot of energy on the pages, and the fast pacing makes for a fun read. Despite his youth and inexperience, Robin goes into action solo against some bad guys and gets the best of them. Like Batman, Robin has a utility belt and fights crime sans superpowers.

As the story closes, we see our heroes engaged in this cornball exchange:

Bruce: “Okay, you reckless young squirt, I ought to whale you for jumping those men alone. Why didn’t you wait for me?”

Dick: “Ah! I didn’t want to miss any of the fun! Say, I can hardly wait till we go on our next case. I bet It’ll be a corker!”

Robin’s unsophisticated debut tale took up just 12 pages of a comic book that was 68 pages in length, but that comic book is now worth the price of a small house. In 2009, a 9.4 CGC-graded example sold at auction for $107,550. Robin’s first time to go it alone was in Detective Comics #41 (July, 1940), and that issue is worth around $8,000 to $10,000 in near mint condition. A few years later, Robin appeared on the cover of Star Spangled Comics #65 (February, 1947), kickstarting a series of solo stories that lasted until that series concluded with issue #130. If you can find a pristine copy of Star Spangled Comics #65, expect to pay around $2,000 to $3,000.

A trailblazer, Robin started a trend in comics of superheroes having sidekicks, such as Captain America’s Bucky, Aquaman’s Aqualad, and Flash’s Kid Flash. Thanks to his decades-long pairing with Batman (they are often called the “Dynamic Duo” or the “Caped Crusaders”), and his presence in such shows as the Adam West Batman (where he was played by Burt Ward) and the Saturday morning cartoon The Super Friends (where he was voiced by Casey Kasem), he’s also become one of the most famous superheroes of all time. Tons of merchandise, including multiple action figures by an assortment of companies, adds to Robin’s pop culture legacy as well.

When Batman debuted, he was a grim, darkly clad avenger who brandished a firearm instead of a partner in crimefighting. (Batman later swore off guns.) The brightly colored Robin, who was inspired in part by Robin Hood, changed that dynamic (so to speak), giving kids a spunky young hero they could relate to.

“On his own, the Batman of 1939 was a pretty dark character, a loner in the night,” says comic book writer Paul Kupperberg, a former editor for DC Comics. “Early on, he sometimes carried a gun and would use it. But I think as comic books proved themselves to be largely kiddie literature, DC realized they needed to take some of the edge off the character. Robin was introduced to soften Batman and, even if they didn’t realize it at the time, he also gave the kid readers an ‘in’ to the stories, a character they could identify with other than this harsh guy dressed in black and gray. As soon as Robin came in, the tone of the stories changed, giving the strip a sense of familiar domesticity.”

Though Batman did appear in solo stories, such as when Dick Grayson when off to college (Batman #217), the original Dick Grayson version of Robin remained a steady presence in various Batman titles and other DC-published comic books for decades. Robin helped form the Teen Titans (The Brave and the Bold #60), battled the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and countless other villains, teamed up with such heroes as Batgirl and Superman, and in general remained a noble, lighthearted hero.

During the early 1980s, Robin grew out of his sidekick role. In the pages of The New Teen Titans, where Robin served for years as a leader of the team, he became an adult, scrapped the Robin identity, and took on the mantle of Nightwing. Like Robin, Nightwing lacked superpowers and used an assortment of gadgets for fighting crime, but Nightwing’s darker costume and more serious demeanor were in stark contrast to Robin. Created by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George PĂ©rez, Grayson’s Nightwing persona debuted in Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (July, 1984), an issue worth more than $100 if graded 9.6 by CGC. Copies graded at 9.8 have sold for more than $500. Unslabbed examples in excellent condition can be found for as little as $50 or $60.

Kupperberg says he’s “not necessarily a fan” of Nightwing, but he certainly understood the reasoning behind the creation of the character.

“The way the market and audience had evolved, adult characters could stay unchanged at an indeterminate age forever,” he says. “Kid characters had to grow-up, otherwise they were just eternally whining trip-hazards for the heroes. Robin, being the first, had to catch up with the rest of the kids, especially with what was going on in Teen Titans.”

Various Robins followed in the wake of Dick Grayson maturing into Nightwing, including Jason Todd, who was memorably (if temporarily) killed off by the Joker in a marketing stunt, Tim Drake, who received a long ongoing series of his own, Stephanie Brown, the daughter of minor Batman rogue the Cluemaster, and Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul There was even a “Robin War” storyline that ran through several DC titles published a few years ago.

Despite all those replacement Robins, for many fans and creators Dick Grayson will always be Batman’s one and only true sidekick.

Kupperberg agrees with this sentiment. “I think Robin’s legacy is as the first kid sidekick and one of the leaders of the next generation of heroes,” he says. “When it comes to my DC comic book characters, I'm an originalist. They can put whoever they want in those costumes and call them the ‘Spectre,’ ‘Batman, or ‘Robin’ or whoever, but they're not. As far as I'm concerned, Jim Corrigan is the Specrtre. Bruce Wayne is the Batman. And Dick Grayson is the Robin. Theirs are the real stories; the ones featuring these Johnnys-came-later secret identities are the fiction.”

Friday, October 23, 2020

NES Omnibus Spotlight #3 - Matt Miller (Nintendo Book)

I met Matt Miller at the 2013 Texas State Trading Card Premiere in Austin. We were awarded cards and certificates by Walter Day for our accomplishments in the video game field. The next year we met up again at a similar event in Fairfield, Iowa. Matt and I became fast friends and have kept in touch ever since. Matt is a fierce gaming competitor as part of Team Mayh3m (with Michelle Ireland), earning several Guinness World Record for the Gamer’s Edition series. He appeared in the Nintendo Quest documentary, among other accomplishments. He’s also a very talented writer. His stories in my SNES Omnibus books are excellent, as are the ones in my forthcoming NES Omnibus Vol. 1, which is shipping in December. More importantly, Matt is one of the nicest, most sincere guys you’ll ever meet. Matt is super supportive of my work, and I’m honored to call him a friend.

Here’s a nostalgic story Matt wrote for The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1. It’s about Super Mario World.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was very much a latecomer to this title. In late 1992, I finally convinced my parents to purchase a Super Nintendo for me as a Christmas gift. At the time, the fighting game craze was kicking into high gear, and I had spent much of the fall dumping a small mint’s worth of quarters into the local Street Fighter II: Champion Edition arcade machine. Thus, when it came time to provide the specifics for my SNES, I asked for the basic SNES Control Set and Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. The rationale for opting for the version of the SNES without the Super Mario World pack-in was twofold. First, it was a time when the holiday budget was particularly tight, so a scenario involving two games was not going pass muster.  Second, in my jaded 13-year old-gamer’s mind, the Super Mario Bros. franchise had obviously peaked with Super Mario Bros. 3, and the thought of a new adventure in “Dinoland” elicited a roll of the eyes and a quite vocal “Pfft!”  My mind was set on besting Bison, not Bowser again.

Flash forward nearly nine years. My father was on the verge of getting remarried, and I had an expanded family as a result. I was now an older brother, and as a self-appointed duty, I felt it only proper to give my new younger brother Dan a thorough education in the classics of the NES and SNES eras. To my surprise, I found out that he had once owned a SNES but had long since traded it in for another console. The only remnant from that collection was his Super Mario World cart, which he insisted that I try. At first, those ghosts of my early teenage years resurfaced, and with them, the urge to dismiss it yet again. However, in an effort to be more open-minded, I gave the game a whirl, and almost immediately I wanted to kick myself for my apathy towards it years earlier. 

Over the course of the weeks that followed, he and I spent countless hours playing through and uncovering all of the game’s multiple level exits and secret areas. To this day, that time period is still one of my fondest with respect to gaming memories. It may have taken me the better part of a decade to catch on, but with the aid of a wise sibling, I eventually saw the brilliant light of the masterpiece that is Super Mario World. - Matt Miller

Thursday, October 22, 2020

NES Omnibus Contributing Writer Spotlight #2 - "The Immortal" John Hancock (Nintendo Book)

Major props to NES Omnibus contributing writer and popular YouTuber "The Immortal" John Hancock, who is closing in on 100,000 subscribers. John has been at it for many years and has an amazing video game collection (so many complete sets!) that will one day form the basis of a video game museum (it took decades for The National Video Game Museum in Texas to come together), most likely somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Speaking of, it’s always great seeing John at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, where he has showed off complete collections of the NES and Sega Genesis. A nice guy all around, John was a good sport and spoke with enthusiasm as I interviewed him about his Genesis collection. At that same show, he did me a huge favor, helping make the trip possible.

John is a good friend, works hard as a teacher, and is a devoted family man. His NES Omnibus stories reveal a happy childhood with a loving family who would rent games together on the weekends. Recently, John invited me onto his YouTube channel to talk about the NES—it was great fun!

Here’s a sneak peak at one of John’s stories in The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L). It’s about Ice Hockey.

It was the summer of 1988, and our family was taking our weekly drive into town to rent a movie and a game. Our local selection was limited, but there were always a few new NES titles available. As I walked into the rental store, I was disappointed to notice that most of the NES games had already been rented. My family selected a movie and were waiting on me to decide what to get.  The rule in my house was that if I took too long to decide, then I couldn’t rent a game. It came down to Operation Wolf and Ice Hockey. I took a gamble on Ice Hockey, and it turned out to be a great choice. I spent that afternoon playing it against my older brother. The gameplay was fast and furious and easy to get into. The hours melted away as we played countless games against each other into the night. We played so much Ice Hockey that my parents, later that year, surprised us with it as a “brother’s gift,” one I will never forget. - “The Immortal” John Hancock, YouTube personality

NES Omnibus Contributing Writer Spotlight #1 - Patrick Hickey Jr. (Nintendo Book)

In the time between I wrote the foreword to his first book, The Minds Behind the Games, and now, Patrick Hickey Jr’s career has blossomed in ways that perhaps even he thought was impossible. While he’s been a journalist and college professor for many years, he’s now a video game story editor, writer, and voice actor. And his book series, which is at four volumes and counting, has received much critical acclaim. Hickey puts his heart and soul into his work, and it shows. He’s a machine among men and truly gets the sacrifices and devotion it takes to write in depth about a relatively niche subject like retro gaming history.

Patrick has been super supportive of my books and YouTube channel, sharing them often on social media, and we’ve developed a great friendship. Unlike some of my gaming friends, whom I've only interacted with online, I’ve met Pat in person. We spent a day bumming around New York City and had a blast. Pat always has my back and is also a devoted family man. Patrick’s nostalgic stories in my SNES Omnibus books and my forthcoming NES Omnibus books have a distinct Brooklyn flavor and are fun, illuminating, and interesting to read. Thanks, my friend!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Pac-Man Quarter Arcade Review - Produced by Numskull

Back in the fall of 1980, I was in junior high school, and I liked four things: girls, basketball, rock music, and, of course, video games. At the Quick Way convenience store near my school, they had three arcade games set up in a small corner at the back: Asteroids, Phoenix, and the cool (if cutesy) new kid on the block, Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Fever would soon overtake the country, me included. The now-iconic game was everywhere and spawned a hit song, a cartoon, and a truck-ton of merchandise, such as puzzles, boardgames, shoelaces, TV trays, watches, keychains, a lunch box with thermos, and far too many other items to mention. I loved gobbling the dots, avoiding and chasing the ghosts, and navigating the maze, and I played the game again and again, before, after, and sometimes during (don’t tell my mom) school.

Now, Numskull has created a highly authentic replica of the coin-op classic for its new Quarter Arcade line of games, which also includes Galaga, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Track & Field, Bubble Bobble, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man’s gal pal game, Ms. Pac-Man. The company sent me a Pac-Man unit for review, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the maxi-sized mini arcade. The name “Quarter Arcade” refers to the games being a quarter scale of their arcade counterparts, while also providing a knowing wink that these games cost a quarter to play back in the day.

I was immediately struck by the colorful Collectors Edition box the game came packaged in—it’s definitely a keeper, as are the inserts that came in the box: a slick, multilingual instruction manual, a Certificate of Authenticity (denoting that Pac-Man is limited to ten thousand copies), and, best of all, an engraved collector's coin with Numskull's logo on one side and the Pac-Man “Ready!” screen on the other.

But it’s really all about the game, so let’s get to that. At 1:4 scale, it’s much bigger than most mini arcades, and, from the cabinet art to the buttons and joystick to the marquee that actually lights up, it’s about as realistic as you could get without actually renting a refrigerator dolly and lugging an original Pac-Man arcade machine into your house. It’s super detailed and includes screws on top, air vents in the back, and a pair of buttons below the faux coin slots that, when pushed, add credits to the machine.

The joystick is small and stubby, but gameplay is largely spot-on as the cabinet uses the original arcade ROM on a bespoke emulator, meaning you can indeed use the old patterns that many people memorized to get high scores on the game back in the day. Sound effects and music are faithful as well, though with the smaller speaker the audio is obviously not quite as robust—small complaint because the game looks, sounds, and plays about as well as anyone could expect. It’s durable as well, with the cabinet formed mostly from wood. It charges on the back via USB, and there is a dial for controlling the volume, situated near the on/off button.

If you want to create a game room in your house that features more than just consoles, but you don’t have the room (or perhaps the cash) for a bunch of full-sized arcade machines, you could certainly do worse than grabbing up some Quarter Arcades. For more information, including pricing and ordering (pre-ordering for some of the games), click HERE. To see my unboxing of the game, click HERE.