Thoughts on this year’s Fan Expo

Fan Expo Canada, a three-day convention in Toronto for all things nerdy, is always a hectic weekend. Despite its increase in popularity over the years, the frustration (and resulting pen stabbings) caused by crowds and line-ups have never reached San Diego Comic-Con heights. This year however, Fan Expo had some new obstacles, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the event (including the highlights, the loot and the hassles).

On Friday night, I attended a screening of the 1966 film, “Batman” (starring Adam West and Burt Ward) at the Toronto Underground Cinema. Although several of the film’s hilariously campy scenes have appeared online (including the infamous exploding shark), I had never seen the movie in full. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but “Batman” was the most hilarious movie I’ve seen all year. Besides Robin’s usual one-liners (“Holy bikini, Batman!”), I was amused the most by the obsessive-compulsive way every important button, switch or lever was labeled with its name and/or function. Most notably, midway down the Batpole, Bruce Wayne hits the “Instant Costume-Change Lever,” allowing the dynamic duo to seamlessly and instantly change into their superhero apparel.

Following the screening, the caped crusader himself, Mr. Adam West, appeared on stage to answer fan questions and indulge our requests. West’s ability to self-ridicule was reminiscent of William Shatner (West even noted that there were only a few people in Hollywood like himself who were able to poke fun at themselves), as he performed the “Batusi” and lines from Family Guy’s Mayor West (including, “Someone’s stealing my water”).

The next day at Fan Expo, fans were treated to a disorganized mess of cosplay and line-ups that spanned city blocks. Inside, the crowds were nearly impossible to navigate, and if you were lucky enough to actually make it into a room for a panel with one of your favourite celebrities, you had the privilege of almost being crushed to death while trying to exit through the narrow hallways. And unlike the hordes of people you might encounter at a sports game or a concert, the over-sized nature of cosplayers’ weapons and costumes definitely make large crowds a little more… difficult. (Trust me, getting smushed between Iron Man and a stormtropper isn’t as awesome as it sounds.)

Hobby Star Marketing President and CEO, Aman Gupta, apologized for the inadequate planning at Fan Expo and addressed the concerns of fans in a recent letter, stating that the company was unprepared for such an outpour of fans. Gupta also promised that Fan Expo 2011 would be held in a larger space — the entire South Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

However, despite the crowds and the lines, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Fan Expo.

Some of my highlights included:

  • Felicia Day. The Q&A with Felicia Day (writer, creator, and star of the “The Guild” webseries) was a lot of fun and let me bask in the awesomeness of my fantasy BFF. The one hour Q&A allowed fans to ask questions like “What’s your favourite video game of all time?” And, ” How does it feel to make girl gaming more mainstream?” Felicia’s passion for gaming, social media and writing came through loud and clear, as well as her knowledge of obscure video games. Afterwards, she signed my copy of issue #1 of The Guild comic, which I also got signed by artist Jim Rugg at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. Unfortunately, I was so starstruck and engulfed in our conversation that I forgot to ask Felicia for a photo together.
  • Artist Alley. The area for artists was much larger this year, allowing for more crafts, art and interesting conversations. I always try to spend most of my time in Artist Alley, as the rest of the exhibitors typically sell posters, comics and merch that I can pick-up at any of my local comic-book stores. Artist Alley, on the other hand, features original and hard-to-find pieces that the creators are more than happy to talk about (and sign for you). This year I picked-up some great new posters and got to chat with quite a few artists, including Runaways artist Adrian Alphona.
  • The costumes. Cosplayers are always out in force at Fan Expo, and this year was no different. I’m always amazed at the detail that goes into every costume — envious of the time, effort and talent that goes into each piece. Next year, I think I’ll join in the fun and cosplay as Atom Eve, a superhero and love interest in Robert Kirkman’s Invincible comic-book series.

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The Walking Dead #75

The Walking Dead hit its 75th issue on Wednesday, and writer Robert Kirkman made sure that the landmark would be remembered.        

Since issue 70 (read my review here), Rick and the rest of The Walking Dead crew have been living in a protected community outside of Washington, DC. Run by Mayor Douglas Monroe, the community is a well-organized and seemingly civilized suburban safe haven. The members of the community have jobs, houses, easy access to food, and they celebrate holidays like Halloween and throw dinner parties.     

However, ever since their induction into the community, the gang has definitely had a hard time fitting in. After spending a year living in fear of zombies, murderers and cannibals, Rick and company are struggling to accept that they may finally be safe. Carl has difficulty connecting with other children after having to grow up too quickly, Michonne can’t seem to part with her katana, and Glenn wants to get back out into the dangerous field of scavaging for supplies. For Rick, however, the transition has been noticeably difficult. Defying the community’s “no gun” policy, he’s determined to carry a secret weapon and intends on using it if their place in the community is threatened.   

In the past, Rick’s desire to keep his friends and family safe has forced him to make difficult decisions and cross moral lines. But despite his moral transgressions, his friends and family have (for the most part) accepted his choices as necessary for survival.

In issue 75, not everyone is on his side.     

Variant cover for issue 75 available at Comic Con.

Convinced that the community doctor, Pete, is beating his wife and son, Rick takes his recent position as constable too far and appoints himself judge, jury and executioner. He demands that Pete either be killed or exiled from the community. However, when Douglas makes it clear that Pete’s position as a doctor makes him too valuable, Rick loses his temper. The ensuing fight between Rick and Pete draws the attention of a few community members, and in his rage, Rick pulls a gun on Douglas. In a shocking twist, it is Michonne who finally subdues Rick – hitting him over the head with a rock. But a sudden explosion leaves Rick’s fate unclear.     

Michonne’s decision to take down Rick is a powerful and unexpected one. Like Rick, Michonne has shared Rick’s “survival of the fittest” philosophy for most of the series. Hell, this is the girl who they found walking around the countryside with two dismembered zombies (one of whom was her boyfriend!). Michonne’s actions demonstrate that it’s Rick who is the real danger to the community, and that he has changed too much to live in “civilized” society.  

Rick Grimes is played by Andrew Lincoln in the upcoming The Walking Dead tv series.

But it was the back-up story that really stole the show. Written by Kirkman and illustrated by Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, the seven-page full colour back-up featured current and past members of The Walking Dead cast. In a nonsensical and truly Kirkman-y way, the story picks up right after the end of issue 75, and  provides an alternate version of what could happen after Rick’s exploding disappearance.    

In the back-up, Rick awakens in a hospital room (a noticeable call-back to issue 1) with a new mechanical hand. After throwing on a superhero inspired costume, he’s ejected out into a battle field filled with zombies, aliens, and deceased TWD cast members. Michonne has enough time to explain that hostile aliens were behind the zombie apocalypse all along, just before her head is cut in half. 

The story provided a nice divergence from the usual emotionally heavy subject matter in TWD. Also, anything that involves Michonne wielding a lightsaber is automatically awesome in my books. Overall, the back-up story was fun and Ottley’s crisp images, combined with dynamic poses and facial expressions, really added some vibrancy to Adlard’s usually dull characters. 

Issue 75 included even more tasty extras, such as the 10 full-page photos of the cast of the upcoming TWD television series. The six episode series, scheduled to air in October during AMC Fearfest, has been filming in Atlanta, GA, since early June. Images from the set and interviews with the crew have been promising, and the casting decisions seem spot on. Check out AMC’s The Walking Dead blog to see all the cast photos.  

The cast of AMC's The Walking Dead.

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Iron Man 2: This Pepper needs a little more kick

It’s been almost a month since Iron Man 2 was released, so I’ve had some time to think about all the things that disappointed me. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about its many failures from me – just go read any legitimate review.

Nevertheless, one point of pain that still doesn’t sit well with me is the film’s treatment of Pepper Potts. Spoilers ahead.

After being offered the position of CEO at Stark Industries, Pepper seems to take the reins with confidence and determination. Having to clean-up after Tony isn’t an easy job — he’s either acting like a jackass or a drunken fool for the majority of the film – but she deals with the media and tackles her newfound responsibilities with the grace and severity that they deserve. She even puts Tony in his place during an interesting scene that highlights the characters’ role-reversals. Sitting behind  Tony’s old desk, Pepper finally gets to be the boss and tells Tony that his antics have only hurt Stark Industries. And to rub it in, she gets leaves with her own assistant and Tony’s chauffeur, Happy.

At Stark Expo, Pepper proves that she can  handle a crisis with ease. When robots start killing people, she doesn’t lose her cool or suddenly become a damsel in distress. Instead, she calls the police, confronts Justin Hammer (consequently leading to his arrest), and helps the police get civilians to safety.

But she acts like a jabbering fool when it comes to Tony. Her discovery that Tony’s Arc Reactor was poisoning him gets her stammering and shrieking like a little girl — because powerful, confident women must always lose their sense of control when it comes to men — and to top it all off, she resigns from her position because it’s all too much pressure for her.

Wait, what? I’m pretty sure we just witnessed a level-headed, competent and professional Pepper Potts for the majority of the film.  So why does she resign exactly? 

Iron Man 2 gives us no reason to believe that Pepper is incapable of running Stark Industries or dealing with the “pressure” of being CEO, so her resignation not only doesn’t make sense, but has nothing to do with her ability to be CEO.

Instead, the only reason seems to be Tony. Pepper only freaks out when Tony is putting himself or her in danger (which is pretty often), and it all seemed a little too convenient that Tony finally kisses Pepper once she’s professionally inferior to him again.

So thanks Iron Man 2, for reinforcing a sexist and out-dated belief that women let their personal lives get in the way of their professions.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street Review

This weekend I saw the re-make of Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher-horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Directed by Samuel Bayer, the 2010 re-make tells the story of a group of teenagers whose dreams are terrorized by Freddy Krueger — a man who wields a glove with four blades. However, the kids soon realize that if Freddy kills you in a dream, you actually die. As Freddy picks the group of friends off one by one, the remaining few try to figure out what they have in common, and why Freddy is targeting them.

The film wastes no time jumping into bloody violence, but lacks the suspense necessary to really get a good scare out of you. Instead of building tension, Bayer just throws Krueger at you expectantly — until you just start to expect it. If you’ve seen the trailer with the kid in the diner then you’ve already seen the entire opening of the movie and the most suspenseful sequence.

Unfortunately, Freddy isn’t quite the killer that makes you squirm in your seat. His dialogue is full of one-liners that only succeed at subtracting from his scare factor. The serial killer could have benefited from keeping the talking to a minimum, as his chattiness is more of a distraction than intimidation. And there’s only so many times he can drag his blades across a pipe before the sparkles feel trite. Also, the fact that he’s played by Jackie Earle Haley meant that I kept expecting him to break into a Rorschach monologue about how he saw a dog carcass in the alley this morning.

However, what I found the most disappointing about Nightmare wasn’t the flat dialogue or the “surprise! You thought Freddy was dead but he’s not really” ending — I expect these tropes from horror movies — it was the depiction of the modern American teenager.

I’ll admit, it’s been a few years since I was in high school or could call myself a teenager (and let’s be honest, the same could be said about the actors who play this film’s high-schoolers), but the portrayal of today’s 16 to 18-year-old was laughable. Most notably is Nancy. The movie tries to convince us that Nancy is an outsider — even she admits that she just “doesn’t fit in” – but I had a hard time figuring out why. Played by the beautiful and incredibly skinny Rooney Mara, Nancy acts like your typical teenager. So what makes her so different? Oh right, she has a job at a local diner and enjoys drawing instead of “going out.” Because a beautiful young woman who is responsible and creative must be a loner…

Nevertheless, I didn’t go into Nightmare with great expectations, so I couldn’t be that disappointed. There are a couple of killing blows that are full of bloody awesomeness, and a few dream sequences that actually look like some creative thought was put into them. But overall, I’d say skip this movie unless you’re a big fan of the Nightmare franchise, or if you’re in the mood for a mindless slasher flick.

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Thanks to Superman

I have to confess, I’ve never been a Superman fan. I never read the comics, or waited in anticipation for the newest Smallville episode, or really cared about Bryan Singer’s 2006 reboot.

However, as part of the 18th annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival, I was lucky enough to attend the Canadian premier of Last Son,  a 60 minute documentary on the creators of Superman, artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel.

The film, which does an excellent job tracing the origins of Superman and gives a thorough exploration of Shuster’s and Siegel’s childhoods, provided me with a newfound appreciation for the Man of Steel – for his history and for his influence on comic books and superheroes to come.

From a young age, both Joe and Jerry showed an interest in comic strips and sci-fi and fantasy pulp magazines. After meeting in highschool, the two collaborated on numerous projects, including short stories and comic strips for their school newspaper. One of their longest running strips was Slam Bradley, a detective series about a private eye who always got the girl.

Later, the two friends created “Science Fiction” – a five issue  magazine used to publish many of the duo’s comic strips and short stories. One such piece of fiction was The Reign of the Superman, a short story written by Jerry and illustrated by Joe about a man who developed special powers and called himself the “Superman.” However, unlike the Superman we grew up with, Joe and Jerry’s first rendition of the Man of Steel was a villain who aspired to world domination.

After facing constant rejection, Superman would finally appear on the cover of Action Comics #1, a 13-page comic book released in 1938. Joe and Jerry would end up selling the rights to Superman for $130 (that’s $10 per page) – consequently resulting in decades of law suits and embarrassment for both the creators and the publisher.

Despite the messy legalities, what impressed me the most about Last Son was its insight into the hero’s design. Superman’s legendary appearance – the belt, the boots, and even the iconic “S” on his chest - was influenced by the world the creators grew up in. A variety of athletes and fads from the early 20th century can been seen throughout Superman’s design.

Joe, who drew on his mother’s bread board (except on Friday’s when she made the bread),  never went to art school, so he copied Superman’s poses from the body builders and boxers in fitness magazines. Last Son attributed Superman’s build and size to the body builders that Joe aspired to as a child, and the boots and belt were also common aspects of the strong man ensemble. Surprisingly, the “S” was featured as stitching on trendy ladies’ garments.

Following the screening of Last Son, the audience was treated to three original Superman cartoons from the 1940′s. Although the cartoon was filled with clichés and predictable plot lines, I was pleasantly surprised with the depiction of Lois Lane. An independent, hard-working journalist, Lois was a real character with a personality. She did whatever it took to get her story, and in an office dominated by men, she spoke her mind and didn’t follow orders. Although her independent spirit often put her in harm’s way (allowing Superman to come to the rescue), I couldn’t help but marvel at this unconventional portrayal of a woman in the 1940′s.

And so even though Superman draws heavily on the icons of his time, so too has modern-day art and media drawn on Superman. Action Comics #1 is considered the first real comic book, and Superman our first superhero. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel have inspired countless artists and writers, and the Man of Steel has helped shape our vision of truth, justice and heroism. So despite his pretty-boy demeanor, I can’t help but appreciate Superman and his influence on my favourite medium.

Conveniently, each 1940′s Superman cartoon ended with the same piece of dialogue: “Thanks to Superman.” I couldn’t agree more.

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You should watch: Misfits

So now that the awesomeness of the trailer has your attention…

Misfits is the story of five young offenders – Nathan, Curtis, Simon, Kelly and Alisha - who are accidentally imbued with superpowers when caught in an electrical storm. The characters’ superpowers often complement their personalities or circumstances, providing more meaningful storylines that explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of being “special.”

From left to right: Curtis, Alisha, Nathan, Kelly and Simon

Curtis, once a rising athlete with promise of participating in the Olympics, is given with the ability to turn back time. Alisha, a sassy party-girl who only values men for sex, is imbued with the ability to fill anyone with lust simply by touching them. Simon, the shy loner who spends most of his time making videos for YouTube and chatting with strangers online, suddenly has the power to turn invisible when he feels ignored. Kelly, a tough girl with an attitude, is able to read minds. And Nathan, well Nathan doesn’t seem to have a super power (or does he?).

Within the first few episodes, Misfits clearly demonstrates how superpowers, although often aspirational, can be more of a hinderance than a blessing. For Kelly, the ability to read minds destroys relationships, and for the sexy and superficial Alisha, the ability to have anyone she desires becomes meaningless.

Alisha

However, their abilities also provide the characters with new perspectives. By the end of the season, Alisha discovers the most meaningful relationship of her life with Curtis - one that isn’t based on sex, but understanding and love. 

Curtis’ ability is by far the most interesting and critical to the plot. The show deals with the consequences of time travel in a mature and realistic manner. By going back in time, Curtis actually changes the show’s storyline, and provides us with a glimpse into a future where he hadn’t joined the rest of the gang for community service.

 Misfits  finished its first season late in 2009, and has already been signed on for a second season by E4 (the brilliant minds who brought you the zombie awesomeness that is Dead Set).

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What’s the Greek word for ‘Cargo’?

I recently wrote a review of the Swiss sci-fi film Cargo for It’s Just Movies.  However, seeing as I didn’t want to include spoilers, I left out the references to Greek mythology that my inner Classics nerd couldn’t help but notice. So, I thought I’d use my personal blog to explore these references and their meanings.

Spoilers ahead!

Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter, Cargo is set in a technologically advanced, post-apocalyptic world. Pollution has made Earth uninhabitable, forcing the majority of humankind to move to crowded space stations. However, for the fortunate few who can afford it, Rhea (a paradise planet light-years away from Earth) acts as an alternate home-world.

In order to earn enough money to move to Rhea and reunite with her family, Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) takes a job as a medic onboard the Kassandra, a massive cargo ship transporting goods to a distant space station. Mid-way through her shift out of hibernation, Laura discovers that there is something alive in the ship’s cargo bay (an area off-limits to the crew).

After a few character and plot twists, we learn that Rhea doesn’t exist (it’s actually a virtual reality), that Earth is in fact habitable again, and that the Kassandra is actually transporting thousands of human beings in deep hibernation to a space station where they will unknowingly spend the rest of their lives in the virtual reality of Rhea.

So, where does the Greek mythology come into play, you ask?

In Greek mythology, Rhea was the mother of the Olympian gods and the daughter of Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth).  After overthrowing their parents, Rhea and her husband Cronus became the rulers of the gods. However, paranoid that he would in turn be overcome by a child of his own, Cronus swallowed any child that Rhea bore him.

Nevertheless, when Zeus was born, Rhea tricked Cronus by feeding him a rock, consequently leading to Zeus’ succession as king of the gods.

In the film, Rhea is humanity’s last hope. It’s a new home that succeeds Earth in beauty and safety. And given the Titaness’ position as Earth’s (Gaia’s) offspring and successor,  Rhea is an appropriate name for the new home-world of humanity. However, Rhea is also a lie -  a digital creation that like the mythic Rhea, is deceitful and untrustworthy. Like Cronus, humanity is ultimately tricked by Rhea into believing a falsity, and by naming humanity’s utopian salvation after the Titaness, the film hints that the planet may not be the paradise it’s supposed to be.

The second reference to Greek mythology is the Kassandra.

According to Classical myth, Cassandra was given the gift of foresight by the god Apollo. However, after angering the god, Cassandra was cursed, ensuring that no one would ever believe her prophesies. Consequently, when Cassandra prophecized the defeat of Troy at the hands of the Greeks, no one believed her – leading to the fall of Troy and her own demise.

Similarly, as a member of the Kassandra, Laura also discovers a tragic truth that may not be taken seriously. Although she uses the Kassandra to broadcast her message to the rest humanity, the film ends abruptly without clearly illustrating whether people believe her. Afterall, just like the fall of Troy, the reality that Rhea is a virtual lie is a shocking truth that people may not want to believe. Like the Trojans, humanity may not want to accept the demise of their only remaining home-world. The film even goes so far as to suggest that some people would rather knowingly live in a digital falsity, as we see two crew members choose to enter Rhea.

So, does Laura’s broadcast ultimately change the future? Or like Cassandra, does Laura possess a truth that no one believes? The film doesn’t quite answer these questions clearly. However, by referencing the tragic myth of Cassandra, Cargo not only suggests that Laura’s efforts were in vain, but also that we would rather trust in a virtual reality than accept the truth.

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