Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Retropalooza Pics

I had a great time selling books and other stuff at Retropalooza, a video game and nostalgia show held recently in Arlington, Texas, which is just 25 minutes from my house. You can check out more photos from the event here: Retropalooza. Photos by my buddy, Geoffrey Smith II.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Action Comics #1 -- OAFCON 2014

The following is a reprint of the seventh edition of "The Pop Culture Collective," my column that appears monthly in AntiqueWeek:

Action Comics #1 Breaks Auction Record

It was bound to happen sooner or later.
In an eBay auction that ended Aug. 24, a comic book—Action Comics #1 featuring the first appearance of Superman—broke the $3 million dollar mark. To be precise, the primo periodical, which was released in 1938 with a cover price of 10 cents, sold for $3,207,852.

For the eBay listing, the seller, Darren Adams of Pristine Comics near Seattle, Washington, wrote a convincing description of the Holy Grail of printed popular culture, calling it “THE comic book that started it all…this comic began the super-hero genre…the finest graded copy to exist with perfect white pages…significant superior eye appeal, extremely vibrant colors.”
 The issue, which Adams calls the “Mona Lisa of comics,” was graded 9.0 by the independent third-party grading service Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), the same grade granted to the previous record holder: Nicholas Cage’s copy of Action Comics #1, which went for $2.16 million in 2011. According to Adams, his copy of Action #1 “blows the other 9.0 out of the water.”

When I first heard about this astonishing sale, several things went racing through my mind, including how the auction shattered the previous record by more than $1 million.

I also reflected on a conversation I once had with an older collector, who told me about the time he saw a copy of Action Comics #1 for sale at an early (circa late 1960s) comic book convention. The dealer wanted the princely sum of $100 for the nicely preserved issue, which drew scoffs and retorts from several attendees, who felt that was a ridiculously high price. By the end of the one-day show, the comic sat there unsold.

Another topic the auction brought to mind was my dad, who died this past December. In 1938, when Action Comics #1 hit newsstands across the country, he was six years old and in first grade. Along with listening to radio shows, such as The Shadow and The Lone Ranger, my dad read comic books, which his parents bought for him at the local drug store.

Based on several things my dad told me over the years, such as one of his earliest memories on the schoolyard playground, when he and his friends were “talking excitedly about the new, colorful adventure hero,” I’m about 90 percent sure that he—or at least one of his friends—had a copy of Action Comics #1. Even if they didn’t have the first issue, they certainly had several of the early issues, which themselves are worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Unlike my dad, who only read comics when he was a kid, I read them all through high school, college, and early married life, and I still read them today. When I was a teenager, although he was too kind to say it, I’m sure my dad thought I was childish (or at least weird) for riding my bike to 7-11 every week in order to scan the racks for new issues of Green Lantern, The Flash, The Amazing Spider-Man, and, yes, Action Comics.

My dad and I never really connected on a fan level. Although we watched certain genre TV shows together, such as The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman, and although he saw two of my favorite films—Forbidden Planet (1956) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)—at the drive-in back in the day, he seemed mystified by the fact that I make a living writing about movies, music, video games, and the like.

Where my dad and I did connect, however, was with regards to finances—he passed on to me his frugality and the idea of (almost) never paying retail. If he were with us today, he would be shaking his head with disbelief over the $3 million+ Action Comics sale.

As someone who still reads and collects comics, I kinda get the high price. After all, Action Comics #1 is “THE comic book that started it all.”


NORMAN, OK--If you attend OAFCON, a comic book show taking place Oct. 25-26 just south of Oklahoma City, you probably won’t come across a copy of Action Comics #1, as only 50-100 copies are known to exist. What you will find, however, are thousands of other Golden and Silver Age comics for sale, along with related material, including pulp magazines, movie posters, original art, and vintage science fiction novels.
OAFCON is hosted by the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans (OAF), a comic book club co-founded in 1967 by Bart Bush, an early mover and shaker in comic book fandom and retailing. Bush grew up in Oklahoma and, according to Bill Schelly, author of Founders of Comic Fandom (2010, McFarland  Publishers), first heard of fandom through a plug for Alter-Ego in Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Founded by Jerry Bails in 1961 and taken over shortly thereafter by the prolific Roy Thomas, former scripter of such comic book as The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men, Alter-Ego was one of the first comic book fanzines and, after an extended hiatus, is still being published today as a slick newsstand magazine with glossy covers. Amazingly, Thomas, who, along with Schelly, resurrected the publication during the late 1990s, is still at the helm of the publication, editing each issue for TwoMorrows Publishing.

After discovering Alter-Ego, Bush saw a mention of Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (RBCC) in Justice League of America #30 (Sept., 1964), giving him a source to purchase back issue comic books. This helped fuel Bush’s interest in such series as The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange during what is now known as the Marvel Age of Comics, when these characters were new and jockeying for position on the newsstands with Batman, Superman, The Flash, and other DC heroes, who seemed a little stodgy in comparison.

“Oh, god, I loved Marvel,” Bush told AntiqueWeek back in 2011. “Everybody went crazy trying to get Marvel; they were exhilarating for all of us…kids could relate so much better to the Marvel characters,” which were hipper, younger, and had such lifelike problems as family squabbles, insecurities, and financial troubles. This was in stark contrast to the white-bread DC heroes, who, during the 1960s, were squeaky-clean-perfect.

According to the “Bart Bush” chapter in Founders of Comic Fandom, OAF dates back to 1967 “when a group of 14 Oklahoma fans met to form a comic book club.” Bush told Schelly, “On this cold March day, the garage where we met held the esteemed beginnings of a group that would call themselves the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans, or OAF.”

OAF published a comic book fanzine, which Bush edited from May of 1968 to Sept. of 1970. The small press publication was noteworthy for its offset covers, which featured art by the likes of such fine craftsman as Reed Crandall, Vaughn Bodē, and Virgil Finlay.

“In 1970,” Schelly wrote, “Bart and other members of OAF (such as chairmen Robert A. Brown and Don Maris) launched Multi-Con, the first major nostalgia show in Oklahoma.” And in 1974, Bush co-founded (with Maris) Down Memory Lane, the first comic book store in Oklahoma.

Bush is looking forward to this year’s OAFCON, an annual tradition he plans on continuing for as long as possible. “As always, we have an amazing group of memorabilia dealers,” he said. “Our show has one of the best selections of Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age collectibles in the country.”

In addition to shopping in the museum-like vendor’s room, OAFCON attendees can meet and greet local authors and artists. This year’s guests include: Donnie Pitchford, artist of Lum & Abner; Jack and Carol Bender, artist and writer (respectively) of Alley Oop; Rachel Caine, author of The Morganville Vampires book series; and John Wooley, who wrote Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema.


Friday, September 19, 2014

A 5-star review of 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 by David Pautsch of Net Galley
Recommends This Book
This is as detailed as you get. A thorough walk through 100 video games of the classic era. Complete with facts, developers info, trivia and even pricing. Each game is spread over 3-4 pages and whilst some don't have screenshots (the only improvement needed) all have a lot of detail. Some myths are debunked and the detail is great.

If you are a fan of the era you may know all of this, it was a bit before my time if I am honest. If you are a student of computer games then its a good book for reference on history and development. I'd recommend it for either purpose but not for the casual reader. This is because its completely focused on an era and style of game that you need to love or have interest in to really appreciate this book. However, for what it is aimed for you won't get better.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall 2014 Video Game Preview

Here's my fall video game preview, which appeared in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It’s still blazing hot outside, but school is back in session and football season is here. This can only mean one thing: It’s time to talk cool fall video game releases.

A traditionally busy time for the industry, fall looks especially promising this year, offering gamers a wide variety of potential-filled titles, including Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (Sept. 23), Forza Horizon 2 (Sept. 30) and Assassin's Creed Unity (Oct. 28).

Here are 10 more video games to look forward to in the coming weeks and months. As always, release dates are subject to change.
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Sept. 9

Set 700 years in the future, after our formerly idyllic solar system has been devastated by a cataclysmic attack, Destiny is an epic, post-apocalyptic first-person shooter containing elements of a massively multiplayer online game. Players take on the role of a Guardian, protecting the last great city on Earth from aliens and exploring ancient ruins and neighboring planets.

The Guardian is customizable, meaning players can personalize and upgrade their character with various combinations of armor, weaponry and visual accoutrements. The created character can then be used in every available game mode, including campaign, cooperative, social, public and competitive multiplayer.

Developed by Bungie, the creators of the iconic Halo series, Destiny could become the next big gaming franchise.

Hyrule Warriors
Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Sept. 26

Action fans with a fondness for The Legend of Zelda anxiously anticipate Hyrule Warriors, a hack-and-slash game featuring Zelda characters pulling off the types of flashy fighting moves found in Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series. Gamers can go into battle as the elfin Link, of course, but a number of characters will be playable for the first time, including Impa, Midna, and, most intriguingly, Princess Zelda herself.

Already a big hit in Japan, Hyrule Warriors offers a special two-player coop mode in which one combatant plays the game on TV while the other player employs the Wii U GamePad screen. As the action unfolds, gamers can collect rupees and other items in order to upgrade weaponry and abilities.

 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Sept. 30

Want to fill in the gaps between Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Then fire up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, a role-playing game that puts you in the role of Talion, a ranger with wraith-like abilities. Voiced and motion-captured by Dallas-born Troy Baker (BioShock Infinite), Talion journeys through Mordor, vowing to avenge the death of his family.

During his lengthy mission, Talion will fight enemies, learn the origin of the Rings of Power and discover the truth behind the spirit of vengeance that resurrected him. Battles employ a special “Nemesis System,” in which enemies learn from and adapt to attacks, creating a unique and personal experience for each player.

 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Maximum Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Sept. 30

Given the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding advance previews of the game, Arthur Conan Doyle himself might be impressed with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the latest in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. Players control Doyle’s celebrated sleuth as he attempts to solve various multiple-ending cases, including robberies, murders and strange disappearances.
New to the series is “Sherlock Vision,” a gameplay mechanic inspired by the BBC's Sherlock TV show allowing players to see through the detective's eyes. In addition, Holmes can now make the choice of booking the criminal or letting him go free, adding a Dostoyevskian moral element to the game.

 Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Oct. 3

Nintendo has yet to nail down a specific release date for the highly anticipated Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, saying only that it will be in stores in time for the holidays, but we know Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS will be available in just over a month.

As in previous games in the popular fighting game franchise, up to four players (local and online) can duke it out as Donkey Kong, Link, Mario and various other Nintendo characters. Several combatants will make their Smash Bros. debut, including customizable Mii Fighters and such third-party favorites as Mega Man, Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.

One advantage the 3DS version enjoys is an exclusive Smash Run mode, in which gamers, prior to entering an arena, traverse open areas to gain stat-boosting power-ups.

Alien: Isolation
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Sega
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Oct. 7
$49.95 (PS3, Xbox 360), $59.95 (PS4, Xbox One)

Sega stopped making video game hardware years ago, but the company continues as a viable software publisher, cranking out such titles as the multi-platform Alien: Isolation, which helps bridge the gap between Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Gameplay evokes the more subtle, less action intensive aesthetic of Alien, with players, as Amanda Ripley, sneaking around, trying to avoid a singular alien while investigating the disappearance of her mother, Ellen.
The alien in question, which adjusts its hunting strategies according to the player’s movements, cannot be killed (this is a survival horror game, not a first-person shooter), so stealthy exploration is a key to success.

NBA 2K15
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Oct. 7

The NBA regular season doesn’t get underway until Oct. 28, when the San Antonio Spurs host our beloved Dallas Mavericks, but you can get a three-week jump on the action with NBA 2K15. Rather than completely overhauling the game, the development team chose to simply tweak the hugely successful NBA 2K14 formula, adding cheerleaders, a more responsive crowd, an expanded Euroleague and thousands of additional player animations for smoother, more realistic action.

Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is featured on the box, but this was more than just a marketing move. Durant, an avid fan of the industry, acted as an advisor and consultant during the creation of the game.

The Evil Within
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Oct. 14

Shinji Mikami, creator of the famous “Resident Evil” franchise, designed The Evil Within, a game that stays true to the survival horror formula he helped pioneer, but ups the ante with gorier gore, scarier scares and more violent violence.

Gamers portray detective Sebastian Castellanos, who uses such melee weapons as a revolver, a knife, fire, a crossbow, a shotgun and the occasional grenade to behead, dismember and otherwise destroy undead creatures populating a sick, twisted, nightmarish world. Ammunition is scarce, meaning it is sometimes necessary to sneak past the enemies instead of confronting them head-on. There are grisly, stomach-churning puzzles to solve as well.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: Oct. 14
$39.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U), $29.99 (3DS)

Based on the computer animated cartoon series, this follow-up to last year’s Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures continues the conflict between Pac-Man and the evil Lord Betrayus who, aided by his army of ghosts, attack peaceful PacWorld. In addition to playing as Pac-Man, who runs, jumps, chomps and smashes his way through a variety of 3D areas (including outer space, under the sea and Prehistoric World), gamers can now control Cylindria, who skates via hover board, and Spiral, who pilots a Cherry Copter.

As in the previous game, Pac-Man can gobble power berries to turn into more powerful versions of himself, such as Fire and Ice, but the sequel adds a variety of new transformations, most notably the huge, rampaging PacZilla.
 Just Dance 2015
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U
Publisher:  Ubisoft Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: Oct. 21
$39.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U), $49.99 (PS4, Xbox One)

Video games are largely a sedentary activity, but the Just Dance series, which began in 2009 on the Nintendo Wii, encourages players to get up and move to the music as they mimic onscreen dancers. Just Dance 2015 introduces a new Challenge mode, which lets gamers compare their scores against top-ranked players from around the world. A special Community Remix feature utilizes the camera on the game console as a recording device, meaning users can record their dances for other players to evaluate.

Just Dance 2015 features more than 40 songs (regular or with on-screen lyrics for Karaoke), including “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, “Walk This Way” by Run DMC and Aerosmith and the ubiquitous “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.