Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Celebrating 75 years of Batman!

Today is the day DC Comics has chosen to observe the 75th birthday of arguably the most popular fictional character of all time: Batman. Comic stores across the nation are hosting special events with goodies provided by DC, so make your way to your local comic shop and join in the festivities! I had planned to observe this day in my own humble way by presenting you some essential media featuring the character and the people who have brought him and his world to life over the past 75 years. However, with a new job kicking off in addition to my writing duties, there simply hasn't been enough time for me to complete that post. While that will still be posted once it's done, I couldn't let this day pass without posting something, so this is what you get. ;) In the meantime, particularly if you don't have a comic store in your city, take a moment to check out Comixology's 75th anniversary sale and pick up some comics for dirt cheap!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Happy Moon Day!

Forty-five years ago today, human beings walked on the moon for the first time. For those of us who weren't alive at the time, it's really impossible to capture the feeling that permeated our culture at that time. We grew up in a world in which people landing on the moon was part of our history, after all. I can only imagine the awe everyone must have felt as they watched live as the first people stepped onto the lunar surface.

There are tons of trivia about the first moon landing floating around the 'net today, and this article rounds up most of my favorites. Give it a read, and take the opportunity to gaze up at the night sky in wonder and admiration this evening.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Two Faces of Skeletor

Here are a couple of recent creations I figured regular TMR readers would enjoy. First, as the title suggests, we have a Lego Skeletor minifig, which I put together from various extra parts I had. Obviously, it's far from perfect, but it's a good start.

The shade of blue is all wrong, of course. I'll need to hunt down some parts in the proper shade of blue before I go trying to add any details to make it more accurate. That'll be a challenge; while I used to customize action figures pretty frequently, I'm rather out of practice, and I never really did any detail work on such a small scale. I may look into printing custom decals or something.

As for the promised second face of Skeletor, we have a Lego version of an old favorite, Skelepimp!

Skelepimp first came about-- my version, anyway, as the web has since shown me that I was not the only person to come up with a version of Skeletor who was inclined to peddle booty-- around ten years ago, when I was playing a WWE video game. The main draw of those games for me is the robust collection of creation modes. The roster of real wrestlers remains mostly unused, as I spend all my time creating my own wrestlers and playing them against one another. Since Skeletor is damn near my favorite character from anything, I naturally wanted to make him in the game. Sadly, the game was lacking the proper clothing and gear. I already had a good Skeletor base made, so I started outfitting him with some of the other things in the character creator, and wound up going with a pimp version. Skelepimp was born! He's been remade in every version of the game I've gotten ever since. Here are a couple of photos of Skelepimp from WWE '13. (I'm not equipped to record from my game consoles, so photos of the TV screen will have to suffice.)



So, the minifig isn't 100% accurate, but it's pretty damn close! The skull also glows in the dark, though efforts to get a decent photo of this were futile. I modified a sports car set to give Skelepimp a nice ride.
 When I get more parts in the proper colors, I want to mod it further, extending the body, and making the overall shape a little blockier and more Cadillac-esque. In the meantime, however, the ladies just can't resist Skelepimp, no matter what he's driving.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA: Novellas/Short Stories

It's day three of Armchair BEA-- day two for my late-to-the-party self-- so here is today's topic:

Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors?

It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I love short stories. There's something about a bite-size chunk of fiction that really appeals to me, and I really enjoy working in that format myself, which is why my first book was a collection of short stories. It's no coincidence that most of my favorite authors, such as Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, and Robert E. Howard, were masters of the short story. Today, I'll be talking about one of  Howard's tales of Solomon Kane, The Footfalls Within.

I've covered REH's Solomon Kane work a couple of times before, and as with those posts, this story is found in the collection The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, which reprint all of REH's Kane work in their original form, unlike the edited versions found in some other reprint collections. The story begins as Kane runs afoul of a group of Islamic slavers, and is captured while attempting to free their captives. Their leader has heard of Kane, and has special plans for him once they reach their destination. The group encounters an ancient structure along the way, and things quickly go downhill from there. This story is a very concise twenty pages, and its relentless pace keeps it moving so quickly you could swear it was half as long. As with most fiction from the early twentieth century, there are a few cringe-inducing lines reflecting the common prejudices of the time, but REH was rather progressive in his views for that era, particularly for a Southerner. (I say that as a Southerner, where I routinely see that some of those views are, sadly, still disturbingly common. Definitely not the majority, however.) That said, this is a rock-solid adventure story with a wonderful pulpy tone, plenty of action, and some solid characterization work on Kane himself. With the religious zealotry and many of the prejudices you'd expect from a sixteenth century Puritan, Kane is certainly not the most likeable of REH's characters, but he is one of the most interesting. Highly recommended for lovers of classic adventure fiction, and these Del Rey REH reprint volumes are the perfect place to dive in!

Armchair BEA: More Than Just Words

I just found out about the Armchair BEA early this morning, and even though I'm a day late to the party, I'm diving in head-first!

There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats?

Personally, I've never been able to really get into audiobooks. I have friends who love to listen to them while driving, and I wish I could do the same, but there are a few things that prevent me from enjoying them. One of the biggest issues is that I read a good deal faster than an audiobook narrator can(without becoming unintelligible, anyway), so it just doesn't feel right. An audiobook that features a radio show-style full voice cast can definitely help alleviate that, but those seem to be few and far between, unfortunately. Additionally, any audiobook that's produced well enough for me to really lose myself in is definitely not one I need to be listening to while driving, as it will divert my attention from the road, and that ain't good. That means I'd need to listen to it at home, and if that's the case, I'd rather just read the book myself. So, I certainly don't hold it against anyone who listens to audiobooks-- some of the arguments I've heard denigrating audiobooks are truly ridiculous--  but they're just not for me.

Graphic novels and comics, on the other hand... regular TMR readers know that those are definitely my thing! I can (and have) go on and on about a plethora of comics that rank among my favorites, and today, I want to talk about one I don't believe I've mentioned here before: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek Tiwary and artists Andrew C. Robinson & Kyle Baker. Despite his role as the manager of history's greatest and most popular band, Epstein typically gets short shrift in recountings of the band's origins and rise to superstardom. However, Epstein was crucial to their success, and that story is told very well here. There are some liberties taken with the facts, of course; this is always necessary for the purposes of effective storytelling. This remains one of the most factually grounded tellings of the efforts of Epstein to help the young Beatles find success, despite the storytelling flourishes.

One of the most impressive things about this graphic novel is how Tiwary absolutely nails each of the Beatle's distinct voices. Each of them "sounds" exactly as he should, and it's so eerily accurate that it is sometimes difficult to believe that the dialogue was not transcribed from extant recordings. the art bears a special mention here, with Robinson handling the bulk of it, and Baker taking on a more fancifully-rendered section recounting the disastrous 1965 tour of the Philippines. The entire tale is whimsical, hilarious, and, at times, quite sad. This remarkable graphic novel is essential reading for any Beatles fan.

That's it for today, but I'll be back with more BEA goodness tomorrow! In the meantime, for more information about Armchair BEA, click the link at the top of the post!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on the "Batman vs. Superman" Batman and Batmobile reveal

So, following director Zack Snyder's tease yesterday, he released a photo today with the tarp pulled off. As a surprise bonus, we also get our first glimpse of the new Batman costume!

As far as what we can see of the Batmobile, it looks awesome. I love the Tumbler from the Nolan movies, but I'm still happy to see a return to a more traditional style of Batmobile for this movie. As for the costume, many people are claiming The Dark Knight Returns influence, and with the short ears and "bloated" bat emblem, I see where they're coming from. I'm not a fan of a short-eared Batman costume personally, though I wouldn't want crazy Kelley Jones-style rocket ears, either. The costumes in the previous movies had a good ear length. The costume also looks as if it may be a return to the rubber suit look; if true, I am definitely not thrilled about that. In the larger version of the photo, however, you can see that the costume is textured, which alleviates that look somewhat. At this point, based on this glimpse, I think it's a decent, but not great, costume. It's particularly disappointing after all the rumors that it was inspired by the art of Lee Bermejo. (As always, those rumors were to be taken with a rather large grain of salt, but one couldn't help hoping...)

All that said, it should be kept in mind that all we have to go on here is one black and white photo in which much of the costume is obscured by shadows. It may well leave a more favorable impression once we get to see it in full. In the meantime, while it's not the exact costume many of us were hoping for, it's not bad, either.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Free Comic Book Day Fallout!

Because I am so damn prompt, here's a roundup of my Free Comic Book Day swag! Here's the whole pile!

Pretty good haul, and not too much money, either. you might notice that two of the figures are missing from that Simpsons Treehouse of Horror set; I got it for $10 by agreeing to split the figures with the guy who sold it to me. I mainly wanted Devil Flanders and Vampire burns anyway, so that worked out well. Nelson was one of the figures I never got around to picking up when the World of Springfield line was still being produced, so I was happy to snag one for $3. Here they are after being freed from their plastic prisons:

And here's an overhead shot, so you can see more of the set's detail. there are details from various THOH episodes, including a zombie from Dial "Z" for Zombie, Witch Marge from Easy Bake Coven, the crazy awesome Snowball II design from The Bart Zone, the evil talking Krusty doll from Clown Without Pity, the gemlin from Terror at 5 1/2 Feet, and Kang and Kodos! Pretty cool stuff.

Getting back to comics, here are the actual free comics I got.

Not quite everything I wanted, but our shop never gets that damn Tick FCBD issue. Ah, well. Still a very nice haul, and there were some "normal" non-free comics on the free table to choose from. I didn't wanna be greedy, so I just grabbed a copy of Batman/Superman #1. I was also very pleased to get another of Archaia's hardcovers; these little books are very nice, and I hope they keep doing them each year. There are a couple of the free comics I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Out of the ones I've read, I have a few favorites. Future's End #0 is a very interesting take on the classic"hero travels back in time to prevent a nightmarish future" plot, with a couple of gloriously twisted moments. This issue definitely got me excited about checking out the series when it continues with a #1 issue this Wednesday. Atomic Robo was decent, but not as good as past FCBD issues. The Bongo Free-For-All is a nice assortment of stories, with a great activity page by the legendary Sergio Aragones. Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity is lots of fun, with two classic stories by the great Don Rosa. The duck comics are always very fun reads, and this one is no exception.

Here's a handful I grabbed for a quarter each:

I have an abiding love for the black & white comic magazines of the '70s and '80s, so that Planet of the Apes mag was snatched up in a blur as soon as Cindy showed it to me. That issue of Sandman is one of my favorites, so it was an instant buy when I came across it. The Fraction/Allred FF series was a fun book(though it began more strongly than it ended), so I was happy to grab this issue. Both of these will likely join the comics I have framed and hung on the wall. Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword is an excellent anthology series that comes out a few times each year, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics. Each issue is a whopping 80 pages, and the stories feature characters beyond Conan the barbarian(though he still shows up too). Howard created a good many interesting characters, and it's really nice to see them get a spotlight in this series.

I also picked up a few recent comics, some of them as recent as this past week.

All of these are series that I enjoy, and I grabbed an issue of each for framing & hanging purposes. Batman Eternal, of course, is the weekly Batman series that kicked off a few weeks ago. It's been a solid read so far, and I liked the overall design of the cover for the debut issue, with the cast spread across Batman's cape. It's a nice, striking image. J. H. Williams III & Haden Blackman's  Batwoman was one of my favorite series until the creative team got dicked around and departed the book last year, and this issue is one of the strongest of their run. DC's Masters of the Universe comic has been a good read after a somewhat shaky start, and this cover by Ryan Sook is just awesome. The fact that it spotlights the green Goddess, a character I've had a soft spot for since I was a tiny little kid, doesn't hurt. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a great series that focuses on some of the B and C-list villains in spider-Man's rogues gallery. It's pretty much a blue-collar supervillain book, and it's great. (The issue by the regular team are, anyway; it's best to avoid the fill-ins.)

So, that's what I have to show for this year's Free Comic Book Day. We had a blast, as always, and can't wait to do it again next year!


Friday, May 2, 2014

Reminder: Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the first Saturday of May, and that means the annual orgy of four-colored freebies is upon us once more! You can check out the list of free comics here, though keep in mind that the selection will vary from store to store. If you don't know where the nearest comic store is, you can find out here. As always, keep in mind that these comics are free to customers, but the shop owners have to pay for them, so it'd be swell and decent of you to buy something while you're there. If this will be your first FCBD, it might be helpful to read the brief primer I posted last year.

As usual, we're gonna make a whole day of it. We're fortunate to have two great comic shops in town, so we'll stop in both of them, have some lunch, kick around downtown a while, then go catch Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the theater!

As for the actual comics, here are a few of the offerings I'm looking forward to:

Future's End #0: DC is getting back into the weekly comic game in a big way, with the weekly Batman Eternal launching last month, an Earth 2-based weekly coming in the fall, and this series, which kicks off right here in this free issue. Revolving around a nightmarish potential future timeline, the series will star such fan-favorite characters as Frankenstein and Batman Beyond. With the likes of Brian Azzarello and Jeff Lemire involved,  the talent working on the book is equally impressive. This series promises to be a hell of a ride, and it all begins here!

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel's relaunch of this series has been a tremendous success, and the upcoming movie is hotly anticipated. That makes this issue a no-brainer, and it promises to be a great jumping-on point for new readers who want to try the book out.

Bongo Free-For-All: The Simpsons-centric Bongo FCBD issue is always a must-have.

Atomic Robo and Friends: Likewise. This is always a highlight!

Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck- A Matter of Some Gravity: Presenting some classic comics by Don Rosa, this is sure to be great fun! The classic Disney Duck comics are always a sure bet.

Valiant- Armor Hunters Special: The relaunch of the Valiant universe over the past two years has been quite interesting. It's a solid line of comics that deserves more recognition than it gets, and hopefully this free issue will help bring some new readers to the books.

Dark Horse- Project Black Sky: Dark Horse Comics, best known as the home of Hellboy and many licensed comics, such as the various excellent Conan series, is giving the shared superhero universe thing a go again. I haven't yet sampled any of their new superhero line, and this will be a perfect opportunity to change that.

The Tick: I always wanna get this, but it's never at the shop. Maybe this year...

Of course, that is only a small sampling of the lineup. We always wind up grabbing a few things that catch our eye that we didn't plan on getting. That's part of the fun! So, I hope you all have a great FCBD, and spread the word!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Construction of the Haunted House

I teased you with this last time, and here it is: the MASSIVE and AMAZING Haunted House! At over 2000 pieces, this is far and away the biggest Lego set I've ever owned. Nearly all the ones I had when I was a kid were dinky little $5 sets; I couldn't even dream of getting something like this back then! Cindy wanted to help, so we put on a succession of classic horror movies and spent the next eight hours building!

Here are all the parts! I didn't count exactly how many bags of parts the box contained, but it was around twenty.



The three instruction books...

... and the decals.

First floor done!

Some interior rooms. Note the ship in the bottle.

Two floors down!

Completed! A couple of days later, I modified the top so that it can spin, based on a suggestion I saw somewhere on the web. I had actually been looking for ideas for a weathervane, but came across that and liked the idea.

One side of the attic. I friggin' love that it has a Victrola!

Yeah, it's a pretty nice house, but can it really be called a home with no coffins? (Note the mid-day snack in the jar next to the bed.)

Make sure you squeeze all the flavor out of that spice serpent! (The organ is an original creation I whipped up a few weeks earlier.)

The entry room and staircase.

A little office area, complete with desk and stationary!

"Here's a little number I tossed off recently in the Caribbean..."

Here's the hearse. As a potential future project, I want to build a garage for it in a matching style.

Brick-Ho-Tep swings by for a visit.

Gill Man and Scarecrow hanging out next to the tree, in which dwells...

... the Wolf Man! The tree is significantly modified from its normal version, and I'll mod it further as I acquire more branch and "leaf" pieces.

"I bid you welco-- RARRRGH! FIRE BAAAAAADD!!!!"

Cindy was sold as soon as she saw that it had this widow's walk! Love the zombie faces carved into the columns.

Full shot of the house, with Man-Bat stopping by to hang out.

Yeti in the ice cave I whipped up for him. If you look closely, you may be able to see the dismembered Lego body parts he's been snacking on in the cave behind him.

The spire, post-modding. It's pretty cool to spin it and watch the ghosts swirl around the witch.

The mad scientist hanging out by the porch, possibly drinking a urine sample.

Sweet liquor eases the Frankenstein Monster's pain.

Full shot, with all minifgs added.

These are the minifigs that actually came with the house(there were two ghosts). Cindy is holding them; my nails are not that fabulous.

Circa 1931

I can say without a shred of doubt that, of all the Lego sets I've lusted after over the years, this one is my favorite. I'm very glad that I got back into the Lego addiction in time to get it before it's discontinued and the price skyrockets. (Seriously, if you wanna invest some money with no risk, buy some of these. They'll be going for 2 or 3 times the retail price in a couple of years. Lego sets are never worth less than you pay for them, provided you get them at or below retail.)

The Haunted House occupies a place of honor in the house, and will be the centerpiece of my Halloween decorations in the years to come. I'd still like to get the castle that is part of the Monster Fighters line, but if and when I do, it won't displace the Haunted House. This thing is simply amazing.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Falling Back into Lego: A Tale of Addiction

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook have surely noticed that I've become hooked on Lego again the past few months. The movie apparently recaptured many people, but I had actually become ensnared a few months earlier. Like most kids, I had been bitten by the Lego bug when I was a kid. Even when I started buying stuff like action figures again as an adult, I resisted buying Lego stuff because I was well aware that it's a bottomless pit of hellish addiction. The very nature of Lego means that every little thing you can get integrates with everything you already have, so even sets you may not be interested in are still tempting simply because of all the parts you can add to your existing collection. So, for years, I stayed strong. I even resisted the Lego Batman line, reasoning that I already had so much Batman stuff that I simply didn't need Lego-fied versions of it all. My will grew shaky when I saw things like this, but I managed to stay strong and resist temptation.

Then, last year in Target, I saw this.

Just an innocuous, innocent little thing. And only $7, which made it ever so easy to impulse buy. I let out a deep sigh when I saw it. I knew then and there that I was back in, because there was no way I was walking out of there without it. And this thing isn't a one-off deal, it's part of an entire line of classic monster-themed sets.

So, over the next few months, I wound up getting this.

Then this.


And this, which I simply adore.


Then this thing, which I got for a very nice price on ebay since it only included the train itself(which was all I wanted, I already had all the minifigs from other sets, and could do without the plane).

Then the  topper, the king of them all, THIS. (Cindy included for scale.)





































It deserves its own post. You'll get it in a few days.