Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League Movie Primer

The big budget, highly anticipated “Justice League” film has finally arrived.

Following in the wake of the apparent death of the Man of Steel in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), “Justice League” finds Batman and his new ally Wonder Woman facing a sinister threat: Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons, who are searching Earth for a trio of ultra-powerful Mother Boxes.

To deal with the fiendish, otherworldly foes, the iconic duo forms a new super team, recruiting The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Thus, the Justice League is born.

To prepare for the movie (or if you want to see it again), which is the fifth installment in the DC Extended Universe (after “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad” and “Wonder Woman,”), check out my primer on the movie’s primary heroes:

Alter Ego: Bruce Wayne
First Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (1939)
Played in the movie by Ben Affleck

When it was announced in 2013 that Ben Affleck would play Batman in the then-untitled Batman/Superman movie (2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), the internet couldn’t handle it, and the haters starting hating, despite Affleck being a perfectly reasonable choice, with his square jaw, tall stature, solid acting abilities, and classic good looks. Although it wasn’t as controversial as casting Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight Detective in 1989’s “Batman” (and 1992’s “Batman Returns”), social media wasn’t a thing during the 1980s, so the Affleck flack was more immediate.

Batman is the leader of the Justice League in the movie, a role he has taken on in certain modern comic book incarnations of the super group. With his “wonderful toys” and largely serious demeanor, he’s a good, classic, manly take on the character, but without Affleck resorting to the growling and grumbling of Christian Bale’s somewhat depressing (if still effective) portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.

Wonder Woman
Alter Ego: Diana Prince
First Appearance: All Star Comics #8 (1941)
Played in the movie by Gal Gadot

Wonder Woman was the brainchild of Dr. William Moulton Marston (writing as Charles Moulton), a psychologist known for creating a systolic blood pressure measuring device that would play a significant role in the development of the polygraph machine. Unlike most intellectuals of the era, Marston embraced the comic book medium, and his creation became a feminist icon, as evidenced by her cover appearance on the cover of Gloria Steinem’s “Ms.” magazine #1 (1971). .

Sadly, it took more than 75 years for the Amazon Princess to get her own live feature film—this past summer’s “Wonder Woman” starring Gal Gadot. The Israeli actress and model absolutely nailed the part, making the wait worthwhile. Gadot Wonder Woman, who tantalized audiences with a supporting role in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” doesn’t appear to be able to fly like the comic book character (giving her something in common with Lynda Carter from the 1970s TV show), but neither does she pilot in an invisible jet. She’s super strong and beautiful, though, and wields a mean sword, shield and magic lasso, a.k.a. the Lasso of Truth. In short, she’s wonderful.

The Flash
Alter Ego: Barry Allen
First Appearance: Showcase #4 (1956)
Played in the movie by Ezra Miller

The creation of the Barry Allen version of The Flash kick-started the Silver Age of comic books (Jay Garrick was the original Golden Age Flash, debuting in 1940). The Scarlet Speedster of 1956 and decades after was a blond-haired, blue-eyed, supernaturally fast, near-perfect hero whose only fault was, ironically enough, running late. Like many superheroes, he has a convoluted history. He died, was replaced, came back, etc. He was approximately the same age as Superman and Batman.

In the “Justice League” movie, Barry is more like the Wally West Flash from the “Justice League” cartoon of the early 2000s. He’s young, impressionable and hyper, providing comic relief in contrast with the other, more stoic heroes of the group. The dark-haired Ezra Miller is a curious choice for the role, and many fans have complained that Grant Gustin, who plays Barry/Flash on the current Flash TV series, wasn’t brought onboard to play the character. Regardless, Miller Flash remains the fastest man alive, but, like most incarnations of the hero, he’s slower than the Silver Age version.

Alter Ego: Arthur Curry
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (1941)
Played in the movie by Jason Momoa

Poor Aquaman. Even though he’s been dubbed King of the Seven Seas, and even though he’s extremely powerful (super strength, super swimming speed, the ability to breathe under water and communicate with sea life), he’s been the butt of jokes for decades, from people making fun of his orange and green costume to his oceanic powers being deemed largely useless on “Family Guy” to Raj on “The Big Bang Theory” saying he doesn’t want to be Aquaman for Halloween because “He sucks.”

In the “Justice League” movie, Aquaman, a.k.a. Arthur Curry, has yet to become king (he’s heir to the throne of Atlantis), but he’s leagues above the campy character many of us old timers remember from the classic cartoon, “The Super Friends,” and he’s even more imposing than some of his more impressive comic book incarnations. Covered in tattoos and muscles, clad in a regal, but tough looking battle suit and wielding a long trident, Momoa’s Aquaman is no fish out of water.

Alter Ego: Victor Stone
First Appearance: DC Comics Presents #26 (1980)
Played in the movie by Ray Fisher

Although he’s appeared in various live action and animated shows, including “Green Arrow,” “Teen Titans,” “Smallville,” and “The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians,” Cyborg is easily the least famous of the six featured superheroes in the “Justice League” movie. The character was created as a member of the Teen Titans, but was made a founding member of the Justice League during a pair of modern DC Comics reboots (2011’s “The New 52” and 2016’s “DC Rebirth”).

Fisher Cyborg appears fairly faithful to his comic book counterpart, wearing a hoodie to obscure his half-man, half-machine appearance and using his bionic powers to fly, manipulate technology, perform feats of super strength and turn his arms into cannons. Cyborg looks smashing in action, despite his relative obscurity. Some argue that Cyborg was only included in the film strictly for racial diversity, but the John Stewart version of Green Lantern, a more well-known character, could have filled that role.

Alter Ego: Clark Kent
First Appearance: Action Comics #1 (1938)
Played in the movie by Henry Cavill

Ah, Superman. The Man of Steel. The Man of Tomorrow. The Last Son of Krypton. The Metropolis Marvel. Whatever you call him, Superman is the prototypical superhero, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. He’s super strong and nigh-invulnerable (among many other powers), and he’s as willing to rescue a cat from a tree as he is to die saving the world from doom (and Doomsday). He died (sort of) in the comics in 1992, sparking a media frenzy, and he apparently died in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

However, as Bruce Wayne says in the “Justice League” movie, “The world needs Superman,” so he does return. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman, which debuted in 2013’s “Man of Steel” (the first installment in DC’s shared movie universe), is darker and more conflicted than most versions of the character, but he certainly looks the part and does a more than serviceable job. For longtime fans, no one will ever replace Christopher Reeve as the definitive live action Superman, a sentiment Cavill himself would probably understand.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Old School Gamer Magazine #1 - FREE

There's a great new publication called Old School Gamer Magazine, featuring an all-star cast of writers, including Leonard Herman, Michael Thomasson, Walter Day, and yours truly, plus art by Thor Thorvaldson. Features in #1 include the National Videogame Museum, Classic Game Fest, Galloping Ghost Arcade, Qix, Q*bert, arcade gaming in the 1970s, text adventures, an interview with Ed Averett (K.C Munchkin!). and more. You can read the first issue for FREE by clicking HERE. 

(click on the images below for a closer look at my column in the mag)

A Quick Look at Super Mario Odyssey

My Nintendo Switch wouldn't go online, so I called customer service, and they changed a setting on my computer, and now it works. They were very friendly and fast in helping me. I had to be online because I have a code for Super Mario Odyssey instead of a physical copy.

Unsurprisingly, the game looks and sounds great. There are plenty of cool new moves and characters to control/inhabit, including a dinosaur and a frog (not the frog suit from Super Mario Bros. 3). The much-lauded cap maneuvers work great (the variety of uses shows typical Nintendo inventiveness), and the 2D scenes are a nice blast from the past. The game is a little on the easy side, though, at least so far, but I’m having a blast.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

KISS Article in PIZZAZZ Magazine #1

I was researching for an article and ran across this vintage KISS feature in the first issue of PIZZAZZ magazine, published by Marvel Comics. Click on each image for a closer look and enjoy!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

SNES Omnibus Vol. 1 (A-M) -- Now Available for Pre-Order!

My forthcoming book, The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 1 (A-M), is now available for pre-order.

You can go the Amazon route, or you can pre-order directly from me (U.S. only) and get some COOL FREE BONUSES, including:

*My autograph in the book (I can personalize it if you’d like)
*YOUR NAME listed/immortalized in the patron section of my next book (THIS A LIMITED TIME OFFER), The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 2 (N-Z)
*A set of “Classic Home Video Games” book marks
*One of my signed Twin Galaxies trading cards (issue will vary)
*A digital copy of my book, Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films (sent through Facebook)

In addition, 1 out of every 10 people (chosen at random) who pre-order the book directly from me will receive a free download code for a digital copy of a game for a current console or handheld (my choice—if you don’t have the system or already have the game, feel free to pay it forward).

The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 1 (A-M) features detailed write-ups on more than 350 games (every U.S. release from A to M) and more than 2,000 full-color images, including box art, cartridges, screenshots, and vintage gaming ads. This is a beautifully illustrated, massive (9x12), professionally published (by Schiffer Publishing), full color, hardcover book—416 pages of Super Nintendo goodness, written by an author (me) who has been gaming since the mid-1970s and writing about video games professionally since the mid-1990s.

There are also many nostalgic stories by a number of prominent gaming professionals, including Blake J. Harris (author of Console Wars), Kurt Kalata (Hardcore Gaming 101), Tim Lapetino (author of Art of Atari), Shawn Long (RGT 85 on YouTube), Brittney Brombacher (BlondeNerd.com), Eric “8-Bit Eric” Perez (YouTuber), Christopher “The Old Ass Retro Gamer” Pico (YouTuber), Benjamin Reeves (senior editor for Game Informer), John Riggs (RIGG’d Games on YouTube), David Warhol (one of the original Mattel Intellivision “Blue Sky Rangers&rdquo , Steve Woita (longtime programmer for Atari 2600, Genesis, etc.), and too many others to list.

Click HERE to pre-order or for more info.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Portland Retro Gaming Expo Q&A Panel

Check out my panel with John "Gamester81" Lester at the recent Portland Retro Gaming Expo. You can watch it in full screen HERE.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2017 Report

The Portland Retro Gaming Expo is the biggest and one of the best conventions in the country focusing on vintage video games. I had heard many great things about it over the years (the first one was in 2006), but I never had a chance to go until this year.

Held at the Oregon Convention Center Oct. 20-22, the event easily lived up to its billing—I had a great time and sold a ton of stuff.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Since I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, I decided to go to Portland a couple of days early and get in some vacation time. A gamer friend of mine, Delf Meek, thought this was a good idea, so we split a hotel room across from the convention center, from Wednesday through the following Monday.

I love exploring new cities (and old cities—one of my favorite things to do is go cycling all over my home town of Fort Worth, Texas), so as soon as we checked into our hotel room, we set off on foot, hoofing our way past the Moda Center (where the Portland Trailblazers play), across the Willamette River, and into downtown, admiring the fall colors and beauty of the city in general.

In addition to sampling some craft beers, we scoped out the usual tourist spots, including Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, which whet our appetites for the big show coming up, Voodoo Doughnuts, which is as colorful and as quirky as the city itself, and Powell’s City of Books, a three-story swathe of heaven measuring 1.6 acres.

Powell’s has an amazing selection of new books (there are millions of stories within its three stories), along with vintage titles sprinkled throughout, but I didn’t find many bargains among the older used science fiction, performing arts, or movie tie-in paperbacks. The prices were certainly fair, but unlike my favorite haunt, Half-Price Books, a chain located primarily in the Midwest, none of these types of books were available for half of cover price (most were marked up considerably more). In short, I found plenty to read, but nothing to resell at shows or in my pop culture antique booth.

The next day we headed for the coast in a rental car. It rained most of the day, but we made the best of it, enjoying the winding roads, the rolling hills, the sprawling wilderness homes, the tall trees and, again, the fall colors—striking yellow, bright orange, impossible red. Our primary destination was Haystack Rock, an intertidal sea stack located on Cannon Beach, about an hour and a half from Portland.

The monolithic rock, which can be seen in such films as Sometimes a Great Notion (1971), The Goonies (1985), and Kindergarten Cop (1990), is reachable from the beach at low tide, but on this rainy, windy, chilly day, we were content to see it from afar. It was shrouded in a foggy haze, but instantly recognizable.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring Cannon Beach, as well as the equally charming town of Seaside eight miles up the road. We enjoyed steaming hot bowls of clam chowder at a local restaurant and marveled over the dusty and fading, yet highly organized stacks of VHS videos in a rental store “straight outta” the 1980s called Universal Video. Other than a small DVD section, you’d never know this was anything but a time warp. There were thousands of movies for rent, including many big box videos and movies that have never been released on DVD.

It occurred to Delf and I that since they had so many videos for rent, they might have old video games. The neon sign out front, which was obviously from the mid-late 1980s, said “Nintendo,” but we didn’t see any games in the store.  

When I asked the guy running the place if they had video games, he said they did up until about two years ago when he noticed that older games had gotten valuable. After doing a bit of research, he sold the lot of them for $40,000 to a dealer (this may seem like an exorbitant sum, but if he had hundreds of games and they included original boxes, it’s entirely feasible). He said up until then he had been renting them for $2.50 each.

We also stumbled across a quaint little antique mall, where I drooled over two particularly cool pop culture artifacts: a Dragon’s Lair lunch box with thermos ($75) and a mint-in-package Mork from Ork Eggship Radio ($55) licensed from the popular TV show, Mork & Mindy (1978-1982).

Later that night, we got back to Portland in time for a tour of the Shanghai Tunnels, a group of passages located primarily underneath Chinatown. Online reviews were mixed for this tourist trap, but we decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, a trap is truly what it was. Instead of a creepy good time, we stood around in a series of three different underground rooms and listened to a man drone on an on in a voice that was barely above a whisper. I think he was telling spooky stories, but I couldn’t really hear him. Lame.

The next day, Friday, umbrellas in hand, we explored more of the city, enjoying the river, the bridges, the ships, and the beautiful homes, making sure we were at the convention center by 3:00 pm. This was when the Portland Retro Gaming Expo arcade opened. Since I would be “stuck” at my booth most all of Saturday and Sunday it was nice that only the arcade was open Friday. I had a blast playing a variety of the classics, including Donkey Kong 3, Crazy Climber, and Lady Bug, along with some new pinball machines, such as Batman based on the old television series.

Then it was show time.

I arrived at the convention center a couple of hours before PRGE, giving me plenty of time to set up my booth and look around the showroom floor before the doors opened to the general public. Vendors were selling everything from common Sega Genesis cartridges to rare and valuable boxed NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and Super NES games to gaming consoles from a variety of eras. A couple of dealers even had old paperback books and laser discs on display.

I grabbed a few odds and ends before zeroing in on a large tub of Atari 2600 cartridges sticking out from under a table. At first glance, it appeared to be the usual common fare, including such best-selling titles as Asteroids, Berzerk, Missile Command, Moon Patrol, and Space Invaders. Great games, but only worth about a buck or two apiece, which is what the guy running the booth was selling them for ($2 each, cheaper if you buy a bunch, which I did).

After a little digging, I discovered buried treasure (relatively speaking) among the commons, including a bunch of third-party titles worth anywhere from $8 to $12 each. The highlight was a pair of Xonox Double Enders, which are hard to find games you can insert into the Atari 2600 console on both ends, each end offering a different game. I found Ghost Manor/Spike’s Peak ($12-$15) and Artillery Duel/Ghost Manor ($40-$50). Another cool thing I grabbed was K.C.'s Escape!, a new homebrew game that is the third game in the "K.C. Munchkin" trilogy. 

Even better than the video game pickups were the connections I made at the show with fellow content creators, including Seattle-area YouTubers Kinsey Burke, who’s just as perky in person as she is on her channel, John Hancock, whose passion for the hobby is obvious, Kelsey Lewin, who became an instant friend, and John Riggs, as nice a guy as you could hope to meet. I had corresponded with each of these talented folks online prior to the show, but it was great meeting them in person.

Also cool was seeing friends I’ve known for years, including fellow authors Pat Contri (Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to theNES Library), Leonard Herman (PhoenixIV: The History of the Videogame Industry), and Michael Thomasson (DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE GAMES: Video Games thatCrossed the Line). There were other gaming authors in attendance as well, including Tim Lapetino (Art of Atari) and Chris Kohler (Power-Up: How JapaneseVideo Games Gave the World an Extra Life), great guys all. This just scratches the surface of the friends and I saw and connections I made, so forgive me if your name’s not included—too many to mention them all!

Show promoter Rick Weis had me out to PRGE as a guest, so it was incumbent on me to do a panel. I’m not a gifted public speaker (to put it mildly), but I do pretty well in a Q&A format, so that’s just what I did, thanks to my buddy John “Gamester81”Lester joining me onstage. We bounced some gaming history questions off one another, then threw it open to the audience, who asked some really good questions, making for a fairly entertaining panel. Only one or two people walked out, so I call that a win.

Thanks to my publisher, Schiffer, I had a copy of The100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 to give away to the person who answered the question, “What and when was the last official release for the Sega Genesis?” The answer was the seemingly anachronistic Frogger in 1998, and the winner seemed genuinely excited to receive the book.

Speaking of genuinely excited and “100 Greatest,” I was super stoked when Atari 2600 programmer Garry Kitchen (Donkey Kong, Keystone Kapers) stopped by my booth to say hello and purchase a signed copy of my book. We had spoken at previous gaming events, but we discovered at PRGE that we both enjoy collecting vintage paperback books featuring cover art by the likes of Roy Krenkel, Frank Frazetta, Neal Adams, Ken Kelly, and Frank Kelly Freas, among others. I told him about Powell’s City of Books, but warned him that he might not find any bargains.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go to any of the Atari 40th anniversary panels, but I had a fantastic time manning my booth and talking to fellow gamers and readers who were familiar with my work. Based on the awesome time I had and connections I made, not to mention all the books and games I sold, I hope to make the Portland Retro Gaming Expo an annual excursion. In fact, I’ve already signed on to appear as a guest at next year’s show.