Last weekend I went on assignment to Rose City Comic Con for Panda Mony Toys. We are releasing our first action figure line next year and we are looking for cool shows to visit. Rose City was pretty great! Here’s a video of my adventures:
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I don’t think that this is any kind of real surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me, but it’s not something that I bring up that often for public consumption. Working in toys has really activated my geekery gene and since that is what I’ve been spending so much time on turning it into content for the internet seemed like the next natural choice. But as I’ve gotten back into my geekier pursuits I’ve noticed that I’m not feeling particularly connected to “geek” as a community – and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Why do we care?
In all likelihood you probably don’t, but it’s very possible that we are about to see a change to geek culture and since geek culture has been mainstreamed any changes that come are likely going to affect the entertainment industry in a massive way. I think my identity crisis is just a symptom of something bigger… maybe.
Being a geek is nothing new and we are somehow still in a geek culture golden age. If you were to tell me twenty-five years ago that some of the most popular things on YouTube, videos that were getting MILLIONS of views, were of people playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games I’d laugh until I passed out. Put on top of that the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most popular, profitable and unstoppable franchise factories making household names out of characters that no one knew of merely a decade ago? And the fact that Star Wars as a universe is still chugging along in mainstream media? And that I can find Iron Man action figures in just about every single armor that he has ever worn both on screen and in the comics? I tell you my little teenage heart would burst.
But it was not always this way.
I like to frame myself as a “proud geek,” but if I’m being honest that hasn’t always been true. Even in times as geek popular as now I tend to hold that part back from the spotlight. In the past I have justified this hiding because of my “brand.” On this blog and on social media I preferred to be an actor first, focus on career related things… and every once in a while toss in an obscure movie reference, mention that I need to go play D&D, or talk about Iron Man. But that was not very authentic in how much of my private identity can be tied back to what are considered geeky (sometimes VERY geeky) things.
Although some of the geeky things have gained a hip status, the fact of the matter is that all the cool popular people playing or involved in this stuff are a very small, niche part of the people who play and participate in the core of geekery. The core audience still carries the stigma that was turned into stereotypes used in TV and movies, especially in the late 70’s through the 90’s. Hell, that was my bread and butter for most of my young acting career.
I think that Simon Pegg has presented the best definition of the modern geek:
As he points out, this doesn’t just apply to things like superhero fans and Warhammer 40,000 players but sports fanatics and people who love cars too. But the stigma doesn’t follow the latter the way it does the former. Jocks and nerds may be satisfying the same itch deep down, but society in general views them in very different ways and always at odds.
I was at Rose City Comic Con this year. It’s the first con that I’ve been to since San Diego ComiCon back in either 2012 or 2014 (I can’t remember) and even longer than that since I went to a convention of any size that wasn’t related to the entertainment industry in some way shape or form. This year felt different than what I remember.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my dad and I going to comic cons all over Southern California (mostly the Shrine Shows in L.A.) looking for old Iron Man back issues, checking out old toys and collectables, and doing our best to bargain down a price with the dealers. At these shows I built a very impressive collection of Yoda memorabilia, got my first Iron Man action figure from the defunct Secret Wars line, and completed a volume 1 collection of Iron Man comics.
I would spend my days reading comics and coming up with adventures for all my favorite characters in my head. The reading material came in handy for auditions as well since I was merely a passengers for nearly a decade. I was proud to know as much about the Marvel Universe as I did. I knew Doctor Who lore and stories that would surprise adult fans. I knew Star Wars down to the Tonnika sisters. But I had very few people that I could share all this with.
Junior High School, the worst of all the “schools” in my opinion, was when I met my core group of friends, people I still know and love to this day. Jeff Garvin was my entry point to the group. He and I met doing Annie with a community theater group (another thing that is generally considered pretty geeky, but that’s another blog post altogether). We shared mutual interests, Star Wars and comic books in a general sense, and he introduced me to his Dungeons and Dragons group. Jeff, Dan and Scott became my best friends through school.
In addition to D&D we shared other common interests in movies and music. Star Wars and Indiana Jones were big favorites and we spent way too much playing the original X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games. We tried some other RPGs and Dan, Scott and I all started playing Warhammer 40k. We had each other’s backs. We were our own little community and we could run in the circles of other geek communities without effort.
At Rose City Comic Con I was the outsider. Even though I’m an over 40-bearded-beer-gut-guy (a description that has come to be the standard archetype for the stereotypical geek) I saw the distrustful looks that came from the cosplayers and gamers and comic book fans. I imagine I must’ve looked like a dad who was missing his kid, especially since I was there by myself. There was a part of me that wanted to say, “Don’t worry I’m totally one of you.” But even writing that seems condescending and pointless, especially since geekdom and fandom are plagued by toxic jerks right now. I can’t find fault with the suspicious looks. If you didn’t know any better I could be one of those entitled, angry and anonymous man-children screaming about The Last Jedi. Toxic Fandom is the culmination of people who felt powerless finding a voice and, in most circumstances, trying to claim ownership on a fictional world that should be open to everyone. When that kind of “fandom” finds other people who feel the same we get things like what we saw with recent Star Wars stars leaving social media.
But that’s not what I want to see. Sure there will always be jerks, but in general the community is at its best when it is supportive of each other and when people who want to learn about and participate in the geekery are welcomed. Even though I got a lot of side-eye yesterday, the folks at the convention we all very polite and super excited about what they were doing there. That’s the part I like. That’s what I’d like to see more of.
To that point I’m going to start talking about my geekier pursuits here on the blog more. I may not feel like I’m directly linked into the community like I used to be, but I still D&D like a boss, build and paint 40k armies competently, and can still throw down in Supernaturalcontinuity conversations with the best of them. The old saying goes “be the change you’d like to see” and I’d like to help put some positivity back into the geeky stuff that I love.
Please join me! Tell me about the geeky stuff you love in the comments. Introduce me to that thing you like that maybe you’re self conscious about. Let’s build a better community without entitlement and toxicity.
Taking a break from my normal “Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen,” here is some cool Iron Man stuff. The folks over at Burger Fiction have put together a very comprehensive video of Iron Man’s appearances in TV and film since his inception back in 1963. With Civil War only a couple weeks away, this is a cool visual of how far the Iron Avenger has come over the last 50 years.
This is an issue where it isn’t so remarkable how much I remember, but in how much I didn’t understand and what went over my head. The heyday of my Iron Man collecting, and therefore Iron Man reading, was ages 8-12. Ideas like Communism and The Civil Rights Movement existed as unrelatable ideas that were taught to us in history class. It was the mid to late 80’s. Yes The Cold War was still going strong, but it had been 20 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and neither country was eager to repeat that mistake again. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an acknowledged hero of the Civil Rights movement, we got the day off from school and I had not yet witnessed anything close to real racism in my life. So when I read comic books from the 60’s and early 70’s the ideas in them were like ancient history. They were written for their time and thank God we weren’t like that anymore. Reading them now, however, opened my eyes to just how much issues like this one covered.
Let’s start with the super villain in this story: Firebrand.
When I was younger I had no idea what a “firebrand” was. I knew that this bad guy had fire related powers, but no idea that his name was also relevant to the story. Of course now we have the internet for instant definitions:
And our character makes with the agitating right off the top. He helps some local protesters break into the construction site of a community center that the Iron Man Foundation is paying for. Even though the protesters are excited about their sit-in Firebrand makes it clear he’s looking for a fight and then takes off.
Eddie March, who you may remember did a brief stint as Iron Man, is now out of the hospital and has been selected to be the director of the new community center since he is both a native son of Bay City and also has the popularity of being Iron Man for his short time. As they head to the site, Eddie marvels at the changes to the city, with the exception of the North Side which is just as bleak as he remembers it being when he was a kid.
He and Iron Man arrive at the construction site with the city councilman in charge of the community center, Lyle Bradshaw, to see that there is already a bit of trouble between the protesters (black) and police (white).
There’s almost a Commedia dell’arte feel to the characters from this point. Not that they are directly from the Commedia tradition, but that there are archetypes that each character represents. Iron Man is the unbiased moral “right” that wants what is best for all within the law. It is worth noting that Tony Stark appears very little in this issue. For 95% he is in his Iron Man guise – a superhero with no definable skin color. Eddie March is the biased “right” who can relate to the protesters more than Iron Man can. The protesters, all black, represent the civil struggle and members of it become the focus of different variations within that struggle. The police, all white, represent the white establishment defined by law without bigotry. Lyle Bradshaw represents exploitative greed and the white establishment defined by bigotry. These are some pretty heavy concepts to toss into what were called, at the time, “funny books.” My 9 year old brain saw them more as:
Iron Man = Awesome
Eddie March = Was Iron Man = Awesome
Firebrand = Bad guy with fire powers
Protesters = Poor and Suffering
Police = Police
Bradshaw = Jerk
So I saw the good guys versus the bad guys in the issue, but I missed all the nuance of how this applied to the times. It is also worth noting that reading this issue with today’s current events in mind, like Ferguson and “Black Lives Matter,” that as far as we’ve come, there is still a way to go.
Taking advantage of the unrest, Firebrand shows up and a riot starts.
There’s a super villain/super hero fight that happens, but that’s not the point of the issue. Instead, the poignant plot line is between Eddie March and a young woman he saves from the riot, Helene.
After they escape, Helene takes Eddie through the city and they discuss what might actually help raise the community as opposed to just have a community center built for them.
While this is happening we get some background into how Firebrand came to be.
And how he built his suit (a bit of unintentional foreshadowing to The Armor Wars and The Five Nightmares).
Battle aside, Iron Man, Eddie, Helene and Councilman Bradshaw eventually all end up back at the councilman’s office and discuss what might be best for the community – which leads to an impasse. Naturally, Firebrand shows up, raises hell, and kidnaps Councilman Bradshaw.
We also find out that Bradshaw is completely corrupt and is profiting on the community center.
Normally, in a comic book, we’d expect to have everything wrap up all nice an clean, but it doesn’t. Firebrand escapes. The riot is stopped, but so is construction of the community center. Eddie and Helene get jobs at the Iron Man Foundation. But the comic even mentions that it is a very slow matter to get back to healing and understanding.
The last panels bring the whole thing home.
I don’t know that we have the same kind of material created for children that addresses issues like this in the same way that they did back in the 70’s. It was a time for experimentation and breaking established rules and that lead to some great filmmaking, music, and storytelling. It’s also strange to me that a story this on the nose still found a way to get over my head. I guess there’s no stopping a pre-adolescent brain that’s obsessed more with the super hero than the stories that he is featured in. Regardless, it is very eye opening to re-read this now and get a whole new sense of meaning from it. Although not the original point of this project, it has been a very nice bonus.
The new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers are pretty great! I can’t wait until May! And the stand out star so far has been the Hulk-Buster armor that Iron Man fights the Hulk in. Let’s check the tape:
Pretty cool, right? There’s something about two big things beating the crap out of each other that just says “blockbuster!” Is there anything else that can explain the success of the Bay-former movies? But I don’t want to get distracted.
The Hulkbuster first appeared in 1994 during a series of stories written by Len Kaminski and penciled by Kev Hopgood where Iron Man was trying to clean up old Stane factories that were polluting the environment or working on hazardous projects. Each issue had a different guest star including Venom (he was being positioned as a hero at the time), Deathlok and Smart Hulk (when the Hulk had the strength of the hulk, the mind of Bruce Banner and the attitude of the grey Hulk… ask a comic geek, they’ll tell you what that all mean. It was the 90’s). The technical first appearance of the Hulkbuster is in Iron Man 304, but it’s just the final page as a teaser for the next month.
Photo from ComicVine.com
All the actual Hulkbuster action is in Iron Man 305 “Green Politics.”
Photo from Marvel.Wikia.com
The original Hulkbuster was actual a series of add on bits for the armor that Iron Man used at the time called, believe it or not, the Modular Armor which switched out systems and weapons on a mission specific basis. A lot of different bits and bobs were created and used, but the Hulkbuster stands out and the only truly memorable one.
Since then there have been many versions of the Hulkbuster in both art and action figure form. I was going to post some of those images here but it’s actually worth seeing how much has been created so HERE’S A LINK TO A GOOGLE IMAGES SEARCH.
Film wise, we all thought we were getting a Hulkbuster in Iron Man 3, but instead we got “Igor”:
Photo from MarvelToyNews.com
It was a little disappointing.
Then we got this concept art from Age of Ultron:
Photo from Marvel.Wikia.com
And all Iron Man geek hearts were a-flutter!
Seeing the Hulkbuster in action is just whetting my appetite even more and you know I’ll be first in line when Avengers 2 comes out in May!
Well, first in line at a reasonable hour, I’m too old for midnight shows anymore.
Are you excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Hit the comments!
After having such a connected experience to the last issue, I hit the polar opposite with this issue. I have no memory of of Iron Man #26 Death (or Dual depending on whether you’re reading the cover or front page) in a Dark Dimension. However, looking at the cover, seeing the barbarian-like hero and his weapon being The Solar Sword, I am reminded of Thundarr the Barbarian:
That aside, this is a stand alone issue that tried to cram a lot of stuff into 22 pages. We open with Happy Hogan trying to beat up Tony as he armors up. This happens quite a bit over the course of the series.
As I mentioned above, the villain in this issue is The Collector in his second comic book appearance. The Collector you may recognize from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie:
Photo from Screenrant.com
Here he makes a deal with Iron Man, bring him The Solar Sword or he turns Happy into The Freak and adds him to his zoo. Very basic, kind of a cartoon plot. Just an excuse to get everyone fighting. Definitely designed for younger minds from a more naive time.
So Shellhead is taken to the Dark Dimension where he is immediately set upon by shadow demons.
I think they kinda’ look like the weeping angels from Doctor Who:
But Iron Man is rescued by Thor! Wait, no, that’s Val-Larr Champion of Light! He just looks like Thor with a big “V” on his chest.
Together they fight off the shadow demons and the issue starts to feel like a backdoor pilot for this new hero. He’s in the Dark Dimension, which is a Marvel Mystic realm often visited by Dr. Strange. I wondered while reading this if Val-Larr ever showed up in Dr. Strange or any of the other Marvel Mystic books. A quick Google search showed that he does not seem to. He’s referenced again in Iron Man #33, but we’ll see that later. We get a quick history of the realm, the battle between light and shadow, and the origins of the Solar Sword that Val-Larr uses.
Comic Book Science: The Solar Sword is a weapon that can collect the ambient light and then use it to perform feats and powers including strobes of bright light that burns shadow demons and blasts of power. The full powers and limits of the Solar Sword are not known.
Then Iron Man is taken to the last Citadel of Light – LUMINIA!
And now, after having fought alongside Val-Larr (like, his name is, literally “valor”) and making friends, Tony suddenly remembers, “oh yeah, kinda’ need to grab that sword because The Collector is coming” and he picks a fight.
My favorite part of that is Val-Larr’s response, “Wha?!?” If it were written today he’d be like, “Da faq?!!” Also this gave me a feeling of foreshadowing to a certain storyline in the future where Tony makes a dubious decision because he feels it’s the right thing to do…
Photo from villians.wikia.com
…but we’ll get to that later.
Tony does get the sword back to The Collector and, surprise surprise, The Collector decides to keep the sword and abandon Tony, Pepper and Happy in the Dark Dimension… that is until the Solar Sword starts acting funny. Remember the comic book science thing? The Solar Sword was created in the Dark Dimension, where light is scarce. Suddenly brought into a place where light is prevalent the sword begins to overload – and it’s going to explode! So Shellhead picks up The Collector and flies him back into the Dark Dimension.
Fortunately for Val-Larr and the residents of Luminia this coincides with Shar-Khan’s attack on Luminia.
I actually really like the design of Shar-Khan. I would have liked to have seen more of him. Just look at that creepy face!
So, as you may have guessed, the good guys win. The bad guys lose. Happy and Pepper go off to live without Happy discovering that he was ever The Freak. It’s a stand alone issue and it’s interesting to think that this issue is very similar to the issue that features the first appearance of Thanos… but that’s still to come. I think that these were pretty typical issues in the 60’s through the early 70’s. New characters were always being introduced, just like the Golden Age. Some stuck, some didn’t, and Val-Larr was one of the latter. The next issue features the first appearance of Firebrand and dips a toe in how Iron Man as a comic book starts to look at social issues. That’s a character we see a bit more often.
Bit of a non sequitur: this issue’s Stan’s Soapbox, the “newsletter” section of the comic, includes an audience survey. It asks about what kinds of stories you like and what you don’t. It uses some fantastic 70’s vernacular. It gave me the impression of how fandom used to work before the internet. Everything still happened: surveys, complaints, discussions; but they all worked via the mail or telephones or conventions/meet-ups. Just another example of ‘the more things change…”
This issue is a perfect example of why I wanted to do this project! I have such strong memories associated with this issue and, surprisingly, there are elements of this issue that affected my beliefs on our environment and corporate policies.
The opening page, for me, is some of the best evidence that the more things change the more they stay the same. It’s been known that pollution is a problem for decades and, while big strides have truly been made (the air and water now are far better off than they were in 1970 when this was written) there’s still so much farther to go. When I was a kid I remember being struck by this notion that “saving the Earth’ wasn’t a new idea and here it was, subtle as a hammer, on page one of this issue of Iron Man.
So, there’s Shellhead, carrying the corpse of a young woman poisoned by the very air she breathed. We are relieved to discover that this is just a film created by Tony to help convince other business owners to take environmental protection seriously. They respond in a stereotypical “businessman” fashion… which leads Tony to tell of a recent adventure he had with Iron Man.
We move to Namor the Submariner swimming through the ocean angry and brooding. He comes on a pipe spewing pollution – look at the plumes of black and deep purple – killing all the local fish. This, naturally, sends him into a rage and, like any good Silver/Bronze Age comic book character, he destroys the object of his anger… and then follows the pipe back to kick the ass of the surface dweller that put it there.
Now we flash to the surface, where the pipe originated from, where Tony Stark is visiting the supervisor of the Meridian Island facility, Blaine. Blaine is a douche. Archie Goodman leaves very little room for negotiation on this fact. He’s overly casual with the CEO of his company, cuts corners on safety and environmental equipment and siphoned budgeted funds to pay for his off-the-books pet project, a solar generator, that has some pretty gnarly side effects. Blaine’s fiance, June, comes running in to tell him that all of filters and pumping equipment are shutting down and that the island is starting to fill up with toxic gas. (Point of note, Mr. Goodwin makes sure that we know that Tony is a responsible business owner by having him mention that there should be special filtration units that should be taking care of these fumes.)
Tony is just getting his head wrapped around all of this when Namor shows up to beat things with his fists – which includes a building or two. Stark sends Blaine to get his employees to safety and then Namor and Iron Man fight for, like, a long time.
It’s pages of punches, but those are not as important as the core of the story so let’s jump right to the end where Iron Man wins (natch) and we get back to Blaine the douche denying that there’s any trouble even though all the air around them is inky with noxious fumes. Turns out Blaine’s solar generator is helping to cause this smog (fuzzy late 60’s pseudoscience here) and needs to be destroyed. Well, Blaine just won’t have that and puts up a fight until his fiance passes out from lack of oxygen.
With June down Blaine is suddenly willing to listen to Iron Man and ol’ Shellhead lands a verbal bitchslap.
Then we get the “team-up” section of the book where Iron Man helps Submariner escape and then they work together to destroy the solar converter…
…By dropping a giant rock in the ocean and tidal waving the island clean. Oh, and Blaine the Douche died trying to fix his mistake – TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, DOUCHE!
In the end the businessmen that Tony was trying to convince to join him in better environmental practices blow him off saying that changes cost money and that they have stock holders to answer to. They leave and we’re left with much the same reaction you’d see in modern business.
The funny thing is, Tony quotes that, “…the same thing could happen on a global scale in ten to thirty years!” And it kind of is. Maybe not to the extreme of this story, but it is over thirty years later and climate change is constantly in the news, animals are constantly threatened with extinction, and rainforest is still being cut down by the hundreds of acres a day… If nothing had changed Archie Goodwin probably wouldn’t have been wrong.
The nice thing is the effects of the Clean Air Act of 1963 were starting to show effects and the Clean Water Act of 1972 helped to clean up and save some of the most important waterways. The combination of the two have definitely kept us from the kind of apocalyptic scenario presented on page one of this comic. The conversations generated in the 70’s also helped to change the culture as far as the popularity of environmentalism. I grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s and I remember the environment being part of the core conversation in school and in general. Earth Day was recognized at school and we’d do events to prep for and celebrate it, Star Trek 4 had a “save the whales” message and was a big hit, and recycling became such a thing in california that suddenly there were different trash cans depending on whether what you were throwing out was recyclable or not.
So when I read this in 19… something-or-other I was really surprised that these ideas, that felt really young, were actually much older than I was – as was the corporate attitude of “money before responsibility” that is the stale cliche/truth of big business.
It’s funny how things like this can stick with you. Having read this again, decades after reading it the first time, my memory of it was very accurate and it’s amazing to me that the message can still be relevant.
Has anything stuck with you like that? Let me know in the comments.
So now that the news about Disney’s acquisition of Marvel comics is public knowledge, and it looks like they’ll have no problem getting past the anti-trust panel, I think it is safe to have my fanboy freak out followed immediately by the calm realization that the publishing end probably won’t change all that much.
I expect to see an Iron Man ride at Disneyland before the world ends on December 21, 2012.
Now on to the reviews!
Captain Britain & MI13 #15
This is the final issue of a great series that died before its time. Maybe it’s the Anglophile in me, but I really enjoyed how “British” this comic book felt which was due, in no small part, to to the excellent writing of Paul Cornell. He had no small task to achieve with this issue seeing as he needed to end the whole series and complete the current Dracula storyline at the same time. I won’t lie, there are sections that seemed rushed. You can tell from reading it that there are characters and plot lines that were clearly going to be drawn out longer, especially the return of Meggan. I enjoyed the device of Pete Wisdom taking a girl on a date and using that to basically explain everything that was going on.
There are some continuity questions I have, mostly stemming from the issue where the skull was “destroyed,” but these are small gripes. The reappearance of Death’s Head was a nice surprise as was the final battle against Dracula. Cornell’s ability to make Dracula such a great villain makes me hope that he’ll get his hands on more lesser known characters and give them a reboot. He’ll certainly have the opportunity now that Marvel has moved him on to four different books!
As usual Leonard Kirk’s art was dynamic and fun and it continues to make me wonder how such a great book can get canceled. The trades of this series will be out and complete by October. If you like good stories you’ll pick them up.
Agents of Atlas #8
There are times in the life of a comic book that you have an issue or two that are used to push forward an overall plot line as opposed to the tight single issue plot line. In issues like this it is customary to have a big guest star to help fill out the book. In my opinion, this is one of those issues for AoA. Jimmy Woo leaves to investigate an old branch of the Atlas Group with the robot M-11 and, just as he leaves, the rest of the team is called to action by a secret base in Nevada. What danger could require the whole inner circle? The Hulk!
Seeing the team come together without Woo or the power of M-11 was actually really nice. The action was not played simple or without consequence. The team goes through all the “expected” ways that you’d try to suppress the Hulk and the final solution ends up being creative and, while not surprising, satisfying. Jeff Parker really understands his characters and their team dynamic. He does it so well that this issue, which is actually quite good, seems mediocre by the standards set in the rest of the series. That can be a problem with a book that is so regularly good, you get accustomed to it and it’s hard to be “wowed!”
Art duties are well executed by Carlo Pagulayan on pencils and Jason Paz with Noah Salonga inks. The story flows very well and the creature designs are suitably creepy. It’s just a really solid book. The end cliffhanger actually has me wondering what’s next, and that’s not something many comic readers are accustomed to!