Women Warriors: A Swords of Sorrow Review

By Long Shot contributor Valentino Zullo

As comic book fans we know that summer has arrived when the newest company-wide event series begins. This is usually a major crossover that includes or at least impacts most of a publisher’s titles. Of course Marvel and DC are both offering big crossovers—Convergence and Secret Wars respectively—this year (though DC’s crossover did end in May). For any non-comic book reader confused about the “event series” or “crossover,” don’t worry, even long-time comic book fans can get confused! All you need to know is that these crossovers allow for a publisher to place a number of their characters into something of a giant playground where they must work together to defeat a common foe (that’s more or less the idea!). Before I digress too far into those two other crossovers, though, I want to turn to the reason why I am writing this guest blog. As I way saying, for comic book fans we know that summer has officially begun when we see the newest event series on the shelves at the comic store. As DC and Marvel offer their crossovers, which aim to change the landscapes of their respective universes, Dynamite Entertainment is taking a slightly different approach to their summer event this year. While universe hopping is still a focus of Swords of Sorrow (Dynamite’s big summer crossover), one of the main purposes of this crossover is to showcase the work of a number female creators working in comics right now and additionally to bring together the many female characters housed under the Dynamite Entertainment imprint. I recently finished reading the newest installment of the Swords Of Sorrow crossover and I want to try to take a stab (all pun intended) at reviewing and exploring some of my thoughts while reading this series so far.

Before I begin I have to confess that while I have read comics for about twenty years now, I have never read a comic published by Dynamite Entertainment. However, as I was reading Gail Simone’s social media posts about this upcoming event and the announcements circulating around it, I became intrigued and invested in it before it began so I decided to give it a try. I was thrilled to see a book that featured so many female characters and the work of numerous female creators. I knew that it would be a wonderful experience even before reading it because of the writers attached to the project, which includes Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Mairghread Scott, Leah Moore, Erica Schultz and more! As a quick aside, it seems that Swords of Sorrow is one more example of what is truly a paradigm shifting moment for the female hero in comics. Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, who are writing some of the Swords of Sorrow spin-offs also debuted their A-Force series for Marvel last month—a comic which features an all female Avengers team. We are clearly in the age of the female hero as female creators, characters and consumers finally hold the spotlight.

Swords of Sorrow 1  (2)

Swords of Sorrow 1

 Back to Swords of Sorrow: the main series is written by Gail Simone, who many know as the writer of various female led books including Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Tomb Raider, and Red Sonja. I must admit that even though I have been a fan of Simone’s work for some time—Birds of Prey #62 was my first DC comic book as I had only been reading Marvel as a kid—I have never read any of her work for Dynamite before Swords of Sorrow. Simone has a magic pull, though, she has been able to get me into DC and now Dynamite (Oh! and Dark Horse because I recently began reading her Tomb Raider series). I digress, but thank you Ms. Simone!

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

For those of you not yet reading Swords of Sorrow, here is a brief introduction. The story goes as follows: the villain, who calls himself the Prince, has found a way to gain control over reality itself. In order to insure the success of his plan to perfect his newfound power and take complete control of reality, the Prince has gathered together a team of female villains that are wreaking havoc across the universes, attempting to stop anyone that would get in his way. In response to the formation of this cabal, the Traveler, a female hero, assembles her own group of female heroes from across time and space including Red Sonja, Lady Zorro, Irene Adler, Vampirella and many more of Dynamite’s characters. Each one of these heroes is granted one of the “Swords of Sorrow” in order to defeat the Prince. The two sides have only begun to form but this is the basic premise thus far!

As comic book readers we recognize this classic storyline executed to create a fun romp across time and space that brings together characters that otherwise may not be given a chance to interact. Not only is there such fun dialogue that emerges between characters who would otherwise not meet, but it is wonderful to see so many female characters interact with one another. More importantly not only do these women interact with one another, but they learn to work with another. We witness this countless times in the main series and the many spin-offs. For example, one of the goals of the evil Prince in the Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one-shot is “turn them against each other.”—the “them” in that sentence being the two women who are learning to work together. The Prince has learned of The Traveler’s plan to thwart his evil scheme and attempts to split the heroes from one another so that they cannot stop him. In the short space of time, though, Masquerade and Kato learn about one another and in turn learn to care about each other. A similar point is stressed in the second issue of the main Swords of Sorrow series as one of the female villains working for the Prince, Bad Kitty, says to him “They’re introducing themselves but they don’t seem to like each other much, Prince. You leave them be and they might well do themselves in and save us the trouble.” She is referring to Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris who have just met one another and have not yet learned that they are on the same side. Once again the villain’s emphasize the need to separate these women and create splits between them. Of course, Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja do begin to work together by the end of the issue. Through some growing pains these women learn to trust one another and begin to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Today I just finished reading the Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot, which depicts the burgeoning partnership between these two women. In the comic, Black Sparrow is transported a little bit over 100 years back in time where she meets Lady Zorro—a figure she has looked up to since her childhood. After the two escape a skirmish with one of the lackeys of the Prince, the two women regroup in the forest. As they are talking, Black Sparrow says to her new partner, “every little girl who wields a stick like a sword knows the Legend of Lady Zorro. Including me.” This last statement is so important because Black Sparrow acknowledges her debt to Lady Zorro and sees her as a powerful figure—one that inspired her own strength. By the end of the story the two women stand together as Black Sparrow states, “ Whoever the enemy…” and Lady Zorro finishes the sentence, “ We will be ready for them.” In contrast, to this support and partnership that evolves between these two women, the Prince is depicted as a jealous villain, often in rage, who cannot even consider working with others as equals. One particular scene in this comic depicts the Prince looking into a wall of mirrors, which allow him to gaze into the different timelines where he can see that the women, all the main charcters of this crossover, are working together. The reader sees him gaze into the mirrors, which depict the dynamic duos of Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro, Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler, Jennifer Blood and Vampirella, among the many other pairs of women. The Prince is infuriated by what he sees, because now Lady Zorro and Black Sparrow are also working together because his hired help could not stop them. The Prince says to his underling, “perhaps I put too much faith in you.” What is very important to note here is that the Prince’s rage at seeing these women work together successfully seems to suggest that what bothers him most is not simply that his plan is failing, but that these partnerships have emerged. This is notable because the Prince on the other hand has no ability to work with another (especially as an equal). Thus, in some ways this scene posits that it is certainly maddening to the Prince to see his plan fail, but in some ways it is ultimately worse in his mind that these women have begun to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

In these keys scenes, Simone and the other writers offer us more than a commentary on in-fighting between women or a lament on this ongoing problem. In fact, rather than a simple critique or a lament, these creators provide images of women working together and supporting one another despite the evil wishes of the Prince who hopes to separate them. I want to stress the importance of these moments and make this distinction between a simple critique and Simone’s Swords of Sorrows’ examples of powerful women working together because they offer an alternative to the classic image of women competing with one another for an object such as a man. Serendipitously, Taylor Swift releases her music video “Bad Blood” the same month as Swords of Sorrow began. You can watch the video here:

There is a similar effort and tone here as Swift, Simone, Scott, Collins, Bennett, Wilson, Moore and Schultz envision a world where women support one another and do not need to be pitted against one another. In fact, the only women that are competing amongst themselves are the villains. The Prince even says to his team of villains, “You are not here to work together. You are here to work for me.” These women are not supposed to work as a team for the Prince but rather as agents working independently, competing with one another while under him. In Simone’s a narrative then in-fighting is regulated to the ream of the villains while the heroes present a powerful alternative of women growing together. Again, I wish to stress the importance of seeing women work together successfully because in a world where so many films, comics and other media do not pass the Bechdel Test, it is so essential for women (as well as men) to see other women not only talk to one another, but spend time learning about one another and in turn developing together.

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

In an interview with The Mary Sue, Simone stresses the importance of this connection between women both inside and outside of a fictional narrative. Simone states in the interview, “I do know that when I started, several women I really admired were less-than-encouraging and it really stung. They felt me getting work meant they would get less work. I did vow never to be that person. And I should stress, women like Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson and Colleen Doran were never anything less than 100% supportive. It was just devastating at the time, I don’t want that cycle to continue.” And of course that cycle does not continue with Simone. Not only has she brought together a superb team of women writers that work with one another, but she has also gathered a number of female characters that work together in the story. In the same interview with The Mary Sue, Simone says that what she wants to do is provide a reader with many examples of what women can be. In answer to a question in the interview she claims, “Oh, the same thing I hope they got from Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman, and Red Sonja. That there’s no real limit on what female characters can be in comics. They can be strong and weak, funny and dour, compassionate and cold, they can be all the fun things and the strong things and the bad things” Simone and the other female creators certainly do this well as there are many types of women in these comics—heroes, villains and everything in between. Certainly we have come a long way from putting women in refrigerators!

I find after reading the first couple months worth of issues that I am truly invested in this series because I want to know more about these characters and how they will evolve together. In fact, I want to read the tie-ins so that I am able to spend more time with these women (and of course because I want to see where the story goes). I have to say for someone that has never read these characters before I am intrigued about each one. Simone does a wonderful job of setting up the story and continues to keep me wanting more.

I’ll likely go more in depth into some of the following issues in a future blogs but I wanted to take time to highlight this wonderful series with such brilliant creators.

If you’re not reading Swords of Sorrow and you want a fun summer romp across time and space with some excellent characterization then check it out! The next installment of the Swords of Sorrow series comes out on Wednesday 7/1/15 with the Swords of Sorrow issue 3.

Swords of Sorrow 3

Swords of Sorrow 3

I want to thank the Doug Vehovec, The Longshotist, for allowing me to write for his blog! Thank you to Dr. Vera Camden for the numerous Women’s Literature courses at Kent State University and our countless discussions on women in comics. All the ideas presented here are hers, I just filter them through the world of comics. Thank you to Amy Dawson and Jean Collins, two women warriors in their own right, and my partners at the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book for their support of comics in Cleveland! All thanks to The Mary Sue for their fantastic interview with Simone that I cited heavily here. Of course thank you and congratulation to Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Erica Schultz, and Leah Moore for all of the wonderful work that they have so far produced on the Swords of Sorrow series!

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Thank you for reading the thoughtful article contributed by my friend Valentino Luca Zullo. We first met at Wizard World Cleveland and got to talking about comics (of course). Valentino does a wonderful job combining his interest in superheroes with his studies in sociology, leading several discussion groups through the Ohio Center for the Book’s Get Graphic program at Cleveland Public Library, like the Women Warriors series and this summer’s Trauma and Transformation series. Be sure to follow Valentino on Twitter for updates on those.

Special thanks to Valentino for sharing his insights and analysis of this new comic series. As Long Shot readers know, i’m a huge comicbook fan myself, so i’m especially happy to provide a space for him to write about his own perspectives and enjoyment of the genre. And, it’s always very exciting to have a new contributing writer here! If there’s any pop culture topics that fascinate or inspire you, and you’d like to write about them, please consider and Take a Shot yourself!

Women Warriors – Katana: Soultaker

Women Warriors

The second installment of this discussion group at Cleveland Public Library, hosted by Valentino Zullo on March 19, focused on the DC Comics trade paperback Katana: Soultaker, a 10-issue series written by Ann Nocenti.

Katana Soultaker

Although there were less people who showed up for the group discussion, they were all faces familiar from the first meeting and our talk focused more on the book itself. At the meeting focused on Ms. Marvel, the conversation often strayed away from the book and although some worthwhile topics came up, they were broader ideas that didn’t cleave to the reason for the meeting. Valentino did a fine job of circling back to Ms. Marvel, but we wound up talking a lot about just comics in general.

When it came to Katana: Soultaker, the general consensus was that overall no one really enjoyed the book all that much. That itself was a poignant thing though, as Valentino mentioned that while he didn’t enjoy the story a whole lot himself, it was one of the few examples he could find of a female superhero who also fit the mold of intersecting qualities – in this case gender and race.

Katana: Soultaker follows what the group agreed was a disjointedly told journey of the titular hero through a revenge story. This narrative structure was itself one of the drawbacks to the book, which offered an example of a common trap for female heroines in that it makes the character a passive participant in their own story. In Katana’s case, she is motivated only by revenge for the murder of her husband, and in these sorts of stories, the revenge seeker has no real inherent drive of their own – their actions are spurred on only by the quest for revenge itself. This became particularly problematic for this story, too, after a major plot point is revealed towards the end of the series.

Following a similar path through the book is the supporting character Shun, who is first presented as an intriguing character with an important role in Katana’s journey. But as the story progresses, she too falls into a revenge cycle that by the end of the book finds her essentially just a bland, cliche-spouting engine of violence. However, because of the aforementioned plot point, and the actions she takes as well as those perpetrated upon her, she ultimately becomes more interesting than the main character.

Much of the book’s flaw stem from the storytelling, which was just straight-up messy. Scenes break at awkward times consistently throughout, and one of the group’s participants succinctly described the story’s execution by likening it to “that feeling you get when you waited until the night before your homework is due, and you just rush through it.”

The other big flaw in the book is that, while the core of the story is really not that bad, Katana’s character becomes irrelevant. In fact, her “real” identity and name were something the group had to refer back to the book just to remember. In contrast, the Ms. Marvel book’s Kamala Khan is vital to the story, her non-superhero identity a critical factor to understanding and appreciating her journey.

Overall, the book was just plain disappointing in many ways. As a tale of a Japanese warrior woman, it was riddled with just about every cultural cliche and stereotype that comes to mind. Packed with Yakuza, samurai, ancient clans, drunken masters, ninja stars, and all the accompanying cheesy dialogue you might find in a dubbed kung-fu flick. Mind you, i love those old kung-fu movies, but i can’t imagine that was the vibe they were going for in this book.

Katana’s actions and reactions to things were very often nonsensical, with her switching allegiances and allies several times, and even her goals were bewildering. At the book’s start, she’s trying to, i think, put an end to this large underworld syndicate. But also get revenge for her husband’s murder. And take over the syndicate. And stop some prophecy. And end some ghost’s curse. And stop The Creeper, who for some reason is nothing like The Creeper and instead is like an Oni spirit…?

This is The Creeper. i don't know what the heck was in Katana: Soultaker

This is The Creeper. i don’t know what the heck was in Katana: Soultaker

In the course of her quest, she returns to the same places over and over, getting in lots of fights where she barely escapes, then collapses from injuries or exhaustion, and then wakes up safely somewhere else. At the climax of the book, it’s not even her actions that bring triumph and a conclusion to her quest, but the spirit of her dead husband. This occurs so quickly and in so few panels that, as a group, we all had to refer to the book just to piece together what happened.

And then there’s a single splash page to wrap it up, conclude the story AND the series as a whole.

Despite all the bad things about this book, the group discussion was terrific. Although we ran out of time, we thought it might be interesting after the discussion series is over to talk about what we learned about what makes a great female hero and perhaps even try to come up with our own character, based in Cleveland, who possesses intersecting traits. i hope we stick with this proposal, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Coming up this Thursday, April 2 is the next discussion group, and i’m really looking forward to this one because the topic is Batwoman: Hydrology. Batwoman is a fantastic character, and i’m hoping for a lively conversation. Not only is she a relatively new character with staying power, her comic has been one of the most enjoyable ones i’ve read in the last few years due in no small part to the stunning artwork.

It’s also worth noting that Cleveland Public Library makes a great effort to have plenty of copies of the books discussed in this group for readers to check out. The graphic novel, comics and trade paperback section of the library is frankly enormous. Because of the Ohio Center for the Book, which has been around since 2003 thanks to an initiative by the Library of Congress to promote literacy, they are able to offer these sorts of programs and books in the community. Initially, there was only the National Center for the Book, but it was expanded to a state level where they can highlight each state’s authors and writers.

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Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 3.13.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

This week, my duties as a reporter for The News-Herald kept me busy during the free time i typically put into following up on any of the multitude of story ideas which continue to accumulate on my desk. There was the big donkey basketball game at Cardinal High School in Middlefield, and a pair of profiles on National Historic Register buildings in Lake County for an upcoming special section.

Unfortunately i was unable to schedule time for a timely interview to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, but with any luck that will come together for next week.

On a side note, i was going to refer to my duties as a stringer, but that wasn’t quite accurate since i’m employed by the paper primarily as a copy editor, page designer and social media provocateur (that’s not what they call it, but it sounds more exciting that way). However, while looking into the term “stringer,” i discovered something called a superstringer that’s sort of the same thing except the writer is contracted with a news organization. It seems that with the collapse of the traditional newspaper model and the emergence of the Internet, stringers are fading away. But i am pleased to consider myself a superstringer, because it “super” is part of the word. Super cool.

Embracing life as a night owl means it's not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

Embracing life as a night owl means it’s not unusual to make coffee at 3:00 a.m.

What free time i did enjoy this week came in the wee morning hours, which thanks to daylight savings time means the sun is coming up when my head is going down on the pillow. It’s a strange lifestyle that took some getting used to, coming to terms with not feeling lazy for sleeping in until noon because i was up all night at work.

So, what did i do with those precious hours, when there wasn’t anyone to Skype or speak with about Northeast Ohio tech and pop culture?

Discover new programs

Two new shows that break me away from my typical niche of serial killers and crime procedural dramas debuted recently.

The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as Phil Miller, in a delightful comedy about life on earth after every one on the planet but him is gone due to a devastating virus. Phil, like anyone can imagine, spends a couple of years searching the United States for other survivors before returning home to Tucson in a bus laden with artifacts from across the nation.

Resigned to life as the solitary human left on the planet, he proceeds to indulge in increasingly outrageous behavior while gradually loosening his grip on reality. Just as he reaches his lowest point, spending his days lounging in his margarita pool, he decides there is no reason in continuing and plans to commit suicide. But just as he’s about to go through with it, he spots a distant plume of smoke rising into the Arizona sky and rushes to discover another survivor.

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

The Last Man on Earth, Phil Miller spends his days immersed in a margarita pool

And it’s a woman!

Carol, played by Kristen Schaal, quickly gets under Phil’s skin though, and what Phil desperately hoped for sours as the two of them learn to deal with each other.

Both of the show’s stars have been making me laugh for years, and this vehicle is a great opportunity for Will Forte to shine. It would be a disaster if either of the two characters didn’t allow for some kind of audience connection, and thankfully they both pull off an excellent blend of evoking some sympathy while at the same time remaining human enough in the sense that their actions border on the bizarre, irritating each other but not viewers. And, of course, both Forte and Schaal are very funny people who portray their characters terrifically. With only each other to play off of, timing is everything and each accomplish the comedic beats with aplomb.

Post-apocalyptic comedy doesn’t get any better than The Last Man on Earth, which airs Sunday nights on Fox.

In a similar vein, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spins comedy out of a disturbing premise. This Netflix show, which in streaming program fashion dropped the entire first season at one time, stars Ellie Kemper as a former doomsday cult captive who decides to start a new life in NYC after being discovered and rescued.

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Ellie Kemper is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

i’m really only familiar with Kemper’s work as Erin on The Office, a show that for me was must-see for its entire run. As Kimmy Schmidt, she brings the same sort of awkward naiveté that she did as Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, except amped up to the Nth degree. i’ve read that the Erin character was originally supposed to be more sarcastic, but was altered by the writers to fit Kemper’s real personality more.

In an interview she did years ago regarding her role on The Office, she described Erin as “an exaggerated version of myself.” After watching a few episodes of Kimmy Schmidt, i get the feeling this new show is the perfect opportunity for Kemper to ramp up her comedic skills by exaggerating her personality even more.

There’s something almost magical about Kimmy the character, with Kemper’s body language and physical comedy matching her verbal delivery to spin out some really funny laughs. The absurdist alchemy she performs on the show transformed me into an instant fan, and i’m happy to discover there’s at least a second season planned.

What a Wednesday!

With a lifetime of interest in comic books distilled these days down to a selective few titles from Marvel Comics, there’s typically only one book per week on my digital pull list.

This past Wednesday, March 11, i opened up the Marvel Comics app to find there were five comics to add to my library!

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

Ant-Man #3 cover by Mark Brooks

First up was Ant-Man #3. Longtime Long Shot readers will know that new books get three issues to make a fan of me, and Ant-Man did it in just one back when Ant-Man #1 came out in January. When it comes to comics, i have pretty particular tastes. Classic superheroes are my favorite by far, but i’m just not interested in the standard sorts of stories about monthly superhero slugfests, big event crossovers and whatever villain is threatening mankind/the universe/whatever.

i’m more interested in what these colorful characters do when they’re not punching bad guys or each other, and Ant-Man delivers those stories. In this book, current Ant-Man Scott Lang (to be portrayed by Paul Rudd in the upcoming MCU film) is more concerned with being a good father and making a decent living than foiling nefarious schemes, with dramatic beats more about ties with his daughter and ex-wife than life-and-death struggles against supervillains.

Written by Nick Spencer, who also penned Superior Foes of Spider-Man – one of my favorite books that was of course canceled – brings the same brand of offbeat humor and breaking tradition to Ant-Man while still acknowledging the character’s place in the greater Marvel Universe.

As you can see from the cover to issue #3, Ant-Man runs into trouble with Taskmaster, a great Marvel villain who shows up to give our tiny hero a hard time. Like in earlier issues, Ant-Man uses his powers of both shrinking and communicating with ants to some clever effects against the guy with the photographic reflexes, and also manages to crack wise by about something i’ve long wondered myself:

“Your costume? It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like ghost-pirate-Captain America clone. With a cape!”

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

Howard the Duck #1 cover by Joe Quinones

This was a surprise to see under new comics for the week: Howard the Duck #1 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones with color artist Rico Renzi. A new title starring this talking duck who displays remarkable common sense in a world gone mad was not something i’d heard about, and i felt compelled to check it out.

Not surprisingly, this new series debut was funny and unusual, setting up Howard the Duck as a private investigator whose first case provides him and readers to an introduction into the Marvel Universe. His pursuit of the case brings him for a visit to She-Hulk’s law firm, which occupies space in the same building as Howard’s office, and from there he has a rooftop meeting with Spider-Man.

A one-page training montage that involves dodging laser pointers and somehow integrates D&D miniatures results in success when he and new mysterious new assistant, the tattooed Tara Tam, run afoul of Black Cat before the interstellar hunter shown in the book’s beginning pages comes back around to abduct the book’s star at the behest of The Collector – something those who stuck around for the after-credits scene from Guardians of the Galaxy will find familiar, along with an appearance by one of that team’s members on the final page that will presumably lead to an escape attempt in the next issue.

i’m curious to see where this series goes, and the first issue has me intrigued enough with the wonderfully colorful art, irreverent humor and nod to the character’s ties to Cleveland from the 1986 film that was set in my hometown. Also, i wonder if there’s potential for discussion at the Get Graphic! group at Cleveland Public Library since the series organizer Valentino Zullo mentioned his interest in intersections of character traits like gender, race and so forth. With Howard, we’re given an intersection of mankind and aquatic bird, a character traditionally used for satire and social commentary that i hope continues to do so in this new series.

Waugh!

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Silver Surfer #10 cover by Mike and Laura Allred

Another installment of cosmic ginchiness arrived with Silver Surfer #10, written by Dan Slott with art from the incomparable Mike and Laura Allred.

This issue wrapper up a storyline that had earthling Dawn Greenwood discover Surfer’s past as a herald of Galactus responsible for the World Eater’s destruction of countless planets and their inhabitants.

Packed with pathos, Surfer won the trust of a planet populated by the only survivors from world already consumed by Galactus who initially hated and feared the skyrider of the spaceways (with good reason) as well as a building on the humanity of Norrin Radd when, in the midst of trying to fend off Galactus, he admits to himself as much as to Dawn that he loves her.

Awww!

The emotional core of Silver Surfer has always been one of the things i’ve most enjoyed about this character, who despite vast cosmic power and awareness still cleaves to the humanity he gave up to save his own planet long ago. Despite everything he has seen and endured, and his basically limitless power, he still understands the importance of individuals in the cosmic scheme of things.

One of the other things i’ve most enjoyed about this book during its run is the development of the Surfer’s board (dubbed Toomie by Dawn) as a supporting character. The ways in which the writer and artist give Toomie a personality are creative and fun.

The end of this issue has a lot of tears and heartache, but hope as well – a hallmark of great Silver Surfer stories. In a clever twist of the paradigm Galactus shares with those who seek out planets for him to consume, the Surfer declares himself a herald once more. But this time, he is a herald of those who survived, and vows to find them a new planet.

i’m a little surprised that this book hasn’t included a letters page yet, since most of the other Marvel books, at least the ones i read, have a page or two at the end for reader interaction. i sincerely hope they are receiving astronomical amounts of great feedback on this series, because frankly its one of the all around best comics out there right now and it would be sad indeed if it were to get canceled.

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Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

i’ve got to wrap things up prematurely today due to a work emergency, and i didn’t get a chance to go over a few other noteworthy things (and thereby clear a bit from the To Do List). i’ll also include the usual further reading links that no one ever clicks on because hey why not?

Please visit again soon (like, tomorrow) for a follow-up Week in Geek to cover two other books, a little gaming update and – thanks to a reply i just received – some NE Ohio news from the tech community.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back tomorrow, Saturday March 14, and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 3.6.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Talkin’ ‘Bout Comics

One of the best developments that came out of Wizard World Cleveland was a chance meeting with Valentino Zullo, who introduced himself before a panel discussion. We hit it off, both sharing an appreciation for similar sorts of comic books and the deeper contextual substance they present as literature.

Valentino currently studies at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at CWRU. Mentored and taught by Dr. Vera Camden at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, he credits her for inspiring his emerging work. Dr. Camden herself is part of a speaker series at the Cleveland Public Library, and will be part of a lecture there on March 14. Get Graphic! A Graphic Novel Speaker Series features scholars and comics industry professionals exploring the world of comic books. The lecture series is free to attend, and other guest speakers like Tony Isabella, Marc Sumerak and Brad Ricca are involved – definitely worth checking out.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

Ms. Marvel: No Normal was the topic of discussion for the March 5 meeting

In addition to the lecture series, Valentino hosts a bi-monthly discussion group at the Cleveland Public Library which uses comic book graphic novels as a springboard for conversations about social issues. On Thursday, March 5 a new series began called Women Warriors, which asks the question “what does it mean to be a female superhero?” As a big fan of female heroes myself, i was really looking forward to this meeting and was not disappointed by the experience.

“The whole group came about last March,” Valentino said of the Get Graphic! series. “I went to a book club at the library, when I was working in a domestic violence unit for my field placement when I was in social work school. One of the social workers was going to the library, and I said I’d go along. I asked if they ever do anything on comics. They said no, but they have this huge collection but they don’t have anyone who’s a specialist or who knows a lot about comics. So I jokingly said I could do it if they want. They said ‘do you really want to?’ So that’s how it happened. It was a joke at first; I wanted to do it, but I was kind of kidding. But they said if I wanted to, I totally could. That’s how it happened.”

The library does indeed have an impressive collection of comics and graphic novels in the 2nd floor literature section, and after the group i learned that they make every effort to stock enough of whatever book is the focus of the discussion, so there are plenty of copies to check out.

Valentino, who believes in literature, social justice and the superhero way, hopes to continue growing the group and bringing in more speakers. It’s really about creating a space for people to come and talk about comics, and more than that, to promote literacy in the community – a goal that comes from his efforts as a social worker.

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Valentino Zullo hosts the Get Graphic! series at Cleveland Public Library. The March 5 meeting focused on the graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal

“Even when people don’t show up (to the discussion group), all the books get checked out,” he said. “So it seems that people are reading the books, even if they’re not showing up to the discussion series.”

Organizing the discussions around social issues is important to Valentino, who said he’s interested in comics for lots of reasons simply as a fan of the genre as well. But his professional training led him to center the topics within a real-world context to explore things like feminism, racial diversity and equality, and the nature of evil.

He is happy to note that the groups have grown in attendance since the program started, with the lecture series typically seeing a larger number of people.

“I think it’s going well,” he said. “Yesterday during the introductions, a few people were very nice and thanked me. It seems like they’re learning a lot.”

The group of 12 on March 5 comprised men and women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, who gathered for the first installment of the Women Warriors series to discuss Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel: No Normal graphic novel. Valentino started the discussion with some research he did into the character. He went back to the well-established character’s roots in her original 1977 incarnation, noting that in the letters columns of those books, readers made the same sorts of comments we hear today about a lack of strong female heroes.

“Now, we’re seeing lots of female heroes emerging,” he told the group, pointing out the trend in comics of offering more than the typical white male superheroes. “Let’s see if they stick.”

What drives Valentino’s exploration of these issues in his interest in intersections. He explained that by looking at characters through intersections of characteristics like gender, class, race and sexuality, we can find solidarity in our differences. Using himself as an example, identifying as an Iranian gay man, he segued into the focused discussion on Ms. Marvel and the importance of this sort of book.

“Kamala is the perfect example of the new sort of comic that can teach us a lot about the world we live in,” he said of Kamala Khan, the Pakistani teenager who takes on the superhero identity of Ms. Marvel.

Although the discussion strayed organically from talking about No Normal specifically into a broader talk, the input from the group offered insightful perspectives on comics in general and the impact they’ve had for everyone gathered.

“A superhero is just a symbol for what we can wrought in our own lives,” said one of the women in the group.

When the conversation drifted away from the focus, Valentino was very good at bringing it back to the book, bringing the group’s attention to particular panels and story beats that he felt are important to the issue. He particularly liked how, early in the story, Kamala masterfully deconstructs the typical female superhero costume and how long hair, high heels and skin-tight spandex don’t really make for ideal crimefighting attire.

“It is sometimes difficult, because people really get inspired to talk about different things – which is a good thing in some ways,” he said of discussions come about. “But we don’t get that far into the book sometimes.

“In some ways it’s really good, that they’re finding ways to connect this to their every day lives, which is excellent. I do find sometimes that it’s difficult to keep on topic, but we’re usually within the scene.”

One of the things Valentino most enjoys about the discussions is what he learns from them, too. For example, the Evil and Empathy series evolved from an earlier discussion. After reading a comic about The Joker, one of the participants said that he kind of felt bad for the character, experiencing a bit of empathy in understanding what happened to him.

“They (group participants) make me think about these things in ways I haven’t before, which is really great,” Valentino said. “I just like the fact that these people are connecting after the discussion. People don’t want to just go, and they’ll sit around talking with other people from the group.

“I’ve learned that all these people have an investment in comics, and in social welfare, that I didn’t know about.”

Perhaps the overarching theme of the March 5 discussion centered on the diversity of comic book readers, who generally want to identify with the characters in the books. Several of the group’s female participants noted that they’d faced situations where people told them comics weren’t for girls. One of them, a black woman, in particular told about how when she was younger, she was drawn to Spider-Man. She enjoyed reading about not only his personal struggles, but the action in the book. She liked that, despite all his problems, he was still strong enough to do what was right and fight the bad guys.

This led the group into a broader talk about identifying with heroes, and most agreed that Marvel Comics does a great job of offering a wide range of characters that readers can relate to. In that regard, i think the Ms. Marvel book itself is a great example of this. Bearing the name of the publisher, i wonder if this is a subtle move on Marvel’s part to play into the idea that their characters have always represented the idea that the audience can put themselves in the heroes place.

Marvel has a long-standing tradition of humanizing their characters, giving them real-world problems outside of facing supervillainous threats. What i found very exciting through the discussion group was that the road goes both ways. What i mean is that, the same as how an adult black woman can relate to a teenaged white male hero like Spider-Man, it’s not a character’s race, gender, sexuality or other characteristic that draws readers in. Comic fans identify with the intangible qualities that superheroes represent, like selflessness and the strength to persevere against incredible adversity. That’s what allows for people like me, a middle-aged white man, to relate to a teenaged Pakistani girl like Ms. Marvel.

While doing my own research into the character, i came across the “I am Ms. Marvel” trend where readers take photos of themselves holding issue #1 up to their faces to show how they identify with the character. There’s a Twitter hashtag #iammsmarvel where a bunch of people shared their photos that’s definitely worth checking out.

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

Anyone can be Ms. Marvel

If you enjoy superhero comics and want to meet up with others who share your passion, Cleveland Public Library’s Get Graphic! series is certainly worth a visit. The Women Warriors series will continue every other Thursday through May. Here’s the schedule and the books each meeting will focus on:

  • March 19: Katana: Soultaker by Ann Nocenti & Alex Sanchez
  • April 2: Batwoman: Hydrology by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
  • April 16: Storm: Make it Rain by Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez & Matteo Buffagni
  • May 7: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads by Paul Levitz & Guillem March
  • May 21: Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona

Thanks to Valentino Zullo for introducing himself at Wizard World, and for hosting this great discussion series. It was great to meet new comics fans and talk about real issues through the context of superheroes. If you’re at any of the discussion groups, please feel free to say hi – i’d love to meet you!

While at the library…

Admittedly, i haven’t been to Cleveland Public Library in years, and that was only when i crept in so i could spy on the Captain America: Winter Soldier set from the stairwell while covering it for The Cleveland Stater. Prior to that, i couldn’t even guess when i was there last.

The building itself is phenomenal, an edifice to knowledge with wonderful architecture. While wandering the halls, i came across TechCentral in the Louis Stokes Wing so you know i had to check that out. This technology and learning center has a computer lab, cloud computing resources, 3D printing and a Tech Toybox for lending out iPads and laptops.

In addition to those resources, TechCentral offers many courses (for free i think) on all sorts of tech-related stuff like digital photography, 3D maker labs and coding, as well as various computer courses. They also have job search resources like workshops on improving your search, and resume and cover letter assistance.

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library's Louis Stokes wing

TechCentral in Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes wing

Most assuredly i will be exploring more about this place for a future Week in Geek.

Another thing i passed in the hallway was this large display called “Before I Die.” It’s a global public art project that invites people to share their aspirations. According to the display at Cleveland Public Library, there are over 100 of these walls in more than 10 languages located in over 30 countries.

Cleveland Public Library's "Before I Die" global art installation

Cleveland Public Library’s “Before I Die” global art installation

All in all, a great geeky week and it all took place at Cleveland Public Library.

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading the latest edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these are the ones that most caught my attention! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 13 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.27.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Sad news

i just learned that actor Leonard Nimoy passed away at age 83. It’s no secret that i am a HUGE Star Trek fan and that show has permeated my life in so many ways.

As you might expect, the Internet and social media are blowing up with condolences for his legendary actor.

i would like to dedicate this particular Week in Geek to Leonard Nimoy. As his most famous character, Mr. Spock was beloved by fans all over the world including me. This icon of the science fiction world has inspired me so much. The complex character has always appealed to me because of his vast intelligence and underlying humanity.

Over the years, i’ve watched a lot of interviews with Nimoy, and when he talks about the character and how much it developed over the years, you can tell it was more than just a pointy-eared alien to him, and fans too of course.

He imbued the character with so many layers of emotion and spirituality which is what elevated Mr. Spock to such an important cultural figure.

Just the other day, my aunt shared a video with me on how the famous Live Long and Prosper greeting came about. Rooted in Jewish lore, the well-known Vulcan greeting is actually a blessing in the Jewish faith. If i take away anything from news of his passing, it’s that i believe Leonard Nimoy truly exemplified the philosophy.

In our memories, Leonard Nimoy will always Live Long and Prosper.

Just so i don't feel as sad, i think he would have liked for us all to party and have a logical time tonight.

Just so i don’t feel as sad, i think he would have liked for us all to party and have a logical time tonight.

The wait is over

i don’t know a whole lot about the Cleveland art scene, but one figure i do know, who is as much a part of our Rust Belt landscape as the gritty backgrounds he lovingly crafts in his work is John Greiner – or simply John G as most folks know him.

My introduction to this phenomenal fellow goes back to the early aughts, when the now-defunct Tonight Magazine in Cleveland (helmed by the prolific Bob Ramsak) tasked me with interviewing John G for their inaugural edition.

Since then, John G has been on my radar, producing not only comic book work but commercial art all over Northeast Ohio. A couple of years ago, i first heard about work on a documentary focused on his life from the crew at Turnstyle Films. And today, Feb. 27, the film was released on Fandor and VHX.

draw hard poster

The documentary opens with several people who know and work with John G describing his demeanor and work ethic, interspersed with shots of the man in question at work in his studio, and i particularly like the opening shot. Seated at his art table, shot from behind, the focus subtly wavers between his body and the table itself – blurring the line between him and the work that he does. Right away, you get the sense of how dedicated he is to his art, and how much a part getting at who he is as a complete person is woven into that.

“This dude is for real,” one of the speakers says to describe meeting him for the first time, shaking hands with the man who has the word “DRAW” tattooed across his knuckles. One the other hand – “HARD.”

When John G himself is first heard, he begins by talking about his lifelong history with comics books and it’s obvious he has a deep admiration for – and skill creating – sequential storytelling.

“There’s things you can only do in comics,” he narrates, while shots of him working with a brush to ink panels showcase his distinct line work. “There’s things you can only do with words and images juxtaposed together.”

Joshua Rex, another Cleveland artist, mentions his line work later in the film, offering a wonderful analogy.

“Something about his black line is just so distinct and unique and creepy,” Rex says over a series of images from John G’s portfolio. “It’s almost like it was burned rather than drawn.”

John G is revealed through a series of conversations with his friends and colleagues. One of them is Jake Kelly, another Cleveland artist and co-creator of the horror anthology comic The Lake Erie Monster set in Cleveland.

lake erie monster 1

Incidentally, this is a terrific quarterly series with a unique vision and fantastic artwork that i highly recommend. You don’t have to be from Cleveland to appreciate it of course, but the level of detail and nods to the city’s history and visual cues is an added treat.

“Cleveland is a pretty strange place,” Kelly says while explaining The Lake Erie Monster book. “You always see some bizarre thing.”

To illustrate his point, he relates a story of he and John G driving down East 55th Street and seeing a man sitting in his parked car alone, screaming and thrashing about.

“That’s fuckin’ Cleveland right there,” he said.

Another prominent figure in Draw Hard is Matt Fish, owner and operator of Melt Bar & Grilled, which has become a Cleveland-area institution since the first restaurant opened in Lakewood in 2006. Oddly enough, i found out about the place just before it opened from his then wife, a tattoo artist who was giving me some ink at the time.

Fish has nothing but positive things to say about John G in the film, attributing a healthy amount of Melt’s success to the work John G has put into promotional art, as well as his creativity in helping to name sandwiches.

One of the things i appreciated was that the filmmakers chose not to reveal a particular aspect of John G’s life until a few minutes into the film’s 20 minute run time. It’s a significant part, to be sure, but i like that they didn’t throw it at the audience right away or build the narrative around it.

Dave Gibian, from Cleveland thrash punk band All Dinosaurs, speaks about his relationship with John G, and how much impact it had on the band’s success. Early on, John G created the band’s first show poster.

“That was a big deal, if you had a John G poster,” Gibian says in the film. “You were playing a legit show.”

Echoing Gibian’s sentiments, Fish has nothing but praise for the artist whose work on Melt’s advertising brings the same kind of excitement to their menu that his show posters do for musician’s shows.

“Melt would be a completely different landscape if John G wasn’t involved,” Fish says. “John’s art is like part of our brand.”

As evidence of this, Fish points out a framed John G print in his office, the artist’s first work for Melt back in 2009. Since then, he’s done tons of work for Melt, and a panning shot of Fish’s office shows just a handful of those prints.

In the second half of the film, there’s more conversation with John G himself, sharing details about his life that reveal more about him personally and help to ground him after establishing the impact made by his work. By relating more of his personal story, you come to learn a deeper meaning behind the film’s title. After leading into the film with some discussion on his perceived demeanor as a grumpy or angry person, one might take “draw hard” to mean that John G is perhaps a harsh guy, or some kind of tortured artist. This is far from the truth, and the film’s title speaks more to his artistic journey than any sort of personality quirk.

“That’s what I do, so that’s kind of where that came from,” John G describes his method of drawing. “I don’t draw fast. I draw hard.”

Draw Hard knucks

On a side note, one of the things i particularly enjoyed about Draw Hard was the original score by Ryan Harris. He did a good job using music to keep the pace and enhance the mood of the various segments of the film. Towards the end, when John G talks about his past and how he got to where he is today, i thought the score added a wonderful layer of emotion.

If i have any issues with the film, it’s really only that the run time is too short! Clocking in at 20 minutes, the documentary does a terrific job of introducing audiences to John G and his vibrant importance in the Cleveland landscape. As a fan of documentaries in general, i would have liked to see more of the great work putting the narrative together by director Jon Nix, who clearly put significant time and effort into speaking with John G and people who know him as well as capturing footage of him at work, enjoying concerts and generally just living the Cleveland life.

One important thing that i feel got left out was John G’s role in organizing the yearly Genghis Con, the small press and underground comic convention held annually in Cleveland. Overall, the film focused a lot on The Lake Erie Monster and John G’s commercial work, and it would have been nice to explore his involvement with comics more, both as a creator and event organizer.

For more details on Draw Hard, please visit their Facebook page and head over to Fandor or VHX to check it out. It’s only $1.99 to stream it, and there are some upgraded packages with great additional bonuses. The top tier of these is The Gritty Package, which includes a digital copy, director’s commentary, trailer and hi-res PDFs of both The Lake Erie Monster and a John G art collection – for only $9.99!

Best of Cleveland

If you enjoyed Draw Hard, and want to support the film even more, head over to Cleveland Scene’s website and cast your vote for Made in CLE – Best of 2015. The Arts & Entertainment category has several entries you can vote in like Best Comic Artist and Best Illustrator.

There’s a Best Director category where you can vote for Jon Nix who directed Draw Hard.

And – shameless plug – there’s a Best Local Blog category too, so you can vote for The Long Shot 😉

You can vote once per day, so make sure to visit daily and vote for what you think is the best stuff Cleveland has to offer. Online voting ends on March 9, plenty of time to support your favorite stuff.

Wizard World addendum

A few other items of interest from my experience at Wizard World Cleveland last weekend that didn’t make it into my coverage i want to share here.

There were two different charitable organizations i came across while wandering the exhibition floor.

The first was Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio, who visit children’s hospitals and special needs centers in superhero costumes.

This is a great example of parlaying the immense popularity of comic book superheroes into something really positive.

In a similar vein, Heroes Alliance is another nonprofit group using costumed superheroes to make a difference in the community. Founded in Florida, the group has expanded throughout the U.S. and is focused on fundraising for organizations like Give Kids the World as well as making appearances to brighten spirits.

Both of these groups operate as nonprofits through donations, so please check them out and donate if you are able. We can never have too many heroes and, as both organizations agree, it’s those they seek to help who are the real heroes that keep them inspired.

Both groups also accept volunteer help, so if you want to take the extra step and participate yourself, there’s information on their websites to help you do just that.

Apama

One of the things i didn’t get a chance to check out directly at the convention was the film Hero Tomorrow, a homegrown Northeast Ohio superhero story.

The hero in question is APAMA, and i recall seeing posters for it plastered around downtown Cleveland when i was still attending Cleveland State University.

i love the description of the project from the website:

David spends his days cutting grass and his nights smoking it while desperately trying to keep his superhero fantasies alive. When Robyn, his aspiring fashion-designer girlfriend, makes him a Halloween costume of his original character APAMA it doesn’t take David long to hit the streets and begin blundering towards disaster.

The character of Apama has elements of several super heroes i’ve enjoyed over the years, like The Creeper from DC Comics and Mike Allred’s Mad Man. His kooky adventures are represented by tight artwork, and as many people know, i’m a sucker for schmaltz so it’s cool to see that his girlfriend Robyn is an integral part of his escapades. Plus, Apama is Cleveland-based which adds a whole other level of cool to the property.

Yuri Night

A table with a big sign that read “Space Party” was something i had to swing past.

Yuri’s Night in an international celebration every April to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, Yuri’s Night was first held on April 12, 2001, exactly 40 years after the launch of the Vostok 1 spacecraft that Yuri piloted.

In Cleveland this year, Yuri’s Night Space Party will be held at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 11 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The celebration will feature live music, refreshments, a “cosmic trip” with The Solar Fire Light Show, space-themed costume contest, a new Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition and more.

Visit the Great Lakes Science Center website or call 216.621.2400 for more details and to purchase tickets.

This sounds like a really awesome event, and a great opportunity for someone to Take a Shot at covering. If you need added incentive, there’s a chance for you to earn some exclusive geek loot in the process.

*     *     *     *     *

With my usual caveat to editors and audiences that “brevity is not my thing,” this is a good point at which to wrap it up this week. Wizard World Cleveland was an amazing experience and it was a bummer heading back to the real world on Monday.

Thank you so much to everyone who read my preview article and visited the media gallery at The News-Herald. All the awesome fans who checked it out helped it to account for over 5% of the total traffic to their website for 2015 so far, so on behalf of my resume and measurable results everywhere, i sincerely thank you all. The opportunity to attend comics convention as a professional writer is literally the reason i got into journalism in the first place. So, Nerd Mission Accomplished.

Thanks for reading the latest Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 6 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.20.15, part 3

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

wizard world cleveland

Day 2 with Uber

For getting to and from Wizard World Cleveland on day 2 of the show, Feb. 21, i again used the Uber service through the app. Snow was swirling in the air and accumulating on the street in the morning, although it wasn’t as cold as Friday. It was nice to get another ride to the Cleveland Convention Center’s front entrance, but the ride in was a bit awkward because the driver must have mentioned tipping about a dozen times. How people don’t think you have to tip, and that sort of thing.

Well – you don’t, do you? If you read the FAQ on Uber’s website, it explains that a 20% gratuity is added automatically. And on top of that, my driver later that night who took me home explained that they get 80% of their fare. So…yeah i think they’re doing okay without adding a tip on top of it.

The driver who brought me in the morning i rated two stars only, because as it was explained to me the previous day, any rating under three stars – from the driver or the rider – and the service will avoid pairing the two in the future. Rating him one star wasn’t necessary, it’s not like he was awful or anything, i just didn’t want to ride with him again. Plus his car was kinda messy, too. And the fare for that particular ride was significantly more than any of the others i took. Overall, the least positive Uber experience.

On the flip side, the ride home was great. The driver was really close by when i requested a ride, and got there in about five minutes. We chatted the whole way back, and he said one of his favorite parts about being an Uber driver was meeting new people to talk with during the ride.

At the end of the trip, he gave me a promo code to share with first time riders that’s worth a $20 discount on your first Uber ride. Note that you have to enter the promo code before you request the ride in order to apply the discount. You ready? Here’s the code:

t1oph

Panels discussions

My day Saturday revolved very much around panel discussions, which i’d listed in my write-up of Day One.

Starting off the day was NASA and the Science of Superman, a panel of researchers from the NASA Glenn Research Center right here in Cleveland. While waiting for the talk to start, i got a text from my friend and Cleveland filmmaker Anthony Snitzer, who came to the convention for the day and met up with me in the room where this discussion was being held.

At the podium was David DeFelice, a community relations team lead. The panel consisted of Joan Emmett, documentation specialist; Geoffrey Landis, planetary exploration researcher; Lee Kohlman, research aerospace engineer; Jerry Myers, biomedical engineer; and Dennis Stocker, microgravity researcher.

Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel

Some of the topics covered by the NASA panel

What the panel discussed was basically various aspects of the Superman mythos, from their standpoint as space researchers. For example, how Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El would have had to scan the universe to find a suitable planet to send his infant son to, using methods similar to how NASA searches for planets using Doppler shift, gravitational microlensing and so forth. These methods are also employed by NASA’s Kepler telescope. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, that last one was cited as the cause of the galactic smiley face caught by the Hubble telescope.

If you’d like to check out NASA’s ongoing search for another Earth-like planet out there, they have a website for the PlanetQuest program and you can check out some of the 1,800 planets they’ve already discovered. There are images, educational opportunities and loads of info about the science and technology behind the research.

Other topics covered by this panel were the equipment that researchers use to simulate the conditions of other planets, moons and so forth, what kind of spacecraft would be necessary to travel to another hospitable planet, and a look at some possible reasons behind how Superman’s powers work on Earth.

One of the biggest hurdles to space exploration is engine speed, which at this time is just not feasible for travel even to other solar systems in our own galaxy. As one of the panelists put it, if Neanderthals had launched a ship at the end of the Ice Age, it would now be only half way to the next star. In order to reasonably travel throughout space would require warp drives of some sort, and the panel suggested the audience do an Internet search for “warp drive when,” which i’ve done for you and leads to NASA’s information resources on the status of interstellar travel.

In the meantime, we’ve got programs like the Messenger probe currently orbiting Mercury and the New Horizons probe currently near Pluto and its moon Charon. Likewise, the Voyager probe launched in 1977 is only recently reaching the boundary of interstellar space. And the Dawn mission is on its way to Ceres, the largest of the asteroid belt. So, we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to Jor-El in terms of space exploration.

“We build spacecraft,” aerospace engineer Kohlman said. “We fly spacecraft to other planets. The scientists of Krypton are a little ahead of us, but we’re working on it.”

The panelists noted that it would be likely Jor-El would have utilized theoretical travel like worm holes, and certainly would require faster-than-light speeds to traverse the galaxies.

A discussion of Superman’s powers started with his being “faster than a speeding bullet,” which according to the panel is anywhere from 400-3000 mph. This is within the realm of testing at the NASA Ballistic Impact Lab, where they use a gas gun to test material durability and can fire objects at a top speed of Mach 2.5.

Superman’s speed, evidenced by his ability to reach orbit, would have to be at least Mach 25, or ten times what the gas gun can achieve. However, our fastest spacecraft that have left the Earth can reach about Mach 50, and for comparison the New Horizon probe travels at Mach 47.

Again, it was shown that in order to effectively travel to other planets and solar systems we’ll need engines that can go much, much faster than currently possible. It is worth noting that several of the panelists were well-versed in Superman lore, making the point that his powers have fluctuated over the decades from his days of juggling planets to a bit more reasonable levels. They also pointed out the impossibility of some of his feats, like picking up skyscrapers – they would break apart due to the lack of surface area support, for example.

To segue into a look at Superman’s strength, the panel noted that, like Superman is a hero to so many people, at NASA their heroes are the astronauts. And like Superman, they are able to lift greater weight on planets other than their home world…but not quite what you’d expect. For example, on Mars, where gravity is 1/6 that of Earth, you might think an astronaut who could lift 100 pounds on Earth could heft an impressive 600 pounds on the red planet. This is not quite true, due to the forces of inertia. The different gravities and effects on object weight is a real concern for researchers, who must take into account that these heavy objects, if put into motion, must still be controlled and stopped to avoid collision damage with equipment and people, for instance.

Likewise, it is a gravity-related matter that allows Superman to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” and later, outright fly without any means of propulsion. Using math, microgravity researcher Dennis Stocker determined that the gravity on Krypton would be about 37 times that of Earth to account for Superman’s leaping ability and strength. I was curious if they’d taken this model further and tried to mathematically figure out the size, density and so forth of Krypton – basically create a model of the fictional planet – but they hadn’t.

The most reasonable explanation that the researchers could offer to explain many of Superman’s powers were that he created and controlled a very localized gravity field around himself. This would account for his ability to utilize super strength while in flight (since typically he would only push himself away from the object), to fly without propulsion or friction on his body, and to completely disperse kinetic energy from bullets and other projectiles without them pushing him back or causing any kind of effect on his skin, and surviving in space.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a chance to talk about his heat vision, but they did touch on his super cold breath, which is actually completely scientific. When air is compressed and expelled rapidly like that, its temperature would drop dramatically.

A question in the audience asked why Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane when falling from a building doesn’t result in a snapped neck (much like Gwen Stacy’s when Spider-Man attempts to save her from falling from a bridge), and the panelists referred the question to Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” which, if you can find a copy, retails some real world problems Superman’s super powers would present.

After the panel wrapped up, i ran into researcher Geoffrey Landis while waiting in like for the next event on my list, and we chatted for a few minutes about Superman science. He was really very engaging, and most interesting to me was a brief discussion on technology. While many of the probes and craft we’ve launched years and even decades ago has been surpassed by present day advances, the simple durability of those older technologies is what makes it possible for them to still function in space. Because of cosmic ray exposure causing soft errors and resets on computer technology, a modern-day computer would not function over time in space. So, while the hardware behind some of the craft we have out there may be inferior in terms of raw computing power, the fact that it is able to continue functioning at all is the key to continuing our receipt of the information they send back – which has a huge impact on how our technology develops and evolves on Earth.

Speaking of the next event…

William Shatner who, among many things, brought to life Captain Kirk on what i maintain is the best iteration of Star Trek, was set to give a talk in the junior ballroom.

Now, since he first played that character nearly 50 years ago, and has gone on to other notable projects in film, television and music, as well as appeared at countless conventions over the decades, i didn’t expect a whole lot of Star Trek talk or otherwise.

In the program, the event “Boldly Going with William Shatner” was described as him dishing on the roles that he’s played over the years. But i think, perhaps because of all the speaking engagements he’s done in his career, that talking about those topics is probably pretty boring for the guy.

Instead, Shatner used an analogy with a car trip he recently took with his wife, riding in a fast sports car through severe winter conditions, as a backdrop for several things like his career, the world of science fiction and man’s place in the universe.

If i’m honest, it was a little rambling and at times i think the audience wondered where he was going with his talk (i know i did at least). But at the end of the day, it’s William Shatner up there talking and no one could complain about that.

“Science fiction seeks to answer ‘what’s in the future,’ ” Shatner explained at one point. “But we just don’t know what’s out there in terms of other life. Now, I’m going to tell you something so magical, you’re going to plotz – which is a Vulcan word.”

After talking about psychiatrist John E. Mack’s work with people who claim alien abduction, leading to a claim that UFOs really exist because of the similarity of accounts, i did not in fact plotz. But i think the point he was trying to make is that we can’t really say for certain if there is or is not other life in the universe, or discount anyone’s beliefs, because we just don’t know.

“There’s so much that’s mysterious out there,” Shatner ruminated. “We don’t know what we don’t know because we just don’t know what we don’t know.”

Indeed.

Before opening the talk to a Q&A with select audience members, he talked about a possibly upcoming show or documentary he’s working on with the working title Young Guns of NASA. The project has allowed him access to several NASA sites around the country, and he spoke about Col. Scott Kelly, an astronaut devoting his life to science by spending a full year on the International Space Station.

Such a feat is expected to cause significant biological changes, including the possibility that his eyes will change shape due to the different conditions there and the effect on the human body.

Later, when asked if he would like to travel to the ISS, our moon or even Mars, he described the real-life adventures he’s had, like professional horseracing and the aforementioned car ride, and said his life has been exciting enough.

“I do exciting things!” he shouted to the crowd. “I don’t need to ride every rollercoaster.”

Hello Mr. Fancypants

Taking the ballroom stage in the afternoon was another fan-favorite actor, Bruce Campbell. My first introduction to him was in the early ’90’s, when my D&D buddies’ cool older sister showed us Evil Dead II, and i’ve been hooked ever since. Not every project the guy does is must-see for me, but i definitely appreciate his work, which has entertained me many times over the years.

For his appearance in Cleveland, Campbell donned a snazzy, shiny purple sport coat which he said was inspired by flying over the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame and thinking about “the spirit of Elvis, Wayne Newton and the other interred there.”

Instead of talking the whole time about himself or his career, he wanted to play a game and in fact the program listed the event as “Bruce Campbell Versus the Audience.”

Much like popular talent shows such as America’s Got Talent, Bruce surveyed the crowd to select six people with any kind of talent to “prove Cleveland has talent.”

The irreverent game show-like event played out over the next 45 minutes, with Bruce letting the contestants do their thing while he played the role of an obnoxious host, tossing insults their way.

The contestants, who were all from Ohio, included a CSU student dressed as Beetlejuice who could do voices; Christiana, a singer from Brunswick; Michelle, a poet from Brunswick; Ryan, a heavy metal singer and filmmaker; Zack, a dancer in a Two-Face costume; and Schlock Meister, a horror host from Cleveland.

A series of talent displays and eliminations proceeded in which Schlock Meister did an impression of deceased comedian Chris Farley, Ryan sung a Korn song and Michelle recited an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Zack performed the dance routine from Michael Jackson’s Thriller (that Schlock Meister sang), while Christiana sung Uptown Funk and Beetlejuice gave the audience his take on Heath Ledger’s Joker character.

Schlock Meister, Zack and Michelle were eliminated in the first round, and for their efforts they were each given a prize by Bruce Campbell of $1 as they left the stage.

Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.

Schlock Meister also got a selfie with Bruce Campbell as he exited the stage.

For the final round, Christiana did a wonderful job singing a haunting song from one of the Resident Evil films, while Ryan sang another Korn song (i didn’t even know people still liked Korn) and Beetlejuice improvised a conversation between Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and his signature voice, Beetlejuice.

Based on crowd response, Christiana was the overall winner, and received a crisp $20 bill from Bruce while the runners-up each got $2 for their participation.

Overall, it was kind of a weird event were the special guest didn’t really do anything personable. It would have been nice if he’d injected a bit of himself into the show. On the other hand, his crass, obnoxious host routine was pretty entertaining.

A panel discussion of substance

One of the panels i’d most been looking forward to was Gender Equality in Geek Culture. This was a tricky part of the afternoon, because there were a couple of things i wanted to attend with overlapping times. However, the host for this particular panel was a no-show, so it was cancelled unfortunately.

On the bright side, i headed next door to where another panel was that i would have missed, and since there was time to kill before it started, Valentino Zullo who was sitting in front of me introduced himself and i learned about some great stuff he does at the Cleveland Public Library.

With a master’s degree in English and women’s studies from Bowling Green and currently studying social science at CWRU, he created the Get Graphic discussion group to talk about literature, social justice and the superhero way.

The discussion groups, which he organizes and hosts twice monthly, focus on different topics and use comic books for the platform to discuss them.

For example, right now the group’s topic is “Women Warriors” and the group will talk about different types of feminism, the epidemic of sex trafficking and other women/gender-related topics.

The group meets on the first and third Thursdays of every month at 4 p.m., in the literature department on the 2nd floor of the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Avenue, downtown Cleveland. More information is available by calling 216.623.2881.

i spoke with Valentino a bit after the panel and we connected through our enjoyment of offbeat comic books, particularly Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which he said had inspired some of the summer’s group discussions on the nature of evil.

We also both love female heroes, and Marvel comics in particular, and it was cool to meet someone with such similar particular tastes in comic books.

i will definitely be visiting his discussion group and sharing the experience in a future Week in Geek. The next one according to the flyer he gave me is on March 5, where the focus in on Ms. Marvel.

Prior to that discussion group meeting, on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. is a meeting for the speaker series Valentino helps organize. The speaker for the special black history month lecture is Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning who spoke at the panel i wrote about on Friday. His lecture is titled “Fighting for Diversity: Comic Books and Race” and will look at the history of racial diversity in comic books.

If you live in the Cleveland area, love your comics and want to meet up with others who share your interest, and talk about important social issues in the context of superheroes, then definitely check out some of these events Valentino organizes!

Cleveland – the REAL birthplace of Superman

Forget Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis – Cleveland, Ohio is the real place where Superman was born!

The Siegel and Shuster Society held a panel discussion to talk about just that, and how two local kids laid the foundation for comics as we known them way back in 1938.

Led my Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo, the panel included former Marvel Comics editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth; Michael Olzewski, president of the Siegel and Shuster Society; Brad Ricca, author of Super Boys, the literary biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel; Siegel’s cousin Irving Fine, his sister Norma, and Leigh Goldie, cousin of Joe Shuster.

The panel discussed how “the city (Cleveland) never fully embraced Superman,” which is a shame because…it’s SUPERMAN! Seriously, i share their sentiments that it is frankly bizarre that Cleveland doesn’t proclaim its Superman roots loud and proud.

Unfortunately, a big part of that comes from Warner Bros. who owns DC Comics, who put a lot of restrictions on how and where their intellectual properties are used. For example, Ohio is the only state to have Superman license plates available – thanks to the efforts of the Siegel and Shuster Society by the way – but they were unable to include the phrase “Birthplace of Superman” because Warner Bros. doesn’t want anyone to be confused with the fictional character’s birthplace on Krypton.

The bulk of the panel talked about the news surrounding the real possibility of a Superman statue and display to be built on the lakefront, near the Great Lakes Science Center.

This is a truly terrific idea, especially that location due to Superman’s science-fiction origins. As for the proposed design that the Society has been promoting and seen in the news, personally, i think they need to reimagine it.

Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland

Approved model for the Superman statue display planned in Cleveland

This thing just does not look good to me. The proportions of his body look way off and it just doesn’t look exciting, not at all like co-creator Joe Shuster’s artwork. Why not base it on his work?

Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt

Like this for example, or any number of others that Shuster created would look better than the proposed sculpt

The best thing about the proposed statue display, though, is the additional figures at the base – Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Joanne Siegel, who was early inspiration for Lois Lane. This is a terrific idea, to honor the people who created this character. If you know anything about Superman history, they did not enjoy the kind of success or financial security you might expect when, you know, they revolutionized and basically ushered in the comic book superhero genre as we know it.

The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry's wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.

The proposed base of the Superman statue will feature depictions of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Joanne Siegel, Jerry’s wife and the inspiration for Lois Lane.

The panel was also happy to see how well Wizard World Cleveland had turned out, again something that may not have ever happened had it not been for those two Cleveland teens creating Superman.

“He’d be smiling down at this Comic Con, I assure you,” said Siegel’s cousin Irv, who is a big part of the Society and the various projects they work on. Irv went on to tell the audience about how Siegel and Shuster got together in the first place. Jerry was a big science fiction buff, who’d created this superbeing character and asked Irv’s brother if he could draw it for him. Instead, Jerry was introduced to Joe who had recently moved to their Kinsman neighborhood.

“When he and Joe got together, they just produced magic,” Irv said.

One interesting fact about the Society itself is that, since Warner Bros. would not allow them to use the Superman name and call themselves the Superman Society, they considered this a blessing because instead they used the creators’ names and were able to give the publicity to them, not the character they’re created.

Sangiacomo, he everyone assembled agreed was vital to raising awareness about Superman’s Cleveland roots, spoke after the panel and said he’d been surprised after speaking with every Cleveland mayor for the past few decades, none of whom had even been aware that Superman was created in their city.

As regards the statue, he said it’s still a couple of years off, but he’s confident a fundraiser would enable them to gain financing for the project. He said a great pledge reward would be a brick with the donors name to use as part of the statue display area. The statue project is definitely going forward, but a lot of county, city, and corporate red tape has to be dealt with. Sangiacomo will stay at the forefront of this project though, and provide news as it breaks.

Musical extravaganza

The unofficial end to the convention is the massive costume contest held in the ballroom, but before that got underway, the audience was treated to a sonic treat when World of Warcraft composer Jason Hayes, along with his video game music tribute band Critical Hit performed.

Consisting of a cello, violin, drums and synthesizer, the four-piece band played songs like Zelda’s Lullaby, Dr. Wily’s Stage from Mega Man, the theme from Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty, To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X, a hard rock version of Bowser’s Castle from Super Mario Brothers and more.

What blew me away most of all was the cello work by Tina Guo, who was front center stage just rocking the hell out of her instrument. To be honest, i’d never seen a cello like that, all streamlined and made of what looked like some sort of polycarbon material. Is that wood? What are those made of?

Whatever material it is, she played it like a champ and the crowd loved it. A lot of older games featured MIDI music or simple beeps and boops strung together, but with Critical Hit playing these melodies they were transformed into robust, beautiful, haunting, electrifying, exciting and rockin’ tunes that filled the ballroom with energy.

Costume Contest

The final event of the day was the Wizard World Costume Contest, and it did not disappoint!

Contestants entered the stage from the left, passed by judges seated on stage and exited to the right. These aren’t professional models or anything, so quite a few people nervously walked onto and off of the stage so fast that it was hard to get a good look at their costumes. But everyone who participated received applause from the audience.

Minecraft's Steve was a huge hit with the audience

Minecraft’s Steve was a huge hit with the audience

Quite a few great costumes that i saw over the weekend were not part of the competition, and a few of them who i ran into afterwards told me they either were late arriving, or weren’t included because there was no category for the character they portrayed. For example, one woman had a great Badadook costume, but since there is no “Horror” category, she couldn’t enter.

The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show

The handmade Belle costume ultimately gave her a win for Best in Show

After everyone had crossed the stage, the judges took a few minutes to decide who their honorable mentions were, as well as the winners in six different categories.

Honorable mentions were given to one of the many Jokers, a Knight Who Says Ni, and Team Rapture from the video game Bioshock.

The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants

The judges on stage with their honorable mention costume contest participants

The winners of the contest were:

  • Best Male Hero: Groot
  • Best Female Hero: Hawkgirl
  • Best Male Villain: Venom
  • Best Female Villain: Knightingale from Skyrim
  • Best Group: Avatar: The Last Airbender team
  • Best in Show: Belle, from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim's Knightingale

Hawkgirl, Venom, Groot, Belle, Avatar: The Last Airbender and lurking somewhere in the background Skyrim’s Knightingale

Congrats to all the contestants in the costume contest though – a big part of these geeky conventions are the costumes, and everyone who shows up in one gets a round of applause from me. When i first went to Gen Con, i remember thinking “i’ve got to get a costume if i’m going to go to these conventions.” Unfortunately, i never did but i did find a place that will make custom bodysuits for a reasonable price. So i’m thinking i’ll go that route and dress up like one of my absolute favorite characters with the best superhero costume ever.

Mister Miracle - my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i'll run into a Big Barda!

Mister Miracle – my winner for best costume and best comics character ever. And who knows, maybe i’ll run into a Big Barda!

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks for reading this special Wizard World Cleveland edition of  Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but this is the ones that most caught my attention and kept me busy all week! If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you attended Wizard World Cleveland and you’d like to share your experience in writing, or any photos, please let me know and i’d be happy to share them here at The Long Shot.

Also, check out my media gallery through The News-Herald, which is another great place you can share your photos from the weekend.

Please stop by again later in the week for a few last things to share that i discovered at Wizard World

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Feb. 27 and i’d love to see you here!

Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!

Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 2.20.15, part 2

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

wizard world cleveland

Wizard World Cleveland – getting there and back again

First off, i want to mention my travel to the show. As i mentioned in Part 1, due to parking lots being booked and the arctic temperatures in Cleveland right now, i tried out Uber to get me to the Cleveland Convention Center. For my inaugural trip i opted for uberSELECT service, which is one of four options available to riders, in this case an upgraded experience.

It could not have been any easier.

Using the Android app, i requested a ride from my home in Lakewood, and for the destination i simply had to input “Cleveland Convention Center.” As soon as i hit “done,” a car popped up on the map and said let me know Phil would be there in 8 minutes. Stunningly accurate, i was able to see Phil’s Yukon as it made its way over, and sure enough it arrived exactly on time as indicated.

Phil, and his vehicle, were very nice. He asked if i’d used Uber before, and since i hadn’t, he gave me a promo code for a discounted ride. We chatted a bit on the short drive, and he said how much he likes being an Uber driver, and told me about how both the driver and the rider can rate each trip. So if either party rates the other below three stars, the app will avoid pairing them in the future.

Phil got me to the show in 14 minutes, and brought me right to the front entrance. The ride cost $10, which at the end of the day is pretty good considering i had the upgraded service. Special event parking would probably cost at least that, and granted i still had to get a lift home later, but since i would have had to park several blocks away on top of it this was a real bargain.

The Cleveland Convention Center, home of Wizard World Cleveland

The Cleveland Convention Center, home of Wizard World Cleveland

For the trip home, i selected the standard service, and Cedric arrived with five minutes at the Convention Center Entrance. Cedric is a Vietnam vet who worked as a taxi cab driver in Cleveland for many years and now is an Uber driver. He loves it, and we chatted the whole way back about different routes through the city and about how cool Uber service is. The ride home was $16.62, a little more due to no promo code this time and also there were surge rates in effect, presumably due to the weekend event.

For tomorrow and Sunday, i’ll definitely be taking Uber trips to and from Wizard World. While overall it’s probably a bit more than parking, i don’t imagine it’s that much more, and for the convenience alone it’s totally worth the cost. Plus, i’m a big ol’ geek and if i’m honest i thought it was just plain neat to use the app for a ride.

Opening Day

For the start of the weekend convention, i had a few priorities heading inside. First off, i wanted to get lots of photos, particularly of costumed attendees, for The News-Herald Media Gallery. Frankly, i was a little surprised at the scarcity of costumes i saw. When i went to Gen Con, i think there were more people in costumes than not, but standing in line to get onto the floor i didn’t spot too many people dressed up. With the frigid temperatures in Cleveland, i was expecting at least a few Captain Colds, Mr. Freezes, Killer Frosts or some Hoth-geared Lukes and Hans.

The other priority for me was picking up some loot! A big part of conventions are the vendors on the floor, who offer all sorts of stuff from comics, toys, games, collectibles, t-shirts, swords, steampunk accessories, and in the case of comic cons, lots and lots of artwork.

For the first couple of hours, i snaked my way around the convention floor, holding back from accumulating a ridiculous amount of cool stuff. It would not have been hard to drop a crap ton of money on all manner of items. One of the most abundant items that many vendors had were Funko Pop! figurines. i don’t know what it is about these vinyl figures, but i like ’em. There’s so many of them! The first one i ever got was from my friend’s son this past Christmas, and at this point they’re starting to pile up into an actual collection.

My first Funko Pop! figure - Joker Batman. Thanks again, Liam!

My first Funko Pop! figure – Joker Batman. Thanks again, Liam!

i couldn’t tell you how many different figures are out there, but it’s easily over a hundred, with characters from film, TV, comics, games, sports and more. Since i didn’t want to go overboard – which would be very easy – i made just a couple of careful decisions and picked up Mirror Universe Spock and Silver Surfer. One day, these will eventually adorn my home office but for now, they’ll stay in their box. For adding to their ranks, i’d like to pick up Mega Man, Dr. Doom, Ghost Rider, Magneto, Avengers 2 Vision, Black Suit Spider-Man, Punisher, several Batmans – including Rainbow Batmans!! – Shazam, Deathstroke, Rocketeer, Glow Baymax, Sheldon Cooper, Hannibal Lecter, Disco Skeltor, Captain Kirk, V for Vendetta, Ash from Army of Darkness, The Bride, The Dude, The Crow, Count Chocula, Cthulhu, Commander Shepard (if they make a FemShep version only), one of the 13 different Stan Lee versions, Clockwork Orange…wow that’s a big list. Okay maybe not all of those, but you get the idea – these things are addictive.

There's a Funko Pop! figure for each of Batman's rainbow costumes from Detective Comics #241. This is the crown jewel of my comics collection. He MUST wear a different colored Batman costume each night!

There’s a Funko Pop! figure for each of Batman’s rainbow costumes from Detective Comics #241. This is the crown jewel of my comics collection. He MUST wear a different colored Batman costume each night!

Since i restrict my comics collection to digital versions these days, i wasn’t too keen on rifling through the sea of longboxes on the convention floor. These days, my physical collection is very small, consisting of only a few books i consider special in some way, like Detective Comics #241. Since Neal Adams is at Wizard World, i might see if i can find Mister Miracle #19 and have him sign it though. He only did some inking on that book, and it’s far from anything he’s known for, but i’m a huge Mister Miracle geek so that would be a great addition. Speaking of good ol’ Scott Free, i hope them make a Funko Pop! figure of him and Big Barda – those would be auto-includes for my burgeoning collection.

Hopefully i can find a copy of this and get Neal Adams to sign it.

Hopefully i can find a copy of this and get Neal Adams to sign it.

In other Mister Miracle news, i came across this gem at one of the better booths that had a ridiculous amount of rare comics for sale. Holding this in my hands gave me chills, i’ll admit. Entirely created by Jack Kirby, The King of Comics, i would love to own this, but $75 is too rich for this blogger’s blood.

Someday...

Someday…

As for other pop culture obsessions i have, both Star Trek TOS and Mega Man popped up fairly often in various forms at different booths. One artist in particular, Andrew Heath, creates retro-style prints of various characters, shows and so forth. While checking out his work, he mentioned a special offer on his prints, so i picked up both a Mega Man and Star Trek print for $15. These are destined for framing and display along with the Pop! figures, and if i’m honest, whatever else i pick up over the weekend.

The other notable swag i came home with was a freebie given to all attendees of Wizard World Cleveland, an exclusive Greg Horn illustrated cover of The Walking Dead #1. TWD is insanely popular, both the comic and the AMC show, so this was a great giveaway for fans who came to the show. Greg Horn has a booth there as well, so i’m thinking i’ll pony up the $20 he’s charging for a signature on this one.

The official start of the show

An overhead announcement around 4:30 p.m. let everyone know that the official opening ceremony would start soon, so i immediately headed to where it would be held to make sure i could get right up in front.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was there with Wizard World CEO John Macaluso as well as Lou Ferrigno, and Cleveland Browns mascot Chomps, to officially get the convention underway.

Macaluso told the gathered audience that Wizard World was proud to put on their show in the city where Superman was born, which got a great round of applause. He said they were already convinced it was a great decision and would be back again for sure.

Mayor Jackson spoke about how it was terrific to have a show like this in Cleveland, also mentioning how it’s the birthplace of Superman.

Ferrigno, always a fan-favorite, said how exciting shows like this are for the big stars who are guests, because they get the opportunity to really connect with fans on a personal level. He mentioned how he lived in Columbus for a few years in the ’70s, and that he thought Ohio is a great state with passionate fans of pop culture.

Together, the three of them cut the ribbon to officially start the show, and the audience gave a huge round of applause and cheers.

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso, Lou Ferrigno and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson cut the ribbon to officially start the convention. This is not zoomed in - i was standing right there front and center about three feet away.

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso, Lou Ferrigno and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson cut the ribbon to officially start the convention. This is not zoomed in – i was standing right there front and center about three feet away.

But what else is going on at Wizard World?

After the ceremony, i took another circuit of the exhibition floor to look at more cool stuff, get more photos and stop by Booth 227 where the people behind the comic and web show Cyanide & Happiness and clothing line Any Means Necessary were set up.

Shawn Coss, who i spoke with last week to preview the convention, was there with the rest of the crew selling merchandise and doing sketches for fans.

The guys gave me a great compliment about the write-up and thanked me for reaching out them, which is always nice to hear! That always gives me a chuckle though, too, because the people who share their time with me are really doing me the favor!

i was happy to see so many people gathered around their booth, and i picked up a t-shirt myself to support them and also because Shawn is just a great artist and i really dig his work. It reminds me of another terrific Cleveland artist, Derek Hess, whose work was wildly popular in the ’90s and has since gone on to have his work displayed permanently in The Louvre!

For a custom sketch, i picked a random scenario out of a box and Shawn Coss drew whatever came to mind in the Cyanide & Happiness style. This was called "Awkward Dance."

For a custom sketch, i picked a random scenario out of a box and Shawn Coss drew whatever came to mind in the Cyanide & Happiness style. This was called “Awkward Dance.”

The t-shirt i got from Any Means Necessary. They were out of medium, so i chanced the large. When i got home...i don't know, it looks pretty big.

The t-shirt i got from Any Means Necessary. They were out of medium, so i chanced the large. When i got home…i don’t know, it looks pretty big.

Away from the exhibition floor

Taking a breather to upload my photos and realign myself, i checked out the program for the convention that i’d stuffed in my bag on the way in and hadn’t looked at since.

i must say, i felt pretty dopey looking through it, because there are so many great panel discussions and stuff like that going on and it hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point.

Thankfully, i had only missed a couple of things by this time, although the panel discussions for World War II and Comics, and How to Write Comics would have been cool.

One that was just about to start was called To Be Super-Powerfully Diverse, so i rushed up to Room 4 to check it out. The panel consisted of Tony Isabella, creator of both Black Lightning and Black Goliath and who is also a native Clevelander; Abdul Rashid from AHR Visions; and another creator whose name i unfortunately didn’t catch.

The discussion was very interesting, and the panel noted how happy they were to see that the audience itself was diverse. The general consensus from the panel was that, according to Isabella, comics has “a new status quo, and it’s not going back to all white male heroes.”

Part of the discussion was about a trend in comics to revamp or re-envision existing characters in more diverse ways, and they referenced things like the new female Thor, Sam Wilson (The Falcon) taking over for Captain America, and the retcon of original Green Lantern Alan Scott that made the character homosexual.

“I’d rather see new characters, with new names,” Isabella noted. “Going forward, you’re going to see more diverse characters in comics. No one is stopping that train.”

That is an issue i’ve thought about myself, and touched on back when the female Thor was first announced. On one level, i agree with the panel that new characters would be cool. But at the same time, it seems to me that it is very, very difficult to establish a brand-new character against the backdrop of decades worth of established, iconic characters. Which isn’t to say it’s not worth trying, but i think it’s very hard for audiences to accept new characters, and given the tough market for comics, for a new character to stick around long enough to get established.

After listening to the discussion, i think what does work for comics characters is when creators utilize the history to help establish new characters. For instance, no one believes Sam Wilson will remain Captain America forever (although…why not?). Eventually, Steve Rogers will return to the role, but by then, i think The Falcon’s stint as the star-spangled Avenger will help invigorate that classic character and give him a new prominence.

Likewise, female Thor may one day put Mjolnir down and the classic Odinson will return, but by then, i hope she has established herself enough to become a new hero with her own identity. Personally, i’ve never really enjoyed Thor to begin with, but the current book featuring the female version is one of my favorites right now. So, she can remain Thor as look as possible if you ask me. It’s actually amazing to me that this relatively new character has already become a stronger, more defined female hero than the watermark of all female superheroes – Wonder Woman.

A good portion of the talk focused on current Ms. Marvel, the Muslim teenager Kamala Khan. The point was raised that perhaps the character could have had her own superheroic identity, but again, i think it’s helpful to establishing her that she was given a recognizable name to start her career. Yes, one day she will likely evolve into a different hero, but i think if she would have come out the gate as a brand new character, she might not have had the staying power she’s enjoyed thus far.

An interesting point that was made, too, was that it’s great to have characters who are racially diverse, or gay, or from various religious backgrounds, but that it’s important not to let that define them completely. One of the audience members pointed out that, for example, not all Christians or Muslims are completely devout, so it can be awkward when these sorts of characters are so strongly defined by their faith, or sexual orientation or whatever. That made a lot of sense to the panelists, who agreed and took it a step further.

They talked about how superheroes are role models, and a crucial part of that is making sure they are not perfect in every way. What they meant is that the best heroes always have flaws, because that way it allows them a better chance to resonate with fans who can realistically aspire to emulate them.

Isabella used Superman as an example, and how his ’80’s era revamp was necessary because up until that point, he was basically invincible (i still think he’s too powerful to be reasonably relatable). Since nothing could hurt him or really pose much of a challenge, it started to turn readers away because how can you hope to be like a hero who has absolutely no drawbacks, flaws or foibles?

“You can have a positive role model without them being so perfect that no one can aspire to be like them, because they’re so far beyond you,” Rashid summed up.

The panel ran a little late and had to wrap up quickly to make room for the next group, but all three panelists encouraged the audience to stop by their booths over the weekend to talk more about the topic.

And that’s a wrap

The first day of Wizard World Cleveland was winding down, and likewise the battery on my phone was nearly kaput so i thought i’d better summon Uber while i still could.

Heading into the rest of the weekend, i planned out my time a little better and there are so many great panels and workshops on Saturday and Sunday. This is a good thing also because it’ll help keep me from dropping more cash on stuff…but i’m not gonna lie, i will be getting more stuff for sure.

On Saturday, i definitely want to hit up

  • NASA and the Science of Superman
  • Boldly Going with William Shatner
  • From Cap’s Shield to Agents of SHIELD to Groot!
  • Bruce Campbell Versus the Audience
  • Gender Equality in Geek Culture
  • Cleveland, Home of Siegel, Shuster and Superman
  • Marvel Vs. DC: The Battle for Super Cinema & TV

And finish off the day with the Wizard World Costume Contest, with special guest judges Jason David Frank – the Green Ranger, Robert Kurtzman, Knightmage, and Griffin Cosplay.

Sunday is a shorter day, and the conventions “official” closing is Saturday night, but there’s a couple of things i want to attend like

  • Cleveland’s Own Resident Superhero – Apama! Umm, What’s an Apama?
  • Wizard World Kid’s Costume Contest

Here’s where YOU come in

Are you attending Wizard World Cleveland? Do you have photos to share, or a write-up of your experiences?

Why not Take a Shot and share them here at The Long Shot?

As i mentioned a few weeks ago, i’m really hoping to expand this site and include other contributing writers, and right now i’ve got some geeky prizes to give away for just such people. Check out that link, or click on Take a Shot at the top of the page and see what happens next.

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Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald and visit my Wizard World Cleveland media gallery, and comment with your photos, or tweet them @newsheraldinoh if you’d like to get your photos uploaded as well.

Thanks for reading, and see you at Wizard World!