Hey, we just got a new trailer for The Suicide Squad, which will be in theaters and streaming on HBOMax August 6th! Let’s see if you can spot the BIG Easter egg. Go watch it, then come back here…
All done? Fun, huh? But what Easter egg am I talking about? It’s this:
In the trailer, we see Savant, played by Michael Rooker, getting a bomb implanted in him so that Amanda Waller can keep him in line– do anything she doesn’t like, and BOOM!
But who’s doing the implanting? Dr. Fitzgibbon, that kindly old gent on the right who looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly?
Why, that’s John Ostrander, ComicMix columnist and creator of the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller. He’s quite literally the guy who killed off at least 18 members of the Squad and maimed so many more. So it makes perfect sense that James Gunn would reach out and bring John (who’s a gifted actor in his own right) to inflict further damage onto these poor actors.
Come to think of it, it reminds us of the first issue of Suicide Squad where John killed off an entire airport full of actors.
No, this isn’t advertising copy for a comic convention coming to your town. These lines are from the trailer for that old monster movie, The Blob. But it could be used to describe any upcoming comic con.
Comic conventions are not only thriving but, like the Blob, they are now oozing out from the walls of their convention centers and invading local towns. Geek culture cannot be held within its original confines.
Who would have ever thought, way back when Geek Culture was nestled in little comic shops in the scorned section of town, that we’d get to this point? Unlike the foreboding tone of that Blob movie trailer, this expanding, oozing primordial mass inspires a sense of awe and wonderment.
The San Diego Comic-Con is probably the best example of this. The nation’s longest running convention is held annually at the San Diego Convention Center. (And it will be held there until 2021, but that’s a whole ‘nother column.)
The entire city seems to get behind this show. Most of the shops, bars, and restaurants in San Diego offer specials and decorations to welcome convention attendees. It seems like every waiter and waitress is wearing a comic book or Walking Dead themed shirt, in fact. And the show itself is so sprawling, it now schedules events in nearby hotels, local libraries, and even the town baseball’s stadium.
I have a great friend who lives in San Diego. Walshy, as we’ve called him since grade school, doesn’t know anything about comics or pop culture. Check that – he loved MAD magazine. That counts. But by and large, he just doesn’t have a passion for graphic novels, or science fiction, or horror movies, or Doctor Who, or any of the cool stuff at the San Diego Comic-Con.
But each year he attends Comic-Con and has a blast. There is one particularly wild story about how he partied with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) and Miss Venezuela on a hotel rooftop… but we’ll save that one for another day as well.
Walshy throws himself into San Diego Comic-Con because, as a resident, he can’t escape it. It’s so big and so boisterous that it’s all encompassing, even for locals.
And the great news is that Geek Culture is very welcoming. It pitches a big tent and invites everyone to come on in and have some fun.
The same thing is happening at other conventions. New York Comic-Con now hosts “Super Week” before their show, for example. Not surprisingly, it’s also happening at the up-and-coming shows in smaller markets.
Over the past year, I lent a hand to help grow Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a rousing success: it doubled in attendance and exhibitors reported very strong sales. It was officially held at the local convention center in the middle of Syracuse’s downtown area. But in reality, the event stretched to make the two days of the comic-con much longer.
The Mayor: Even Syracuse’s mayor got involved. Neal Adams was the guest of honor, and Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed the Saturday of the show to be “Neal Adams Day” in Syracuse.
Comics on Campus: It turns out Syracuse University has an incredible collection of original comic strip art. And for the past 80 years, only researchers have been able to view these treasures. We worked with SU’s Special Collections Director for an exhibition of original pages for fans. I never thought fans would be able to hold the very first Prince Valiant page, by Hal Foster, in their hands, but they did! One of our favorite artists, Joe Jusko, stopped by the exhibit and was in awe. His posts of viewing his favorite artists (Foster, Frank Robbins, Stan Drake etc.) went viral. And yes, we’re planning something bigger for next year.
Barley Quinn Craft Beer: The local brewpub, Empire, created a specialty beer called Barley Quinn and debuted it the week before the show. They gave away free Comic-con tickets and comics publisher Aftershock offered up a box full of Captain Kid graphic novels. Tom Peyer, the co-author of the series, is based in Syracuse and the publisher wanted to support him.
Cosplay: The convention partnered with the nearby Schweinfurth Art Center, a museum with a specialty in fabric arts, to host a cosplay “pre-game” event. I always feel bad when cosplayers put so much time and energy into their costumes, and can only wear them for a day, or two, at a convention. I suppose it’s the same way for brides. It was fun to be able to offer one additional “wearable opportunity” for cosplayers.
So even in a market like Syracuse, Geek Culture has creeped and crawled to ooze out beyond the confines of both the calendar and the convention center to become something bigger. Unlike the teenagers and townsfolk in The Blob, I’m not terrified. I’m elated! And you should be too.
I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 this weekend, and man, did I have a blast. Is it a 100% perfect movie? Maybe not – how many comics adaptations are? But is it a really solid comics flick, an excellent second chapter to the Guardians’ adventure, and one of the most fun Marvel movies out to date? Yes, yes, and yes! And was it also made by creators who had a love for the source material and the actual product itself, knew their audience wanted an even more epic Guardians story, and delivered without falling into the more-of-the-same-only-bigger-equals-underwhelming-sequel trap? You bet!
(Warning: some SPOILERS ahead!)
Guardians Vol. 2 paints its backdrops in broad strokes. It is, as it should be, a space epic. The Guardians planet-hop, crash spaceships, and, at one point, bounce through something like forty space jumps at once. There are also several other groups of space-faring folk to keep track of – different factions of Ravagers, the newly-introduced Sovereign, and, of course, Peter Quill’s long-absent father. And the scenery is vast, unusual, and visually stunning, whether we’re seeing the innards of a collapsing planet or fireworks at a rare Ravager ceremony.
But set into all of this are the smaller scenes that knit this movie together with one thread: family. The theme is everywhere – from the reminder that the Guardians, even when they’re fighting, have chosen to be a family; to the denouement of Peter’s tamped-down desire to know his real father and his confrontation of difficult parental issues; to the rivalry between Gamora and her sister Nebula; to the well-played new friendship that’s struck up between the overly literal Drax and the extremely sheltered Mantis; to the bloody and harsh conflict that plays out between the Ravager factions; to gruff Yondu’s bonding with the equally prickly Rocket, and the redemption arc of Kraglin’s relationship with Yondu; to, of course, everyone’s involvement with The Growing Up of Little Groot (who is, as in Vol. I, one of the best parts of any scene).
Although interactions with Little Groot (no longer a potted baby stick, but still dancing adorably, particularly when set against the intense space-monster battle of the opening credits) are cute as can be (except when he’s killing folk, or, to be honest, even when he is), most of the familial messages are not all sweetness and light. But the overall gestalt of the film is that although families can be dysfunctional, messy, and even sometimes irredeemable, the value of being able to be your true self and still rely on family – whether they be your blood relatives of simply the people who have decided to love you like they are – is the most important thing.
Writer and director James Gunn hammers this home by having characters straight out remind us that the Guardians are, in fact, a family, in a couple of perhaps unnecessary “telling instead of showing” moments. However, unlike in Iron Man 2 where we were told about how Tony had become a better person after the events of Iron Man but the “showing” didn’t really back that up, the moments that Gunn uses to build this movie really carry that message.
And maybe he’s also playing with that “tell vs. show” aspect. Quill’s “real” father tells him all about how much he wanted to find his son as he explains (using a hilariously plastic-y series of museum exhibit-like display pods) his courtship of Peter’s mother; but then shows how little value he has for family through his actions and the harm he brings to Peter. Whereas Yondu, who raised Peter, regularly told Peter fairly awful stuff (“You said you would eat me!” “I thought that was funny!”), but consistently, even to the point of losing the respect and loyalty of his crew, looks out for and will not harm Peter. Likewise, Drax tells Mantis, in his usual tactless way, that he thinks her appearance is ugly and disgusting – but he is consistently kind and gentle towards her, and looks out for her and patiently answers her questions. Gamora takes Nebula prisoner and Nebula swears revenge – but when push comes to shove, neither can let the other go. And Groot – well, Groot tells everyone that he is Groot, and we just love him for it, end of story.
In focusing on the characters and their bonds, Guardians Vol. 2 also avoids the trait I dislike in so many comics space stories (and crossovers). Often, these stories get so caught up in the Grandiose Larger Purpose of what is going on – this planet is fighting that planet which is fighting that other planet over there – that I really stop caring which Planet wins, because they’re all just planets. But Guardians doesn’t throw focus. It doesn’t neglect the spaces within the epic story that is, in fact, also happening as Peter’s father tries to take over the universe.
It recognizes the mundane moments that sometimes show who people are more than a grand gesture or epic fight, and that make the audience care. Gunn being who he is, I’m not surprised that he almost takes this to the next level, to the point where the characters spend several movie minutes searching for Scotch tape. Some moviegoers might be put off by this, but I see it as part and parcel of who the Guardians are, and the unique sense of fun they bring to saving the world. Pretty much like when Rocket assigned Peter to acquire a prisoner’s fake leg for a prison break plan in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I, and then it turned out he didn’t need it and simply thought it would be hilarious to send Peter to get it (that still makes me laugh).
Fortunately, Gunn and the rest of the cast and crew didn’t lose that humor in Guardians Vol. 2, and in fact, in some places, amped it up in the best way. Drax (Dave Bautista), for instance, has been developed beyond the already humorous incongruity of his literal interpretations of the expressive way most people speak, to a character who is now more relatable but still unreasonably tactless and blunt at all the wrong moments. The result is that he gets some of the most subtly humorous but also human dialogue exchanges in the film, particularly with Mantis (Pom Klementieff, who is adorable, and stellar in keeping an equilibrium between Mantis’s sweet naiveté and the strong emotions she experiences as an empath).
Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is hilarious for the sheer fun he takes in mayhem and destruction (the scenes of him messing with the Ravagers in the forest are absolutely hysterical). Chris Pratt continues to balance Star Lord’s irreverence for serious moments and almost childlike sense of fun with the responsibilities of being the natural-born leader of the group. And Groot (in some magical combination of CGI and Vin Diesel that is definitely more than the sum of its parts) brings the house down while he tries and epically fails to bring his friends various objects to help them escape from a holding cell.
Of course, some characters are more suited to be “the straight man,” but even though Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Peter’s dad (Kurt Russell), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) tend to be played straighter overall, each of them does a great job and also still gets at least a few moments of humor (and Michael Rooker has one of the absolutely funniest lines in the movie as they’re all falling to the ground towards the end). Heck, even the seriousness of the Sovereign, who exude gravitas and are quick to take offense, is undermined by the fact that they go to war by, essentially, playing space video games (Ender’s Game, anyone?).
But I think a point being made here is that life doesn’t have to be all serious or all fun – like this movie, it can contain everything from deadly Ravagers bouncing through the air like helpless popcorn at the hands of a “trash panda;” to poor little Groot being bullied and sadly squelching away (and boy, did that make me want to punch that whole mean crew in the face); to the leader of the saviors of the galaxy choosing to save that galaxy as a giant Pac-Man; to Yondu’s arrow snaking through the darkness in the most beautiful kind of 80s neon death I have ever seen as it kills those who betrayed him; to the universal trope of every teenager everywhere, no matter what species, being yelled at about their messy rooms; to the whole of space exploding into glorious fireworks to honor fallen family. This movie is, all in a couple of hours, ridiculous, badass, serious, not taking itself seriously, heartwarming, grim, riotously fun, incredibly sad, gloriously chaotic, seriously ugly, and vibrantly beautiful.
Which means that at its heart, despite the epic space setting and multitude of species, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a very human movie – and as Peter says when his father informs him that turning his back on his legacy will make him only human: “What’s so terrible about that?”
Not a thing, and I’m glad that the Guardians will be returning so we can be reminded of that yet again in, I assume, Volume 3 (the soundtrack of which had better be played on a Zune).
Until then, feel free to check out this clip from my further discussion of Guardians Vol. 2 on the Fantastic Forum radio show (the whole episode of which will be up here shortly), and don’t forget to Servo Lectio!
In my last column I talked about my expectations for the Fan2Sea comic-con cruise, how it fulfilled them, and some of the things I generally loved about being at a con on a cruise ship and about the way in which Fan2Sea pulled off its maiden voyage (haha!).
Today, it’s all about the details. Want to know what your daily experience will be like if (when! I hope!) Fan2Sea happens again and you decide to go? Well, I can’t say, but I can tell you what mine was like! So here goes:
Day 1 was pleasantly low-key from the start. Because luggage was still being delivered to staterooms, I spent the first bit of ship time chilling in one of the main areas overlooking the bar, with my lovely roommate, ComicMix assistant editor Adriane Nash, and with PR guru (and former Comic Book Resources writer/editor) Steve Sunu. After some people-watching (and excited taking of first-day selfies), and a little bit of a ship tour, we wandered up to one of the main eating areas where we found plenty of food on hand; and in the midst of a mellow lunch out on deck in the warm weather, I also caught up with the ever-fun comics creator Reilly Brown (and lovely family). It was the beginning of several times when I got to actually just chill with friends I usually see in only rushed or crowded circumstances at cons, and that was super nice.
Once staterooms were accessible and we’d gotten settled in ours, I rustled up my Hot Topic Walking Dead-themed blood spatter sundress (although I do like to do full-on cosplay, I’d opted for more referential casual cosplay on this trip, given I was packing for ten days and also didn’t want to wear a lot of layers on a warm, sunny trip!). Then we headed to the pool deck, where the first two big panels, for The Walking Dead (with Michael Rooker, Lew Temple, Madison Lintz, and Seth Gilliam) and Guardians of the Galaxy (with Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn), were taking place in quick succession.
Although it was a bit windy and distracted out on the deck (which is why they moved later panels inside), it was also super cool to be reporting on a panel out in the beautiful sunny weather while literally standing in a pool. (Yes, that’s right – your intrepid reporter stood in a pool to bring you this con round-up and accompanying photographs!) And the actors fielded some great audience questions. I enjoyed the Walking Dead actors’ talking about the challenges and quirks of working on such a gruesome show; for instance, Michael Rooker shared that the bloody makeup didn’t really bother him – until he saw the zombies during lunch sitting around eating while wearing it! And one of my favorite questions to the Guardians panel elicited discussion from Sean Gunn about Gunn’s providing the rehearsal stand-in for the CGI Rocket Racoon, which the other Guardians actors would act against. Apparently at first Gunn was simply going to stand in and read Rocket’s lines, but he thought he could also provide the acting and eyelines for the others to reference, so he gave it a try – and lo-and-behold, he did such a good job of it that he ended up doing it throughout rehearsals.
After the panels we had a bit more time to explore, including checking in on the casino, which had an excellent and thorough Sin City theme, before it was time for the ship to pass under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which was pretty exciting considering our ship was so tall it barely cleared the bottom of it. (Also, the sunset was beautiful!) After that we headed to the formal dining room, where I confess that upon ending up at a table with some veteran cruisers, we were unable to resist the peer pressure of each ordering two appetizers and two desserts to accompany our entrees. And all were tasty! (P.S. Pro tip that I didn’t know beforehand, having not been on a cruise before – if you want to be seated with a group in the formal dining room, you have to show up with your group. But our small party also enjoyed talking with folks at the larger table, so if you don’t form your group beforehand, you might just end up making a new friend!)
The only thing that could properly finish off a dinner like that would be a great cocktail; so of course after dinner I headed up to the Walking Dead / Guardians of the Galaxy cocktail party and, on the recommendation of another attendee, tried a “twisted” peach and mixed berry daiquiri. It was a great accompaniment as I enjoyed chatting with folks at the rotating bar (which took us by surprise when it started moving!), including Lew Temple (who I was really sad to see die on The Walking Dead, and who was really friendly and laid back to talk with); and Sean Gunn (a favorite from both Guardians and, of course, Gilmore Girls, and with whom I had a really wide-ranging and interesting conversation).
The party was a ton of fun, and when it wound down, no one wanted the good times to be done – so first, a few of us had the idea of playing a round of mini golf – but the wind was so crazy up on that deck that we had to postpone that for another time. Luckily, on the Fan2Sea cruise there was always stuff going on (including, e.g., the movie theater, the in-room monster channel, and the game room); so instead we located the karaoke just in time to see Steve and Chris Sims singing Toxic by Britney Spears (yes, really – and trust me, it was an experience!). But even that kind of fun has to end sometime, so eventually, we made our way to sleep and…
Day 2 started with a relaxing room-service breakfast on our lovely private balcony, followed by a jaunt to Key West in the beautiful weather. I confess we had all kinds of complicated plans for what to see in Key West, including a butterfly garden and Ernest Hemingway’s house; but by the time we got off of the ship what we actually ended up having time for was a scenic trolley ride, a chill lunch with friends at Fogarty’s and the Flying Monkey Saloon, and a little stroll through the streets before it was time to get back to the ship.
Back on board, I attended one of the great Master Classes offered with the comics creator guests – this one with Reilly Brown. I always like watching Reilly’s approach to art, and this was no exception. He illustrated how to use dynamic action and expression to convey character in comics, and I especially enjoyed his example of how adding details to the same base character frame can result in two such disparate characters as Wolverine and Tony Stark. (And I totally claimed that sketch afterwards.) After the class, I hurried over to the live read of Charles Soule and Ryan Browne’s Curse Words #1. I love live reads, and this one featured some of the great guests on the ship – including writer Charles Soule, and actors Randy Havens, Catherine Dyer, and Sean Gunn. It was excellent fun and very well done, and I even managed to get a couple of clips on video.
The live read overlapped with the Batman pub quiz, which was also on my must-do list, in part because ComicsAlliance’s own “Batmanologist” Chris Sims was running it and had created the questions; so as soon as the live read had wrapped, I rushed over to the pub to join Adriane, who had been holding down the fort for two of the six quiz rounds all by herself. Steve joined our team there, and despite us all missing the first round entirely and only one team member being there for rounds 2 and 3, we still came in fourth! Go team! The quiz was great, and pretty darned challenging, too! (Kudos, Chris!)
Of course, all of that hard work made us hungry, but the cruise more than took care of that with another trip to the formal dining room, before we headed back to the pub for the After Hours War Stories with comics creators. This was a pretty unique program (with no recording allowed) in which creators shared the sort of personal industry and convention stories you wouldn’t usually get at a big convention panel. The stories shared definitely made this program a favorite of mine, and I was glad they enforced the No Recording rule so that everyone felt comfortable sharing.
By that point, we were well into the late night activity portion of the day. I stopped by the Nerdlesque (it’s not really my scene, but there were definitely some creative themed scenarios being played out onstage) and then was challenged to a game of air hockey (I totally lost) and issued my own challenge for a game of pool (Adriane and I totally won!). And then somehow, it was five a.m., and way past time for all sensible reporters to be in bed. Ah, convention life.
Day 3 was the one day Adriane and I had decided to book a specific excursion through the cruise line, since we were going to Mexico and had a longer time in port. We booked a Mayan ruins tour that included lunch and a trip to the beach, and were delighted to find the lovely and talented Gail Simone and her husband Scott were part of our tour group. We had an adorably charming and funny tour guide named Luis to show us all around; I could actually feel the history of the Mayan ruins as it was described to us; the lunch was tasty; swimming at the beach was exciting (there were reasonably strong currents and also underwater rocks to avoid!); and we had a great time experiencing it all with Gail and Scott.
On returning to the ship, despite a pretty full day in Mexico, it was Stranger Things day and of course there were con things I wanted to do; so I first stopped for a brief glimpse of Goonies, which was being screened on the pool deck; and then changed into my Stranger Thingsparty cosplay (yes, I was costuming The Wall, with a Hot Topic picture frame dress and blinking Christmas lights!), and went to the Stranger Things cocktail party, where I had an entertaining time talking with other fun cosplayers and fans, and meeting Shannon Purser, Catherine Dyer, Randy Havens, and David Harbour – all of whom were wonderfully nice and fun to talk to! (Caleb McLaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo were also circulating, but I did not get to chat with them due to the crowd – they looked like they were really enjoying themselves, though.)
After the party, I stopped by the pub to see how the Cards Against Humanity: Writers Edition program was going; and discovered that all of the comics guests were there chilling. So I sat down for a chat; and more friends came around; and then we wandered over to the casino; and next thing I knew, it was almost five a.m. again and we were ordering hamburgers from room service. Ah, cruise life!
And then suddenly, it was Day 4! Our last full day on the ship, alas!! It was also the day of the Deadpool Panel, which I was moderating; so I donned my Hot Topic Deadpool dress (love that store for geek dresses!) and headed to the Pacifica Theater, which, incidentally, has some really interesting props backstage. This panel featured Gail Simone, Reilly Brown, Scott Koblish, and Chris Sims, and we had a riot of a time talking Deadpool on stage and taking questions from the audience – probably the most fun I’ve had on a panel to date! We talked about everything from how to get into the head of such a character to what it’s like to draw a story that’s told entirely on the covers of comic books to what the comics creators thought of the Deadpool movie adaptation – and happily, it seemed like the audience was having just as much fun as all of us on stage!
After the panel, the Deadpool folks headed up to their tables at Artist Alley, and after a brief rest (hey, even I get a little tired after such late nights) I did too. Even though this con was, for obvious reasons, organized differently than a traditional convention, it still had sections of time set aside for fans to meet comics creators in Artist Alley, and I was pleased to see a setup that made it easy for everyone to interact, and a good number of folks waiting to meet the talented guests. While there, I enjoyed watching Scott Koblish and Reilly Brown draw, chatting with Laura Martin, Scott Snyder, and Gail Simone, flipping through some of Creees Hyunsung Lee’s cool art, and picking up a copy of Curse Words #1 (hey, after that live read, I had to have it!) from Charles Soule.
By the time Artist Alley closed, it was just about time for the Wayne Foundation Black Tie Dinner (for which I had brought my fancy sequined Suicide Squad Harley Quinn dress, because what else do you wear to a Batman-themed fancy dinner?). By now I was a Super Pro at cruising (hah!), so I’d suggested we get together a big table of folks ahead of time, and we managed to make it happen. It was great to have our last big dinner be with a solid group of friends; and fun to get all dressed up for it! But it was also nice to relax for the last bit of the cruise, so after dinner Fancy Dress Harley turned into Casual Cruise Harley, and then, fittingly, ran into The Joker. Who managed to convince me, a solid non-gambler, to go gamble. (Look, when someone says they’ll bankroll you to go play a slot machine called the “Enchanted Unicorn,” there is really only one response, and that is: “Let’s go!”) And solid non-gambler me might have to revise that solid stance, because lo-and-behold on top of the money we put in we won a whole $54! At which point I decided it was probably best to end on a high note, and Adriane and I took our end-of-cruise sad feet back to the room for one last night of sleep in our cozy little stateroom.
But since I can’t go back just yet, I’ll just have to console myself with looking at the full album of photos I took and crossing my fingers that soon, we’ll be hearing announcements of another Fan2Sea. When that happens, I assume you’ll all be signing up to go with me!
And until then, and until next column, Servo Lectio!