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Time Travel and Mutants – Thoughts on Marvel’s “All New X-Men” Vol. 1

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**Spoilers ahead on a whole bunch of mutant related goodness. You’ve been warned nerds!**

The last few years have not been kind to Scott Summers, the former leader of the X-men known as Cyclops.

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His “fall from grace” started when the mutant population was decimated by the Scarlet Witch in the “House of M” storyline (the infamous, “No More Mutants!” finale). Cyclops went from being the leader of a band of mutants fighting for acceptance in a world that hates and fears them, to being the leader of a dwindling number of mutants fighting off the very real threat of extinction. Various writers have explored this fascinating evolution in Scott’s character which has led him to a darker and more militant personality. Gone is the wide eyed idealist fighting for Xavier’s dream of mutants and humans living in harmony, replaced with a general that will do anything, including bend or break his morals and ideals to ensure the survival of what remains of  his race.

It was this Cyclops that put together a clandestine team of mutant assassins led by Wolverine to permanently deal with specific threats to mutant-kind (The excellent Uncanny X-Force series). It was this Cyclops that eventually had a violent falling out with Wolverine because Logan was opposed to Scott training up the remaining mutant teenagers to be soldiers ready to strike against a world that hates mutants, resulting in Wolverine opening a new school, the “Jean Grey School for High Learning” (The “Schism” storyline). And it was this Cyclops that led the X-Men against The Avengers to gain possession of the returning phoenix force (In “Avengers vs. X-Men), in the hope that it’s power could save mutants.

A mutant militant leader willing to get blood on his hands to ensure the survival of the “dominant species.” You realize what he’s become don’t you? Scott Summers is the new Magneto of the Marvel Universe. In fact, a much tamer and less villainous Magneto had been a part of Scott’s team of X-Men. Crazy right?

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Yet, despite all those developments Scott wasn’t what I’d consider a bad guy. However it was during the “Avengers vs. X-men” story where Cyclops crossed the line that did transform him into a villain to much of the Marvel universe. Five mutants, including Cyclops, were possessed by the Phoenix force. They were granted god-like power that easily rivaled that of Thor, but in return the Phoenix polluted and twisted their thoughts. Scott decided to unleash the “Phoenix Force Five” as they were now known to create a new world order – one that ensured the safety of the mutant race but through Scott and the Five ruling the world with a tyrant’s fist. When Cyclops’ mentor and father-figure Charles Xavier confronted Scott face to face in the hope of getting through to his surrogate son, Scott responded by murdering Xavier.

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Eventually, Cyclops was defeated and the Phoenix force fractures were spread out across the globe which resulted in the reboot of the mutant gene, sparking new mutants to be born for the first time since the Decimation. When looking back on his actions, Scott regretted the killing of Xavier yet said he wouldn’t change what he had done because it was for the good of mutant kind.

What a jerk, right?

Anyway, this leads us to “All New X-Men” Vol. 1. Cyclops has broken out of prison and has formed his new leadership team, consisting of Magneto, Emma Frost and Magik. They travel the world recruiting new young mutants that have surfaced and are preparing to lead a new mutant revolution. Meanwhile, as the X-Men over at Wolverine’s school try to figure out how to respond to Cyclops, The Beast makes a very bold and desperate move to stop Scott and perhaps save his old friend in the process.

Like any good (and crackpot) scientific genius making a hail mary play, the Beast turns to time travel. He travels back to when the original X-Men were teenagers, gives them his version of the “Marty, we have to go back to the future,” speech and brings them all to the present, specifically to have the young Scott confront the present one. The Beast hopes that if older Cyclops sees himself back when he had hope and belief in Xavier’s dream of co-existence, then maybe Scott will remember who he once was and attempt to restore that which he’s broken.

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I was very intrigued by this book when I first heard the premise. I’m a sucker for time travel and mutants, so of course I was in. Plus, it gave us an inventive way to bring Jean Grey back into the current Marvel universe without opting for yet another canned resurrection. When I finally got my hands on this first collection I had an absolute blast! Brian Michael Bendis (the writer) excels at writing teenage voices (read anything he’s done in the Ultimate Spider-Man universe for further proof) and he gives the teenage X-men a great combination of child-like wonder and confusion as they step foot into a darker future. Bendis also injects a healthy dose of his snarky humor throughout and in particular he’s written very entertaining interactions between the teenagers and their adult counterparts.

I very much enjoyed this first introductory arc. Additionally Bendis introduces subplots that interest me to see how they develop as the series continues, such as: Cyclops and his team having problems with their powers due to the Phoenix, the introduction of new mutant characters, the teenage X-men discovering what their adult counterparts have grown into (particularly Jean being exposed to her death and expansion of powers), and Wolverine dealing with Jean returning as a teen.

I highly recommend that you pick this series up! If you haven’t been following the X-Men for the last few years, this book does build off of those developments and you may not fully understand what is happening at first, but it’ll start to make sense soon enough.

That’s my humble (yet correct) opinion on “All New X-Men.” What’s yours? Do you like/dislike the idea of the original teenage X-men joining the current Marvel universe? Do you think this will create the world destroying paradox that Doc Brown warned Marty about? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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Best of the Worst – My favorite “so bad they’re awesome” WWF Gimmicks.

WWE Hulk Hogan

Growing up, I LOVED watching the old school World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Every Saturday at noon was a huge highlight of my week as I’d gather with my siblings to watch the latest episode of “Superstars” and cheer on Hulk Hogan as the proud young “Hulkamaniac” that I was. In fact, the main reason we got cable television was so I could watch Hulk Hogan take on Sgt. Slaughter in the main event of Wrestlemania 7.

What I loved most was the over the top characters in the “federation era” of pro-wrestling. This was before the anti-heroes and everyday men such as Stone Cold and CM Punk that have since become all the rage. Back then, wrestling characters were truly that – characters! They had more in common with comic books than anything else. In wrestling lingo the character you portray is called your “gimmick.” For example, Hulk Hogan being a flag waving patriot telling kids to “say their prayers and eat their vitamins” was his gimmick. The Ultimate Warrior wearing face paint, running to the ring while growling and giving incoherant interviews was his gimmick, and so on (although the Warrior was kind of crazy for real). And while that era had some AMAZING gimmicks (Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, etc) there were also some that were awful. We’re talking pooping on top of poop” bad.  And that leads me to this list (Segway!)

What I’ve done is thought through my favorite era of wrestling (late 80s, early to mid 90s. Long before it became the “WWE.”) and listed out my personal TOP 5 WORST gimmicks of all time. And when I say “worst,” I mean in a “so bad that it’s actually pretty awesome, much like Sharknado” way. To me these are the definitive, “Seriously…what were they thinking?” gimmicks that I absolutely ADORE. Without further adieu…

5. DUKE “THE DUMPSTER” DROSEE.

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In the early 90s there was a seeming obsession with wrestlers having a “real job” in addition to wrestling. There was a wrestling plummer, Nascar racer, repo man, even a clown. But for whatever reason, my favorite “working man” moonlighting as a WWF superstar was Duke “The Dumpster” Drosee. If you haven’t figured it out through the clever nickname, Duke was a garbage man who also knew how to wrestle. He’d come to the ring carrying a trash can just to hammer home the idea that he did haul garbage for a living and before hitting his “finisher” he would often yell, “It’s time to take out the trash!”

I really do wonder what that meeting was like when corporate pitched the character to this guy. “Here’s the thing…you’re not going to be JUST a wrestler. But a garbage man who ALSO wrestles. It’ll be bigger than Hogan, guaranteed!” Despite whoever in the office sincerely believed this would work, Duke didn’t last long. As he’d put it, his gimmick was taken out with the trash (Zing!).

4. PAPA SHANGO

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Here we’ve got a voodoo shaman/priest/wacky mystical guy, who also happend to be a trained professional wrestler. Makes perfect sense, right? I remember watching him come to the ring wearing his “evil” top hat and carrying a fake skull filled with dry ice and the announcers having to act as if they were terrified of this guy. Talk about a true test of your vocal acting ability!

I also remember a rivalry he had with the Ultimate Warrior in which he “cursed” the Warrior, causing him to spit up black goo or something like that, and the announcers freaking out as if the Warrior had contracted ebola. The WWF office must have loved the black goo curse because Papa Shango kept doing it. When he was around the Warrior or even while being interviewed, someone would be struck down with the “black goo of voodoo.” Side note: “Black Goo of Voodoo” would make a killer band name. I call it. DIBS!

Shockingly enough, Papa Shango didn’t last. I guess selling Papa Shango branded top hats and “make your own voodoo curse kits” weren’t as big of sellers as the WWF had hoped.

3. TUGBOAT

WWE tugboat

Once again, I find myself wondering what the creative department was thinking with this gimmick. They have a legitimately large and intimidating wrestler yet instead of packaging him as a character appropriate for his physicality they put him in stripes, a sailor cap and named him Tugboat. If they desperately wanted a nautical themed wrestler why didn’t they at the very least pick a much cooler boat to name the poor guy after like, “Battleship” or even “The Living Air Craft Carrier.” Nope, they went with the little boat that tows all the bigger, much cooler star athlete boats into dock. Someone got paid for this idea. Probably a lot too!

The wrestler portraying the mighty Tugboat (ha!) eventually did find some mid-card success when he was repackaged as “Typhoon” and paired up with beloved wrestler heel (lingo for villain) Earthquake as the tag team, “The Natural Disasters.” At least some good came out of this guy being forced to dress like that on national television.

2. DR. ISAAC YANKEM, DDS.

WWE Isaac Yankem

If I remember correctly, Jerry “The King” Lawler (a heel at the time) was bringing in an “enforcer” type to help him deal with whoever he was feuding with. Rather than bring in a wrestler who was also an actual bodyguard, The King opted to be protected by his evil dentist. Now I know there are some haters out there that don’t understand why any wrestler would cower in fear at the sight of a dentist. To those naysayer I say this – look, his last name is “Yankem.” Clearly he’s a sadistic dentist who likes to yank out teeth. Get it? **FACEPALM**

I can’t help but wonder what Glenn Jacobs (the man behind the dentist) thought the first time he suited up and saw himself in the mirror. Do you think he was excited at all? Or do you think he thought something along the lines of, “Well…it could be worse. I could have been a garbage man.”
Shockingly enough, Isaac Yankem did not catch on with the crowds and the dentist was soon gone from the WWF. For many, a terrible gimmick can be a career killer but fortunately for Glenn, years later he got to leave his evil dentistry career behind and was repackaged as the Undertaker’s long lost brother, Kane. A wildly successful gimmick that has been around for almost twenty years now. Not to bad for the former Dr. Yankem.

WWE Kane

1. THE ORIGINAL UNDERTAKER

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There may be some initial confusion with this one, so let me clarify what I mean. The Undertaker is easily one of the most successful (and profitable) gimmicks of not just the last twenty years, but of all time. So then how can he possibly be on my “best of the worst” list? If we’re honest, the modern version of the Undertaker is sort of cheesy still, yet I and countless others find his character of, “I’m the lord of darkness. Rest in piece fools“, to be pretty awesome and strongly cheer it on. Therefore I’m giving the modern Undertaker a pass and focusing on his gimmick back when he first made his debut. What often get’s forgotten in the Undertaker’s lore is that when he first entered the WWF, he was basically portrayed as being a zombie. That’s right…an actual zombie who decided to enter the world of professional wrestling!

Granted, the WWF never flat out called him that, but let’s look at the facts – he was often called an “undead phenom” that never felt pain, was insanely pale, hailed from Death Valley CA, was dressed as a mortician from the old wild west, consistently popped out of coffins, and was managed by a guy named “Paul Bearer.” With a name like Paul Bearer, I don’t think you have many career options other than managing a zombie in the wacky world of pro-wrestling.

WWE Undertaker 2

On paper, this sound like one of the dumbest gimmicks ever, right? But that’s where the undeniable talent of Mark Callaway (the man behind the ‘Taker) comes in. This SHOULD have been a stupid gimmick – an old western zombie wrestling for the world championship? Yet Mark gave far more than 100% commitment to the Undertaker character and inexplicably HE GOT OVER with the fans. Not just slightly either, but got over BIG and The Undertaker became the legendary phenom we now know. Just goes to show how true talent can take something seemingly awful and make something great out of it.

Those are a few of my old favorites, but what do you think nerds? Who were some of your favorite so bad they’re good wrestlers? Are you upset that I left the “Red Rooster” off the list? (not making this up – that was an actual gimmick!) SOUND OFF in the comments below.

This has been a NERD ALERT!

 

 

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“Dorothy Must Die” – Thoughts on a radical new entry in the Oz legend

I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Wizard of Oz.”

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Growing up, it aired on television once a year (back when a movie airing on local channels was a big deal), and it was always billed as “an event.” Something about Judy Garland, the songs, the look, the cheesiness and especially the excessive cheeriness always sucked me in. To this day, I can’t help but smile when watching it. Enjoying the film gave me an interest in additional stories told in the Oz universe. Specifically, I had often wondered what a sequel would look like. If Dorothy ever returned to Oz, what would happen? While not considered official canon, as a kid I did enjoy that Disney produced “Return to Oz” that presented a darker look at Dorothy’s potential return. I’m sure it doesn’t hold up today (sadly, most of our beloved childhood movies don’t), but it did build an excitement in me for additional stories told after “The Wizard of Oz.”

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That leads me to a new book I recently heard about and quickly purchased by author Danielle Page titled, “Dorothy Must Die.”

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It’s a sequel (unofficial I’m sure) to Dorothy’s story with a unique premise – a down on her luck modern day Kansas teen named Amy Gumm is mysteriously brought to Oz via a tornado and discovers that Oz is now radically different from what is presented in the movie she grew up with. Turns out, Dorothy had returned many years prior and alongside her faithful trio (Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion) have actually conquered the land of Oz and are destroying it by mining all the magic to increase their own power. Did you catch that? In this story, Dorothy is the “big bad” and her companions are her evil minions. The premise is what sold me into picking up this book. I was very curious to see how this all played out.

Through the book, Amy comes face to face with the radically different versions of the classic foursome: Dorothy is now a power mad witch tyrannically ruling from the Emerald City and gleefully killing anyone in her way. The Tim Man is the law in Oz. Having retrofitted himself with weapons and armor he leads a Gestapo like police force that keeps Oz’s residents in line with Dorothy’s decrees. The Scarecrow has become a mad scientist brutally conducting bizarre experiments on living people and creatures with no concern for the blood he spills. And The Lion is no longer cowardly, but a savage, hulking monster that takes pleasure in killing and has the ability to drain the life essence from his prey via their fear. This version of Dorothy is far removed from the bright eyed one portrayed by Judy Garland, isn’t she? As Amy attempts to unravel the mystery as to why she was brought to Oz, she is recruited by a cabal of Wicked Witches who commit to train her for a single purpose – kill Dorothy.

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A power mad Dorothy. Monsterous versions of her companions. Wicked Witches as the heroes. An assassination plot. And of course, Oz as the backdrop. All of this struck me as the ingredients to an incredible read. I devoured the book in about a day or so and…

…it was okay.

Keep in mind that this was solely my experience and others will differ. In fact, based on a brief reading of Amazon reviews there are many that are downright loving this book, and I think that’s awesome! I definitely didn’t hate or even strongly dislike this book. I was eagerly sucked into the first half or so but what turned out to be a HUGE bummer for me out was how the book ended.

**MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD**

Throughout the adventure, the book raises some important questions you expect to get resolved. The most pressing being, “How did Dorothy and company end up like this?” By the time you reach the conclusion, not only is that and many other questions not answered, but there isn’t even a resolution to the main plot. The book just ends. Not in a nice neat package. Not with much of a cliffhanger (although I assume what we were left with was supposed to be treated as such). It just ends and my immediate reaction was, “wait…what?” The payoff (or lack there of) was unfortunately a significant disappointment, and I was fairly “on board” up to that point.  My assumption is that there will be another book coming that will pick up where this one left off, yet with all due respect, this ending struck me as a “cop-out.” Don’t get me wrong – I think there can be multiple books built on this premise, but for me (again, this is just my experience with it), had the book ended differently I would have had an actual excitement for another installment. I’ve since seen that there is an official prequel e-book that details Dorothy’s return and potentially chronicles her Darth Vader like turn to the dark side. But again, I didn’t want to have to hunt those plot elements down in other volumes. I wish it had been contained in “Dorothy Must Die.”

Regardless, if you’re a fan of “The Wizard of Oz,” whether through the movie, the original L. Frank Baum books, or even the delightful recent retelling of those books by Marvel Comics (Dude…Skottie Young is one of my favorite artists today), “Dorothy Must Die” could very well be an enjoyable experience for you.

So what do you say nerds? Are you a fan of Oz lore? Are you interested in reading this book? Have you been forever curious if the Wicked Witch of the West just never showered because of the whole water as a weakness thing? SOUND OFF in the comments below.

This has been a NERD ALERT!

 

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The Superior Peter Parker – Thoughts on “Goblin Nation.”

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**SPOILERS AHEAD** I’m talking about “The Superior Spider-Man” as a whole and spoiling the “Goblin Nation” arc like a boss. You’ve been warned nerds!

For the last year or so, the man behind Spider-Man’s mask has not been Peter Parker. **GASP**

Well, technically it was Peter’s face behind the mask. In fact, it was his whole body in the suit. But the man on the inside was not the lovable down on his luck Peter we all know and love.**DOUBLE GASP**

In a story twist  that can ONLY work in a comic book (which is why this medium is so awesome), a dying Doctor Octopus succeeds at achieving his greatest revenge against old Spidey – he manages to switch minds with Peter. Ock now inhabits and controls Peter’s body, Spidey powers and all while Peter was left to die in Octavius’ quickly withering body. After many “will Peter reverse this?” moments spread out over various issues, finally in The Amazing Spider-Man #700 Peter (in Ock’s body) fails to switch their minds back in time and dies trapped in Ock’s shriveled up old evil crackpot body. Yet, in his final act Peter uses what remains of their shared “mind link” (again, this is a comic so absurdity like that works) and manages to share all his life memories and emotions with Octavius. Ock experiences everything that made Peter the man and the hero he was.

Superior Spidey Ock Dies

Experiencing Peter’s heart and soul changes Otto for the better as he then decides to explore what “with great power comes great responsibility” means to him. While this experience hasn’t fully put Otto on the “side of the angels” (he did just steal a man’s entire life after all) It changes his outlook enough that he commits to continuing Peter’s legacy as Spider-Man and be a hero. But this is still Otto Octavius we’re dealing with and that means we’re now dealing with a Spider-Man that comes with a MASSIVE ego. Otto has determined to succeed where he feels Peter had failed as Spider-Man. He doesn’t intend just to be Spider-Man, but to be the SUPERIOR Spider-Man. And thus, we have the basic premise of “The Superior Spider-Man” series.

As you’d imagine, this controversial switch caused quite an uproar in the geek community. There were many pocket protectors hurled in anger and many comments left on message boards filled with strongly worded geek-speak as a result of this (beware the nerd rage!). After all, Spider-Man IS Peter Parker! How could Marvel take Spidey’s essence away? Being the HUGE Spidey fanboy that I am, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at this development either. But at the same time, despite author Dan Slott’s insistence that Peter was gone for good, I knew that eventually Peter would be back. In the mean time, regardless of your opinion of the mind switch at the very least we got a unique addition to the Spidey mythos (besides, nothing can be worse than “The Clone Sage,” right?).  Agree or disagree, I’ve got to hand it to Marvel for again not being afraid to take a giant risk with their storytelling.

As you’d expect, Ock’s version of Spider-Man was radically different from Peter’s. He wasn’t afraid to beat criminals to a bloody pulp “Batman style.” He shot a criminal dead. He alienated former friends and allies, including The Avengers. He blackmailed the mayor. And he even achieved his ultimate goal – eradicating all crime in NYC by utilizing an army of robot spiders and human minions. Doc Ock had succeeded! Or at least that’s what he thought until The Green Goblin revealed himself…

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Turns out the Goblin had been recruiting all the goblin themed villains in Spidey’s world and  plotting behind the scenes all along (cue diabolical laugh sound fx). By the time “Goblin Nation” starts, Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin for you new nerds. Welcome, BTW) reveals himself in a MAJOR way. He’s taken over Spider-Man’s entire network of Spider-Bots rendering them useless against any Goblin, he destroys Spidey’s HQ and lab (Ock had a very public HQ named “Spider-Island”), and he manages to release yet another army of robotic Spider-Slayer robots against the web-slinger (no joke: Spider-Man being attacked by Spider-Slyers has happen at least 1,000 times). Norman basically conquers New York City and, as the cherry on top, reveals to Spidey that he knows he’s secretly Otto Octavius. Each step of the way, the Goblin continue to prove to Ock that he’s already a few steps ahead and finally even Otto comes to the conclusion that Osborn has him beaten.

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The story itself was good, but not great (in my humble, yet correct opinion). I did like the approach of putting Osborn in charge of an army (“The Goblin King”) and his interactions with Octavius were very well written. However, like many Spidey “events” before it, unfortunately there was a decent amount of clutter and the pacing seemed to change speeds too abruptly. Still, on its own it made for a fun read. But the Green Goblin storyline alone is not why I picked these books up. The reason I EXCITEDLY grabbed each issue in this arc was because we got the climax Spidey-Geeks had been waiting over a year for  – the long awaited return of Peter Parker!

Superior Peter Returns

Octavius comes to the realization that he has failed and that only Peter can defeat the Goblin. Knowing that a remnant of Peter remains in his mind (that remnant has acted as a “ghost conscience” trying to keep Otto on the straight and narrow) , Otto sacrifices the life he stole by erasing all of his memories, giving full control back to Peter and telling him that he really was and is the true Superior Spider-Man. Peter then puts on the classic red and blue costume and saves the day like only he can.

Overall, buying this story arc was completely worth it just for that money show of Peter’s return. I may not have loved the entire “Superior Spider-Man” experiment, but again, I’m glad Marvel is willing to try crazy things in hopes of telling an interesting story. I’m eager to see how the stories to come after “Goblin Nation” portray how Peter deals with the aftermath of Ock living in his life for a year. Bridges have been burnt, new relationships have been formed and it’s not like he can simply say, “It’s not my fault…there was an evil super villain living in my head for the last year.” All of that has some great story potential and at the very least one Avenger is surely going to punch Peter in the face for something Ock did, and that’s just good comedy!

What about you? What do you think of whole “The Superior Spider-Man” experiment? Liked it? Did you picket outside Marvel HQ for them to undo it? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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Thoughts on the Two BOMBSHELLS in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

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**WARNING** If the title wasn’t enough to clue you in, this post contains massive spoilers about “The Winter Soldier.” SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned nerds!

Still with me? Alright, let’s jump in…

I got to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” on opening weekend and I loved it. In my humble (yet correct) opinion, it was one of the best films Marvel has done to date and it was pretty spectacular seeing The Winter Soldier himself come to life on the big screen. I was a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s arc where Bucky made his debut as the Winter Soldier, (grab it on ComiXology) and that added a lot to my enjoyment as I watched this movie. Plus, seeing Bucky’s bionic arm catch Cap’s shield in mid-air is such a cool fandom moment.

Winter Soldier Comic

Many cool things happened in this movie, but rather than give a summary of the whole film I wanted to share my geeky thoughts on the two GAME CHANGERS for the future of Marvel’s movies that took place during “The Winter Soldier.” Therefore without further adieu…

1. HAIL HYRDA

What we now know as the Marvel cinematic universe, the films that were developed by Marvel Studios (unlike the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, which belong to Sony and Fox), began with “Iron Man.” That movie set the foundation for the eventual coming of the Avengers and introduced us to the “glue” that would hold all the Marvel films together – SHIELD. From introducing Agent Coulson to the very first “after credit scene” with Nick Fury teasing that this was the start of something big, SHIELD has made it’s presence known in every film since and has been the one constant in all the Marvel movies. Heck, SHIELD has become almost as popular as the superheroes themselves. You can buy SHIELD branded merchandise just like you can for The Avengers and SHIELD is even the premise of Marvel Studios’ first jump into television- ABC’s “Agents of Shield.” As we continued to move deeper into “Phase Two” of the cinematic universe I happily expected SHIELD to continue in its support role of the Marvel movies for years to come.

Then Marvel decided to change EVERYTHING…and it was awesome!

Turns out, Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD since it’s inception, meaning SHIELD has really been nothing more than a front for Hydra since after WWII. You know Hydra, right? That villainous organization founded by the Red Skull? That’s who Nick Fury has unknowingly been serving his whole career. To quote Fury from the “Secret Warriors” comic that dealt with this same twist, “I’ve been working for  the bad guys the whole time!”

Hydra

Hydra had operatives at all levels of SHIELD, including at the highest ranks and in “The Winter Soldier” they made their presence known. There was no saving SHIELD and Cap makes the decision to burn SHIELD to the ground. The movie ends and the only thing left of SHIELD is ashes. Nick Fury has gone underground and is completely off the grid. Agent 13 has joined the CIA and Maria Hill now works for Stark Industries. Moving forward, SHIELD is (seemingly) dead and buried in the Marvel movies.

I did not see this coming and I love this development for many reasons, but the big one is that this was a BOLD move by Marvel! Destroying SHIELD definitely wasn’t the “safe route.” Marvel could have kept doing the “same old, same old” with SHIELD and it probably would have been fine. Yet in a move like this, we clearly see that Marvel isn’t okay with just “fine.” They want to continually keep the audience on the edge of their seats and doing that means taking risks. No longer having SHIELD has massive implications for the movies going forward.  What does this mean for characters like Fury, Cap and Widow? SHIELD defended the Avengers to world governments, without them could this mean harsher legislation towards the Avengers (setting up the superhero Civil War perhaps)? Will an organization similar to SHIELD take it’s place? There are numerous questions such as these for the future slate of movies (and the TV show) to now address.

I just love that the company that staked it’s reputation on a huge risk (individual movies leading to “The Avengers”) is still very willing to take unexpected, crazy plot-twists for the sake of telling an engaging and unforgettable story. Then again, I should have expected no less from the studio that is bringing me a movie starting a gun-toting raccoon and a living tree (sincerely, I can’t wait for Guardians). Now, onto the second bombshell…

2. ARE THOSE MUTANTS?

I love Marvel’s “mid/after credit scenes!” At their best, they tease big developments that get you excited for the movies to come. What has become a great Marvel film tradition started after “Iron Man” with our first glimpse of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury talking about the “Avengers initiative.” Peed my pants with excitement when that happened by the way. Then there was the Thanos reveal at the end of “The Avengers” (pooped my pants with excitement at that one) and most recently we had the Infinity Gauntlet teased at the end of “Thor: The Dark World.” Following suit, there was a mid credit scene in “The Winter Soldier.” And boy…it was a doozy!

We were introduced to Baron Strucker, which comic geeks knows as one of the big Hydra baddies in the Marvel world. In this mid-credit scene, Strucker walks through some sort of laboratory and we see that Hydra has Loki’s staff from “The Avengers” and are experimenting with its power. Strucker and his aid dialogue about conducting experiments on people and imply that some of these tests are resulting in “abilites.” Then we got the money shot – as they talked about “the twins,” we were given our very first look at Quiksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Quick and Scarlet

Not only was this huge because we got a brief look at two characters we didn’t expect to see until “Age of Ultron,” but the bombshell here is that Marvel Studios may have indicated at how they’re getting around their mutant problem. If you don’t know – Marvel Studios does not have the movie rights to many of their mutant characters, which is why we haven’t seen or heard mention of the X-Men in the Marvel Studios slate, and potentially why we never will. To make matters worse, Marvel Studios doesn’t even have the right to use the word “mutant.” Crazy isn’t it that the company that popularized the idea of mutant characters sold away the right to be able to use it themselves?

That’s what made the fact that the Avengers sequel was debuting Quiksilver and The Scarlet Witch so interesting. In the comics, they’re both mutants and the twin children of Magneto. They originally joined The Avengers as a way to atone for their sins (they were originally members of Magneto’s evil brotherhood of mutants) and to help ease human/mutant relations. We’ve known that they would need a new, non-mutant origin and there was much speculation as to what it would be: super solider serum? Inhumans? Related to ALF? But if I understand this mid-credit scene correctly, then they’ve aquired their powers as a result of Hydra experimentation. Plus, Strucker indicated that there are many others being experimenting on by Hydra, which begs the question – is Hydra the origin for the cinematic universe’s equivalent of mutants? Time will tell, but regardless, this was yet another game changer featured in “The Winter Soldier.”

Alright nerds, what did you think of “The Winter Soldier?” Do you think SHIELD is gone for good? Did we just witness the dawn of mutants under a different name? Have you seen a great “Hail Hydra” meme? SOUND OFF in the comments below.

This has been a NERD ALERT!

 

11

My Top 10 Video Games of All Time

Retro NES add

Recently IGN have been running a series of great articles in which different editors list out their personal favorite games of all time. As a proud gamer who’s been playing since the original NES (I don’t like to brag, but I am a “Duck Hunt” legend. Kneel before me!), I thought I’d get in on this and write up my top ten favorite games of all time. Now, I’m not necessarily contesting that these ten are the greatest games ever made (even though they are), and while I’ve played MANY incredible games over the years, these are the games that have most impacted my gaming life.

Alright nerds, let’s jump in…

10. MEGA MAN 2 – NES

Mega Man 2

This was the first game I ever rented from the late, great Blockbuster Video and my first experience with the Blue Bomber. From the start, Mega Man 2 was radically different in that it let you choose which level you wanted to start on, and then you could play the other levels in any order you liked. That was revolutionary! Additionally, the level design ruled! Each robot master (“Wood Man” was my favorite, BTW), had a level designed around their characteristics, so even though the purpose was the same in each (fight your way to the fortress, fight the evil robot, rinse and repeat), it never felt stale. Finally, I’m fond of Megan Man 2 because it was my first “rage quit” in gaming. After defeating all eight of the robot masters and finally making it to the evil Dr. Wily’s fortress,  you’re forced to fight all eight bosses AGAIN! As a kid I never caught on that each robot is particularly weak to the weapon of one of the others, which is why I failed and my controller ended up embedded in the wall.

9. Mortal Kombat 2 – SNES

Mortal Kombat 2

These days I don’t particularly love fighting games, but growing up in the Street Fighter 2 era, they were my jam! While it was a close “fight” between this and SF 2 (get it? Because they’re both fighting ga…never mind…), MK 2 earned its place on my list. The original Mortal Kombat was popular due to the controversy around its violence and fatalities, yet it wasn’t that great of a game. But they pulled out all the stops for part two and delivered a game that devoured many hours of my junior high life. I saved up allowance FOREVER to buy this game. It was a big day when I finally got to walk into Circuit City (RIP) with a brown lunch bag full of money, plop it down on a counter and point to MK 2.

MK 2 was everything a sequel should be – bigger, better mechanics, and a fresh experience. The roster grew with fighters that were unique in both look and play style (but I only ever played as Scorpion because he’s the best). Story wise, I was hooked by the “Empire Strikes Back” turn compared to the first one, in that our heroes are one step away from being crushed by the emperor Shao Khan and the forces of Outworld. I also loved how MK 2 hid numerous secrets and easter eggs, which in a pre-internet era made solving these riddles quite the adventure. And yes, they had stepped it up with the fatalities as well. They were inventive, gory and in some cases, frustratingly hard to pull off. I bought the strategy guide that contained each character’s move list and studied that thing religiously! All in all, a great game and my favorite fighter ever.

8. Super Mario Bros. 2 – NES

Super_Mario_Bros_2

I was pretty young when this game came out, yet I remember it being my first memory of a game’s release being an event! You couldn’t escape the promotions declaring that a new Mario adventure was coming out. I loved the original Super Mario Bros and like any kid with an NES, I played the crap out of that game. What was so cool about part 2 though was how different it was from the original and how it all worked to provide a seriously entertaining game.

For the first time, you could choose one of four characters to play as including Princess Peach, and each had a slightly different ability (Luigi was always my go to). Gone were the Goombas and turtles, replaced with those weird mask wearing little guys and a giant frog king instead of Bowser as the “big bad.” Also gone were the power up mushrooms and stars. Instead, you could now pull items from the ground such as turnips. That’s right, your weapon of choice in this game was a stinkin’ turnip!  The level design was different as well, going vertical in most cases, meaning you had to climb up to finish many levels. And this was the first time on the NES that I noticed an improvement in graphics from one game to the next.

I’ve come to read articles since about how this was originally meant to be released as a different game entirely and the Mario characters were inserted in at the last minute (which probably explains the “it was all a dream” ending), but regardless of how we got it, I love that SMB 2 took a risk in being radically different. And in my humble (yet correct) opinion, it paid off.

7. WWF NO MERCY – N64

WWF No Mercy

As a huge wrestling fan growing up, I had often imagined being in the ring myself and winning the WWF championship. This is the game that let me live out that childhood dream because of its “create a character” feature. Sure, many wrestling games since have given you that option and while they’ve been entertaining, none have made me smile quite like No Mercy did during the countless hours I put into this game. It was pretty cool to see a blocky, polygon version of myself staring down a 1990s Rock. I smelled what he was cooking…then hit him with a steel chair!

And I didn’t just create myself in this game. I made all my friends! No Mercy basically let me create my own personalized WWF with everyone I knew and I lOVED that! It was so much fun giving friends a hook for a hand, tutus, and unnecessary scars as their wrestling attire. I loved working out the entrance music and moves for each character. In fact, creating the characters was much more fun to me than the actual game play (which was fun too)! Oh, and not only did I live out my dream of being the WWF champion, but my guy soon found himself the wielder of every championship belt this game had to offer. Like many games from the N64, if you look it up today No Mercy’s graphics do not hold up at all, but I’d play it again in a heart beat!

6. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64

Ocarina of time

This game absolutely blew my mind! As a huge fan of “A Link to the Past,” I eagerly anticipated Link’s first foray into the 3D world. I excitedly went to Target with a pocket full of birthday money, got my copy of Ocarina and then proceeded to cut off the outside world for a number of months as I got sucked into this game. Ocarina was huge and I loved exploring Hyrule while riding on a horse (you are a majestic beast Epona). This was one of the first games where I didn’t rush to get to the main quest because I enjoyed exploring my surroundings. True to form for Zelda, the dungeon crawling was incredible. The different temples were enormous, each with a different look, feel, and puzzles. And they were tough! Some more so than others – I’m not the only one who rage quit that stupid water temple right? Plus, the time travel mechanic with the Master Sword, which allowed you to play as both young and older Link was awesome! Bottom line, this game was EPIC.

This may sound odd, but something I loved about this game was the instruction manual. The first half read like a historical excavation recounting the history of the different Zeldas and Links. I had never thought of the different games/Links being separate heroes and it blew the mythology wide open for me. Any entry in the Zelda series had always been a game I looked forward to, but this was the one that made me a life long raving fan.

5. GEARS OF WAR 2 – XBOX 360

Gears 2

I really enjoyed the original. I mean, how can you NOT enjoy a game where your primary weapon is a gun WITH a giant chainsaw? The single player story hooked me in; I liked the premise and the characters. Additionally, the online multiplayer was fun, however since I was late to the Gears party there wasn’t much of an online community left to play with. Still, I was excited for another installment. Gears 2 was bigger, badder, and I absolutely loved it! The first game was all about a small group of soldier’s survival. The second expanded to be all out warfare to prevent human extinction at the hands of the Locust. The universe got much bigger, the screen was maxing out the amount of enemies it could throw at you, and bosses got bigger and creepier. At one point you get swallowed by a giant sea snake thing and have to fight your way out from the inside. That’s dumb action movie awesome!

While I did enjoy the single player, what puts Gears 2 on this list is the online component. I’m not a Call of Duty guy. I like Halo well enough, but I’m not over the top in love with it. Gears 2 is the game where I fell in love with online multiplayer. I had a squad of three other friends and there was a calendar year where we played together almost every night. Gears had your standard collection of game modes such as: deathmatch, capture the flag, last man standing, etc. And while these modes provided a lot of entertainment, one thing that set Gears 2 apart from everything else at the time was “Horde Mode.” Four players would try to survive thirty waves of enemies that got annoyingly harder to kill the farther you made it. Many games have copied that model since, but few have come close to how incredibly fun it was in Gears. One of the friends in my squad bought us all actual COG Tags off of Amazon, and I wear mine proudly to this day.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game – NES

TMNT 2

For a long time this was my favorite game to play at my local arcade. I pumped a ton of quarters into that cursed machine in hopes of finally defeating Shredder – and I did eventually accomplished that. I know I know, I’m awesome.

I was very excited when this was released on the NES (especially since the first “Turtles” games was rather lame), but for whatever reason my video store never had it in stock. Finally, late one Friday night my father surprised me by bringing it home and I lost my mind! It was the first time I had an “arcade experience” in my very own living room. Sure, the graphics were a lesser quality but I didn’t care! There it was – the actual arcade game in my living room. The burning building, the mousers in the sewers, the surfing level, Krang and the Technodrome…it was all there! You picked your favorite turtle (Donatello all the way) and fought your way through the game just like you would in an actual arcade. And without having to feed it more quarters when you died. It doesn’t get much better than that!

3. GoldenEye – N64

Goldeneye

Two summers. I spent two entire summers playing this game with my friends. Sure, we ate and used the bathroom every so often, but the bulk of those summers were spent playing the License to Kill mode and banning anyone from being Oddjob because he was too short to be chopped by an unarmed player. GoldenEye was my first “Killer App,” , meaning a game you buy a system for. I had many incredible experiences with my N64, but I bought it so I could play GoldenEye. There had been many games before that you played with your friends, but GoldenEye was the foundation of what became the First Person Shooter/Competitive Multiplayer experience. Remember, GoldenEye came out in the Stone Age, before consoles had online capabilities. Yet every shooter since then has pretty much modeled itself after GoldenEye’s multiplayer.

Back then, playing “online” meant cramming all your friends (and a few strangers) into a living room or bedroom and passing the controllers to your right controllers when you lost. I know that GoldenEye had a single player and I’m fairly sure I played it, but I can’t really tell you anything about it because my experience and love for this game is all from the multiplayer experience. GoldenEye comes from a gaming era long gone now, but without it we wouldn’t have the FPS landscape we have today. Thank you Pierce Brosnan!

2. Bioshock – Xbox 360

bioshock-360

If you have never played this game, please stop reading this post IMMEDIATELY, proceed to you local store and buy this game. You’re welcome nerds! This was the first game I bought for my 360. It had just been released and I knew nothing about it other than it was getting rave reviews. I popped it in and within the first ten minutes I knew Bioshock was going to be one of my favorite games of all time. It wasn’t because of the game play (which is great, BTW), but I ADORE Bioshock because of its story. Bioshock takes place in an alternate 1960 where an Ayn Rand acolyte named Andrew Ryan has done the impossible – built an underwater city named Rapture where “no gods or kings, only man” is the creed. As Jack, the silent protagonist, you find yourself in Rapture piecing together the mysteries and tragedies the city hides, as well as trying to discover what has caused Ryan’s utopia to spiral into decay.

Bioshock excels at environment. Rapture is the main character and exploring the city is simultaneously awe inspiring and creepy beyond belief. Rapture is a beautiful 1950s art deco vision of a technologically advanced future where human empowerment and eugenics is the law of the land, but comes with a terrible price. The citizens you meet have been driven insane by the gene-altering drug known as “Adam” and giant behemoths clad in undersea diver suits called “Big Daddys” roam the streets protecting wraith like “Little Sisters” who collect “Adam” from the blood of the corpses that litter the street. Not exactly a “sunshine and rainbows” experience, but it was great, none the less. Bioshock was a game I didn’t want to see end, mainly because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Rapture. I took my time exploring every nook and cranny because there was a story hidden in even the smallest corners.

Finally, I love this game because of Andrew Ryan. He communicates with you throughout the game via radio and is one of the most fleshed out and nuanced characters I’ve ever experienced in any game. You learn about the passions and ideals that drove him to build Rapture and as the game progresses, Ryan becomes one of the few villains that causes you to wonder, “what if he’s actually right about all this?” The story takes numerous unexpected twists and turns and had me audibly exclaiming “holy crap” multiple times. My wife doesn’t like video games in the least, but she was sucked in by Ryan and his city and enjoyed watching me play Bioshock. In short, it’s a gaming masterpiece!

1. Final Fantasy 3 – SNES

FF3

I have a deep love for the older Final Fantasy series. Many of those FF games are my favorite gaming experiences of all time. For this list however, I didn’t want a single series to dominate, so I decided to select just one. Initially, I expected FF 7 to take my top spot. It’s a legendary game that has hardly any equals in my eyes (and I’m currently replaying it on my Vita) Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as incredible as 7 is, I wouldn’t be into the Final Fantasy series at all, or role playing games in general if it wasn’t for Final Fantasy 3. It was a game changer for me in so many ways and I wouldn’t have enjoyed 7 (or 10, or 12) in the way that I did without it. I had never played an RPG before (this was before Zelda and Chrono Trigger for me) and didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. FF 3 wasn’t simply a game, it was an immersive experience.

Never before had I played a game with so many characters, each with a distinct personality and move set. In fact, this was the first time I played a game where I could miss recruiting certain characters entirely if I didn’t actively search for them. Again, in a pre-internet world, secrets such as these were a welcome challenge! Never before had I experienced an open world game. I remember my first time on the world map. I knew what city I was supposed to travel to, but I remember thinking, “Wait…I can go anywhere if I want to? Cool!” Never before had I experienced the “game over fake out.” You hit a point in FF 3 where you’re sure you’ve just completed the game, only for the game to go, “psych” and have everything fall apart, thus opening up an entire second half that’s even cooler than the first. Never before had I fallen in love with a game’s music. SNES music was done on simple “midi” players, yet what they got out of it for FF 3 was spectacular and still one of my favorite gaming soundtracks ever. The opera house sequence and the final battle against Kefka being two of my favorite tracks. Never before had I experienced a game that made the experience personal. FF 3 offered a very simply mechanic that isn’t around anymore in most modern games due to voice acting – you could rename each of the hero characters. Meaning, I was a character in the game. My friends were characters in the game. That made me emotionally invested in how the story progressed. That simple name change made the defeats harder and the celebrations sweeter.

And finally, I had been gaming for years before FF 3, but the game’s ending was the first time I experienced an ending that was both moving and “worth it” compared to all the time I had put in. Including the last boss fight, FF 3′s ending is almost half an hour and gives you an epilogue for each character. Check it out for yourself, it’s pretty epic:

There you have it, my top ten games of all time. Now I want to hear from you – what are your favorite games of all time? Upset that I left NintenDOGS off the list? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

3

The BEST Batman movie is the one you HAVEN’T seen…

I recently came across an article celebrating the twenty year anniversary of the animated film, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.”

Phantasm Poster!

My first thought was, “Has it really been twenty years? Good grief! I am getting old!” Then I promptly got in my car to go enjoy a delicious early bird dinner.

That article did get me thinking about the Batman film franchise as a whole, and specifically how I would rank each film. There have been some definite stinkers in the line up (looking at you “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin”), but for the most part the Batman movies have been a very positive experience. I really like the Tim Burton films (“Batman Returns” gets a lot of hate, but I dug how disturbing it was) and I’ve often expressed a deep fanboy love for the first two Nolan movies, particularly Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (“The Dark Knight Rises” makes me sad in numerous ways, but that’s a topic for another time).

Yet, if asked which Batman movie is my ALL TIME favorite, it isn’t any of the live action ones. My answer has been and still is, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” which is funny because it’s the least known on the list. When I say that title to most people the response I get is usually a polite “what’s a ‘phantasm’?” In fact, Adam West’s “Batman: The Movie” seems to better known than “Mask of the Phantasm.” ADAM WEST PEOPLE! “Holy lack of promotion Batman!” So for the sake of Batman fans everywhere that are missing out on sheer greatness, let’s talk about MOTP and more importantly, why you NEED to see it. Activate Nerd Rant…

Any good geek growing up in the early 90′s watched the INCREDIBLE “Batman: The Animated Series.” As a kid, I’d get home from school, do some homework then stop everything when Batman came on. It was my usual afternoon routine (although the actually doing homework part was hit or miss).

Batman Animated Series2

TAS was everything you could ever want from a Batman show – it had a dark tone that rarely showed Gotham City in daylight. It featured incredibly well written episodes and characters – in particular, it absolutely nailed the rouge gallery (Mr. Freeze and Clayface being two of my favorites). The show introduced Harley Quinn into the Bat-mythos (come on…who didn’t love that voice?). And of course, TAS gave us Mark Hamill (that’s right, Luke Skywalker) voicing The Joker. There is no better Joker laugh than his, PERIOD!

In my humble yet totally correct opinion, no Batman series since has even come close to how awesome TAS was. I’ve recently been re-watching the show through Amazon Prime streaming and if you’ve never experienced TAS, then YOU MUST have a binge marathon with your loved ones. Even after all this time, it’s STILL very good! Because of the show’s massive popularity, Warner Bros. put together a feature film from the series, “Mask of the Phantasm.” It opened on Christmas day 1993 and you better believe that I was there for the earliest showing my brother would take me to, wearing the brand new Star Wars t-shirt I had been given that morning. My nerd roots run deep!

Phantasm 3

The plot: A mysterious vigilante who looks an awful lot like the ghost of Christmas future begins killing off some of Gotham’s more prominent gangsters and, as these things often are, the killings are blamed on Batman. As Bruce attempts to uncover the identity of this mystery killer, his personal life is rocked by the return of the girl who got away, Andrea Beaumont. Through flashbacks MOTP also gives us a re-telling of how Bruce became Batman and to top it all off The Joker gets involved in this whole mess, complicating matters even further.

There are many reasons why I adore this movie and while it was difficult to narrow it down,  I’ve listed out my top 4 reasons why MOTP is my absolute favorite Bat-flick…

1. THE MUSICAL SCORE

Through the Tim Burton movies, composer Danny Elfman gave Batman a great musical score. TAS put much of that music to good use, which added wonderful atmosphere to each episode. In continuing to give Batman great music, Warner Bros. had Shirley Walker step in to compose the score for MOTP. And in a word, it was EPIC! Even as a kid, I was enchanted by the music in this movie. When the lights in the theater first dimmed and the opening credits rolled, the musical intro immediately grabs you emotionally in a way that tells you you’re about to experience something very special. Check out the opening for yourself, which is just a taste of the great music all throughout MOTP:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgDpesd428

2. THE STORY

MOTP was very well written! It’s simultaneously a Batman origin movie, a love story and a mystery-thriller. And the shocking thing is that it balances all of that very well! You forget very early on that you’re watching a cartoon. The voice actors, (Kevin Conroy and Dana Delaney in particular) do an incredible job voicing a range of emotions. Futhermore, the plot itself takes numerous twists and turns that keeps you guessing up until the very end. Even after many viewings, I still find myself emotionally moved during the final scene as the music hits it’s last crescendo. A great story was something TAS was always known for, and this movie was no exception. Well done to all involved!

Phantasm birth of batman

3. THE VIOLENCE

This may seem like a strange reason to love this film, but track with me. TAS was always pretty violent for a cartoon, but this film took it to a more realistic level while not being gratuitous. MOTP was given a PG rating, which at the time wasn’t too common for animated features and it made good use it. People actually died in this movie. Batman and many others bled or suffered other injuries as a result of actions taken. Not everyone has a happy ending, and all of that combined added a gravity and immediacy to the movie. In an afternoon cartoon you know that no matter what, everyone would end up being okay. MOTP however early on establishes that no one is safe and you are kept guessing as to what a character’s final fate will be. When a character does die, you feel the weight of that loss. When Batman jumps into a fight still battered from the last one, it adds a hopelessness to his situation. It wasn’t violence for the sake of violence, but it moves the story forward and was tastefully done.

4. THE JOKER

Phantasm Joker 2

Mark Hamill was always amazing in this role and if you’ve checked out the recent “Arkham” series of video games (Arkham Asylum and City), then you know that he’s STILL amazing as the Clown Prince of Crime. But for my money, this film was his Joker masterpiece. The Joker wasn’t shoehorned into MOTP because they HAD to have The Joker in a Batman movie, but rather The Joker is an essential part of the plot. And dude…Hamill takes it to a whole new level! In TAS, The Joker is creepy, dark and does push boundaries you wouldn’t expect in an afternoon cartoon. But there was always some restraint placed on The Joker. TAS was still a kids show after all. In MOTP though, this Joker is dark, vindictive and sadistic. He’s not racking up a massive body count or anything, but this was a far more “adult” Joker. The film takes a few liberties with his origin and while anything that deals with a “definitive” Joker origin can be a risky move, they totally nailed it! The best compliment I can give is that I remember leaving the theater as a kid being haunted by his laugh. In this film, the Joker’s laugh didn’t signify goofy fun, rather it meant that Batman and the others were in serious trouble. And that’s the way I like my Joker!

You’ve heard me rant, now I want to hear from you! Have you seen MOTP? Did you see it because of this post? Wanna talk about your favorite TAS episode? Still waiting for a Wonder Twins movie? SOUND OFF in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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GUEST POST – “The Desolation of Smaug.”

Smaug poster

Quick note from Dre, the GEEK IN CHARGE: For whatever reason Lord of the Rings was something that never grabbed my interests. I never read the books and while I did see the Peter Jackson movies and enjoyed them, I have no interest to ever revisit them or watch the 500 hour long extended editions. Last Christmas I never made it out to see “The Hobbit,” and I still haven’t gotten around to watching it. LOTR may not be my jam, but I also know that many of you in geekdom adore this world and since I’m not qualified to speak about it I’ve asked my dear friend Carissa Faulk, who loves all things Tolkien, to share some thoughts on the recently released movie. What follows are her charming words. Oh and by the way…she went to the midnight premier of this dressed as a character (I don’t know which one. She told me and I forgot, so I’m going to say Iron Man. She went dressed as Iron Man). What a nerd right? And that’s why she and I are friends! Enjoy!

My dear Bagginses and Boffins, Tooks and Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Hornblowers, Bolgers, Bracegirdles and Proudfoots,

(WARNING: this post contains spoilers)

I, like many of my fellow Tolkienites, have been anxiously awaiting, for a good majority of my life, the glorious day when some brave soul would bring my precious childhood favorite, the Hobbit, to the big screen. And, also like many of my fellow Tolkienites, I was sadly disappointed by the first installment of the films, the Unexpected Journey. While there were certain scenes which it definitely nailed (Riddles in the Dark, anyone?), the film as a whole felt almost schizophrenic. Was it a children’s fairytale, another Lord of the Rings, an animated cartoon series, a 300-style bloodbath? I got whiplash. Where was the delightful and frightful and wonderfully whimsical tale that captured me so in my youth?

Carissa 1

However, despite my disappointments with Unexpected Journey, I was there again at the midnight premier of the Desolation of Smaug, and yes, I was in full hobbit garb, hairy feet and all. And maybe it was just my lowered expectations that made me think so, or maybe it was the sleep depravation, but I must say, I have officially forgiven Peter Jackson for the Unexpected Journey. Desolation was phenomenal.

For one thing, the ridiculous abuse of CGI which we saw in Unexpected Journey had been mercifully toned down. Though there still was more than was entirely necessary, it was much less than in the last film, and it was all much higher quality. This, along with a better script, helped eliminate the fairytale/300 flip-flopping effect. The movie felt consistently epic, closer to a Lord of the Rings than a Brothers Grimm, though it still had some of the lightheartedness of a children’s book.

This film also did not abuse the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin as violently as Unexpected Journey did. Of course, we all realize that it’s difficult to transform a short children’s novel into three full length films, but that’s no excuse to go vivisecting another of Tolkien’s great works! As happy as it made me to see Radagast (especially when portrayed by Sylvester McCoy!), and as epic of a character as the White Orc is, they just don’t belong in the Hobbit. Radagast’s appearance I can forgive because, well, he was just beautifully portrayed, but the White Orc was turned into an almost laughable combination of Captain Hook and the Pillsbury Dough boy. Was that really necessary?

Carissa 2

Anyway, Desolation continued with the elements from Silmarillion which had already been introduced, but didn’t really add any new ones, and they continued the ones which had already been introduced in a very satisfying manner. I mean, that scene with Gandalf and Sauron? I fangirled so hard.

Obviously there are a few more things I could nitpick, such as Evangeline Lilly’s somewhat underwhelming acting skills in certain scenes, and the completely unnecessary love triangle which she centered in, but honestly, the rest of the film was so beautiful, they really didn’t bother me as much as they probably should have. Benedict Cumberbatch, and the animated Smaug whom he voiced, were precisely how I pictured them growing up. The dark magic of Mirkwood, the terror of the spiders’ webs (though what happened to the Stinging Fly?), and the freedom of that moment when Bilbo gets above the trees, and the blue butterflies float around him, and he sees the Lonely Mountain; oh, the wide-eyed child in me just wriggled with horror and delight!

Carissa3

So, no, the Desolation of Smaug wasn’t all it could have been, but it was certainly a huge step up from the Unexpected Journey, and it is finally a Hobbit film which I can watch without cringing. I left the theatre feeling legitimately delighted and thoroughly fangirled, and that is quite an improvement from the last time. My only real big beef with the film is this: while I love that Jackson finally found his grove with the feel of the movie, I felt that he lost sight of the fact that it is, after all, a children’s book he is portraying. I’m glad he finally settled on an aesthetic for the film, and because of that consistency it is a beautiful and wonderful movie in its own right, which is more than can be said for the Unexpected Journey, but I felt that that was gained by tragic sacrifice.

Carissa4

This story, which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to delight and enchant little children, is no longer appropriate for young eyes. And, worse than that, it is no longer loyal to the feel of the original story. I understand that Jackson wanted to make a film which adults would enjoy since that is the majority of his fan base, but in so doing he failed at one of the things which he did best with LOTR; preserving the experience of the book. When I watch LOTR, I feel the same epic thrill that I get from reading the books. The Desolation of Smaug is an incredible film, and I will definitely be re-watching it more times than I probably should, but it does not even come close to capturing the delight and mystery and childish wonder which the book inspires in me, even after all these years.

Carissa 5

This has been (I’ve always wanted to say this) a NERD ALERT!

Carissa Faulk, at your service.

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Herobear and the Kid – Pick up this book!

Well over a decade ago, when I was but a young college freshman (I’m an old coot now. I’m lovable…but I’m a coot!), I was hanging with a fellow geek friend of mine who happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a large, heroic looking polar bear in a red cape.

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I asked him what the shirt was all about and he told me about a comic that Mike Kunkel, his brother in-law, had written and drawn called “Herobear and the Kid.” He described it as a fun hybrid of Calvin & Hobbes and the classic superhero stories we all grew up on, drawn in a very Disney animation like style (I found out later that Kunkel had been a Disney animator). I was very intrigued and ordered the first issue.

As soon as I read the tag line, “Remember your childhood…and pass it on,” I knew I would enjoy the book. What blew me away was just how much I fell in LOVE with Herobear. After that first issue I was completely hooked! Sincerely, “Herobear and the Kid” is one of the best comic experiences I’ve had in my entire geeky life. I’ve talked it up to many over the years and with the first storyline being re-released through Boom! Studios (you can download the issues on ComiXology), now seemed like a good time to get on my soapbox and profess my love for Mike Kunkel’s “Herobear and the Kid.”

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The premise – After the passing of his grandfather, a young boy named Tyler (the titular “Kid”) and his family move into his grandfather’s home to begin a new chapter in their lives. On top of dealing with normal kid issues: starting a new school, making friends, bullies, a first love and little sister drama, Tyler has also inherited his grandfather’s stuffed bear and broken pocket watch. After a run in with the local bullies (the lovably dumb Bullio brothers), Tyler accidentally hits the stuffed bear in the nose, transforming it into a ten foot tall talking polar bear superhero named Herobear. With this discovery Tyler realizes that when it comes to his grandfather, there is much that isn’t what it seems. Through this arc (“The Inheritance”), Tyler begins a fun journey of discovering the secrets his grandfather left behind, all while discovering that Herobear is the best friend he’s been waiting for his entire life.

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If I had only one word to describe the tone and feel of this story it would be SWEET. Kunkel writes each character – both primary and secondary, each interaction, and particularly Tyler and Herobear’s friendship with such a sweetness that anyone, even you Grinches out there that have a heart three times too small, won’t be able to help but sport a HUGE smile while reading “Herobear and the Kid.” Every aspect of this story oozes this sweet tone, making it obvious to see and feel on each page. One great example of this is in how the characters on the “bad” end of the spectrum are written. The bullies and the villains (an old toy maker/villainous mastermind with a crazy robot) never come across as irredeemably mean or evil. There’s always hope for them and not only do Herobear and Tyler both see that, but the reader does as well. You never find yourself really rooting against anyone, but rather rooting for the “bad guys” to be the better people the heroes see in them.

Another core reason why I adore this book is because of the character of Tyler himself. What I’ve realized is that I connect so deeply with him because I was Tyler growing up. In fact, ALL OF US have at one point or another in our childhood been Tyler. We’ve all been that young dreamer. We’ve all dealt with the loss of a loved one. We’ve all had that first crush. We’ve all seen the world through innocent eyes, and so on. Tyler’s story is very much our story too and that makes it so easy to connect emotionally with his journey. Kids of all ages will love this book because they are currently walking in Tyler’s shoes and see the world much as he does. Adults will love this book because Herobear takes them back to when they were Tyler and they will recall that sense of childlike awe and adventure. It’s a book that works so well, regardless of age.

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There is much more praise I can give this book, but the best compliment I can give is deeply personal to me. I was 18 when I first read “Herobear and the Kid” and even as a young nerd that didn’t look into the future much farther than what fast food I’d eat the next day, one of the thoughts I kept coming back to while reading Herobear was, “I cannot wait to share this story with my own children one day!” Fast forward many years to now. I’m happily married to a girl WAY out of my league and I’m a father to a bouncing lil’ Avenger boy. Additionally, I’m blessed to have a beautiful geek girl on the way. I’m older (early bird dinners are my jam) and a much different person than I was when I was 18, yet I’ve never forgotten that thought I had when I first experienced this book. I’ve sincerely been waiting many years for this and now…my little boy has a stuffed Herobear guarding his room and both my kids will be spending MANY nights joining Herobear and Tyler on their various adventures.

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That’s a gift Mike Kunkel has given me through “Herobear and the Kid.” And one day many years from now, I hope that my kids remember their childhood…and pass it along to their own “Tyler.” Like the title of this post says, PICK UP THIS BOOK!

What was your favorite part of the first arc? What aspect of your childhood did Herobear remind you of? Would your head explode if Herobear and Hobbes hung out together? Sound off in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer

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Sony Pictures released the first trailer for the anticipated Spider-Man sequel today. If you haven’t seen it yet, or want to watch it for your 100th time, then check it out below:

As one of the biggest Spider-Man geeks in the universe it is my sworn duty (heh…”duty”) to analyze it for the greater good of the geek community. Once again, you’re welcome nerds!  I feel obligated to declare a  **SPOILER ALERT** for what follows because what I discuss/point out/rant about may take some of the surprise out of the movie.

Still with me? Alright, let’s jump in…

First, a little history: I really enjoyed the first two Sam Raimi directed Spidey films. The first one had it’s problems, sure (the Green Goblin looked like a rejected villain from a Power Rangers episode) but I loved the overall tone and, come on – how do you not love a spot on rendition of J. Jonah Jameson? I especially thought that the sequel with Doc Ock was FANTASTIC! It’s still one of my favorite movies.

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Like many though, Raimi lost me with part three. Far too many issues to get into in this post, but it was a hot mess (Topher Grace as Venom? Really?). When word came that Sony was rebooting the franchise (Amazing Spider-Man), I was less than enthused. Nothing – not the casting, story, look/feel, etc. excited me. I did see it in theaters, though I walked in expecting a complete and utter disaster.

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What I was NOT expecting, was walking out having really enjoyed it. Much of what I thought I was going to hate, particularly Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter/Spidey, turned out to be what I really enjoyed! Again, not a perfect movie, but I left really excited to see a sequel, of which we got the trailer for today. BOOM – SEGWAY…

I’ve watched the trailer a few times now and the one word to describe how I feel at this point about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is NERVOUS! Why am I nervous? I’ll get into that later. First, let’s talk about what did get me excited:

POSITIVES FROM THE TRAILER:

1. The Powers - The trailer is only a short peak, but Spidey looks like his comic came to life and I LOVE IT! We see him web swinging, holding up cars, dodging bullets and more. Even the short glimpses we’re given of Electro make him look visually awesome and very “comic booky,” (If no one has called “dibs” on that phrase I do. DIBS!), with him shooting electricity and flying around. If nothing else, this movie will at least look awesome.

2. Harry Osborn -The Harry/Peter relationship from the comics has always been one of my favorites and I’m excited that the movies are giving their tragic friendship another shot. The Raimi movies did an alright job with it, even though I dislike everything that is James Franco (stop reading this blog Jimmy!). From the brief scenes we saw, Dane DeHaan seems to be bringing a darkness to Harry that differs from being “angsty,” which has me intrigued to see Harry’s “dark side” develop into his eventual turn as the Green Goblin.

3. The “Easter Egg.” – Did you see it? A brief scene in which a shadowy individual walks by two display cases. One with what looks like Doctor Octopus’ tentacles and the other with what seems to be The Vulture’s wings. There have been multiple rumors that these movies are building to The Sinister Six. Looks like a clear indication that Spidey will be throwing down with some incarnation of the Six soon.

So, definitely things in the trailer I’m pumped for. Now let’s hit the concerns. In one word, my anxiety stems from this movie looking very BUSY. In fact, it seems as if this movie may be overreaching and trying to do WAY TOO MUCH in a limited amount of time, resulting in the life being choked out of the film. Here are a few things that rattled my nerves:

1. Multiple Villains -The death sentence for many superhero movies has been the inclusion of a bunch of villains instead of intentionally focusing on one. More does add to the spectacle, but often at the expense of story and really caring about who the villain is. We saw that juggling  two, Sandman and Venom, really hurt the last film and in this trailer we’re shown THREE villains: Electro, a new Green Goblin (which looks to be Harry) and a mech-suited Rhino. I don’t imagine they’re all meant to have equal roles, but still it gives me reason to be concerned. Also, all of the promo photos and interviews up to this point had made Jaime Foxx’s Electro come across as the primary antagonist, yet he took a backseat in the trailer. That was weird to me. Lastly, the inclusion of a Green Goblin does raise the concern of his story simply being “tacked on.” The Goblin is such an important part of the Spider-Man mythos and I would hate to see the movie pull out a Goblin for the last 15 minutes with no set up and waste the character (like part 3 did with Venom), instead of giving us the incredible Spidey/Goblin/Gwen story we’ve been waiting to see on the silver screen.

2. Convoluted Story - The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot story wise that it attempted to accomplish. It did feel packed trying to deal with origins, villain intro, etc., and while certain aspects felt rushed and shallow (ex: Peter and Gwen’s relationship), I never felt that the pacing was horrible. Now, one dangling plot thread that the trailer highlighted for the sequel to pick up is the mystery of what really happened to Peter’s parents. Granted, that could be a really interesting story, but why it concerns me is that you have that plot to resolve, on top of an Electro intro/origin, on top of an intro/origin to the Osborns, on top of establishing the new Spidey status quo since the last film, and much more I’m sure. My concern is the possibility of attempting to do a lot poorly rather than spreading certain plot lines out throughout multiple movies and doing them well. And on that note…

3.  Gwen - Any good geek knows how Gwen’s story ends. I love that these movies have featured her and I have envisioned her eventual death being a powerful part of a third film. I don’t know why, but the trailer made me worried that they would kill Gwen off in this one adding to the crazy business of it all.

4. Early Surprises - We’re still a long way out from this movie’s release. It’s odd to me that they’ve gone ahead and revealed so much already, namely the Goblin and the mech suit for the Rhino. We’ve known Harry was in the movie, but it could have been really cool to be in the dark about his (potentially) becoming the Goblin until we saw him pick up the Glider in the film, providing a rad “holy crap” moment. I feel like all the cats have been let out of the bag so soon and I don’t understand why. Do they have more surprises up their sleeves? Maybe they saw that J.J. Abrams holding on to the Khan secret for “Into Darkness” actually hurt that film’s box office and they wanted to avoid that? I don’t know.

You’ve heard me rant about the trailer. What do you think? What did you like? Anything make you nervous? Wish they would give us a movie with nothing but Aunt May playing Bingo? Sound off in the comments below!

This has been a NERD ALERT!