Free Comic Book Day Reminds Us to Read, Not Just Watch
April 29, 2012 | No Comment

Looking back on the last several years, it’s hard to remember when the summer blockbuster movie season didn’t contain at least two or three multi-million-dollar superhero movies, but believe it or not, I grew up …

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Free Comic Book Day Reminds Us to Read, Not Just Watch
April 29, 2012 | No Comment

Free Comic Book Day 2012

Looking back on the last several years, it’s hard to remember when the summer blockbuster movie season didn’t contain at least two or three multi-million-dollar superhero movies, but believe it or not, I grew up in a world where those big-budget adaptations were simply a pipe dream.

Sure, we had a few “Batman” movies that quickly went downhill among other sporadic attempts, but I remember picking up my monthly issue of the now-online-only Wizard magazine at the comic book shop and reading the “Casting Call” feature, wondering if I’d ever see an “X-Men” movie in my lifetime.

It proposed casting choices for comic movies we never dreamed would happen, even correctly predicting that one day Patrick Stewart would be sitting in Professor X’s wheelchair. Instead of guessing how Hollywood could make a computer-generated Hulk appear real, fans are now taking bets on which tights-clad character will be optioned for the big screen treatment next. I may be dating myself, but that still amazes me.

A majority of the most anticipated movies this summer, in fact, are based on a comic books, kicking off this week with “The Avengers” and followed by “Men in Black III,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Even films like “Prometheus,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” and the “Total Recall” remake are tailor-made for science fiction fans, so while our wildest fanboy fantasies continue to go mainstream, I think it’s worth noting that its source material still exists and is also in need of financial support.

But on Free Comic Book Day, which falls on May 5 this year, comic shops aren’t asking for your money. In fact, as the name indicates, they’re giving away promotional comics to attract new readers and bring some back who may have strayed from the fold. Some stores even have creators on hand to sign their work; locally, my shop of preference, Comics on the Green in Scranton, will have veteran Marvel and DC Comics artist Tom Derenick along with special promotions and face painting for the kids.

The free comics this year star everyone from the Avengers to Peanuts to Superman to Mega Man to Transformers to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and sample stories featuring smaller names like X-O Manowar and the Hypernaturals are also being offered. If you don’t recognize the monikers, that’s OK – the point is to expose you to something you never knew you were missing out on.

Free Comic Book Day started in 2002, coordinated by the country’s largest distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors, and supported by independent shops all over. This isn’t something you’re going to see at Barnes & Noble, and there’s a good reason for that – they don’t care whether you’re buying comics, movies, CDs, books, or e-readers, as long as they’re making a profit. The small shops, however, are doing this because they want you to love what they love, and there’s plenty of love to go around.

The reasons these characters resonate with people in the movies are often the same reasons they have been beloved by generations of comic fans, except the comics give readers so much more. The stories are more varied, detailed, and complex, and they’re more fun because they have the ability to capture so much more creativity. The print pages are limited only by the creators’ imaginations, while live films will always be limited by real-world situations, such as time and budget constraints. Instead of being the guy who has to whisper in the geek’s ear, asking who this guy or that guy is as they appear onscreen, it’s way more awesome to be the one in the know.

But whereas my father grew up reading Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner, and I discovered comics through their animated counterparts in the ‘90s, kids today are too busy talking on their cell phones and shouting commands to their squadron of friends they never met over Xbox LIVE to do something “boring” like read. Sure, you have your bestsellers now and again, but sometimes you get “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” and sometimes you get “Twilight,” so the quality undoubtedly varies. Even with e-readers and iPads, the only reading many children are doing is on the internet, which doesn’t always offer the best material.

You might start on a mainstream comic like “Spider-Man,” but that simply opens you up to an entire universe of characters, and from there, a never-ending list of titles from all different genres. Whether you appreciate great artistry or great writing, it’s all found in a comic, yet the medium forever hangs in the balance. The characters are becoming profitable entities, sure, but the books themselves are mostly supported by diehard fans. Just in my lifetime, I’ve seen the number of comic stores within a few miles of me drop from five to one, and I can count on one hand how many are still in this entire region currently. It may only be a matter of time before everything goes digital, and after that, no one knows how long sequential art will last when it’s viewed on your computer screen rather than in your hand.

It’s no coincidence that Free Comic Book Day usually coincides with a major movie release, though film adaptations shouldn’t be your alternative to the original material – it should be your gateway into that work. People I grew up with who would be bored out of their skulls every time I brought up comics are now asking me to go with them to the next movie opening, so while I’m happy to oblige, I also have to remind them that they can borrow those graphic novels on my shelf any time.

This may sound like an advertisement, but so be it – show your support by going to and finding a participating store near you, or just go to your local comic shop any day of the week and ask the store owner for some recommendations. You’d be surprised how much exists out there for every taste, and you may be even more surprised to find how much you’ll learn from reading instead of watching.

Not that I still don’t dream about a Silver Surfer or a Dr. Strange movie, mind you, but at least I’ll always have something to spark my imagination.

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‘God Bless America’ Asks for a Kinder, Gentler Nation Through Violence
April 22, 2012 | No Comment

God Bless America

If comedian-turned-indie-film-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s new movie, “God Bless America,” was classic English theatre, it might instead be entitled “The Importance of Being Nice.”

But it’s not. It’s classic American wish fulfillment, an over-the-top, violent dark comedy that tells you it’s OK to solve your problems, or in this case the country’s problems, with big guns and witty one-liners. In this case, I happen to wholeheartedly agree.

I’m not a violent man, nor do I condone real-life violence, but give me a good, bloody action movie and I’m left drooling and cheering for two hours, at least during the flicks that are fully aware of their schlocky fun. “God Bless America” is not only conscious of what it’s doing, which some critics have labeled “leftist snuff,” but it’s delightfully good at it because its satiric target also happens to be an easy one.

Frank, played perfectly by Joel Murray, Bill Murray’s younger brother, can’t stand his noisy neighbors, loses his job, is snubbed by his potential love interest, hated by his ex-wife and their bratty child, and finds out he has a brain tumor. He is about to kill himself when he decides that his suicidal tendency would be much better put to use as a homicidal inclination after watching a little too much reality TV.

The marks of his killing spree – a rich, spoiled teenager; a nasty, ratings-grabbing pundit; a bigoted, hateful church group; talentless talent show hosts – all share one thing in common, besides being incredibly annoying; they are all just plain mean. In a world that is already cruel enough, Frank can no longer deal with people like this, and seriously, neither can the rest of us.

This is why he’s soon joined by Roxy, a like-minded, so really quite disturbed, young girl played by Tara Lynne Barr who is sick and tired of these attention-hungry idiots as well. She has much more to live for than Frank, but she kills with just as much gusto, so if you think you know what the outcome is going to be for these two psychopaths, you’re probably right.

But it’s not where the movie goes; it’s how it gets there. From start to finish, the dialogue serves as more of a stand-up comedy rant than a proper story-telling narrative, but that’s not a criticism. This really makes it all the more funny, and when you find yourself agreeing with many of their points, you start to view their massacre in a more sympathetic light. At one time or another, every one of us has wanted to put our hands through the screen and strangle a reality star or a hillbilly pedophile, but Frank is the one actually doing it, and he’s certainly doing it with style.

When Frank says that he only wants to kill people who “deserve to die,” he’s usually referring to people who just annoy him, but it does make you think about the influence these people have on the overall general public. What does it say about us that we’ve let it get this way, that we allow young kids to nationally humiliate themselves on “American Idol” so that we can berate them, that we watch teenage girls rip apart their parents because they didn’t get the “right car” on their sixteenth birthday, that we listen to intolerant political rhetoric from morally ambiguous talking heads? Why have we rewarded shallow, obnoxious people like this with millions of dollars and skyrocketing ratings while the little guy goes unnoticed and unappreciated?

There are a few slaying that are done more for laughs, like the guy who unapologetically takes up two parking spaces, but it’s really hard to feel sorry for any of the victims, which, in turn, makes our anti-heroes more likeable. Both actors have great chemistry and are clearly having a blast in their respective roles, staying within conventions but also poking fun at others – instead of falling in love despite their drastic age difference, as you’d have in most films of this kind, Frank lectures Roxy about how wrong it is to lust after a girl young enough to be your daughter, emphasizing that adult males should “shoot higher” than little kids when choosing a mate. If I could have hugged Murray for stating this, I would have.

Many people may be surprised to learn that this movie was written and directed by Goldthwait, probably best known for his strange, screechy voice and recurring role as Zed in the “Police Academy” movies, but he actually reinvented his career years ago as an indie filmmaker with movies like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World’s Greatest Dad.” Even his on-stage material is much darker now, and as he makes the press rounds to promote this latest film, I find myself enjoying his humor more and more, which either makes me just as cynical or just as much a George Carlin fan.

The film may be deeply cathartic for its intended audience, whether we bloodthirsty Americans want admit it or not, but it seems its creator is making no apologies for putting a bullet in the head of mediocrity:

“It’s a violent movie that’s asking for kindness. And that’s why when people go, ‘What are you going to do if people copycatted this movie?’ I’d [say,] I don’t want them to kill. But if people actually took the message away, that would be pretty rad,” Bobcat recently told HitFix.

“I thought, this movie here was the counterculture revolting against authority. And I thought, who do we have to revolt against now? And then I started thinking about everything – reality television and non-news and all that kind of stuff. And then it was just seeing things like a Tea Party guy with a sign that says, ‘We’re Unarmed, THIS Time.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy. I see your crazy and I raise your crazy.’”

From the gruesome opening scene to the final showdown, “God Bless America” is the first really offensive, controversial film of the year, and it’s about time. Any piece of art that stirs things up and gets people talking is important and worth supporting in my book, and as we gear up for the summer blockbuster season, let us not forget that smaller budgets do not necessarily mean less entertainment value. It certainly doesn’t mean less to discuss, so check it out on demand now and in select theaters on May 11.

And if you disagree with Goldthwait’s premise, that’s great, though you may want to reconsider who you’re sticking up for; it probably says a lot more about you than it does about him. I don’t foresee anyone picking up a gun because of this movie, but I do predict a few boats being rocked and a few tops being blown.

If so, then rampage accomplished.

Revolver Golden Gods Awards Put Music, Not Ratings, First
April 15, 2012 | No Comment
Revolver Golden Gods Awards Put Music, Not Ratings, First

Televised award ceremonies just bore the hell out of me.
I don’t watch the Academy Awards because I can’t sit through two hours of lame jokes and awkward speeches for 10 minutes of highlights, and I …

Give the Fanboys What They Want
March 25, 2012 | No Comment
Give the Fanboys What They Want

Any fanboy will tell you: “Let the Wookiee win.”
Some in the entertainment industry have learned this valuable lesson this past week, while others stubbornly fight against the very wingman that has helped them become what …

Cowardly Stance on “Doonesbury” Strips Degrades an Art Form
March 18, 2012 | No Comment
Cowardly Stance on “Doonesbury” Strips Degrades an Art Form

When will comics finally be accepted as a true, respected art form? Apparently not in 2012.
Like any effective political comic strip, people are still talking about the “Doonesbury” series that ran from March 12-17, a …

‘Comic Book Men’ Offers Another Addictive Spin on Reality TV
March 11, 2012 | No Comment
‘Comic Book Men’ Offers Another Addictive Spin on Reality TV

They finally got me.
My parents, my siblings, my friends – they all watch at least one, but usually several, of the latest breed of reality shows. Whether it’s “Pawn Stars” or “American Pickers” or “Storage …

Why You’re Never Too Old for a Concert
February 26, 2012 | No Comment
Why You’re Never Too Old for a Concert

It may seem odd to say that a band I’ve never seen before brought back old concert memories for me, but Anthrax isn’t just any thrash metal band.
They’ve gone through nine lead singers and plenty …

Ghost Rider’s Co-Creator Also in Need of Vengeance
February 19, 2012 | No Comment
Ghost Rider’s Co-Creator Also in Need of Vengeance

It sincerely pains me to write anything negative about Marvel Comics, but behind almost every bit of entertainment you love, you’ll often find a bunch of greedy executives controlling its production and distribution.
Just look at …