On Comics, Downtown, Dashing And Bubbles

So The Wife is sitting on the couch reading “The English Breakfast Murder” when I come to her and I says,

“Guess what we’re doing today?”

“Cleaning, reading and visiting mom?”

“Nope. We’re going to the first-ever Comic Con at the St. Louis Library.”

“Isn’t that the kind of thing that you do by yourself?”

“Yes, but it’s downtown and I don’t want to drive there and you know where it is and I don’t and you can parallel park and I can’t and it’s family friendly fun for the whole family.”

“I think you could find it yourself.”

“Plus, you owe me for three operas and one Shakespeare in the Park.”

“Fine. Let me get my costume.”

And so it was that I, in my Hawkeye outfit, Andrew, in his Avengers T-shirt, and Laura, dressed as Hawkeye’s wife Laura, made our way downtown for the Library’s version of comic-con. I wasn’t expecting much. They were only allowing a handful of vendors and no one of significance was coming and none of the program topics were of interest.

But I had been wanting to see the downtown Library ever since it was refurbished and Lar went on a tour and raved about it. So this was as good a time as any.

Laurie squeezed the car into a space and we spent the next 10 minutes figuring out how the meter worked. Stupid St. Louis. Why do you charge for parking on weekends? It is no fun trying to do anything when you’re always worrying if it’s time to go out and feed the meter.

Followed the Ewok and some other strangely dressed people inside. Saw a young man in a really nice Hawkeye outfit that made mine look puny. We gave each other the thumb’s up. Walked about and it was about what I expected.  A few tables scattered through a few rooms, nothing really of interest. We did catch the last half of a lecture on “The Best Comics on Earth.” It was as pretentious as you’d expect. If there was a DC, Marvel or Archie comic on the list, it must have been in the first part of the lecture. I’m betting there wasn’t.

The real attraction was, indeed, the Central Library itself. If you live in St. Louis and haven’t checked it out, you should. Lovely architecture, painting, woodwork and stained glass. The main hall is like something out of a train station.

Saw another Hawkeye as we were leaving. Gave each other the thumb’s up. Stopped for a pizza on our way to visit the Mother-In-Law. Got home with 90 minutes to spare before we had to leave for the Hollywood Dash. Lar went grocery shopping, I passed out on the bed.

When I was awoken it was 6:30 which meant we were going to be lucky to get to the community college on time. Got there and followed the signs which led to a dead-end. Drove around in circles trying to get to where the action was but all roads were blocked off. This has not been a good weekend for driving.

bubblesWith much cursing I finally parked the car and we walked around until we found where the starting position was. The walk began and we followed along. It was a pleasant one-mile walk but a little warm for my taste. Free water and bagels at the end made it worthwhile. Visited the various booths and got a lot of free crap. There was a giant bubble thing making bubbles so I made Andrew stand in the middle of it.

Had another bottle of water and visited the rescue dogs before leaving. There were supposed to be food trucks but all they had was a pizza truck (did I mention we had pizza for lunch?) and a shaved ice truck. So we drove down the road to Chick-fil-a.

There were no Hawkeyes there.

In Concert: Steely Dan and Elvis Costello

I haven’t been a regular concertgoer for some time. Outrageous ticket prices, the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to get tickets (and even then you won’t get good seats), the obnoxious people who always wind up in your general vicinity, getting out of the parking lot when it’s over — I’ve bitched about all this stuff before.

It’s enough to make an old man just stay home with the headphones on or grab a lawn chair and head over to New Town where the shows are free and the hassle is negligible. Besides, I’ve seen pretty much everyone I wanted to see live at least once.

So it has to be a pretty special lineup for me to leave the RRoy Cave. And when it was announced that Steely Dan and Elvis Costello were teaming up for a show at Riverport Amphitheater*, well, that got my attention. I’ve seen Elvis many times but had never seen Steely. I was a latecomer to Steely Dan fandom, despite being over-exposed to it in college thanks to friend and roommate. Maybe that’s why I didn’t care for them back then.

Anyway, I love them now and wanted to see them and having Elvis there was just a bonus. They had a special on lawn tickets so we went that route. I don’t need to be that close to Elvis or Donald — not much to see there and the giant video screens will cover it.

Show was to start at 7 p.m. – which seemed early for a rock show, but I guess the rockers are getting old like the rest of us and want to get to bed early. I’m all in favor of that. This was going to make it a challenge to get there on time, but fortunately Riverport is close to home (especially compared to all other St. Louis venues) so there shouldn’t be a problem. And concerts never start on time anyway, am I right?

The plan was to leave the house at 6. Andrew’s adult-sitter, who’s always early, was 10 minutes late due to traffic. No biggie. Still plenty of time. We leave the house, Elm to 370 to Earth City Expressway…we are almost to the Earth City/I-70 interchange when it hits me

I FORGOT THE TICKETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!! I begin screaming and cursing and whip the car around at the first intersection and start heading back to St. Charles.

“This is a one-way street! You’re going the wrong way!”

“Well, it’s too late to turn around now!”

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“I can’t turn around in the middle of the street! I’ll turn around at the next side street!”

Which I do. Now we’re even later and I have to take 70 back home through St. Charles proper and a dozen stop lights. I’m cursing myself for my stupidity the entire time in my head (I’ve been doing that a lot lately) and Laurie’s freaking out over my erratic driving.

“This concert is not worth getting us killed!”

“If it was just Elvis or Steely, maybe. But both together? It’s worth it.”

“Just chill. It won’t start on time anyway.”

We get back to the house, Lar runs inside to get tickets, then back through St. Charles. Fortunately the lights were with us. We get off at ECE and there’s a sign pointing right to Riverport parking. Seems a bit far away but it’s been years since we’ve been to Riverport so maybe things have changed.

Follow the sign and find that the road that will take us to RP is closed off. So we have to turn around and go back down to where we normally would go. Try and imagine my state of mind right now. Be glad you were not in the car. Be very glad.

We finally park in the right lot, 2 miles from the entrance. We begin the hike.

We’re almost to the entrance when I hear the unmistakable music and vocals of “I Hope You’re Happy Now” spilling over from the other side of the hill. I look at my watch: 7:01. You’ve got to be kidding me. Remember all those shows where we waited a half-hour or more past start time for someone to show up on stage? Tonight, Riverport decides to operate like a well-oiled machine.

steelydan_0_1424165236We find a spot on the lawn and settle in for the night.  Elvis and The Imposters rip through a solid greatest hits retrospective with just a couple of lesser-known tunes, one of which being the awesome “Flutter and Wow.”

Precisely one hour later, like clockwork, Elvis has left the building — or rather stage. Good show but I’ve heard Elvis sound better. He really seemed to struggle at times. Lots of favorite tunes in the set list so no complaints there. Could’ve been longer but that’s the curse of being the opener.

Precisely 30 minutes later, like clockwork, Steely Dan takes the stage. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker assembled a terrific backing band/singers for the show. Having never seen Steely I had no idea what to expect. It was a really, really good show. Walter’s speeches were a little long, other than that the song selection was excellent, Don sounded strong and the band was solid.

Which is not to say that the concert-going experience was flawless. As usual, we would up next to assholes who wouldn’t stop talking. Why? Why do you come to a concert to have a conversation? Talk in the car on the way there. Talk in the car on the way home. Talk during intermission. But for the love of God, SHUT UP when the band is playing. Sigh. Why is the world full of jerks and rude people and why do they always sit by me at concerts?

On the plus side, at least there wasn’t anyone standing up in front of us the whole time. There was a quartet of old hippies off to the side that were an entertaining side-show — entertaining because they were off to the side where they didn’t obstruct my view.

The show ended at precisely 10:30, like clockwork, just like promised on the website. I have to admit, I was impressed. Hiked back to the car and would’ve made a clean getaway but the traffic cops funneled us in the wrong direction and after trying to go around them (which didn’t work) we eventually wound up where we needed to be.

Overall, an exceptionally good show. If the tour is coming to your town I highly recommend you check it out. Don’t forget your tickets.

*Yes, yes. I’m aware it’s no longer called Riverport. I don’t care. I can’t keep up with corporate name changing, nor do I want to.

At The Movies: Pixels

In 2010 Patrick Jean made a short film about the invasion of New York by classic video games. It was cute, clever and said all you’d need to say about the invasion of New York by classic video games in a little over two minutes.

Then Hollywood came calling and decided it would be better if they expanded the story by more than 100 minutes and added Adam Sandler.

They were wrong.

“Pixels” isn’t a bad film. It’s just terribly pedestrian. Not a lot of original thought went into this baby. The special effects are decent and Peter Dinklage is somewhat amusing as Sandler’s arch-enemy at video games. That’s about all it has in its favor.

Huh. I guess it is a bad film.

p1jpg-886cca_765wSandler stars as Sam Brenner, an ’80s video game expert who today installs video equipment in people’s houses. His best friend, the dim-bulb Will Cooper (Kevin James), somehow became president of the United States.

While installing electrical equipment in the home of Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), Sam gets called to the White House. Violet gets the same call, as she’s a lieutenant colonel and presidential advisor. She thinks she’s better than Sam, but don’t worry, that will be worked out by the credits. For the record, the Sam/Violet romance was the most cringe-worthy element in “Pixels.”

Turns out that in 1982 NASA shot a time capsule into space that included scenes of kids playing the video games that were popular at the time. Aliens found the video and took it as some kind of challenge, so they’ve shown up to rain down hell on Earth in the form of Space Invaders, Centipedes, Pac Man and Donkey Kong.

Naturally it’s nerds to the rescue as Sam and Will team up with their conspiracy nut pal Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Sam’s rival as ’80s video game champ — the cocky Eddie Plant (Dinklage).

I pretty much laid out my opinion on “Pixels” up in paragraph four. It’s harmless enough. Very predictable. It does what it promises in the commercials and little more. If you found the trailers funny you’d probably enjoy it.

The rest of you would be better off checking out the original video on YouTube.

At The Comic Book Shop: Hawkeye 22

The 22nd and final issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on “Hawkeye” came out on Wednesday. It’s was a milestone moment for great comics and I was going to be professional and rush out a review on Wednesday as soon as I finished reading it. But then I got busy.

And then I thought, “Why should I rush?” It’s not like Marvel was in a hurry to get this comic to the public. In fact, the proper response would really be to wait 6 or 9 months and then run the review.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first issue of “Hawkeye” by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja came out in August of 2012. I remember it well because it came out during LawyerCon so I picked up my copy in a strange comic shop in a strange state. Took it back to the hotel and read it while sitting by the pool.

hawkeye_2It was a special comic. It starts with Clint falling out of a building and ends with him adopting a dog that saved his life. The villain is Clint’s landlord, who’s legally raised everyone’s rent to clear out the building. It wasn’t a big, special-effects extravaganza with the fate of the world at stake. This volume of “Hawkeye” was going to be different.

It would have to be. Clint’s previous run of more traditional superhero adventures hadn’t set the world on fire. “Hawkeye and Mockingbird” was canceled after 6 issues. That was followed by a couple of low-selling mini-series. It was actually something of a surprise that Marvel was going to give the character another chance. I guess that’s what happens when you become a movie star.

Fraction’s premise was simple: This would be about what Hawkeye does when he’s not being an Avenger. Of course, he still ends up fighting evil because no one wants to read 22 issues of Clint doing laundry or watching “Dog Cops.” But the evil here is mainly a bunch of Russian thugs in tracksuits engaged in real estate fraud.

To everyone’s surprise, “Hawkeye” became a critical, and for the first time commercial, success. Awards were won. The collected editions topped best seller lists. Digital sales were high. People were showing up at conventions cosplaying as Hawkeye (Clint Barton) and his protegé Hawkeye (Kate Bishop). Hawkeye merchandise was plentiful. It was, for the first time in a long time, a good time to be a Hawkeye fan.

And then it all went to hell. Because Hawkeye fans can’t have nice things.

Comics, you’re probably aware, are periodical magazines that come out on a schedule. Usually monthly. As I mentioned earlier, “Hawkeye 1″ came out in August 2012. “Hawkeye 22″ came out in July 2015. You do the math.

Don’t bother, I can even do this math: It took Marvel 35 months to publish 22 issues.  I don’t remember when the schedule went off the rails, but the delays over the past year-and-a-half really sucked all the momentum out of what had been a big buzz comic. The previous issue came out in February. That’s a 5 month wait for the finale. Marvel actually started publishing a new Hawkeye series with a new creative team and got two issues out before the Fraction/Aja finale arrived.

Could be worse. Could be “Planetary.”

But hey, it’s here. It’s done.Hawkeye_22 Fraction and Aja have moved on to other things. No one will know or care about the delays as future readers will come at this in collected editions or an omnibus.

So how does it stack up?

Pretty well. Obviously it couldn’t live up to the five-month wait, but writer and artist cleverly tie up most loose ends, bring in all the secondary characters for a final bow, call back to a variety of small moments in the book’s run, and reunite Clint, Kate and Lucky. It’s one of the finest comics Marvel has ever published and it’s changed how the company deals with its second-string characters.

So kudos to Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Chris Eliopoulos and the many other artists, editors and whatnot who brought this volume of “Hawkeye” to life. As a long-time Hawkeye fan this was long overdue.

Good job, bros.

HAWKEYECOVERS

The Walking Man Sits

For a couple of years in the early part of the 21st Century I was a regular at the Relay for Life. It was a Journal thing, Mel and Stauney were usually in charge. We’d get together quite a group and we’d walk all night and into the dawn, fighting cancer along the way.

It was a good time. And like all good things, it stopped. Not sure why, but I think layoffs and the general disintegration of the Journal had a lot to do with it.

So a couple months ago when Mary Beth asked me to be on her Relay team, I figured — why not?

We arrived late, which is fine as that way one avoids the opening speechifying. We walked the entire circle of the track looking for MB’s tent. Fortunately we brought the cooler with wheels. Finally had to resort to the cellphone. Somehow we had just missed it near the entrance.

I put my lawn chair down next to the giant fan and Andrew and I ate dinner while Lar and Tina went walking. I’ll walk later.

relay6I remember doing a lot more walking at these things  in the past. I blame The Son. For some reason he wasn’t his usually walking self. He seemed content to just sit and who was I to force exercise on him? Besides, he probably had a busy day at the park and wherever.

We did eventually join in. I hate to be critical of a fund-raising event and all but the Fort Zumwalt Relay could really learn a thing or two from the St. Charles West Relay. Namely, get a louder sound system. If you want to keep people walking for 12 hours, they need musical motivation. Having live acts is nice, but if you can only hear them when you walk past them, that’s no good.

Anyway, we walked and talked and ate cookie-brownies and drank lots of water and sat. Mostly sat. Well, I mostly sat. I sat so much that I broke my brand-new lawn chair. (Don’t get your lawn chairs on sale at Aldi).

Laurie fell asleep when they turned the lights out (she’d had a busy week at work) for the luminaria bit so we decided to pack it in sometime after midnight. I’m a lot older than I was at the start of the 21st century.

relay1

relay7

relay4relay9

Did you catch how I’m sitting in all the photos? Yep, I’m officially old. But I’m rockin’ that Batman T-shirt.

relay5

At The Movies: Ant-Man

One of these days Marvel Studios is going to bomb.

They’ve had a stellar track record since “Iron Man” way back in 2008. Like many people I figured their first big misstep would be “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I mean, a wise-cracking raccoon and a talking tree? How could that be a hit?

Like many people, I was wrong. And glad to be wrong. So next the bomb-o-meter pointed to “Ant-Man.” The movie had been in development hell for years, the director who championed it bailed out, and it was about — you know — Ant-Man.

While the box office numbers aren’t in, I can at least say that from a quality standpoint that “Ant-Man” can stand tall right alongside “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “Captain America.”

Well, maybe not literally.

Director Peyton Reed picked up the pieces left behind by Edgar Wright and collaborated with the Marvel Studios brain-trust to put together a fun, funny and entertaining little superhero movie. No, it doesn’t have the broad strokes and maximum carnage of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” but it doesn’t need it.

It’s a smaller story. Literally.

ant-man-posterMichael Douglas stars as Hank Pym, a scientist who developed a method of growing and shrinking people and things, as well as a way to communicate with ants. He used these talents during the Cold War working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as the Ant-Man.

After his wife’s death, Pym decides his technology is too dangerous and locks it away in a safe in his home. He starts his own business and brings in Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) as his protegé.  Cross becomes obsessed with recreating the “Pym Particle,” despite his mentor’s wishes.

Meanwhile across town, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just got out of prison. He wants to tread the straight and narrow for the sake of his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) but it’s hard for an ex-con to find a job. It doesn’t help that he’s living with Luis (Michael Pena), a former cellmate who already has a new crew lined up waiting for Scott to give the OK to a new heist.

Unable to catch a break, Scott agrees to Luis’ latest scheme: Break into an old man’s house and steal whatever valuables are in his near-impregnable safe.

The old man, of course, is Pym. Inside the safe — the Ant-Man suit.

Needless to say, this isn’t what Scott or his crew were expecting. With no one around, Scott tries on the suit and accidentally “gets small.” Turns out this was all Pym’s plan, as he wants to use Scott to stop Cross before he unlocks the secret of shrinkage. Assisting in this endeavor is Pym’s frequently estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly).

“Ant-Man” follows the “Guardians of the Galaxy” method of telling a comic book tale with heavy doses of comedy and irreverence. The humor doesn’t overwhelm the story but it’s a key ingredient. Michael Pena manages to be a comic relief character that’s actually more entertaining than annoying.

Paul Rudd, like Chris Pine before him, does a good job walking the fine line between serious hero and wise-cracking buffoon. Michael Douglas is fine playing the tortured mentor. Evangeline Lilly does as well with the standard female supporting character role as anyone could.

The weak link is the villain. Cross has little charisma and is motivated by pettiness. To be fair, Ant-Man’s rogues gallery leaves a lot to be desired.

Special effects are first-rate. The ants are adorable — for ants. The action bits, while not a big focus of the film, are well done.

This is all part of the shared Marvel movie universe, so expect references to the Avengers and call backs to previous films. You’ll also want to stick around for the mid-credits scene and the after-credits tease.

“Dr. Strange” is so going to bomb.

Before You Go: Ant-Man

(or, The Sad, Size-Changing Tale of Henry Pym, Part 2)

In 2006, Marvel Studios was just beginning its ambitious plan to take over the world — or the multiplexes at least. Their first project would be a little film called “Iron Man.”

At the same time, English writer/director Edgar Wright knocks on the door and says, “Hey, would you mind if I made a movie about Ant-Man?”

“Ant-Man? *snicker* Sure,” Marvel says. “Knock yourself out.”

Wright’s reputation was built on quirky comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” The trouble for Hank Pym fans, is that Wright wasn’t interested in making a film about Pym, he wanted to use the Scott Lang version.

For reasons not worth getting into, “Ant-Man” was delayed. And delayed. And delayed.

Meanwhile, Marvel Studios is cranking out hit after hit – “Iron Man,” HULK,” “Thor,” “Captain America” – all the while building a connected movie universe. With success comes the concern within Marvel that maybe we don’t want “Ant-Man” to be a quirky British comedy — even if it is Ant-Man.

BF_Payoff_1-Sht_v8_Lg-1309x1940Marvel and Wright part ways but the damage is already done. Hank and Jan won’t be ready to assemble with the rest of the Avengers, Hank’s creation of Ultron is turned over to Tony Stark, Hank won’t even get to be the star of his own movie.

He will, however, get to be played by Michael Douglas — which is pretty cool. Hank arguably is the Avenger being played by the biggest Hollywood icon of the bunch. And if this were 1980’s “Romancing the Stone” Michael Douglas it would be even better, but this is 70-year-old Michael Douglas which of course means that poor Hank has been turned into the mentor role.

But hey, he’s better off than Jan, whose future — and present — is clouded in mystery.  She’s been replaced in the film by Hope Van Dyne — Hank and Jan’s daughter (Hank and Jan don’t have children in the comics. No, I don’t count alternate universes). Whatever Jan’s fate, it’s a good bet Hope will be the one suiting up for Wasp duty when the time comes.

And that’s probably far more than you need to know…before you go.