Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our Trip to the Saskatoon Comic and Entertainment Expo!

Originally posted at Rock! Shock! Pop! 

Last weekend Courtney and I attended the Saskatoon Comic and Entertainment Expo (or SaskExpo) in the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Saskatoon is a small Canadian city of around 260,000 people located in central Saskatchewan, and is a 3 hour drive from Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan, where I live. The promoters behind SaskExpo are the same people responsible for the hugely popular Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, which last year brought together the entire cast of Aliens for a 25th Anniversary reunion. We drove into Saskatoon on Saturday morning, and spent the night in Saskatoon to cover the convention for Rock! Shock! Pop! because cons rule, even when they're in remote locales like Saskatoon.


We arrived at the Prairieland Park convention centre just a little while after the doors of SaskExpo were open to the public. The media table was easy to find, and after a quick sign-in we had our passes and were on our way to the show floor. It was barely 11:00 a.m. and already the convention centre was packed with cosplayers and convention goers.

At first it was difficult finding our way to the panels we wanted to attended because although there were only two rooms assigned to panels, neither of them were marked or had any identifying signage. That was frustrating at first, but we quickly got used to it. Being a huge fan of Rat Queens, the ongoing fantasy series for Image Comics, our first stop was a panel with what was supposed to be writer Kurtis Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch. Unfortunately, as we learned when we arrived, Roc Upchurch was unable to attend the convention due to passport issues, but thankfully Wiebe, who is originally from Saskatoon, was more than able to handle the session by himself (with the help of a con-appointed moderator, whose name I can't remember and didn't write down).

Wiebe's panel was full of the sarcastic, irreverent humor that Rat Queens is known for. After having him roll a D20, the panel mod had Wiebe do some quick word association. Here is how that went:

Mod: Gary Gygax
KW: Dead

Mod: H.P. Lovecraft
KW: Tentacles

Mod: Kobolds
KW: Haven't used 'em yet in Rat Queens

Mod: Mushrooms
KW: Everyone should try them once
Mod: The store bought grocery kind?
KW: The kind you trip out and hallucinate on.

Mod: Peter Panzerfaust
KW: Ending soon

And so it went. Wiebe talked at length about his writing process (“a whole lot of procrastination”), the inspiration for his characters, how he got into comics, and his generally indifferent attitude towards Marvel/DC. He also talked about the influence of his wife on Rat Queens, how she swears like a sailor, and it generally seems like the Kurtis Wiebe who wrote the depressing Green Wake is doing pretty well. I asked him about the future of the Peter Panzerfaust TV series (which the BBC optioned last year), and he basically told me that he didn't have a lot of involvement, and the producers don't really seem to “get it.” Lady Gaga was mentioned as a possibility for the theme song, so don't get your hopes up there, Panzer-fans.

Our next stop was the panel of my dreams, or nightmares, with Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. Moderated by Phil LaMarr, Robert Englund delivered what I can only describe as a masterful performance in showmanship and crowd control to a packed audience of curious onlookers and hardcore Nightmare on Elm Street Fans, dozens of which were dressed up as Freddy (keep in mind that this is Saskatoon, so a dozen is actually a lot). LaMarr vetted questions from the crowd before Englund showed up, so there was barely a wasted moment throughout the whole session.

Englund was on fire. Full of enthusiasm and clearly excited to be in Saskatoon, he answered many questions about his life and career. He talked at length about the unrealized Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash project, about being roomates with Mark Hamill (he claims to have auditioned for both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, before telling his roommate Mark that he should go audition for the part of Luke), and he was effusive in his praise of the films and TV shows he's been enjoying lately. Guardians of the Galaxy and Penny Dreadful (Eva Green's performance in particular) seemed to be what he's enjoying the most lately, although he also mentioned the French vampire film The Afflicted as something that horror fans should eat up right away.

The personal anecdotes came one after another and they were always entertaining. While Freddy seems these days like a long lost icon of the heydey of 80s and 90s horror, it's easy to see why Robert Englund became such an icon. His personality itself seems to embody the intimidating persona and wisecracking humor that are associated with the Freddy character. When asked what it's like being a person who audiences both fear and idolize, he was both funny and honest. “Well, I get a lot of free drinks. For real though, it opened the door for me to work abroad. I'm chasing a girl who looks like Penelope Cruz around in a Spanish castle. I could be chasing Linsday Lohan around in Santa Cruz. So life is pretty good.” Seeing Robert Englund was easily the highlight of the conference, and of my year so far.

We had some time to kill before the next session we wanted to attend, so we went off in search of lunch. Unfortunately, food options at SaskExpo were extremely limited and way too expensive, so we briefly left the convention centre in search of food. We came back with Subway. Call it a draw. After lunch we decided to explore the rest of the convention, as we'd basically spent the whole morning and early afternoon in panel sessions. The convention itself was split up into 3 major sections, one main hall near the entrance that included Artist's Alley, a hall to the left where fans could get autographs and photo ops, and also lead to the panel session rooms, and a hall to the right that contained all the merchandise vendors and trade show booths. After spending some time in Artist's Alley and checking out some local independent artists, we went to the vendor show floor to check out the merch. While there was more merchandise there than any convention I'd been to previously, I can't say there was anything that really interested me. None of the toys were convention exclusive, and most seemed to marked up well beyond what you'd pay at your LCS. There were however several craft vendors selling homemade geek apparel, costume accessories, handbags, swords, armor, and the like, that I did appreciate, and Courtney enjoyed even more. She had a very difficult time deciding what to buy, and thankfully, most of the DIY merchandise vendors weren't as overpriced as the people selling stuff you can get out of a Diamond catalog.

After milling about the convention center for a while, we went on to see our next panel: Lance Henriksen. I am a huge Henriksen fan, and I was looking forward to seeing him even more than Robert Englund, which is why it was a bit of letdown when his panel wasn't really that good. Henriksen showed up about 15-20 minutes late for the panel, and before he even began mentioned that he was suffering from jetlag due to his flight. The panel was less than half full, and Henriksen seemed kind of annoyed by LaMarr's moderation of the panel. He kept giving LaMarr this look like, “Hey man, I can handle this myself,” which was sort of disappointing as LaMarr seemed just as starstruck by Lance's presence as I was. 

Once he got going, Henriksen talked about his career and how it got started, about his illiteracy (apparently he couldn't read until age 30), his Terminator audition story, and when asked, he discussed at length the process of becoming Frank Black of TV's Millenium. This was kind of funny too, as while he clearly thought a lot about the character, it's clear that he had issues with the script and especially the dialogue. “You wouldn't believe some of the shit they had me saying.” That sort of thing. I asked him a question about what he did to prepare for the role of Jesse Custer in Near Dark, my favorite role of his, and he talked a bit about his take on what he thinks being a vampire on the road would be like. Scott Snyder would have loved that part of the panel. Eventually someone asked him a question about Pirahna II: The Spawning and he broke down laughing before he could answer. Unfortunately, no one asked him about The Visitor. There was an awkward moment when he started talking back and forth with Phil LaMarr in a Jamaican accent, seemingly not knowing that LaMarr played Hermes Conrad in Futurama. With very little to say before the end, Henriksen just sort of ended the session 15 minutes before it was supposed to end. While it was amazing getting to see the man in person, I'll admit I was a little letdown by his general lack of giving a shit. At that point, our feet were tired and we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.


I'm going to perfectly honest here, we slept in on Sunday and missed most of what the morning had to offer. That was sort of okay though, because the only panel I really wanted to see was the session featuring Tyler Mane, the actor who played Sabretooth in the first two X-Men films and Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's Halloween films. A missed opportunity, but there you go. We might have had more reason to wake up earlier, but unfortunately comedian Dino Stamatopolous (aka “Starburns” from TV's Community) had to cancel at the last minute, and I just wasn't that into a panel on “Steampunk/Parasol Dueling” or “Convention Safe Weapon Smithing.” I'm also not a Trekkie, so the panel with Nana Visitor (of Star Trek Voyager) wasn't for me either. In fact, most of Sunday was spent out on the convention floor, checking out the merchandise, admiring the costumes, and talking to people at Artist's Alley (including Elaine M. Will, a local artist who's been doing some great work recently. Courtney recommends her graphic novel, Look Straight Ahead). We did pop into a few other panels, but until later in the day there wasn't anything really worth mentioning. John Barrowman of Torchwood fame also had a packed panel, but neither of us are Whovians so that panel held little interest.

Finally, after a few hours of hanging around the convention and shopping for merch, we attended the last panel of the convention, with none other than Phil LaMarr himself. Now, I've been a fan since Mad TV began and for as long as Futurama has been going on, but I had no idea just extensive LaMarr's voice work has been, and he consistently managed to surprise me with what he's been involved with. For example, I had no idea that he was the voice of the character Vulgrim in THQ's post-apocalyptic fantasy RPG, Darksiders, which was one of my favorite games of the last generation. He was also the voice of Samurai Jack, another cartoon I loved back in my college days but had no idea he was a part of. LaMarr's panel was easily the highlight of Sunday, but it was also a contender with Englund's for Best of the Show.

Although he's got an IMDB profile that can go toe to toe with anyone's, LaMarr has this everyman charm and generally seems thrilled to meet the fans and entertain people with his incredible range of impressions and character voices. In addition to doing Hermes' voice from Futurama, he also did impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mako's introduction to Conan the Barbarian, Mr. T, Chris Rock, Vamp (from the Metal Gear Solid series), John Stewart (the Green Lantern one, not the Daily Show one), Danny Glover, and more. He fielded his own questions from the audience, and never missed an opportunity to give the fans what they wanted. One poignant moment came when a fan asked about how he became involved with Static Shock, and he talked candidly about his frustration and anger about how it was cancelled in spite of its fantastic ratings, all because the WB didn't believe a cartoon starring a black teenager could sell toys. LaMarr also talked at length about the creation of one of his most beloved characters from Mad TV, the UPS Guy, and basically did a whole stand up bit for the audience involving the character. LaMarr embodied a perfect mix of a fan's enthusiasm and an entertainer's performance. He was a real joy to watch onstage, and a great way to end our convention experience. Courtney and I left the convention, determined to return next year in the hopes that we'll get to relive this awesome experience again.

This minion declares SaskExpo to be a huge success!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Abe Sapien #1, Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the B.P.R.D.

Abe Sapien #1
Dark and Terrible (1 of 3)
Writers: Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Artist: Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Dave Stewart

Abe Sapien #1 is the first Hellboy/B.P.R.D. comic I've bought since the original Lobster Johnson miniseries came out years ago.  Actually, I didn't even buy this.  Courtney was interested and, despite my observance that I never buy Mignolaverse books because I feel like I'm constantly in the middle of a story, she bought it anyway.  Well, this issue proved my concern about the accessibility of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. comics to be true, but at the same time, it's just so well drawn and compelling that I don't really care.

This issue certainly takes place within the context of the greater B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth storyline, of which I'm only vaguely familiar.  It does very little to try and bring new readers up to speed other than lay out the very basics of the story: big demon crab-spiders called the Ogdru Hem seem to be crawling out of the earth and laying eggs all over the United States, and Abe Sapien has gone awol for reasons unknown.  The mystery of why Abe has left the B.P.R.D. to go on his own adventure is so far unexplained, but I'm sure it will be revealed as Mike Mignola and Scott Allie's story unfolds.

As someone who only has a passing knowledge of the current run on B.P.R.D. and Abe Sapien's backstory, I found myself lost in the middle of the bigger picture, but intrigued by the small story presented here.  In a sense, this is really how the story unfolds itself, as a group of hobos on a train swap stories about the Ogdru Hem, the devastation they've seen across American, and their theories about how the federal government is or is not responding to this demonic threat.  The bigger picture is lost on these homeless men, and as a new reader I identified with their fundamental lack of context or understanding.

If I'm being honest, I'd say that anyone who considers picking this up and isn't following B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth should probably start there, as it will provide a lot of the context for the story presented here, but readers who are curious about diving into the expanded Hellboy universe could do a lot worse than starting off with this new ongoing series starring one of Mignola's most memorable characters.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Abe Sapien and Fables Vol. 8

I did pick up Miss Fury while at the comic book shop today.  And then put it down again.  Quickly.  No one's boobs look like that.  Seriously.

So I picked up Abe Sapien #1 instead, which I found quite enjoyable.  The nod to Justin Bieber in the devil-conjuring scene totally hooked me.  Of course the girl wearing a Justin Bieber turtleneck gets sacrificed.  Of course.

I was definitely left with more questions than answers after this issue.  Christian tells me that can be a hazard of Hellboy comics.  I'm ok with the questions I have--so far, they are the sign that I want to keep reading.  There does seem to be an awful lot of yelling in this issue.  I was starting to wonder if this is a trademark of the writer because there are at least three separate instances of serious yelling.  The issue even ends with yelling.  And, of course, the yelling leads to questions that aren't answered.

The art is dark and creepy at all the right moments.  Whatever happened to that hobo's arm is totally cringe-inducing.  It also pays attention to the right details--when Devon's head drops after she is questioned on Abe Sapien's well-being, we know she's hurting.  Her body language in that entire sequence is spot on.

At this point, we know very little about what is going on with Abe Sapien himself.  He's in hiding, obviously, but why?  I have no idea.  I'll be waiting for the next issue to answer that.

On to Fables, Volume 8.  It's been months since I read Volume 7 and I finally picked up Volume 8 today.  I'm going to be honest.  I cried.  Happy tears though.  Bigby Wolf and Snow White get married!!  This is probably my favorite volume out of all of them so far.  I'm planning to read this again.  Mostly for the obvious reasons--Christian and I getting married in three months, for one.  Christian totally looking like Bigby Wolf, for another.

When Snow White and Bigby reunite, they begin to walk off and Snow exclaims, "Hold on, I need to go back and get my cane."  Bigby replies, "No, you won't need it.  You can lean on me from now on."

I couldn't see the panels until three pages later, I was so teary-eyed.  I'm such a softy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Preview: H.A.R.D. Corps to Return in Harbinger Wars

The upcoming Harbinger Wars mini-series is already my most-anticipated comics event of the summer, but my enthusiasm has just reached a fever pitch with Valiant's announcement today that the H.A.R.D. Corps will be debuting in the new Valiant Universe in Harbinger Wars #3.

I was just reading the original, chromium cover H.A.R.D. Corps #1 this weekend, and was reminded just how great of a concept this series had, and how well it could do in the present Valiant Universe if executed properly by the right creative team.

The Harbinger Active Resistance Division (or H.A.R.D. Corps) are a mercenary outfit employed by Omen Industries, a corporation with an opposing interest to those of Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation.  The H.A.R.D. Corps themselves are comprised of ex-military vets who have been awakened from comatose states, and given the option to live again and work for the H.A.R.D. Corps.  They're granted Harbinger powers from a computer network named Softcore, and can use any number of powers, one at a time.  The catch is that each member of the H.A.R.D. Corps is implanted with a kill switch, that will cause their heads to explode if they are caught or go rogue.

With the war between Project Rising Spirit and the Harbinger Foundation bringing the corporate espionage of the Valiant Universe to the forefront in this crossover, it'll be very interesting to see how the H.A.R.D. Corps are going to affect this dynamic, or what role they will play.

In short, F.U.C.K. Yes, H.A.R.D. Corps!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valiant reviews: Shadowman #4 and Archer and Armstrong #7

It's been a while since I've done a review of any Valiant Comics, but since their marketing department is nice enough to keep sending me preview copies and I'm still buying 3 out of the 5 monthly titles they're publishing, I figured I would review the last two Valiant issues I've read and give my thoughts on them.

Shadowman #4
Story by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher
Art by Patrick Zircher

This concludes the first story arc of the newest incarnation Shadowman by Patrick Zircher and Justin Jordan, and by newest incarnation, I mean a pretty even mix of the original Shadowman from the early 90s and the Garth Ennis reboot from the late 90s. This doesn't really mean anything to you if you're new to the character or Valiant Comics, but it makes for an interesting, if somewhat conflicted reading experience for people who are familiar  with the character's history and the various ways he's been portrayed over the years.

The biggest difference is this: the original Shadowman had no powers, was a jazz musician, and was possessed by a voodoo spirit to go out into the night and fight evil.  The reboot featured a much darker version of the character, and introduced many more supernatural elements into the story, including a parallel universe called Deadside, which is exactly what it sounds like: a voodoo-inspired land of the dead.  It was a good reboot, but short lived and too different from the original for some people's tastes.

This new series mixes elements from both the original series and the reboot, but leans much more heavily on the supernatural side, and is much more rooted in the traditions of the superhero genre.  Shadowman has a healing factor, a symbiotic costume, and a retractable scythe and to be honest: I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.  Shadowman has everything going for him, but he seems to lack depth beyond his slick presentation and coolness factor.

Patrick Zircher is a very solid artist.  His pages look polished and professional, but they haven't looked as good as the original preview pages that accompanied the teaser for the very first issue.  There hasn't been a substantial drop in quality over the past four issues, but the art seems to lack personality.  It reminds me very much of the kind of art you'd find in Marvel Comics a few years ago, or DC before the New 52.  Not that this is a bad thing, but compared to some of the other books Valiant is publishing, this looks the most like a standard superhero comic, which it really isn't.  Or shouldn't be.

Shadowman is a horror-adventure series starring a superhero.  In a sense, this is what DC tried to do with the relaunch of Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but not nearly as successfully as Zircher and Jordan have with Shadowman.  This is a really good comic book, and easily worth your time and your four dollars, but compared to the other Valiant titles I would rate it only above Bloodshot, which I quit reading a couple months back.

This arc ended much better than it began, and wrapped up very well.  I'd say this is pretty much how all introductory arcs should be written these days.  In four issues: the character is introduced, we get a glimpse of his power, the key villain is established, a crisis is averted, and plotlines for future story arcs are carefully seeded among the minor details.  In a Marvel book, this arc would have gone on for at least six issues.  At DC:  maybe seven?  Even though I would rank this series below my current favorites in the Valiant stable, and I'm not sure it's better than the original, it has my attention and will continue to take my money.  Go to  your local comic shop, pick up Shadowman, and let them take yours.

Archer & Armstrong #7
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino

I'm not going to talk as much about this as I did about Shadowman, but I will say a few things about Archer and Armstrong:

  • It's my second favorite Valiant title; right behind Harbinger.  
  • There's nothing else on the stands like A &A.  It brings together a lot of familiar elements with its emphasis on action, conspiracy theories, and buddy comedy, but it comes off as completely fresh and original. 
  • I'm starting to warm up to this new version of the Eternal Warrior.  Yeah he's still a little too much of a "superhero" compared to the bad-ass original, but the dude's got style.  I submit the machine-gunning while driving scene in this issue as evidence.
  • The banter between A&A continues to be hilarious, and I'm glad that Van Lente seems to have toned down Archer's "aw gee willickers Mr. Armstrong, I'm a dumb Christian" tone from the first couple of issues. 
  • Emanuela Lupacchino has a name that is really hard to spell but its worth writing down because his/her (I'm honestly not sure) art is great, and doesn't make me miss Clayton Henry, whose art was cleaner and a little stiffer than this.  I don't know if Clayton is coming back to draw this series, but I wouldn't mind one bit if they decided to trade off arcs. 
  • Kay McHenry is one of my new favorite ladies in the Valiant Universe, and maybe one of the only women in comics you'll see this month wearing pants and a shirt that looks more like LuLuLemon than a porn outfit.
  • I always thought the Geomancers were stupid.  This issue proves that they are actually very cool.  Like Neo in The Matrix cool. 
  • Mother Nature as a monkey in a dress: more comedy like this please.
  • The Null are a very cool organization to pit against A&A.  One of the more interesting evil organizations I've seen in comics lately.  
  • I can't wait to see The Immortal Enemy next issue!

Batgirl #17: Wait, What?

Batgirl #17
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Penciller: Daniel Sampere
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes

Writer Ray Fawkes?? Where's Gail Simone!?  Oh wait, she'll be back in two issues.  Call off the internet search party.

Ok, so you got me, I went into this issue with skepticism and came out with a "decent face" (that face you make when you're pleasantly surprised by something/someone--see the latest Judge Dredd movie for plenty of examples).

First off, props to Fawkes for writing this issue from her brother's perspective.  Ballsy move.  Readers are used to hearing Batgirl's inner thoughts but....

You know, I just thought of something.  I always associate Simone with Batgirl herself.  Her run on the series is characterized by Batgirl's inner narration.  I can't help but hear Simone's voice through Batgirl.  And I don't think I'm alone in that.  Her fandom freaked out when she was unceremoniously fired and re-hired on Batgirl.  Her voice was reestablished as Batgirl's and now we have a new writer for two issues.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Fawkes has chosen to take on her brother's voice.  At one point, her brother says, "I know her so well."  The statement struck me at the time because I didn't yet know that the narrator was her brother--I was still hearing Fawkes' voice.  All of Batgirl's readers are out there, knowing that a new writer is on Batgirl, and we're all thinking, "You don't know Batgirl.  What makes you think you can write Batgirl?"  Admit it, you thought it too.

I revise my previous statement.  I'm not going to finish with a "decent face."  Fawkes just blew my mind.  I'll be reading the next issue with relish.

Oh, also, I love this first page.  Love it!

Katana #1: On the Fence

Katana #1
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Alex Sanchez
DC Comics
February 13, 2013

I picked up Katana because it's written by a female author I haven't read.  I read Gail Simone religiously and I've read some of DeConnick's Captain Marvel but I haven't read anything by Nocenti yet.  I have to admit, the writing is good but, so far, very safe.  It's subtle, rather than beating you over the head with action and a ton of unanswered questions.  There's a nice balance, which can be refreshing.  But I hope the momentum kicks up in future issues.

I like the character of Katana a lot more than I thought I would.  I'm a newbie, so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, but her belief that her dead husband lives in the sword (now her sword) that killed him really drew me in.  She's alone, she's grieving, but she's also a fighter.

The art is particularly good during the action sequences but lags a bit otherwise.  Don't be fooled by the cover--the art inside is quite different.  The pastel colors seem like an odd choice but they become much more vivid towards the end of the issue.

I'm still on the fence about this one but I'll probably give it a few more issues to show me what it's got.