Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Thoughts On New Jersey Comic Expo 2017!

I was debating if I would do another write up on this local convention, since I'd already done so back in 2016 (with very positive things to say), but so much happened in such a short amount of time this year, that I simply couldn't imagine avoiding it! Everything in this post happened on Saturday; I didn't get to go on Sunday.

To be honest, I wasn't even sure if I could go to New Jersey Comic Expo this year. Despite having some very fairly-priced tickets, I admit I have not been in the best place with money right now, and wasn't sure if I would be able to fit this in with current budget constraints. Thankfully, things worked out enough that I could still manage this, and I'm so thrilled they did.

I got to the convention center a little after 11 AM, with an iced coffee tightly gripped into my hand for dear life. There was virtually no line to get in, so I was able to go right up to the ticket booth, scan my paper, and head on in. I started by doing a quick survey of the place, just to see where most things were (dealer's booths, artist alley, cosplay corner, etc.). Some of the first people I see happened to be Sal and Dave, the two behind Garden State Comic Fest. I pretty much see them at every local convention (as they are of course busy promoting their own, especially with their upcoming show in Atlantic City next year), but they're always a pleasure to talk with too. While I don't see myself heading out to Atlantic City for their new con, I'll be happy to attend their next one at the William G. Mennen Sports Arena once again.

The next table I stopped by was Scott Hanna's. He's one of my favorite inkers in comics, and worked on J. Michael Straczynski's Amazing Spider-Man run (the run that got me back into comic books in general!), so needless to say, I owe him quite a bit of gratitude. He's signed other issues for me before, so I only brought my copy of Amazing Spider-Man #500 this time. We both talked for a bit and agreed that he got off of the book at just the right time, as all of the following story arcs (seriously RIGHT after his departure) had a severe drop in quality, all the way through to One More Day, which I still complain about to this day.

After talking with Scott, I noticed my cosplay friend (also named Justin) had his own table in the artist alley, where he was selling sculpts he made of various things like Pokémon and Rick and Morty. I first met him at C3, where he did an excellent Obi-Wan Kenobi (prequel movie version). I love seeing friends of mine try and succeed in doing the things they love, so I really wish him the best. 

I walked around a bit more, and caught up with my friend Candice, her brother Kevin, and their friend Jordan, who I hung out with last year and was really happy to see once again. They're a great group. I always feel like I can be myself around them, without fear of being judged for all my nerdy/introverted quirks (not that there was anyone even remotely mean at this convention, that I'm aware of).

Candice and I happened to be looking forward to the same guests (particularly Gail Simone and Garth Ennis), so we both set out to find their booths. When we finally reached Gail Simone's table, we were convinced that we were seeing things: She had absolutely no line whatsoever! Seriously, after multiple years where I missed my chance to meet her at New York Comic Con, it was almost unbelievable. She was just as nice as I've always heard, and had a really great spirit in the way she talked about comics. We all agreed that smaller cons can be so much nicer when it comes to breathing room and getting more time to chat with fans. She was kind enough to sign my Batgirl #1 (New 52) and take a picture. I would actually end up seeing her multiple times throughout the con, just from walking around, getting lunch, etc.

Garth Ennis's table was right around the corner, so Candice and I went to line up for him (since he would be arriving in less than 10 minutes). Thankfully, the line moved pretty fast once he got there, and he signed my copy of Preacher Vol. 1. I wish I had copies of his Punisher MAX series as well, but Preacher was more than enough for me. Garth was another person I tried to meet at New York Comic Con, but never managed to get to. It was funny how well that continued to work.

After this, we started to make our way over to the cosplay area. Every year, I see more and more people I know in this area, but this may have been the most I can ever recall. The Jedi with Saber Guild alone were impressive... Most impressive. Two more friends of mine also named Justin (that makes a grand total of 4 if you include me!), and a James were there. They do all kinds of shows and performances throughout the country, and they're always a lot of fun. I recommend checking them out if you're ever looking for some great Jedi action, or if you want to become a Padawan yourself.

While I was talking with my Jedi friends, I happened to notice Ming Chen of Comic Book Men walking right past us, and called out to him. We had a quick talk about how he was doing, and how I completely missed all of them the one time I did go to their store (commonly referred to as The Stash). He also took a quick picture with me.

I also spoke with Lua Stardust really quick. I've seen her at a billion other local cons at this point, so I always make it a priority to say hi and show some support. Trying to turn cosplay from a hobby into a full-time job is no easy task, and I really respect her for how far she's come with it.

On the way to find Tom DeFalco's table, I ran into my friend Lily, and her friend Scarlet, who were both cosplaying Disney princesses (Lily was Rapunzel and Scarlet was Elsa). I didn't get to talk with Lily for very long, but the minute or so I did ended up being my favorite moment of the entire convention! A little girl (had to be 2 or 3 years old) walked right up to Scarlet (Elsa) with such a look of awe, and gave her a big hug. As we geeks continue to get older, it's easy for us to forget that we all started out as tiny kids with big dreams and imaginations too. It was those bits of inspiration as children that would later help shape us into who we are today. That little girl just got a huge dose of that inspiration, and seeing it happen in front of me was everything. This is what it's all about.

After getting up to Tom DeFalco's table, he happened to hear Kevin and I talking about Amazing Spider-Man #252, as well as Secret Wars #8. Turns out, I had a misconception about the black costume, that Tom was happy to correct me on! While Secret Wars #8 was chronologically showcasing the first time Peter acquired the black costume, its first actual appearance in comics was in Amazing Spider-Man #252, which predated Secret Wars #8 by about 7 months. I've had both issues for years and honestly never knew this, much to my own embarrassment! Tom also proceeded to tell us a funny story about how he was working to co-write the black costume into this issue, while getting told from above that fans would hate it and it would never work out. They even went as far as to say he'd be to blame if sales plummeted as a result. Needless to say, the rest is now history, and I personally thanked him on behalf of all Spidey fans for sticking to his guns, and for helping (alongside many others) to give us one of the greatest Spidey costumes of all time! Encounters like this are simply priceless to me. There's nothing like hearing stories straight from the creator's own mouths!

The rest of the event mostly consisted of walking around in circles and interacting with all kinds of great people and cosplayers. Off the top of my head, I remember speaking briefly with Cliff Galbraith (of East Coast Comic Con), an amazing Obi-Wan cosplayer (who absolutely made Kevin's entire weekend), Robert Bruce, and even an old friend of mine from high school, Kristen Accardi. I also couldn't help but smile every time someone complimented my Cuphead/Pulp Fiction mash-up shirt, which was at least 6 people that I can recall off the top of my head. Honestly, even when I'm not one of the guests at an event like this, all the friendly and helpful people there make me feel like I am one. It's one of the few types of places where I know I can truly be myself and actually be respected for it.

So thank you to all those who attended and helped brighten my day with each passing moment. My only hope is that I was able to brighten other people's day out there as well. It's been fun, and I'll gladly see you all again next year. Take care, and thanks for reading!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Relevance Of .hack, Both Then And Now

When Namco Bandai announced it would be remastering all of .hack//G.U., I was beyond ecstatic. Not known for having the most stellar gameplay out there, the .hack series always had a huge place in my heart, with its unique (for its time) setting and fascinating story premise. The first four entries in the series focused on the original version of "The World," the online game in which the .hack series takes place. Its sequel, G.U., took place in the second, with an all-new story and gameplay enhancements to go with it. After foolishly selling all seven copies of the PS2 games years ago, I finally had another chance to revisit The World once again. Was it worth it? Can a series that came out in the early 2000's (with notably outdated technology) still hold relevance as we approach the end of 2017? I believe the answer is yes. Not including the fact that G.U. takes place in 2017 itself, there is so much more ground to cover.

While hosting numerous differences, both stories focused on characters who got involved in playing The World, only to face a strange circumstance that would bring a close friend of theirs to get attacked in-game, and put the actual player into a coma back in the real world. This set the stage for a new type of storytelling back in 2002/2003 that has continued to impress. On top of playing the game and leveling up your characters, players would view an actual desktop interface, complete with forums and news sites, to gain further clues and insight into the mystery behind The World. I'm continually shocked by how well it holds up.

It's very easy to screw up a setting like this. All it takes is a bunch of robotic forum posts or poorly written news stories to take a gamer right out of the experience. I'm happy to say that was never the case with this series. For example: Multiple forum posts were started by someone who went by the username ωRICE. The character in front of the word rice means "O-h-m," but another forum poster stated that it looked like a butt to them, and began to call the user "Butt RICE," causing multiple "LOL's" from the other users, even though it had no relevance to the post or the story's plot. Little moments like these really helped keep the illusion going.

I was even more impressed by the relevance of the news articles you would read throughout each title (especially in G.U.). For a game made in 2006, they were pretty darn accurate with their predictions of what 2017 would look like (technologically speaking). One story talked about people farming and trading in-game items for real world currency, which is very much a thing people do in gaming today, not even including micro-transactions.

On top of all this, the main story is also worth revisiting. The .hack games have a knack for giving you an enticing mystery (with surprisingly high stakes), following it up with a relatively satisfying conclusion, and leaving you with many other questions after you leave. I think this is the perfect setup. One of the things that made the original .hack story so engaging was the way it kept you continually guessing. Game series' such as Silent Hill have always relied on this type of model to keep each entry fresh and new, and it's worked quite well for them. I'll never forget the way my jaw dropped the first time I took .hack//Infection for a spin, and how surprisingly grotesque the earliest parts of the game were, despite not having any actual violence in them. Lackluster gameplay or not, I knew I was in this for the long haul.

The story would not have the "oomph" it really needed without a great cast of characters. While each game certainly had a few duds to go with it, the great characters far out-weighed them. Alongside your regular interactions and experiences with these character in The World, you also had the option to talk with them through your email. These conversations would lead to the reveal of much more personal information about each player (things like favorite foods, hobbies, goals, what inspires them, etc.) and once again, add to the illusion that I mentioned above. Again, it was not a perfect setup, but I was absolutely blown away by how well-structured the whole thing was.

I have to also mention that the concept of hacking in this game was quite interesting, and really did make me feel like I was doing something "wrong" as the game moved along further. It's a special kind of dread that I can't properly put into words; you just have to see it in action for yourself.

You may have noticed that review scores for the .hack games have never been very high. I have no problem talking about why that is, here (as they do have some valid points among them):
  • For starters, (and as I have already alluded to above), the gameplay is clearly not that interesting. The original series had you limited to one main attack button, and a menu to select special attacks/items from. That. Was. It. The G.U. series thankfully improved on this formula greatly, with multiple types of attacks to choose from, as well as options like holding down the attack button to unleash a more powerful strike.
  • The worlds/dungeons you explore in these games can become very repetitive very quickly (especially in the original series). While each zone feels like a random generation, there is simply not much to do in them, other than carry out the same objectives again and again. It doesn't help that they all look like the same three designs going back and forth either.
  • Each entry in the series simply felt like an expansion to the last, with no major changes in the gameplay mechanics. (Though this is more typical of some downloadable content today, we need to remember that these were being sold as full-priced games with each additional installment.) This would cause the review scores of each entry to be lower than the last. G.U.'s scores were especially low due to this, as people were already burnt out from the multi-volume setup, and lack of enhancements with each entry.
I don't blame the reviewers for having issues with the games. In fact, if you look at the typical criteria to which game review scores are made up, the low numbers should make plenty of sense. On paper, it sounds like a lousy experience. I'm explaining all of this because I truly believe that the series is worth checking out, even despite these (obviously) glaring issues.

When a story pulls you in to the point where you feel you NEED to see how it all plays out? I believe this series has accomplished that. When you want to stick with something because you feel the people involved in it have become your own best friends, realistic personality traits and all? I believe this series has accomplished that as well.

I used to attribute my love for this series to the way it related with my own personal life, back around the same time (getting into more online games, internet forums, etc.). By the time G.U. came out, I realized it was more than just that, however. These games can have the same effect on you as a really great book, and leave you feeling that infamous "What am I going to do with myself now!?" attitude that you love to hate.

I hope my words have proven insightful for those who were on the fence about giving it a try. If you do have previous experience with the .hack games, or trying them out for the first time, I'd love to hear your thoughts as well! Thanks for reading, as always!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Cuphead Meant To Me

I've been talking about Cuphead a LOT since it first came out. Even after beating it on my PC last week, I still keep coming up with more and more thoughts about the whole experience, and what went into making it. I'm hoping to put the remainder of my thoughts on the game here, so I can finally move on to new topics (as well as stop annoying all of my friends by not shutting up about it!).

I'll get the obvious out of the way: this game is a visual masterpiece, and deserves every bit of praise it gets for that. I used to watch some of the very cartoons from the era that this game was based off of (i.e. the 1930's), when I was very young. My grandma used to buy VHS tapes with old cartoons on them, which I'd happily watch while eating whatever cookies she kept in her jar in the kitchen. Some were very fun, cutesy and silly (I especially loved the Fleischer Superman and Popeye cartoons), but others... Wow. When people tell you that 30's cartoons are very trippy and even scary at times, they are NOT lying. I remember being a little disturbed by a few of them, but continued to watch anyway. Years later, I still can't help but be intrigued by hand-drawn animation. There's an artistic quality and freedom of expression that I have a hard time finding in most of today's CG dominated platform. That's not to say CG animation is bad to me of course; it just doesn't capture the same level of imagination. So yes, seeing this style represented (and represented WELL at that!) really took me for a ride.

Something that does not get talked about as much with regards to Cuphead, is it's surprisingly great soundtrack! It's a wonderful combination of free-form jazz and big band music, that further sucks you into the 1930's aesthetic. I had never heard of Alana Bridgewater before, but after hearing her amazing vocal performance in "Die House," you can now call me a fan. The animation is what will likely get the most attention from gamers (and understandably so), but I personally feel the soundtrack is just as important in a case like this.

Cuphead also got me to feel nostalgic in a way I wasn't expecting: old-school difficulty! The game is tough, but not in the way that some modern gamers may be used to. The gameplay clearly channels classic run-and-gun shooters, such as Contra and Metal Slug, which I also have some pretty fond memories of (even though I couldn't really beat either of them without some kind of cheat codes handy!). People saying it's "like Dark Souls" are kind of missing the mark, since there are really no comparisons to make to it, other than "it's another hard game."

To be honest, I wasn't sure if I initially wanted to go back to a gameplay style this difficult. I used to have much more time for games when I was younger, and could easily sit around all day and learn the patterns I needed to for completing them. Now, I'm an adult (or so I'm told), with adult responsibilities and less time to blow on difficult games. That didn't stop me from completing Bloodborne after its release, but it took me over 3 months to actually get there, due to said time/responsibilities.

But I did it. After streaming Cuphead on Twitch for a couple of hours in the course of three nights, I finally completed the game, and didn't regret playing it for a second. What convinced me to go all the way? It's hard to say. I absolutely wanted to see what every level and bossfight in this game looked like, but I think there may have been more to it. Perhaps that feeling of gaming nostalgia really hit me when the bosses in World 2 were already giving me serious trouble. Maybe I just wanted to see it all myself, without having to resort to walkthroughs or videos of other people playing the same thing. I may never really know, but whatever possessed me to do it, I'm glad. I don't remember the last time I felt such a sense of accomplishment from even beating a game. It could be due to the lack of games actually made like this anymore, but it's hard to say for sure.

The difficulty will turn some people off to this game, and that's understandable. I have seen far too many so-called "gamers" out there berating others for not being as good as them at a title like this, or not willing to invest in the fairly large amount of time it takes to "git gud." Please, don't be one of those people. Gaming is for EVERYONE. Some people look for a challenge, but others may just want to get away with some escapism, and have fun while doing it. They're all valid reasons. Nobody is more or less of a gamer for that, and the toxicity is getting out of hand.

With all of that said, I'm really happy that I got to play something like this, and even more so that I got to finish it. Not only did it bring me back to a time where beating a game meant repeating a sequence over and over until you mastered it, but it showed me that I'm still capable of winning a game like this, even now as I'm over 30 years old. I used to think that I was no longer as good at the older titles as I used to be, and I'm glad to discover that's not actually the case.

The experience I got from this was well worth the $20 asking price, and I hope other people at least got some level of enjoyment out of it too. But again, to the people who find it too hard, that's okay too. The game IS hard. There's no shame in having trouble with it. I had trouble with it, and I'm pretty sure I've been a gamer for about 28 years now.

WHEW, okay. I think I've finally gotten it all out of my system now. It's been a blast talking about Cuphead with others, and learning about what it means to them. The answers are very rarely the same, and it's always fun to get new perspectives about it, no matter what side of the fence they come from. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below as well. Until then, look forward to lots of spooky/survival horror game streaming from me during the rest of the month (and maybe even beyond)! I'll see you all then!

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Can You Accomplish In Just One Day At New York Comic Con?

I will always have a special place in my heart for New York Comic Con (NYCC). The Jacob Javitz Center marked the first "big" convention I ever went to. It's grown steadily over the years, to the point where tickets that used to be available at the venue DURING the weekend of, have since become unavailable within the first hour or two of online pre-orders going up. It's been quite a wild ride, and somehow, I'm still here to talk about it, even now. The removal of weekend passes, forcing con-goers to purchase individual tickets for each day of the event, really struck a chord with many, including myself. My finances haven't been the best as of late, and I originally decided this would be the first year I would NOT be attending as a result. So, what happened? Well, as time went on, Thursday passes continued to stay in stock, up until the last few days before the convention. I happened to catch one of the guest announcement emails, stating that Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie would be attending on said Thursday. After that, I decided "Okay, I guess if for anything, I can at least go to take a photo op with them. Let's give this a try!" So, how much can you accomplish at New York Comic Con in a single day? More importantly, how much can you accomplish on a Thursday!? The answer may surprise you.

After arriving at the Javitz Center around 11:00 AM or so, my friend and I were thrilled to see there was no delay getting inside (other than everyone being directed around the building to reach a specific entrance. It was a little annoying, but I admit it helped move the line along smoothly, so I really couldn't complain. Having TWO entrances instead of one this year was also a godsend). We wanted to approach the show floor first, in order to see if it was too late to get in on a signing. This was for Koji Igarashi (of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night), signing a small art poster for Bloodstained. We had assumed we were going to miss out on this one (since it began at 10:30 AM) and had figured the line would be capped by that point. To our amazement, it was not. Stranger than that, the line wasn't even very long! My friend and I got to the front in less than 20 minutes, with beautiful signed posters, and a great picture with Igarashi himself!

Keeping our eye on the clock in order to make a 12:45 panel, we looked around the Show Floor some more, in order to see if any exclusives we wanted were still lurking around. At the Oni Press booth, I picked up a variant cover of the Rick And Morty comic, designed to look like the cover art of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the Nintendo Gamecube. We also had a great discussion with some of the people working the booth (who have worked with Oni Press for years), who explained just how they've grown off the sales of Invader Zim and Rick And Morty alone. It was really insightful, and I'm glad we had enough time to chat with them before heading back downstairs to the Main Stage.

My friend happened to win a lottery for the Batman Ninja panel at 12:45, who was also able to include me as a guest. The good news is that even if he hadn't won, there was still plenty of room left to get into the panel, up until the final minutes before! I admit, from the second I had heard about the team behind this project, I knew I was going to be interested. It includes Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai), Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann and Kamen Rider Fourze), and Jumpei Mizusaki (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure), making this one heck of a lineup. All three were able to attend the panel, with an excellent translator to tell us their thoughts on the movie. They did not allow us to record the teaser trailer (though I admit, being among the first in the world to see it was a nice tradeoff), but it was quite a sight to behold! I am not typically a fan of CG-styled anime, but this one immediately won me over by being so stylish and interesting. (If you are familiar with any of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure openings, it's very reminiscent of that, only more fluid.) Seeing many of the Batman characters we know and love in armor and sword-fighting was also quite a treat. The Joker in this trailer actually reminded me of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI in his appearance, and I mean that in the best way possible. Near the end, I even got to ask the panelists a question of my own: Whether or not we were going to be seeing any new characters (or even villains?) alongside the classic ones that we know. While they admitted that was not really the focus in this case, Kazuki Nakashima noted that I was "very observant." Having the writer of such famous shows as Gurren Lagann and Kamen Rider Fourze tell you that, is quite a unique feeling.

After the panel, we were all invited to go up to the Bandai booth for a free signing with the panelists, and it was a ton of fun! We got to thank everyone up close for their efforts, and even got a nice signed postcard for coming up. It was overwhelming how many famous Japanese creators I got to meet in a single day, by this point. But we weren't done yet; not by a long shot...

After grabbing some quick lunch (because food is important; don't forget!), my friend and I headed over to check out the new Artist Alley location. Since the old one got closed down, it was now located to the left of the Main Stage room. I admit, there were a few times I felt like this location was more cramped than the previous one. I can't actually confirm that though, so I wouldn't try to pass it off as a fact. This section of the con was always my favorite in previous years, and though I didn't have much time in it, there was still great fun to be had. I already had my first issue of Batman/Superman signed by Greg Pak, but this year, I also got to meet Jae Lee. He was happy to sign my issue, and a very nice guy to talk with. I also found Joe Benitez's booth, and finally got my first four Lady Mechanika issues (#0-4) signed by him. It's an excellent series that's not nearly popular enough. I hope that changes as time goes on. Although I had missed my chance to meet Tom King and David Finch for the day, their booth was actually selling signed copies of Batman: Rebirth Vol. 1, so I decided to go with that. As much as I would have liked to talk with them in person, it was still a nice opportunity, and it's not like these two are going away anytime soon. I also got to briefly meet up with my friend Sarah (with her own booth in the Artist Alley!), who I hadn't seen since around the time Batman Vs. Superman came out. She makes cute buttons and you should all buy them.

No time to breathe! It was now around 4:30 PM and I had a photo op with Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie (of Doctor Who) at 5:00 PM. This may be the only part of the convention I had some hassle with. While pre-purchased photo op tickets have always said to come about 15 minutes before your photo op starts, this was the first time I ever saw the policy seem to get implemented. I was told to come back "closer to the time of the photo op," even though it was less than 20 minutes to. I basically stood with a large crowd of people, all waiting to get into the right line. It seemed all of the line spaces were completely filled up for other things (and the majority of it appeared to be for Mark Hamill, though I may have been wrong about that). As a result, we were finally directed to line up, but couldn't do so from the front. Instead, we were told to go all the way around from the middle section of the room, to the back of the now empty section, and walk up to the front to line up there. If that sounds confusing, it's because it was. None of us were certain that we were even in the correct line, and it didn't help when they started lining up more people for the same photo op in a separate line to fill up the spaces. While we did thankfully move right in at 5:00, that was a huge anxiety attack that I didn't feel had to occur. I've done photo ops at this convention for many years, and never run into any issues like this before now. Despite all this, things still went smoothly once we got in, and Peter and Pearl were both delightful to talk with. (They also give really big hugs too!)

After that anxiety attack was diluted, I decided I'd go get some iced coffee to keep up the pace for the remaining hours. Ironically, this was the longest line I stood in the entire day! I couldn't even be mad, since I was too busy laughing about the fact. During my time there, I got a text from my friend, saying he had just talked with Pete & Pete (yes, THAT Pete & Pete!). I sighed, took a large gulp from my plastic coffee cup, and made a mad dash to the booth he told me they were at. Sure enough, it really WAS Pete & Pete (with their real names of Mike Maronna and Danny Tamberelli). They were some of the most casual people I met the entire day, and I even got into a great music discussion with Mike (since he turned out to be a huge fan of The Replacements, one of my personal favorite bands)!

You would think the excitement would have died down by now, but you'd be wrong! Following one more run through the Show Floor, I got some free JoJo's Bizarre Adventure postcards for doing a pose and getting a picture in front of their giant Jotaro statue. I was also accompanied by an excellent Noriaki Kakyoin cosplayer for this shot. With about 40 or 45 minutes remaining until our next panel, my friend and I decided to head back toward the Main Stage to begin lining up.

For the next panel (StarTalk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Adam Savage), I happened to have won another lottery, allowing my friend and I some spots inside. Once again, even if we had not won these lotteries, there was still room to get spots for the panel earlier in the morning/afternoon. Though it did fill up much faster than the Batman Ninja panel, it was still open for a reasonable amount of time. (With that said, I DID appreciate the peace of mind, though!)

Although we were much farther back in the line to get inside, my friend and I made our way to the left side of the stage, and still got seats very close to the front. My phone's camera is terrible (and my friend's phone had completely died by that point), so I didn't get any great pictures from this panel. That said, it was well worth the wait! Dr. Tyson, Adam Savage, Chuck Nice, and S. Matthew Liao all had a fascinating discussion on human augmentation, the concept of giving various forms of enhancements to humans; some for increasing our natural capabilities, and others for simply allowing those with disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else. They went into the topics of how far we've come, how far we are going, and the question of if we can or will ever go too far. Don't fret however, as there were plenty of laughs along the way (especially from comedian, Chuck Nice, who had the audience howling with laughter more than a few times). I wish I hadn't been feeling so tired by that point of the convention, as the discussion was truly insightful, and it left you with a lot to ponder once all was said and done.

With the last panel of the convention finished up, it was time to get some (late) dinner and finally head home. My ears were ringing, my voice was a little shot, and I was pretty sure my calves were never speaking to me again. (So far... No, they're still not.) When I finally had time to process all my thoughts from the day, I simply looked back in disbelief at everything we had managed to accomplish in just one day of this convention. While it's true that experiences from Friday-Sunday may have varied, Thursday was an absolute blast! If anyone tries to tell you that you can't get anything done in one day of this convention, I hope you'll be able to show them just how wrong they can be. One day or four, this con is always a blast to attend, and I'll never forget the new friends and experiences I met along the way. I only hope your future con experiences are as fun as mine! Let me know of your NYCC experiences in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions Of A Media Manipulator By Ryan Holiday

'Trust Me, I’m Lying' ruined the internet for me, and I couldn’t be happier. For years, we’ve all known something was “off” about the blogs/articles we read, but it hasn’t been as easy to put a finger on exactly what (or at least be able to properly articulate it). It took a while before I finally got to reading this one; not due to what I stated above, but rather the fact that I didn’t really know how to feel about the author, Ryan Holiday. While it’s true that the intent of this book was to put out information on how the media gets the info that we later perceive as news, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Ryan himself previously contributed to this very situation. In the end, I decided that I should give it a shot, based on his current attitude of at least trying to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again. The approach actually reminded me of Kevin Mitnick’s “The Art of Deception,” in which Kevin (known as the “World’s most notorious hacker” at the time) revealed how he performed all of his various acts of hacking in the 80’s. This book goes a bit beyond that type of idea however, as it not only goes into Ryan and his personal experiences with bloggers and media, but into how just about EVERY major news outlet gets its “sources” and “breaking” stories.

Just the fact that I’m even writing up a blog about this might be a little silly to anyone who’s read the book before. That’s because it talks all about the ways bloggers have changed the way we receive news, through posts without (usually) any hint of credibility behind them. Sources are almost a joke of a term under this regard. It’s easy to read a news story and assume the source is accurate (especially if it comes from a fairly large news network that’s been around since before most of us were even born). Here, Ryan talks all about why you should never, EVER assume.

Holiday, of course, is aware that this kind of topic could also cause one to question his words, as well as his motives. He uses many of the book's chapters to go into great detail, with example cases to back the data up. It wasn't uncommon to find a site getting exposed for using a bogus source, and (more frighteningly) still getting away with it most of the time. In fact, many of these sources didn’t even remove their provenly fake stories after the case.

How do big sites and news networks allow stories like this through in the first place? Surely, they have people to stop them and say “No, that’s not a verifiable source; you can’t use that,” right? Not necessarily. At least, not if those people believe it will get their site a lot of page clicks. If I told you that sites focus more on their ability to generate page clicks than accurate news, would you believe me? You don’t have to, as the business model pretty much writes itself. That’s their very lifeblood. The more pages clicked, the more advertisement revenue generated by the ads placed on each page. Some sites try to make you click through a “slideshow” of 10+ pages to get the entire story. Others will force a page to reload after a minute or two, so it can load more ads on the same page you’re already viewing.

It would be one thing if the forcefulness stopped there. On top of all those factors, sites (as you may already realize) post headlines and stories that are designed to evoke an emotion more than they are to simply report the news. This has been going on since far before the age of the internet (as any classic newspaper headline can show you). These sites and articles prey on your anger, fear, and even your hopeful nature, all for the sake of getting more clicks. Have the more shocking headline, get more viewers as a result, profit. Getting people’s attention through hate was proven to be one of the most effective methods. Why? Negative press from everyone who shares it. Ryan himself started a negative campaign for a friend of his when trying to promote a movie. Since he had little resources to promote the movie with, he purposely angered feminist groups in order to make them rally against it. This, in turn, got the attention of a smaller amount of people who actually agreed and went along with the hateful things Ryan was promoting in this form of advertising. The controversy caused it to reach more people, making the project a much bigger success than it ever should have been.

Have a site that you frequent for news? Ryan likely exposed it in this book through some example. The truth is that as noble as some may claim to be in their act of reporting, it won’t bring in enough revenue if they’re not following all the strategies I mentioned above. It’s an awful truth that I admit I still have trouble accepting sometimes. It’s not that I believe ALL news posted is somehow fake, but there is clearly a large spin on more stories than we may realize. Again, this is all to create an emotional response from us, and maybe even get us to share it with others and continue the cycle.

So why even give people this information? The book literally tells you how to manipulate the media for your own personal gain. That much is true, but like the act of hacking, one must learn how said hacking works before they can properly fight against it. This book’s methodology is no different in that regard. And admittedly, our brains have already become so tainted, that even when we see something and know it is not true, we can still have an emotional response or reaction to it. It’s an alarming situation that I never seem to find enough people talking about.

This book has now become a requirement for many classes involving journalism, and it’s not hard to see why. The information contained is invaluable. With that said, I could more than understand someone finding issue with the person who wrote this book, as (once again), he himself contributed to the very mess we now find ourselves in. There are also parts of the book where Ryan can come off a bit condescending, and I admit, I usually avoid reading anything where I get that type of vibe from someone.

The other final complaint I can make here is that some parts of the book felt like a regurgitation of material Ryan already covered in past chapters. It was at the point where I felt the book could have been at least a quarter-length shorter if he had wanted.

With all of that said, in today’s modern age of information, the material covered here is absolutely essential for anyone who looks to the internet for news (as WELL as news networks on television, since their sources typically come from the same questionable places), and any aspiring journalist who wants a clear understanding of what they're currently up against. For its small faults, it’s hard to not recommend this to just about everyone I know, so we can finally paint a clearer picture of not only what’s going on around us, but WHY it’s happening, and what we can finally do to rise above it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Deadpool's Hera-Approved Review Of Wonder Woman (2017) (Spoiler-Free-Ish)

Wonder Woman, yeah!!! Howdy everyone. It's taken over 75 years, but Warner Bros. finally got their heads out of their nether regions long enough, to realize that people actually WANTED a Wonder Woman movie done proper. Who'd have thought that if you actually listen to your fans, good things could happen, eh Warner??? You want to know what the real wonder is, folks? How it took us so bloody long to get here!!! But it's all water under the bridge now, I suppose. At least assuming we can keep more stuff like this coming in the future. So HOW'D IT ACTUALLY DO!? Read below for my overlong and unnecessarily detailed analysis.

Does Gal Gadot fit the role of Diana? Of COURSE she does; why did you even ask that!? You already saw how she was the best part of Batman Vs. Superman, so of COURSE that was going to carry over again. Chris Pine also does a great job as the role of Captain Steve Trevor. Before I even go into the rest of this, I just want to say how AWESOME all the Amazonian women were. I mean, they were more than just realistic. They were the real freaking thing! Every single one of them could have kicked my ass from here to Sunday, no question. Kudos to the studio for making things so real and body positive in the process. I wish my body were more positive about me. Yes, I CAN hear you, body. No, I don't think it was a big deal that I ate that. Get out of my head!... Yes, yes, we'll get tacos later. Now shh.

The story is actually very reminiscent of George Pérez's famous run on the book, which is awesome, because that was easily one of the best runs in the comic's entire history! We get to brush up on the history of the Amazonians on their island of Themyscira, and learn about Diana and all of her motivations, before MAN comes along and ruins everything (as usual, am I right ladies?). Steve Trevor lands on the Themyscira while trying to escape the Germans. Yes, we're talking about WWI here, folks, try and keep up! Trevor's got information that could potentially save millions of lives and put an end to the war. Diana, unable to resist being a bad-ass, decides she has to go out and help him reach his destination so they can save the world! Diana believes that the war is all the doing of Ares, the god of war, and is determined to defeat him in order to end it.

So the straight men might have noticed something... different about this movie, but they can't quite put their finger on it. Well, put that finger back where it came from, and I'll let you in on a little secret. For the first time (in like, ever), this superhero movie wasn't made specifically for you! I know, shocking that it's about someone else besides you for once, right!? While Gal Gadot is beautiful and fierce, the movie doesn't focus on sexualizing her, the way we've seen from so many other movies of this type. It doesn't try to hide imperfections or focus on how they can make everything look pleasing to the dudebros. Hell, I think I even saw a thigh jiggle during one of the fight scenes. THAT was an oddly revolutionary moment. #ReleaseTheThigh

While the movie does suffer from a few of the typical Hollywood tropes that we've seen in a million other superhero films, it still gets points for doing a lot of things in the reverse. Instead of the typical "male character develops after loved female is killed" trope, we get almost the exact opposite scenario, without going into too many spoilers. It may not seem like much to the untrained eye, but that's actually a BIG. EFFING. DEAL.

There is a particular scene that I feel the need to mention, because it's indisputably the best part of the entire movie. When reaching No Man's Land, Diana bears witness to a barricade with two sides who have been at war for years. Trevor tries to convince Diana that it's pointless to interfere. And do you know what she did as a result of that? She climbed up that f@#king ladder and kicked all kinds of f@#king ass! She even knocked a soldier out of a tower, by ramming him THROUGH the tower!!! This was such a hero-defining moment, I actually started to tear up a little. (Yes, men can do that too, jeez!) You might be alarmed to know that brilliant scene almost wasn't in the movie at all. No, seriously, look it up right now. I'll wait...

... I know, right!!!? Warner Bros. are their own supervillains, I swear. Thank GOD for director Patty Jenkins, fighting to keep that epic scene in there. Fight on, Patty! You the real MVP!

Now, of course the movie isn't perfect. The villains are pretty forgettable for the most part (with the sole exception of Doctor Poison, who I was much more interested in learning about than anyone else, including Ares himself!). The other men who joined up to fight alongside Diana and Steve were also pretty forgettable, and once again fell victim to a lot of your typical support character tropes. Nothing deal-breaking of course. The only other complaint I can really think of is that the slow motion went a bit too far this time. I want to make it clear that the fight scenes in this movie were wonderful (no pun intended sort of kind of okay actually maybe a little, tee hee), but they didn't need to slow down every single moment, like they did.

I can already hear a bunch of guys around me going "Eh, it was okay. I don't see what the big deal is other than the fact that it's a woman this time." Well guess what, sparky? That alone IS a big deal. You may have noticed that it's LITERALLY NEVER HAPPENED before in superhero movies. In fact, come closer. No, just come here. I promise I won't mug you... this time. Here, look at this picture:

That, right there? That is EVERYTHING. THAT is what this is all about! You know how you were running around in your Batman underoos, feeling inspired to save the world from The Joker yourself one day? Well now every young girl is getting one of those role models to look up to as well, and it's pretty damn glorious. Say what you will about the little shortcomings, but this is a triumph and should be treated as such. This is also easily the best film of the DC Universe of movies by far. I only hope we can look forward to more of that with this new Justice League movie coming along.

9 Swings Of The Lasso Of Truth Out Of 10

Extra bit of kudos goes out to Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, who did an excellent job portraying a more typical woman from WWI-era, helping show off the even bigger divide between Diana's life and the lives of all those around her. Did I mention Wonder Woman still has one of the catchiest theme songs in this entire movie universe? (Hans Zimmer is simply way more metal than the rest of us. There, I said it.) Are you seeing this, Marvel? DC has (finally) thrown the gauntlet, and it's your turn to woo us now. No excuses!!! Meantime, I've already got a great new cosplay idea... Toodles!!!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Comic Review: DC's "The Button" Parts 2-4 (2017) (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

As a way of making up for falling behind on comics this past month, I decided to simply read through all three remaining parts of the storyline (Flash #21, Batman #22, and Flash #22) and write up one final review for it. The good news is that the next major event involving this story isn't coming out until November, so I had plenty of time to catch up!

Flash #21 continues right where Batman #21 left off, leaving us to question what really killed Reverse Flash, and where would we go from here? As Barry/Flash attempts to make sense of everything going on around him, more parallels to Watchmen begin to stand out. In the double-page spread below, you can clearly see the black, white, and red coloring of the smiley face pin being displayed in the smaller panels, showing Bruce getting pummeled by Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash:

Once Barry finally speaks with Bruce again, he blames himself for the issues with the current timeline. Bruce tells Barry that it couldn't be his fault, as the issues they were experiencing pre-dated Flashpoint (still not fully understanding what Bruce is talking about here???). We get more reflections on Wally telling Barry that moments of their history were stolen from them, and what it all means. Barry also remembered the helmet of a different Flash (Jay Garrick from Justice League of America), and the fact that it left him feeling calmer as a result of it, without really knowing why.

Barry decides to use the cosmic treadmill (that he once used to try and save his mother in the past), to follow the radiation of the smiley face button to its source, and determine what could have possibly killed Thawne. Bruce decides to go along too, despite still recovering from his encounter with Thawne. As they travel, they begin to see events from the past that they themselves don't even recall happening. This prompts Barry to question if this is some of what was "stolen" from them previously, but once again, it leaves us with more questions than answers.

Once they reach the end of their journey they come to meet Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne from the Flashpoint universe. (I suppose if Reverse Flash is going to rip up your only memento of the guy, the next best thing you can do is actually go see him in person, right?) This concludes Part 2.

Batman #22 (Part 3) continues with Thomas, Barry, and Bruce briefly following up on events. The most poignant question proposed is how the Flashpoint universe could still be existing at this point, if Barry prevented it from ever occurring at the end of the original Flashpoint comic. They begin to deduce that someone is purposely "holding" on to these different histories for one reason or another. We learn that Thomas was planning to commit suicide right before Barry and Bruce arrived, and that he was also about to be ambushed by both Amazonians and Atlanteans from the Flashpoint war. Bruce also gets a brief moment to tell Thomas that he's a grandfather.

Due to an incoming ambush of the Amazonians and Atlanteans, Bruce and Thomas unfortunately get no time to talk with one another, and immediately have to prepare for the onslaught coming their way, while Barry works to fix the cosmic treadmill. As this is all going on, the Flashpoint universe itself begins to come undone. Barry makes a point to say he felt like it was done on purpose, possibly by the same person who was "holding" these different points in history. Barry manages to fix the treadmill just in time. Just before leaving, Thomas says something quite bold to Bruce: "DON'T BE BATMAN. Find happiness, please. You don't have to do this. Don't do it for me. Don't do it for your mother. Be a father for your son in a way I never could be for you. Let the Batman die with me."

I admit, if I were Bruce, I would have no idea how to react to that. It also obviously has some type of impact, as I'll get into a little farther down.

Bruce and Barry continue on as the Flashpoint universe now becomes completely destroyed. After this, they immediately get passed by Reverse Flash. Wait, I thought he was dead!? Well, he is, but this is revealed to be the Reverse Flash of the past, right before the moment that killed him. He states that he knows who the power of the button belongs to, as he leaves Barry and Bruce behind. End of Part 3.

Flash #22 (Part 4) opens with a bit of a rehash of things we already saw from the previous issue for about six pages (which is kind of annoying when this story is only a short 4-part arc to begin with). The scene follows about the way you would expect it to; with Thawne going forward to his death by the hands of what we're pretty sure is Doctor Manhattan. The cosmic treadmill begins to break, while Bruce and Barry keep hearing a voice calling out to them. Barry couldn't seem to place the voice, but eventually listened and started to say his name, "... Jay?" If the cover didn't make it completely obvious, Jay Garrick (the original Flash from DC's Golden Age) makes a triumphant return in order to save Barry and Bruce, and quickly rushes them back to the batcave, where the entire event started. Unfortunately, Jay and Barry also don't get much time to talk, before Jay is whisked away once more. This leaves everyone with far more questions than answers (ugh!).

We finish things off with two more memorable moments. The first being Bruce, looking out at the batsignal, but reflecting on his father's words about not being Batman anymore. Bruce's silence in this scene actually said quite a bit, and it will be interesting to see how this affects his judgement going forward. The second scene in the epilogue, however, is the real big moment:

Yes, with that direct quote from Watchmen, familiar type of comic bubble, and gigantic blue hand, we can finally confirm that it was in fact Doctor Manhattan that killed Reverse Flash. Following this is an ad for DC's Doomsday Clock event, further continuing this story, and hinting at a very strong connection between the colors of the Watchmen pin and Superman's chest emblem.

I could easily see why some people would feel let down by this story arc. Like a lot of hype-train events from both DC and Marvel, many of these stories end up feeling like long advertisements for future events (in this case, the upcoming Doomsday Clock event in November), and this is really no exception to that rule. Part of the reason that I still came out of this event with more positive reactions than negative is the fact that I was expecting it to go that way. From the moment DC announced this was going to be a 4-part story arc, I knew there was no way we could have a story that would resemble anything complete or totally comprehensive. While I admit I did feel a little disappointed that we didn't get ANY answers to our questions yet, I'm also not one of those people who was expecting to get EVERY answer either. Looking back on this event for what it WAS instead of what it WASN'T, left me with a much more positive outlook. I was originally cringing at the thought of DC combining with the Watchmen universe, and now have to admit I'm actually kind of excited to see where this is all going.

If you've also read "The Button," feel free to share your thoughts with me.

Thanks for reading!

Flash #21 - 8/10
Batman #22 - 8/10
Flash #22 - 7/10