Category: Columns

Emily S. Whitten: Bunsen is a Beast!

Butch Hartman has a long and storied history of creating great cartoon shows. Not only is he responsible for The Fairly OddParents, the second longest-running Nicktoon on Nickelodeon, but he’s also created several other popular shows including Danny Phantom and T.U.F.F. Puppy. And now here he is once again with a unique new Nickelodeon show, Bunsen is a Beast.

Bunsen is a Beast is a cartoon about Bunsen (voiced by Jeremy Rowley), the first beast to be integrated into the Muckledunk Middle School, and his new human friend Mikey Munroe (Ben Giroux). It also features self-appointed school safety monitor and beast-hater Amanda Killman (Kari Wahlgren) and a collection of other oddball characters such as Ms. Flap (Cheri Oteri) and Darcy, who circle the main pair during their adventures.

But what is a Beast, per se? Well, in Hartman’s creation, even within the Beast world there appears to be great variety, as from the glimpse I got of Bunsen’s mother and other family members during the first episode I watched, the eponymously-named “Bunsen is a Beast,” they appear to have greatly differing features and colors.

Bunsen himself is a square but oddly cute (thanks in part to the voice acting of Rowley) blue and white fur creature, with a tail, numerous limbs that appear as needed, perky puppy-dog ears, and, my favorite, a blowhole on top of his head that explodes in confetti when he’s excited. He’s obviously vastly different from Mikey and the other humans at Muckledunk, but on his first day at school, that doesn’t seem to phase Mikey, who, as the school’s “welcoming committee,” is responsible for showing Bunsen around. Mikey embraces that role, and all adventures, with enthusiasm and little fear or self-consciousness (except around his middle school crush).

In the first episode, Mikey and Bunsen immediately end up neck-deep in adventure, thanks in part to Amanda, a fellow student who thinks beasts are dangerous and is constantly scheming to get rid of Bunsen. In “Bunsen is a Beast,” after Amanda discovers that beets have an unusual effect on beasts and secretly doses Bunsen with beet juice, much excitement ensues due to his reaction to the juice.

The theme of Bunsen’s unusual physiognomy continues in the second episode I watched, “Body and the Beast,” in which Bunsen literally loses his head as he prepares for his first school picture. Along with the general hullabaloo of Mikey trying to help him get it back, this episode included some great humorous character development for the evil Amanda, who is very determined to look her fancy best for picture day, and for new character Darcy, who is both the oddest and most endearing kid on the show so far.

Other upcoming episodes appear to continue the theme of adventures arising due to Bunsen’s general weirdness – and I confess I really want to see the one where Bunsen and Mikey have to save Amanda from “sneeze beasts” that come from Bunsen’s nose; and the one where Bunsen turns into a bee for the spelling bee.

After watching the first two episodes, I had the pleasure of talking with Butch Hartman about how he created the show and what it’s all about. Among other things, he shared that Bunsen is a Beast is “a show about fitting in, and accepting people that are different than you. I don’t really want to pound kids over the head with a big message, but the message is in there. And it’s primarily a comedy show. I really want them just to laugh; that’s what it’s for.”

We had a great and in-depth conversation about his inspiration, how the show was made, and what we can expect to see in upcoming episodes, and you can give the full interview a listen here.

And after that, check out Bunsen is a Beast! The show consists of two episodes per half-hour, premieres at 5:30 p.m. on February 21 on Nickelodeon, and will air at that time through February 23, before moving to its regular time slot of Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. Two episodes of the show are available for preview in advance of the premiere at, so you can go ahead and give those a watch now!

Enjoy! And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Joe Corallo: Meltdown In Los Angeles!

This past week, I went out to LA for the first time. It was primarily to attend fellow ComicMix movie reviewer Arthur Tebbel’s wedding, and he had even movie popcorn as a snack during the cocktail hour.

I flew in on Thursday where I spent most of the day either meeting or hanging out with queer comics creators. They like The Golden Girls out there too. Sidenote: that was also the name of the cheerleader squad where I went to high school. And no, they were not senior citizens.

The second day I was there was the kickoff of Long Beach Comic Expo. While I wasn’t able to go during the show proper, I did have the time this past Friday to attend their first ever Comic Creator Conference organized by Wannabe Press. This was an event for comics professionals and those trying to break in to learn the ropes from professionals. It had an impressive line-up: Joe Illidge gave the keynote speech, and Beth Scorzato from Lion Forge, Amy Reeder and Mark Waid were among the other speakers.

What was equally impressive was the rain. I rode up from West Hollywood with some other comics creators and it took about two and a half hours to get to Long Beach while going over flooded roads and hoping for the best. As a result we missed Joe Illidge’s keynote speech, which was quite disappointing. The harsh rain kept more than a few people at home as well.

Additionally, some people ran late who had every intention of being early and the torrential downpour adversely affected the sound equipment. And to make up for some lost time at the Comic Creator Conference, the panels were cut in half to about 20 minutes or so.

I originally thought it might have been nice if they were the original length, but after talking to The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, she sold me on how it ended up being a real positive. Having the shorter panels kept them concise and got people the time to see them all if they wanted. As soon as we arrived and got to the panel room myself and most of the attendees stayed until they wrapped up the last panel. While this format was made to accommodate an unforeseen situation, it’s something the organizers should consider repeating next year if they do this.

Before Arthur’s wedding on Saturday I took a trip over to Meltdown Comics. I’ve heard a bunch about it and it wasn’t too far from where I was staying so I felt I owed it to myself. It’s a big shop with a nice, diverse selection. What I was most attracted to was the indie comics and zines from local creators section. I made it a point to pick a few up.

One of them is called Low Light by Tristan Wright. It’s a 28-page oversized comic about a young woman who misses what she thinks is her last train home only to discover a strange train pulling into the lonely station. From there she meets some interesting characters that flesh out a bizarre world that we can only happen upon through the odd hours and happy accidents that ever-so-rarely crash into each other. I definitely recommend you check out Tristan Wright’s work. You can check out a preview of Low Light on the website under Late Night Special in the comics section.

I also picked up one of the Melt-thology zines; number 28 to be exact. This is a series of in house zines made up of one page comics drawn by dozens of creators in one day then made available at Meltdown. The one I picked up was mostly dedicated to sending off 2016, and it was the send off it deserves. I think this is a pretty great idea that other stores like Carmine Street Comics here in New York City should be doing. Or maybe Desert Island.

Another one of the comics I picked up, The Mad Mind Of Anton Sebaum, was drawn by Jude Vigants, one of the creators I rode up with to the Comic Creator Conference. Small world. Check out his stuff.

It was a really nice trip and I’m looking forward to going back and discovering more. Hopefully it will have stopped raining by then.


Michael Davis: President’s Day

Today we celebrate the birthdays of two great Americans.

I realize for many celebrating on a day called President’s Day is now just a day to be off work.

The current President of the United States is all the reason some need to never celebrate on President’s day again. How can some support the racist comments and actions coming from the now leader of the free world?

No idea, but many seem embolden by these activities – including the hotel I’d thought was making a change for the better.

Maybe what’s wrong with America is we keep looking for what’s wrong with America.

I try to look at what’s right and work to make what isn’t so.

A bit over a year ago I was thrown out of a Hilton in Orange County California for what can only be a racist reason. I gave them the benefit of the doubt they would do the right thing and they did for a bit.

Then they stopped but before they did for my pain and suffering I got a tin of cookies, but that’s another story and I’m telling it very soon but not today.

Today I am going to celebrate the birthdays of two great Americans.

The first of the two great Americans I speak of is Dwayne Glenn McDuffie born Feb. 20, 1962.

Dwayne lived his life looking for solutions to problems such as what befell me and no doubt others at that Hilton. He was good a writer as anyone and better than most.

He was also a good friend and partner. I’m thinking of Dwayne today… but others as well.

The look of sadness on this man’s face when in 2011 I invited him to sit on the Black Panel at San Diego celebrating the incredible life of an amazing man his best friend Dwayne still brings tears to my eyes.

That’s why I’m thinking about Matt Wayne today.

When I saw that big and bad ass SUV in the Target parking lot, I had to do a double-take. I couldn’t believe that was Dwayne getting out of the driver’s side. When he first arrived in L.A, for months, I chauffeured that huge mofo around in my two-seater sports car.

Not only did he not have a car in a city you must have a car in he couldn’t drive so I was very surprised he was, but when I saw him open the passenger side door, I was even more surprised.

Stepping down from that monster truck bringing the biggest smile I’d ever seen on the big guy was his new bride.

That’s why I’m thinking about his widow Charlotte Fullerton today.

Because I know they are hurting badly now and will be tomorrow the anniversary of Dwayne’s death I bear no ill will on this day.

That’s why I’m thinking about Derek Dingle and Reggie Hudlin.

What he wrote in Entertainment Weekly was a tribute as great as I’ve ever seen.

That’s why I’m thinking about Joe Illidge today.

Then there’s the man who started it all.

I think how we spent the day of Dwayne’s funeral not bitter but better because we talked about just how Dwayne was more Milestone than all of us. The better wore thin when the pain returned. A pain he tries to hide but can’t, not from me.

That’s why I’m thinking about Denys Cowan today.

The other great American I celebrate today born Feb. 20, 1939, my mother, Jean Davis. Static’s mom, Jean Hawkins, was modeled after my fantastic mother.

With all due respect to the character, I created the comic book and the TV show. Jean has nothing on my mom.

I was eight-years old; it was Christmas Eve, and we were leaving Getz Department store on Jamaica Ave. in Queens New York. This little white girl darts out of the building making a beeline towards the street.

My mother grabbed her coat by the neck right before the bus that would have surely hit and killed her sped by us. The little girl fell on the snow-covered sidewalk and started crying.

My mother was rewarded with a punch to the back of her head. The father hit her and was about to kick her when someone screamed “She stopped her from getting run over by a bus!”

With that, he helped my mother up apologizing over and over.


No, he didn’t.

He bent down took his time fixing his kid’s coat while my mother lay there in the dirty snow while people walked past and over her afraid to stand up.

Later when I finally stop crying, I started yelling how much I hated that man. My mother put me to bed and told me; “Santa won’t come to a house with hate in it.” She would not have me hate anyone.

My mom took the hits when it came to her. When my sister or I were on the receiving end, she cared little for herself and would not let us be harmed or disrespected in any way. In the fourth grade, it seemed I was getting my ass beat daily. My teacher repeatedly told me to turn the other cheek.  My mom said for me to deal with a bully this way; “Michael, the next time that big kid hits you, pick up something and knock him over the head with it. Make him respect you. ”

The something was a metal backed chair. The head belonged to Ronnie Williams. I could have killed that kid, I didn’t, but he stopped fucking with me out of respect.

Jean Davis and Dwayne McDuffie are not here anymore. They would not stand for what’s happening in this country to people of color nor will I.

If I did, that means they can and will do it again. Why not? Cookies are cheap.

Happy Birthday, Jean.

Happy Birthday, Dwayne.

Mindy Newell: Homeland, 24: Legacy and Yiannopoulos, Oh My!

Before I get into the meat of today’s column…

Do you watch comedian and political satirist Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO, Friday, 10 PM ET)? What I especially love about Mr. Maher’s show is that he invites people on who are from all shades of the political spectrum and that he’s unafraid of calling out bullshit when he sees it, whether it’s coming from the left, the right, or anywhere in the middle. Yes, he can be crass, profane, and occasionally downright rude, but he’s not sitting on the sidelines.

One of Friday night’s guests was Milo Yiannopoulos, a public speaker and a senior editor for Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that brought us such lovely individuals as Steve Bannon. This was my first experience with this guy, and it was incredibly unpleasant and I cannot be-lieve that anyone takes this very sad, very mixed-up little boy seriously. Er iz a meyvn vi a bok af a klezmer, which translates to He’s an expert like a goat’s an expert on musicians.

Homeland has been back for a month, and though perhaps the first three chapters were a bit slow and tedious in the set-up, last week’s episode kicked the series into high gear. To bring you up to date, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is back in the States, living in Brooklyn with her daughter by the now-dead Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) and working for a foundation whose goal is to help Muslims living in America, while secretly advising the new President-Elect on foreign policy and the intelligence agencies motives and games. The foundation’s latest client is Sekou Bah, a teenage convert to Islam who had been arrested by the FBI for terrorist-related activities – he had been posting videos critical of American policy towards Islam and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the incoming President’s policy agenda – she wants to cut down on what she terms “America’s interference with foreign countries” – is antithetical to Carrie’s old co-workers at the CIA, Saul Berenson (Mandy Pantikin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham); they believe that Iran is clandestinely working with North Korea on a “parallel nuclear” project – in other words, Iran is helping North Korea build a nuclear bomb and the means to deliver it – and breaking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the “Iran deal.”

And Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is one fucked-up ex-spy; no, he didn’t die in that hospital bed last season – as I and just about everyone believed – but he is suffering not only from the lingering physical effects of the Sarin gas, but also one helluva case of PTSD. When we first saw him, he was living in a V.A. rehab center; now he is living in the basement of Carrie’s brownstone. And he has discovered that someone is spying on Carrie from an apartment across the street – only Carrie doesn’t believe him.

Last week’s episode, “A Flash of Light,” saw Saul visiting his sister, who lives in the disputed West Bank of Israel, using her as an excuse to hide his real reason for being there – to meet an Iranian general and ask him to investigate Iran’s [possible] “parallel nuclear program” with North Korea. The general agrees, but as Saul is about to leave for the airport to return to the States, the Israelis pick him. They know that a senior Iranian official was in Palestinian area of the West Bank, and they know that Saul had crossed over the previous night. They detain him.

Meanwhile, Carrie has used her espionage skills to get the FBI to release Sekou and to clear him. There is one warning – that Sekou not post any more videos. But when Sekou arrives home, his friends are suspicious of how he got off, and think he has become an informant. To prove them wrong, Sekou posts a new vid, in which he outs the real FBI informant, a former gang member named Saad Masoud. Carrie is able to eventually convince Sekou to take it down; although she does not tell him she is ex-CIA, she does let him know that not only will the Feds lock up Sekou and throw away the key, she could go to jail if it is discovered that she took what she calls “highly risky measures” to clear him.

That night, Quinn, who is now convinced that the man across the street is spying on Carrie – he broke into the apartment and found a stool placed next to the window; its indentations in the carpet indicate to him that he has been there a long time – takes her car and tracks the man, who has been picked up by a car. He follows him to Medina Medley, a warehouse and distribution center where Sekou works; Quinn takes pictures, until a cop hurries him along for illegal parking.

The next day newspapers feature a story on the President-Elect having information on Iran’s nuclear program and not acting on it. She believes Dar Adal leaked the story. She wants Carrie to give her information on Dar – and by inference, Saul – that the new administration can use against him, but Carrie is reluctant to betray her former colleagues. She leaves to pick up her daughter on the street, where Dar is waiting for her – he makes a nasty crack about the color of her daughter’s hair, a reference to Carrie’s affair with Nicholas Brody – and tells her he knows that Carrie is giving the President-Elect advice. When Carrie denies it, he says, “I’m not Saul.” (Great line!)

He tells her that she has been out of the CIA for three years, and that none of her information is pertinent.

The next morning, Sekou is back at work. He drives his delivery van into midtown Manhattan.  He hears a beeping. The van explodes.

And in Israel, Saul is told he’s being released. “You’re needed back home. There’s been an attack in New York.”

A great cliffhanger. And which today, as you’re reading this, will have been only sorta resolved, because the thing with Homeland is that you still don’t know what’s coming next…even if you think you do.

Which brings me to…

I’ve also been watching 24: Legacy. I don’t know if I’m going to stay with it. For one thing, I’ve been missing Supergirl, which is on the CW the same time Legacy is on Fox, Monday at 8 P.M. ET, and CBS video-on-demand is lagging behind the Girl of Steel’s episodes, and I don’t want to pay for CBS All-Access. But the other thing is that 24: Legacy kinda sucks.

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m missing Jack and Chloe and Tony and everyone else at the “old” CTU, or whether it’s because the plotting on 24: Legacy is “eh.” I’m not going to go into an extensive rundown of it, because I’ve already immersed you into my recap of Homeland; but one thing that really bothers me is the “jealous girlfriend,” a trope so old that its gray hair is showing. The other thing that’s really bothersome is that I can see the “twists-and-turns” coming from a mile away. For instance, last week, when the new Jack Bauer – see, I can’t even remember his name – was stuck in a police precinct with every cop and SWAT team member about to blow him away, I knew that CTU was going to ring up in the nick of time and call off the dogs. (And that was the cliffhanger the previous week. That’s a long time to see what’s coming.) I only rarely guessed what was about to happen on Jack’s 24. More important, I didn’t want to. I just wanted to lose myself in the story – and I was.

That ain’t happening with what one of our readers, ReneeCat, calls 24: Light. Nope. I’ll give it one more episode, which is being more than fair. But I’ll watch it later, either on VOD or via streaming.

Because tonight I’m watching Supergirl.


Ed Catto: Will Eisner Week Ramp-Up

Will Eisner Week is almost upon us. It’s become a fantastic time for libraries, schools, colleges and bookstores to promote graphic novels. And this year will be all the more memorable as we’ll also be celebrating the centennial of Will Eisner’s birth.

(It’s the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth as well, but we’ll save that for another column.)

As you probably know, Will Eisner was one of comics’ visionaries. While he may not have actually created the first graphic novel (I tend to side with Jim Steranko on that landmark), he is clearly one of the most important people in promoting graphic novels and comics to the general public.

He was an innovative artist and an impressive entrepreneur. Looking through the lens of today, I think his most enduring legacy is as a champion of creativity.

With that in mind, I want to talk about three comic series that are fun, creative and imbedded with bit of Will Eisner’s enduring spirit (no pun intended) whispering to every reader.

And because we all live in the real world, let’s take note that there’s even a little more that’s impressive. While creatively inspired, each of these series is well packaged but still, comparatively, affordable.

There’s been a lot of frustration lately with the prices of the big two publisher’s comics. On one hand, Marvel is still charging $3.99 for comics but discontinuing the inclusion of digital versions. They will instead be offering snippets of longer stories that they hope fans will be interested in buying. Thus far, reaction to being served what essentially are ‘promo ads’ instead of content has not been positive.

On the other hand, DC Comics, despite a recent public declaration to hold their line at $2.99, is more frequently charging $3.99 a comic. And the comics that are still $2.99 are published twice month, so that’s really setting back fans $5.98 to keep up.

One can argue that these monthly prices are less important as fans migrate to enjoying trade paperback collections and digital versions. But it is all the more impressive when “smaller” publishers can offer great comics on better paper and charge only $2.99. And that’s exactly the case with these three series:

Television’s Riverdale has been generating a lot of buzz on the CW. The various Archie titles are lot of fun too. I just gave the new Jughead title a try for the first time and I’m glad I did.
This gorgeous pink cover caught my eye, but the story inside was fun and fresh and made me hungry for more. This comic, like many of the new Archie titles, offers fans a main story and a reprint back-up story, complete with an introduction to the classic tale from the series’ writer.

Also of note, and this is where we get to the Eisner part, writer Ryan North employs a clever new technique. Jughead, as narrator, provides a little extra narration at the bottom of each page. It’s snarky and surprising. This innovation is just like eating potato chips, once you start you just want more.

I’ve talked about Brian K. Vaughn’s and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls here before. But I what I really love most about the latest issue is the cover. It is striking, clever and courageous. The image is intriguing and the colors stand out from everything else on the racks. Special bonus points to the creators for having the conviction to wrap the cover design around to the back cover.

It’s this boldness and creativity that, to me, is the embodiment of Will Eisner’s vision.

Moonshine is a fantastic Image series that’s a mash-up of horror stories and Bonnie and Clyde. I wasn’t clamoring for such a mash up, but I’m so glad that Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso created it. These two are masters of their crafts at the peak of their games. And together, they have that Lennon/McCartney vibe that to which, as a reader, you’re just elated to have a ringside seat. I missed the first few issues so I started with issue #4. But you know what? That didn’t diminish my enjoyment one bit. I just snagged issues 2, 3 and 5 at Comics For Collectors in Ithaca last weekend (we were in town for the fabulous Chili Cook-Off) and I’m so glad I did.

My planned March efforts won’t be as creative as these three series, but they will be fun. I’ll be celebrating Will Eisner Week locally and leading a presentation at the local library followed by a screening the next night of the Eisner documentary. If you’re in the Finger Lakes region, stop by!

And during Will Eisner Week – and beyond – treat yourself to some creative and contemporary comics.


John Ostrander: Legion

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

• Talking Heads, Once In a Lifetime

Okay, I’ve finally found a TV superhero show I like more than The Flash, which is saying a lot. It’s Legion, Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET) on FX, and it stars Dan Stevens in a role that’s world’s away from his stint on Downton Abbey. He plays David Haller, a man who may be the world’s strongest telepath and, because of his schizophrenia – their diagnosis, not mine – perhaps the most dangerous.

The show is from 20th Century Fox in association with Marvel TV and is the first to link with the X-Men movie franchise which, for contractual and bureaucratic reasons, is separate from the Mighty Marvel Movie Franchise over at Disney. It’s not only unlike any other superhero TV show out there. In fact, it’s different from any other TV show, period.

What makes Legion so different is the use of the concept of the Unreliable Narrator. That concept means the reader/viewer cannot trust the facts of the story as presented. The device is most commonly used in fiction with a first person narrator, but it can be used in film and television and it’s being used very effectively here in two ways.

The show’s creator and showrunner, Noah Hawley (who also wrote and directed the first episode), wants the show to be told from Haller’s perspective. The story is about him, but since he can’t trust his own memories neither can we. His perception of reality around him may be off as well. David is an unreliable narrator.

At the same time, Hawley skews the design elements so that they match Haller’s mindset and are disorientating to us. His way of presenting David’s life cannot be wholly trusted either. Hawley is also an unreliable narrator.

There’s a key moment in the first episode when David’s being held at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital (which itself seems to be a nod to A Clockwork Orange) where he is drugged, tested, questioned, evaluated. There’s a strong suggestion of a sinister governmental organization – as if there is any other kind – called Division 3 who seem ready to kill Haller.

David is eventually rescued by his sort of girlfriend named Sid and people connected with a place called Summerland run by Dr. Melanie Bird. There’s running and people shooting at them but, in the middle of the escape, David stops and begs of Sid, “Is all this really happening? Are you real?” She reassures them that it is happening, she is real, and they must run.

Those questions, for me, are the center of the episode and maybe of the series. Is this real? Is this happening? Can David trust it? Can we?

In the second episode, David – now safely (?) at Summerland, is being helped by Dr. Bird and her associates. Dr. Bird insists that David is not crazy; the voices he hears are part of his telepathic powers manifesting and always have been. One of her associates helps guides David through buried or forgotten memories but, again, we’re not certain how reliable those memories are and neither is he.

As I’ve been thinking about the show, I’m now questioning even what I think I know. What if Summerland is not the beneficial place we’ve been told it is? What if kindly Dr. Bird is not all that kindly and the evil Division 3 folks are really the good guys? What if David Haller himself is not a “hero” but more of an anti-hero or even an outright villain? He’s is the Legion of the title and I’m put in mind of the gospels of Mark and Luke where Jesus meets a man possessed of demons who says “My name is Legion for we are many.” David has a lot of voices inside him.

If you know my work, you can see why I’m fascinated by the show. It may not be for everyone; you may prefer your heroes and villains a little more clearly identified. Me, I’m fascinated by it. I like murky.

The character of Legion was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in Marvel’s The New Mutants #25 where he was the son of Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. The TV show doesn’t precisely follow the comics’ continuity but I think it’s very true to the concept, re-interpreting it for this day and age. I’m fine with that.

The show demands attention and some thought. I hope that it has some answers for the questions it poses, unlike such shows as Twin Peaks and The X-Files). Right now, I’ve settled in for the ride.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Unshaven State of the Union – 2017

My fellow geeks, nerds, nerfherders, and dweebs: I stand before you today afraid of tomorrow. As it’s only been a few weeks since Donald J. Larfleeze took the oath of office of these United States. Each day seemingly brings us closer to eminent destruction. With that in mind, I figured it would behoove me to survey the landscape for my little independent comic book studio and make some sweeping declarations for the year.

Declaration Number 1. The Curse will be Completed

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, our mini-series-that-is-taking-five-years-to-make will be completed. As of this writing, I have 13 or so pages left to flat. Then comes final coloring, lettering, and placing into the final print-ready file. All things considered, my aim is to have the book on the table for C2E2, which is April 21st. This is a necessity for the rest of the success we will have in the year to come. Because finishing the final issue means finishing the graphic novel collection, and finally making good on our commitment to our Kickstarter backers – who no doubt have plenty of reason to seethe at our inability to deliver anything on time.

Declaration Number 2. Unshaven Comics is Going Educational.

As detailed a few weeks ago, Matt Wright and I taught a pair of classes through our local park district. We saw over 25 students make their way into our li’l classroom and steal our hearts. To watch as kids come to grips with how complex a comic really is… a feeling I can’t describe save only for a basic grunt of elation. As we breakdown conceptualization, creative writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering… the joy piled up until we were asked why the class was only two weeks long. Suffice it to say: lesson learned. We’ll be doing longer classes from now on.

Declaration Number 3. Upgrading our Brand.

The first post-Curse priority for us is to completely revamp the Unshaven Comics brand. This means a new website, new convention branding, new business cards, new merchandise (beyond Samurnauts), and new company apparel. Don’t worry, the “lego head” logo ain’t going anywhere. But maybe there will be a fun (and free!) Unshaven Avatar app… But you didn’t hear that from me.

Declaration Number 4. Three New Samuranauts Will Begin Production.

Unlike unnecessary walls, Unshaven Comics knows when something needs to be built. Upon the completion of Curse and our brand being refreshed, our little studio is making the attempt to up the ante of our output. Each of we Unshaven Lads will take on a new Samurnauts title by our lonesome. Kyle will pair with a new artist to create The Rage of Rep-Simian. Matt Wright will dip his toe into story development (and do the artwork, as per usual) and bring The Luchanauts to life. And I will once again tackle both story and artistic duties to produce an all-female romp (set in the 1980s) The Samurnauts: Night of the NuWave. While there’s no chance any of the books will be complete in 2017, we will get a solid headstart on them before the year is out. And this time around? We’ll be sharing our progress reality-TV-style with weekly production vlogs. #WeAreSo2013

And Our Final Sweeping Declaration… 5. We Will Continue to Have the Time of Our Lives

Let me never stray too far from reality. Making comics is not easy when you have a full-time day job, a wife, two kids and two business partners very much in the same boat. Finding the time to work and to go to conventions while maintaining normal lives takes plenty of focus. Which means above all else, when I get to work with my brothers-from-other-mothers, be it at a convention table or the studio, I do not take it for granted. We will cherish every memory we build in 2017, as we hit new and old cons alike. We will break bread with our ComicMix brethren whenever the opportunity arises. We will release new content, and cherish each new fan we make… while doing our best to continue to earn the love and support from our existing (and very patient) fan base.

So long as we’re not destroyed by North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Iran, I look forward to high-fiving each and every one of you at a convention soon.

And as always… Stay Unshaven.

The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #400


Well, I can’t put it off any longer no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I’ve tried. Since June of last year I’ve tried. But starting this series of columns – finally starting it – was one of my New Year’s resolutions and I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day. But there’s no putting it off any longer. I’ve got to write about…

Civil War II started in Civil War II #0, but we’re not talking about that issue. The zero issue was all prologue and introduction. I’ve seen fewer setups in a Volleyball match. Civil War II # 1’s where the action is.

Starting with the revelation that there’s a new Inhuman in town.  One named Ulysses whose Inhuman ability is to make predictions about the future. Dire predictions of the future, because where would the super hero story be if Ulysses was predicting sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows I don’t even think predicting somebody was going sleep on the subway, would cut it. (Jeez, when did I start channeling 60s on 6?)

Captain Marvel was delighted with this new weapon she could use to fight big, bad Marvel-style Big Bads. Iron Man, not so much. Iron Man didn’t know enough about Ulysses’s powers or agenda, so didn’t fully trust those predictions of the future. Actually, possible futures as Iron Man pointed out, because the Avengers stopped Ulysses’s first dire prediction — that the Celestial Destructor was going to invade — from happening in the slam-bang all-out action sequence that opened Civil War II # 1.

Iron Man’s problem with acting proactively to stop possible futures was, what if to stop a prediction from coming true, the Avengers had to do something bad? Like kill or imprison some people before they could sire a baby that Ulysses predicted was Hitler reincarnated. He had no problem with using Ulysses’s power to stop the Celestial Destructor from invading. That was an “easy call.” It was the potential Baby Hitler type thing that bothered him.

Iron Man didn’t think the Avengers should use Ulysses. Captain Marvel did. So she used him again. When Ulysses predicted that Thanos would raid Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. to get a piece of the Cosmic Cube, Captain Marvel assembled a team to prevent… (What do you mean, prevent what? Weren’t you paying attention?)

During the battle against the Thanos, War Machine died. When Iron Man learned his best friend died in a battle to prevent one of Ulysses’s predicitons, Iron Man went more ballistic than one of his Repulsor Rays set on overload.

“You killed my best friend. You killed him as good as if you did it with your own hands.” Which was, you should pardon the neologism, alternative facts.

Captain Marvel didn’t kill War Machine, Thanos did. What did Iron Man want the Avengers and War Machine to do? Ignore the possibility that Thanos was determined to strike in the US and let him do it?

If Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. called the Avengers after Thanos started his invasion, would Iron Man have had any problem scrambling heroes, up to and including War Machine, to stop Thanos? Of course not. So what was the problem with sending a group of heroes to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. before Thanos invaded, so they’d be ready and waiting just in case he did show up like Ulysses predicted?

Not only was Iron Man’s position vis-a-vis the Thanos invasion suspect, it wasn’t even intellectually honest. Hey, Iron Man, remember when you said that using Ulysses’s power to make sure a “big cosmic monster doesn’t invade,” was an “easy call?” What part of stopping a “big cosmic monster” doesn’t apply to Thanos? By my count, it’s none.

Iron Man shouldn’t have been any problem with Captain Marvel’s strategy, except for the fact that for the story to movie forward, it needed Iron Man to act all pissy. So Iron Man acted all pissy and stormed out of the whole comic.

All the way into Civil War II #2.

Where he decided he had to learn how Ulysses’s powers worked. So he flew into the Inhuman’s homc city of New Attilan, grabbed Ulysses, took him to an undisclosed location, tied him to chair, and subjected him to some painful tests to determine the workings of his powers. Reports differ as to whether Iron Man tortured Ulysses. Ulysses said yes. Iron Man said “a little bit.” Let’s just say Iron Man employed some enhanced investigation techniques.

So the man who was worried about Captain Marvel going too far had no problem with invading New Attilan and grabbing up a college student for the purposes of a “little bit” of torture. Iron Man’s standards have more doubles than Wimbledon.

In New York, restraining another person, like Ulysses, of his liberty and holding him in a secret location where he isn’t likely to be found is both unlawful imprisonment and kidnapping.  That’s two felonies from the guy who didn’t want Captain Marvel to go too far. Which, I suppose, is only fitting, Iron Man commited double crimes with his double standards.

During Marvel’s first Civil War, I thought Iron Man acted a little out of character. Now, in Civil War II, with his ends-justifiy-the-means attitude he’s not a little out of character; he’s another character entirely. I’m not sure who. I’m detecting hints of Lex Luthor with traces of Doctor Doom and just a whiff of DeSaad.

Now, I could be wrong about every one of those traces I thought I detected. I don’t exactly have a refined palate. But it’s good enough to know that what Iron Man did was unpalatable.

Martha Thomases Meets Archie Sheridan

A while back, everyone I knew was raving about how fantastic Mockingbird was ever since Chelsea Cain started to write it. Then she got chased off Twitter (some say because of this), and I felt I needed to check it out.

Women writers (and all women) (and all people of good conscience) need to support each other in the face of harassment and threats. Buying a book is literally the least I could do at the time.

Apparently so did everybody else, because I couldn’t find the first Mockingbird collection anywhere. It was back-ordered on Amazon, so, to be supportive, I downloaded a prose novel of hers for my Kindle.

Since I didn’t know anything about her or her novels, I chose the first one in her Archie Sheridan series. Sheridan is a cop in Portland, Oregon, who led a serial killer task force for ten years. Then he was kidnapped by the one killer who had escaped him, tortured for weeks and then set free, only to take a two-year leave of absence to recover. The series starts when he goes back on the job.

The killer who kidnapped Sheridan is a woman, Gretchen Lowell. Before she kidnapped him, she posed as a psychologist consulting for the task force… and they had an affair. He remains obsessed with her, even as he remains physically ill from the aftermath of the torture. His time with her not only destroyed his body but his marriage and his relationships with his children as well.

Erotic thrillers are not really my genre. They tend to rely a lot on power dynamics for their sexual tension, and that’s not usually my thing. I also found it difficult to believe that Gretchen was as stunningly beautiful as the text described. Not that I don’t believe anyone can be that beautiful — I’ve been in the same room as professional models and actresses — but I don’t believe we all get lighting that good every moment of every day.

Still, I couldn’t put the book down. As soon as I finished one, I began the next.

Most of the credit for my interest can be given to the character of Susan Ward, a young, hip, punkette reporter who trails after Archie in search of a story. Unlike Gretchen, Susan sometimes gets muck on her clothes, can’t walk in heels, and says the wrong things that get her fired. It is her perspective on Archie and Gretchen that makes the books so entertaining.

Throughout the series we watch Archie as he blunders into situations that leave him vulnerable to Gretchen’s attacks, only to solve the crime at (often) the last minute and save Oregonian lives. Sometimes it seems as if we are building towards a Susan/Archie romance. Sometimes we think he’ll get back with his wife.

I don’t find these books as interesting as Ridley Pearson’s series about Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews. In some ways, it’s not a fair comparison because Pearson’s books are procedurals and not thrillers (although there is, inevitably, a lot of overlap). There’s way less emphasis on sex, and a lot more about how police departments work.

I’m not saying Cain didn’t do her homework. Clearly, she did. However, it’s not what is emphasized in her stories.

That would be the erotic obsessiveness.

For me, the obsessions are more interesting than the eroticism. A hard-boiled cop, one who has walked these mean streets, seen all kinds of horror, who just wants his old life back, is interesting to watch when he throws it all away. Over the six books in the series, he has chance after chance, and he throws away multiple opportunities for multiple futures.

Will you like these books? I don’t know your life. However, if you have a rainy Saturday, or a long flight ahead of you, you could do worse than try. Like potato chips, I bet you can’t read just one.


Box Office Democracy: The Lego Batman Movie

I wonder if there’s a pop culture franchise I wouldn’t be excited to see turned in to a Lego production at this point.  The Lego Batman Movie could have so easily been an uninspired cash-in to take advantage of how profitable Batman is as a character and the good will we all still feel from The Lego Movie but instead we have a movie chock full of funny jokes, intriguing themes, and most importantly a monumental amount of effort.  This is such a strong children’s movie that I saw it in a packed house on a Saturday night with basically no children, and it was the most boisterous crowd I’ve been a part of in recent memory.  Lego Batman is a triumph, a shining beacon, that every other DC movie should be trying to reach the same level of competence or at least figuring out how to fake it to the studio executives.  Perhaps Ben Affleck is not actually trying to get out if his obligation to play Batman not because of creative differences but because he’s worried about being overshadowed by Will Arnett.

There’s nothing to the plot of The Lego Batman Movie that you haven’t seen elsewhere— it’s just kind of unique to see these elements in a superhero story and, perhaps more importantly, in a movie about a hero so associated with hypermasculinity.  This is a story about Batman needing to connect with people, to construct a family out of the people in his life to replace the one he lost.  Interestingly, instead of making this a source of external conflict, it’s only a source of internal conflict; almost every important supporting character is falling over themselves to become an essential part of Batman’s life, from the obvious examples of Alfred and Robin to the quasi-adversarial Barbara Gordon who might not approve of Batman’s methods but wants to be close to him, and even the Joker wants to destroy all of Gotham City but more than that he wants Batman to acknowledge that he’s important in his life.  The actual plot elements are a little thin, many elements of the evil plot seem designed to shoehorn in as many other licensed characters as possible, and while those are some fun cameos it doesn’t make for a complex story.

One thing that kind of bugged me about The Lego Batman Movie is that it doesn’t play with the idea of being toys the way The Lego Movie did.  It’s clearly supposed to be the same world and all the weapons make “pew pew” sounds like a child is making them, but it never pulls back to the “real world” layer to see Will Farrell’s kid.  I’m not sure what it would have been— the obvious answer seems to be about the death of a parent and that may have been a little dark, perhaps giving this story a chance to reflect a slightly more real situation would have helped it land a little harder.  As it is we get a great movie, but one that fails to land with quite the same impact as The Lego Movie.  Not that “slightly worse than The Lego Movie” is a particularly stern critique; I just wanted a bit more depth.

Will Arnett is an absolute treasure as Batman.  I’m not entirely sure how strong any of the material he was given was in an objective sense because it feels like he could reenact the end of Old Yeller in that voice and it would get huge laughs.  I would watch a live action Batman movie starring Arnett and I would promise to ignore the fact that he would never be in the kind of shape you expect to see The Caped Crusader in.  Rosario Dawson is a pleasant surprise as Barbara Gordon making a deep character at what could have been a thankless role.  Michael Cera is great at awestruck and overly affectionate, I wonder if we couldn’t have seen a little more range from him as that bit can wear a little thin.  It’s so thrilling to hear Billy Dee Williams voice Two Face that you can easily overlook that the part has fewer than five lines.

It is so refreshing to get a DC Comics movie that isn’t taking itself so seriously.  The Lego Batman Movie is fun before it’s anything else.  It isn’t obsessed with continuity (although it does reference in some way almost every other on-screen depiction of Batman to date), or with having a dark tone, or with proving the comics are for grown-ups.  This is a movie that just wants to be fun— and that’s so refreshing after two Superman movies that seemed fixated on generating the biggest body counts.  I need some childlike wonder in my superhero movies; I can get gritty nihilism from the real world.