Friday, July 30, 2010

My (delayed) San Diego Comic-Con Wrap-Up

Well, I return to you after 6-ish days in San Diego, with 4 within the halls of the San Diego Convention Center. First off, a deep apology for the lack of blog entries since, and during, my trip. My original intention was to blog as much as possible from the convention floor. This, alas, ended up being more of a pain than expected (my laptop gets HEAVY). When I would return to the hotel, there was always some nighttime adventure in the offing, and a blog seemed less than important.

As always, The San Diego Comic-Con was exhilarating, exhausting, annoying, laughable and downright fun.



We flew out of Chicago early on Wednesday the 21st, and arrived in San Diego about 11:00 AM. I have to admit the experience of walking outside was a little less than it had been on my previous trips. In 2006 and 2008 the weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire time I was in San Diego, and this year was a bit overcast and cooler. (I even had to buy a jacket.)



The "new" hotel this year, San Diego Hilton Bayfront, was absolutely gorgeous. It was also, literally, right next door to the Convention Center.

It also looked like the set of Logan's Run.

It was absolutely convenient, but I have to say, for future trips, a return to our San Diego Doubletree Downtown may be in order. I was kinda shocked to find out I had to pay $14 each day for internet, and $15 each day if I wanted to use the gym. Both amenities that were free at the Doubletree.

It's really a hard call. Being so close made going out after a day on the floor really easy, and our hotel hosted many of the guests. I caught the entire cast of Chuck in the lobby on Saturday morning. I think staying where we did made our evening social time much more enjoyable. The hotel bars, after vainly searching the Gaslamp for convention people in '06 and '08, are where it's at.

I guess I'd always try to get one of the big convention center hotels from here on out, but I wouldn't feel so cut off a little further out anymore. The Doubletree served us well. Also...with only three of us this year, the Hilton Bayfront was a little pricey, but that's what I've been saving all year for, right?

Day One;

My initial Thursday schedule was really, really ambitious. I had my time packed with 10 "first choice" panels, and several back-ups. Of course, as I always say, SDCC is all about planning and being flexible enough to throw that planning right out the window. Sean, Zach and I decided to take a spin around the main floor, and I immediately zeroed in on original art booths.

Original art has become my "thing" when I go to San Diego. I rarely see any well-stocked art dealers at the other conventions I've attended, so Comic-Con is where I can usually find something nice. I found two nice pieces by Mark Bagley and Darwyn Cooke, respectively. I circled and circled, and kept coming back to them. Finally I just dropped the cash, figuring they were such nice pieces I didn't want to let them slip away.



Mark Bagley is probably my personal favorite artist, and Benjamin J. Grimm, a.k.a "The Thing" is crown jewel for Marvel Comics. Truly one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's greatest, single creations. I hadn't even known Bagley had done a Fantastic Four run, but a nice, dynamic page like this? Could not pass it up.



Darwyn Cooke is certainly in my top 5 of favorite artists, and Jonah Hex is my pick for the most consistently great book on the market today. (Seriously, if you are not reading it...GO GET A COPY!) This is a really nice, clean page from Jonah Hex #50. There were a couple of other pages that were more busy, but this seemed to evoke the John Ford western feel so well.

Long story short, I'm just beside myself to have such great pieces from two of my favorite artists to go on my wall.

The traipsing around the floor put a serious crimp on panel time for Thursday, and we only managed to see one:

3:45-4:45 TV Guide Magazine And The Paley Center For Media Present: A Leap Of Faith, A Quantum Leap Retrospective— Moderated by TV Guide Magazine Executive Editor Craig Tomashoff, this panel will take a look back at the cultural phenomenon of the hit series Quantum Leap featuring clips from the Paley Center collection and a discussion with series star Scott Bakula (Men of A Certain Age, Star Trek: Enterprise, Chuck). Room 6A



Scott Bakula was charming and witty, and, while I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know about the series, I was really happy to be in that room with people who really loved Quantum Leap, and weren't just trying to get a picture of a huge star.

Later that night, I also sampled some convention nighttime programming, which I'd kind of avoided. I always figured nightlife was more exciting. I managed to get into

7:30-9:30 First Look! Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics— Behind the amazing tales of Superman, Batman, Wonder WomanWatchmen is the equally impressive story of the challenges, creativity and triumphs of the company that brought those characters to life. Warner Home Video and DC Entertainment present a first look at the new documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a compelling insider's tale and a 75th anniversary celebration as seen through the inkwells of those who created and lived it, balanced with insights from key historians and filled with interviews, archival footage, and a dazzling parade of those forever riveting and splashy DC covers. Included in the premiere event is a panel of distinguished representatives of DC's storied history. Produced by the Academy Award–nominated team behind Spellbound, this documentary is narrated by Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) and will be distributed by Warner Home Video in November 2010. Room 7AB

This was a really excellent documentary about the history of DC Comics as a company and a brand. Lots of great interview moments, and some information I hadn't known. It could've been a cheap publicity scam, but, while it certainly wasn't "hard hitting journalism," there felt like a lot of honesty was on the screen. It's definitely something I'm planning to pick up.

The rest of the evening was spent at a "Drink and Draw" with LA friends TonyD and HattieD. Then off to the Hyatt lobby bar. Great evening.

Day Two;

Friday turned out to be an even lighter panel day. SeanH and I did manage to catch:

1:00-2:00 Bloom County's Berkeley Breathed: The Secret Sex Tapes— The creator of the Eighties' most enduring strip act, Comic-Con special guest Berkeley Breathed, reveals all the behind-the-scenes shockers...and some never-before-seen tests of the Miramax Opus movie that was eventually killed by the Deptartment of Homeland Security. Plus, Bill the Cat's private home videos of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Bush. Room 6A



...And, after, we hustled down to the convention floor to get Sean's Bloom County book signed.



Breathed had never been to SDCC before, and it kinda sounded like he'd never been to any comics convention. He should do more. He had a wonderful presentation full of humor and honest appraisals of his industry and other cartoonists he had known. I probably could've listened to another hour of his stories.

We spent the rest of the day on the floor, taking in the sights, and I decided to pick up a convention-exclusive toy set.



It's a re-creation of The Brave and the Bold #28, the first appearance of the Justice League of America, where the five original League members confront Starro the Conqueror. I had bought it because I figured it would be easy to break apart and pack into my suitcase for the trip back.

Yeah, well...

The thing talks. Giving a history of the story and the comic, and all the heroes on the front. With that, I knew leaving the packaging behind was not an option.

The rest of the day was spent kicking around the floor, and I got lots of great pictures at the Sideshow Toys booth, including one of a Raiders of the Lost Ark fertility idol prop replica that I find myself coveting...



We also managed to check out:

5:30-6:30 Shout! Factory: Roger Corman: King of the Independents— If your idea of fun is watching wild and outrageous cult flicks, you will not want to miss this! Oscar recipient for Lifetime Achievement and legendary director/producer Roger Corman takes center stage to share insights on his incredible filmmaking career. Notable Corman alumni will also be in attendance to reflect on their involvement during his New World Pictures era in the'70s and '80s, at a time when grindhouse theatres and drive-ins were the place to see over-the-top sex and violence. Panelists include Joe Dante (director of Piranha), Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects), Mary Woronov (House of the Devil), and Allan Holzman (director, Forbidden World). Moderated by Alex Stapleton (director of King of the B's: The Independent Life of Roger Corman). Short Q&A if time permits. Room 25ABC

Which was kind of disappointing. First, the vast majority of the crowd was waiting for the Gears of War panel that followed, and, second, the microphones were crap, and we couldn't hear half the panel. Corman deserved much better.

Friday night we met up with John and Mary from LA, who had been in Sean's production of Plans 1-8 From Outer Space with me. We ended up at a midnight screening of Free Enterprise.

God, I'd forgotten how I hate that movie. No offence to anyone, as I hung out with director Robert Meyer Burnett a bit that night, and his crowd. Very nice people.

I just don't like your movie.

We all ended up in the Marriott bar.

Day Three;

Ah, Saturday. I briefly had a moment when I thought MAYBE I'd just plant in Hall H, to see the BIG movie panels. Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Green Hornet, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and, of course, The Avengers. I took one look at the line outside the convention center, and just wrote it off.

Sure, I could've seen Ryan Reynolds recite the Green Lantern oath for the first time in public, The first reveal of the Avengers line-up, and (most personally painful) Harrison Ford's first Comic-Con appearance. When it came right down to it, being in there, alone (Sean and Zach were not interested), didn't seem at all fun. (And how the hell would I pee and not lose my seat?)

What I want to applaud the Con organizers for is that they realized the wisdom of putting all the huge, rabid fan interest panels in Hall H on the same day. This was how it was in '06, but in '08, they seemed to spread things out. The advantage of everybody trying to pack into Hall H is...the floor does seem relatively lighter, and other panels are not quite as tough to get into.

I had a really pleasant time on Saturday and saw more panels than on any other day of the convention.

11:30-12:30 Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal— Author/designer Chip Kidd (Mythology, Bat-Manga, Rough Justice), author/producer Michael Uslan (Archie Marries...), and Charles Kochman (executive editor, Abrams ComicArts) celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Big Red Cheese in this panel and slideshow discussion celebrating Kidd's upcoming fall release from Abrams ComicArts, Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal. Room 9



This one was a little disappointing. Mainly it was an advertisement for a book on SHAZAM!/Captain Marvel collectibles from the 30's and 40's that Chip Kidd has put together. The other panel members seemed to just be there to reinforce the importance of this character. Which, sadly, needs to be done. People in line didn't seem to even know the most basic things about Captain Marvel. Made me a little sad.

The panel did make me very curious to try to pick up some trade paperbacks of the early Marvel family stuff.

Then I cut across the hall, and walked right into:

12:30-1:30 Spotlight on Brian Michael Bendis— The controversial Marvel writer and Comic-Con special guest Brian Michael Bendis turns his spotlight panel into a live taping of the popular Word Balloon Bendis tapes. Word Balloon podcast host John Suitress will moderate the panel and take questions from the audience, with nothing off limits. Bendis will also be giving away limited-edition variant covers of his new creator-owned series Scarlet. Room 6DE



I was kinda amazed that I could just walk right in. That said, it was a huge room. Bendis is a really fun personality, and can spin a good story. Jeph Loeb appeared in line and, with a kind of annoying "comic bit" announced Bendis would be a producer and writer for a new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series. (How many Spider-Man cartoons do we need, Marvel...there seems to be a new one every other year.) The weirdest bit of info was that Bendis had interviewed David Mamet, one of his writing heroes (the guy has taste), about a comic book Mamet had written and drawn. Who knew?

Then I jumped across and caught the end of:

12:30-1:45 DC Universe: Event Horizon— Ian Sattler, senior story editor, and your favorite writers and artists are here for the main event: The DC Universe! What lies ahead for your favorite heroes and series? Got a question for your favorite DCU creator? Come on by! There's no greater gathering of top-tier creative talent! Room 6A



Which, yeah...whatever....I was just waiting for:

2:00-3:00 Green Lantern: Emerald Empire— No evil shall escape this panel's sight as the top creative teams on the Green Lantern books drop hints on upcoming stories and take on your questions! Led by group editor Eddie Berganza with Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash), Tony Bedard (Green Lantern Corps), Joe Prado (Brightest Day), and Ivan Reis (Brightest Day). Room 6A



I'm gonna say this, this panel ended up being kind of frustrating in the way all Geoff Johns (who was absolutely the star here) panels are. Nobody wants to comment on anything in any contrete way. There's a few vague, sweeping announcements, and that's it. As much as I love John's writing (and that's a LOT), he's not a verbal storyteller. He can't seem to make his answers entertaining and funny like Bendis does, or any number of other creators do.

That's not to say he's not a great guy, because I have first-hand accounts that he is. I'd love to have dinner or coffee with him. Entertaining a whole room takes a little more extroverted personality, however.

I had originally planned to jump from there into the "DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection: Jonah Hex, Green Arrow, and Beyond!" panel, which was to talk about the new DC Showcase shorts being added to all the animated DC Comics direct-to-DVD movies. One look at that line, and I knew I was SOL.

That being the case, I went to wait for one of the panels that I was most looking forward to. I could walk right into the room, and sat through a panel I'd never planned to see, but ended up being very interesting:

3:00-4:00 Comics Reprint Revolution— For comics fans, the vintage reprint revolution keeps getting bigger and better! Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon talks with Craig Yoe (Krazy Kat, Popeye, Jetta), Dean Mullaney (editor of Library of American Comics for IDW: Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Secret Agent Corrigan), Daniel Herman (Hermes Press: Buck Rogers, The Phantom), Gary Groth (Fantagraphics: Peanuts, Prince Valiant, Captain Easy), Peggy Burns (Drawn and Quarterly: John Stanley Library, Walt & Skeezix), Steve Saffel (Titan Books, Beetle Bailey, Simon & Kirby Library) and Charles Pelto (Classic Comics Press: Mary Perkins, On Stage, The Heart of Juliet Jones, Big Ben Bolt) about their publications reprinting some of the very best of comic books and comic strips. Room 8



It was really cool to hear the ins and outs of trying to publish collections of classic comic strips, from rights issues to the basic lack of acceptable copies of the material. It was a panel of people passionate about what they were doing, and it was a great relief from the mass-media onslaught outside.

Then, it was time for the panel I'd been looking forward to all day:

4:00-5:00 Taking Back the Knight: Batman in the 1970s and Beyond— The 1960s Batman TV show -- fun as it was -- left the public thinking the Caped Crusader was more of a clown than a crimefighter. In the 1970s, editor Julius Schwartz, along with writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams (mostly in collaboration with inker Dick Giordano), decided to take back the Knight to his darker origins. The resulting character became the template for the next three decades, a time span marked by Batman's huge success in films and other media. Moderator Mark Evanier talks with Comic-Con special guests Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams about their rebirth of the Bat and with Paul Levitz on how that re-creation took Batman to even greater heights. Room 8




This was a great panel. O'Neil and Adams are really fantastic together, and Adams, in particular, is a big, boisterous voice for artistic integrity. I loved watching these guys talk about taking Batman back to what felt "right," even if the readers at the time had never experienced Batman "right." It had been camp antics and aliens for so long, that O'Neil and Adams' razor-sharp detective and crime tales were a joy. This is what Comic-Con ought to be about.

Spent a little more time on the floor after, and ended up joining John and Mary at:

6:00-7:00 Roddenberry Presents— Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry (CEO, Roddenberry Productions), Trevor Roth (head of development, Days Missing) and Tory Mell (production supervisor, Trek Nation) are taking the name that created Star Trek and bringing it to levels not seen since the original days of the genre-changing television show. Join them for some awesome discussions and a chance to win a free iPad! Also on the panel: Phil Hester (Days Missing, Green Arrow), Dave Marquez (Days Missing, Syndrome), Stephen Christie (Archaia Publishing), and Paul Morrissey (editor, Days Missing). Room 25ABC

Of which I'll only say....

*SHRUG*

The evening ended with a lovely prime rib dinner (Donovan's - totally worth it) and then drinks with John, Mary and their Trekker friends at the Hyatt Lobby Bar.

Day Four;

Sunday generally feel like a wrap-up day. Deals on the convention floor, and a general sense of winding down.

This year, it was also the day I stood in the longest line.



You may ask why?

I love Nathan Fillion:

10:30-11:30 ABC's Castle: Nathan Fillion & Stana Katic— Up close and personal with actors Nathan Fillion (Firefly) and Stana Katic (Quantum of Solace), creator Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One), and executive producers Rob Bowman (X-Files) and Laurie Zaks. BE sure to be on hand for the Q&A session, filled with exclusive videos and fun surprises. Whether you're a fan of the show or a fan of Nathan Fillion, you won't want to miss this panel! Room 6BCF



Fillion is built for conventions. He simply knows how to play the room, and what will make fans the most happy. Be it a dramatic reading of a sex scene from one of "Richard Castle's" novels with Katic, handing out his wristbands from various celebrity parties, and other assorted items (the clippings from his eyebrows seems like maybe a bit much, however), or turning the Double Rainbow YouTube phenomenon into a running panel joke. The man simply knows how to entertain people, and I have to say the Castle panel was the most fun I had this year. Worth the huge line.

After that, a quick walk around the floor, and off to another panel I was very excited about:

12:00-1:00 Spotlight on Dennis O'Neil— One of comics' most legendary writer/editors, Comic-Con special guest Dennis O'Neil is best known for his work on Batman. O'Neil's long career includes writing and editing at Marvel and guiding the Caped Crusader at DC Comics for many years. Dennis will talk about his career and what's up next for this fan-favorite creator. WildStorm's Scott Peterson moderates. Room 25ABC



O"Neil is a whip-smart and highly opinionated guy. He's also honest to a fault and willing to admit his failures and mistakes. It's was very cool to have him talk about all the superb work he did outside the Batman franchise. Great panel.

A lot of time on Sunday going back and forth to the main floor, I was trying to grab up some trades, and spent a lot of time at the Mile High Comics booth looking through their extensive (but dwindling) piles. I have to say that one of the biggest disappointments this year was the lack of places to just look for trade paperbacks. In '06 and '08, it seemed there were at least 3 different booths where you could just browse collected editions. (Organized collected editions...too many "scavenger hunt" booths, where there was no rhyme or reason to how things were laid out.) I know back issues are the bread and butter, but...trades make new readers. Trades let you sample new series. For all the non-comics people wandering that floor, potential readers...that's letting an opportunity slip.

We wrapped up the convention with:

3:00-4:00 DC Town Hall Meeting— All are welcome to join DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee for a relaxed Sunday afternoon discussion. Share your thoughts on what you love about comics now and what you hope to see in the future! Room 25ABC



Which had a couple of moments when I wanted to shout at Dan DiDio. His comments about not wanting to do "Elseworlds" books, because they're more interesting than the regular series, infuriated me. That just means you have the wrong teams on the books. That you, as editorial, have dropped the ball. Which also ties into what the kid, who said he wanted "deeper" stories about heroism, meant.

Both DC and Marvel are chasing "cool" right now. That's fine, to an extent, but it typifies the thought process behind the DC Universe Online trailer you showed. Instead of telling stories rooted in the greatness of your characters, you keep trying to show us their dark underbelly. Tear it down, and show the worst possible outcome, because it's "cool."

Solid storytelling. Regular schedules. A commitment to making the books the best across the board, rather than tying them into an "event" that will only provide a temporary, false, boost to sales. Geoff Johns is a great writer, but I wish he, and the entire DC staff would stop looking from crossover event to crossover event, and just tell some stories that begin and end in the same book.

Anyway...enough of that rant.

Closed out the Con at the Mile High booth again, grabbing a couple of John Byrne Fantastic Four: Visionaries trade paperbacks.

Sunday night, out to dinner with my friend Courtney.

Monday...

Shipping the swag back to Chicago ($100 - ouch!), and then off to the plane.

Thoughts:

Look, every year I hear the bitching about how Hollywood has taken over SDCC. It's a fact, you can't deny it. How the hell else do you explain a Glee panel?

However, as the Comic-Con has grown, and yes, it's outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, the excitement that's generated by those crowds cannot be denied. I love going, even if I spend too much time in lines, and I miss things I'd like to see. The experience of being there, and feeling that swirl of excitement around you is worth it all.

I generally go every 2 years. If, in fact, the show moves to Anaheim or LA in 2013, I have to go in 2012. It'll be a last hurrah for San Diego, which is as beautiful and gracious a host city as you can hope for.

Personally, I hope it stays right where it is.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant."

"2112"

[I. Overture]


And the meek shall inherit the earth...


[II. Temples of Syrinx]


We've taken care of everything

The words you hear, the songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes
It's one for all and all for one
We work together, common sons
Never need to wonder how or why

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx

Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls

Look around at this world we've made

Equality our stock in trade
Come and join the Brotherhood of Man
Oh, what a nice, contented world
Let the banners be unfurled
Hold the Red Star proudly high in hand

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx

Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls

[III. Discovery]


What can this strange device be?

When I touch it, it gives forth a sound
It's got wires that vibrate and give music
What can this thing be that I found?

See how it sings like a sad heart

And joyously screams out its pain
Sounds that build high like a mountain
Or notes that fall gently like rain

I can't wait to share this new wonder

The people will all see its light
Let them all make their own music
The Priests praise my name on this night

[IV. Presentation]


I know it's most unusual

To come before you so
But I've found an ancient miracle
I thought that you should know
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Yes, we know, it's nothing new

It's just a waste of time
We have no need for ancient ways
The world is doing fine
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan

I can't believe you're saying

These things just can't be true
Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!

We have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the Plan!

[V. Oracle: The Dream]


I wandered home through the silent streets

And fell into a fitful sleep
Escape to realms beyond the night
Dream can't you show me the light?

I stand atop a spiral stair

An oracle confronts me there
He leads me on light years away
Through astral nights, galactic days
I see the works of gifted hands
That grace this strange and wondrous land
I see the hand of man arise
With hungry mind and open eyes

They left the planet long ago

The elder race still learn and grow
Their power grows with purpose strong
To claim the home where they belong
Home to tear the Temples down...
Home to change!

[VI. Soliloquy]


The sleep is still in my eyes

The dream is still in my head
I heave a sigh and sadly smile
And lie a while in bed
I wish that it might come to pass
Not fade like all my dreams...

Just think of what my life might be

In a world like I have seen!
I don't think I can carry on
Carry on this cold and empty life

My spirits are low in the depths of despair

My lifeblood...
...Spills over...

[VII. The Grand Finale]


Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation

Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation
Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation
We have assumed control
We have assumed control
We have assumed control

Monday, July 19, 2010

That's about right

Just finished reading Superman #701, "Grounded: Part one."

I'm still not overly convinced that this storyline is worth a full 12 issues, as is would seem every issue will be a repeat of this one, in one form or another. It just seems like a rather low-key concept to hang a full year of stories on.

However, when I read this:

"To be a hero--and I'm not saying I am one. I'm just saying--is to live you life in a small cell who's bars are the principles and rules that define what you will and won't accept.

Injustice.

Cruelty.

Murder.

On the night they threw Henry Thoreau in jail for civil disobedience, a friend came to see him, saying 'Henry what're you doing in here?'

Thoreau said, "No, the question is what are you doing out there?"

If I am lucky enough, privileged enough to live in that cell, to serve in that box with the word hero written on it--Then I say to you, from somewhere deep inside that box--what are you doing out there?"


When I read that, I know I've read something by a writer that gets Superman.

Mr. J. Michael Straczynski, you've earned at least a couple more issues from this reader.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hi, I'm The Guy That Hates Everything

I apparently have this reputation as a guy who dislikes everything.

Which I find funny.

I think you could ask CByrd, or any of my friends, when I like something, I LIKE it to the point of annoyance. It took my friend KenG months to get me to watch Firefly, but when I did it was all over. I was rabid for it, trying to get EVERYONE to watch it.

Here's the thing, Firefly isn't perfect. Nothing is. I could watch any episode of that series, probably with the exception of "Jaynestown," and give you a list of problems or ways I felt it could be better.

I love Star Trek with a white-hot fire, and 60% of the time, it sucks. I don't mean in a "oh this is not great for this show" way, I mean in a "God, if I didn't love these characters so much I wouldn't subject myself to this" way.

It really seems we've fallen into a realm where people can't fathom you might be disappointed with something you profess to enjoy. I like The Swell Season quite a bit, but I wasn't blown away by their concert at Ravinia on Wednesday. Some people react to that like I've kicked their dog.

When I honestly say I don't like something, or some element of something, that's not something you ought to take personally. Especially when you had nothing to do with creating what I'm criticizing. I don't get how people can get so up in arms about things.

Take when Superman Returns came out. I liked it, I really did. I felt like the design and look of the film, as well as the overall feel was exactly right for a Superman movie. I also said I felt it was far too beholden to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve version of the character, and, particularly in the case of Brandon Routh's performance, who I honestly think could be a great Superman, it really hamstrung the film.

I got a LOT of flack from a lot of people who really wanted to love that movie. Now, judging by the online community, everyone hates it. Go figure.

I endeavor to be honest with my opinions. If I truly hate something, I won't even bother. I also reject those that say I put to much thought into movies that don't deserve it. Hell, I liked G.I. Joe.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

T-Minus One Week.

Let's see...one week from right now, as I'm typing, I'll probably be at;

1:00-2:30 Comics Arts Conference Session #3: New Fun About Siegel and Shuster— Gerard Jones (Networked: Carabella on the Run) leads Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown (grand-daughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson), Brad Ricca (Last Son), and copyright expert Lauren Agostino in a discussion about the creative influences and legal issues surrounding Siegel and Shuster's early characters. Mel Gordon (California State University East Bay) shares insights about Jewish superheroes from his forthcoming book Siegel and Shuster's Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero, co-authored by Thomas Andrae. Room 26AB

Or, on the main floor, because I'm sitting here reading that panel description, and thinking, "I thought it would be about the Superman copyright thing." Oh, well.

I've pretty much cemented my thought process of avoiding Hall H, and all the major movie panels. It's just too hard to give up all that time to see 4 minutes of footage. I mean, the mainstream press is already getting stuff in anticipation of Comic-Con week. For example:



Yep, that's "Van Wilder" in his all-CGI Green Lantern suit. I can't say I'm jumping up and down and screaming "COOL!" about it, but I'm also not condemning the film to failure. First publicity photos always look a little...off. I always reserve judgment until I can see some actual footage, be it a trailer, or whatever. Long story short, not a disaster.

In a way, knowing this will be on the cover of my Entertainment Weekly on Saturday re-affirms my thought process. Why spend 2 hours in line to see Ryan Reynolds be charming (I really do want to hate him, but I just can't), and have to listen to a Harry Potter presentation, too (sorry, I think the films are poor), when I can see:

Saturday 11:30-12:30 Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal— Author/designer Chip Kidd (Mythology, Bat-Manga, Rough Justice), author/producer Michael Uslan (Archie Marries...), and Charles Kochman (executive editor, Abrams ComicArts) celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Big Red Cheese in this panel and slideshow discussion celebrating Kidd's upcoming fall release from Abrams ComicArts, Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal. Room 9

I dunno. I mean, look at the SDCC coverage listed on that cover. It's basically all the major film/TV panels. That stuff will get out, and that information will be available. But nobody's gonna write an article about:

Saturday 4:00-5:00 Taking Back the Knight: Batman in the 1970s and Beyond— The 1960s Batman TV show -- fun as it was -- left the public thinking the Caped Crusader was more of a clown than a crimefighter. In the 1970s, editor Julius Schwartz, along with writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams (mostly in collaboration with inker Dick Giordano), decided to take back the Knight to his darker origins. The resulting character became the template for the next three decades, a time span marked by Batman's huge success in films and other media. Moderator Mark Evanier talks with Comic-Con special guests Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams about their rebirth of the Bat and with Paul Levitz on how that re-creation took Batman to even greater heights. Room 8

Even though it is Comic-Con, right?

Saw The Swell Season at Ravinia Park last night. Nice enough show, but the show at The Vic a couple of years ago was miles better. That show will be the one I remember.

There's a number of factors for that, I think. Ravinia, now that I've actually seen a show there, is, frankly, not a venue I'd ever choose to see a pop/rock show at again. Yeah, it's pretty, and the pavilion is nice, but that whole environment is designed for a more...staid form of entertainment. No seating during songs, no food, no drinks but water, it's designed for a symphony crowd. I never felt overly comfortable.

Glen Hansard actually requested that people from the lawn seats be allowed down front by the stage. I understand the impulse, and the show certainly picked up, energy-wise, when the crowd streamed in. However, you just KNEW how it was going to end up. Fire Marshals, a demand for everyone to return to their section before the encore, the whole bit. It was a mess, and all I could think was how bad I felt for the ushers (who looked all of about 14 years old), being put under the pressure of having the guy on stage tell them to do what they're expressly not supposed to do.

that's all outside the performance, of course. I like Hansard, quite a bit. I like his voice, and his songwriting is fairly dynamic, if predictable. I mean, you know, every song, in the third verse (or the equivalent) he's gonna go from his "quiet and intense" singing to the "super intense" Hansard wail. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome, and effective, but it gets predictable.

The other trouble I had was with how Marketa Irglova, who is the other half of the duo, was presented during the evening. For all intents and purposes, we might as well have been watching The Frames, which is Hansard's primary group, and function as the backing band for The Swell Season.

I really felt like Irglova was just sidelined during the entire show. She had a few nice numbers, a solo piano piece, and then kinda functioned as a backup singer for Hansard. She has a lovely voice, and writes interesting songs, I would like to see her function as an equal.

I get the impression she's a shy person, but for an artist who's supposed to be half of the group, her work seems awful subservient to Hansard's. At times, I even got the feeling she wasn't overjoyed to be on the stage. Who knows? It could be the factor that they were romantically linked, and now apparently are, most certainly, not. That's supposition, but I really didn't feel like things were 100% comfortable, or equal, on that stage. That's a shame when it's supposed to be a duo.

I really do love Hansard and Irglova together, and that show at The Vic was revelatory, just beautiful. However, last night never even came close to those heights.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Comic Day 7.14.2010 Plus, Other Comic Stuff.

Hey, hey...it's new comic day!

Batman #701

Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by TONY DANIEL

Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel re-team to tell the exciting 2-part, untold tale of Bruce Wayne and his adventures between BATMAN R.I.P. and FINAL CRISIS! What happened to Batman – and Dr. Hurt, for that matter – after the devastating events at the climax of R.I.P.? And what secrets within this story point toward THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE?

Ok, see, for me, R.I.P was not, in any way, a high point for Batman. I just don't think Grant Morrison has the temperament for the gritty, streets of the city stories that I prefer for a Bruce Wayne Batman. The Silver Age throwback stuff he's been doing in Batman and Robin, with the considerably lighter mood of Dick Grayson's Batman is wonderful. However, his pre-death of Bruce Wayne run was really, really flatline for me. The high concepts and vaguely goofy tone, well...it was like Roger Moore trying to work in a Sean Connery (or worse, a Daniel Craig) James Bond picture.

I know, I know the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams 70's work I admire so much had globe-trotting and introduced Bond villain-like characters such as Ra's Al Guhl, but Bruce Wayne is obsessed with Gotham, and that's where he operates best.

This, of course, has nothing to do with this story, but I really never cared for Dr. Hurt as a villain before, what's changed? Probably not enough.

Booster Gold #34

Written by KEITH GIFFEN & J.M. DEMATTEIS
Art by CHRIS BATISTA & RICH PEROTTA
Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE

Booster Gold travels into the past to right the wrongs of JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST. But when present-day Booster is mistaken for his past self, he lands in the middle of an old JLI mission with Blue Beetle and the man who killed him – Maxwell Lord!

God, I love this series right now. I had a friend ask me why I was so down on Justice League: Generation Lost, and the answer is simple. It's hawking the cast of the old Justice League International series, but is pretty much completely opposite in tone and style. JLI writers Giffen and DeMatteis are bringing that style and tone in Booster Gold, and that is what I'll be reading.

The Brave and The Bold #35

Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI
Art and cover by JESUS SAIZ

Inspired as always by their idols in the Legion of Super-Heroes last issue, the Legion of Substitute Heroes has also traveled back in time to recruit new members. But where their counterparts reached out to the Doom Patrol, the Subs have managed to enlist The Inferior Five! It ain't a stretch to suggest this won't end well.

Legion of Substitute Heroes = FULL OF WIN!!

The Spirit #4

Written by DAVID HINE
Co-feature written by MARV WOLFMAN
Art by MORITAT
Co-feature art by PHIL WINSLADE
Cover by LADRĂ–NN

New series writer David Hine comes aboard for the first chapter of "Frostbite!" The ultimate high has arrived on the corners of Central City, and the ghouls who deal it aren't interested in cutting the all-controlling Octopus in on the action! It doesn't take long for hot blood to hit the icy city streets! And in the co-feature, THE SPIRIT: BLACK & WHITE, Marv Wolfman and Phil Winslade show us what happens in Central City when the lights go out – every last one of them! It's a citywide blackout in black and white!

A series that is becoming one of DC's more interesting reads. In the tradition of creator Will Eisner, it's definitely one of the most stylish looking series you'll find on the rack. I'm still really enjoying this new take on the pulp-ish title character, but any time you bring in a new writer, there's a chance for things not to click. However, the talent on this book seem to approach things with the idea of taking risks, and that's exciting, even if they don't always work.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #12

COVER BY: DAVID LAFUENTE
WRITER: BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
PENCILS: DAVID LAFUENTE
INKS: DAVID LAFUENTE GARCIA
COLORED BY: JAYPO LLC
LETTERED BY: NEUROTIC CARTOONIST, INC

Guess what? That ain’t Peter Parker!! But it is Peter’s worst nightmare. Someone has taken Peter’s place in the world, his likeness, his everything, and he is—well—he is doing some damage! You won’t believe the mayhem that goes down in this issue! Join superstars BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (SIEGE, AVENGERS) and DAVID LAFUENTE (X-MEN, PATSY WALKER) as Peter battles the ultimate threat!


Are they trying to hide that it's an Ultimate version of The Chameleon? Because that seems pretty bluntly obvious to me.

Always a good read.

And, for this week, from the "maybe" pile:

Superman #701

Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI
Art by EDDY BARROWS & J.P. MAYER
Cover by JOHN CASSADAY
1:25 "DC 75th Anniversary" variant cover by JOHN CASSADAY

J. Michael Straczynski begins his highly anticipated run on SUPERMAN! After the devastating events of WAR OF THE SUPERMEN, how can Superman possibly continue his battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way? Find out here in "Grounded" part 1 and get in on the starting line of a modern-classic SUPERMAN story!

"Hot" writer comes on board to create a "classic" (or, sorry, "modern-classic") run on Superman...

Great.

I'm so conflicted about this. The story SEEMS like it could be interesting, with Kal-El literally walking across America to re-connect with the common people. Yet it starts with Superman feeling guilty because a woman berates him for letting her husband die of cancer? I can't help but feel like...It's Superman, by this point he would've come to terms with the idea that he can't save EVERYONE, and certainly not from a death by what amounts to natural causes.

So, yeah, I have doubts. I'll thumb through the book and make the call.

R.I.P. Harvey Pekar


In recent years, when we've lost various comic book creators, the word "giant" gets thrown around a lot. I usually don't make a big deal out of it, but most of the time these are excellent practitioners of standard superhero fare. Not trying to denigrate that, as, I'm sure it's obvious, I love superhero comics. Still, they rarely have a body of work that truly sets them apart form many, many others who have worked in the medium.

But Harvey Pekar was different...

The man who passed away early Monday morning in his Cleveland bedroom can truly be said to have expanded what could be explored or depicted in the realm of a comic book. Harvey Pekar was the sole writer of the series American Splendor since 1976.



Even for underground comics, American Splendor was different. It wasn't fiction, Pekar wrote short tales from his own life, and the lives of the "normal people" he worked and lived with every day. Harvey had no need for the fantastic, as he found a wealth of humanity and drama in his everyday world. Pekar's characters dealt with problems and challenges we all do, from buying a fresh loaf of bread to carrying a mattress back to an apartment, and he never allowed these tales to become anything more than what they were, snippits of normal life. He used the comics medium as a reporter, crafting almost a documentary of his Cleveland.

He, of course, didn't do it alone. Harvey could not draw. He engaged a string of extremely talented artists to craft the visuals. Underground comics legend R. Crumb drew the first issue. The talent that worked with him, and the breadth of styles on display, however, were staggering. Harvey, often a character of narrator of his tales, could appear as a rather handsome middle-aged guy to a flea-bitten slob.

The book gave Pekar some fame. He made several infamous appearances on David Letterman's show that are fondly remembered.



I'd like to say that I'd been a fan of Harvey's for years, but I can't. I'm a superhero kid, and my tastes have always leaned that way. I was aware of American Splendor, in a cursory way, as a fan of the medium, but never actually read the book until 2003. Shamefully, I came to it from the American Splendor movie directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar. It's an amazing movie, and one of the best, if not THE best comic book-inspired movie I have ever seen. (Giamatti is simply fantastic.)

After seeing the film, I made an effort to read more of Harvey's work. It's a step I have never regretted. Harvey's stories weren't standard storytelling, for sure. The point was bits of life, not smooth storytelling, and sometimes the story would end right as you were becoming engaged with it. Pekar didn't care about crafting a smooth story, he cared about truth. that's what he aimed for, and almost always hit his target.

I recommend any of his books, and certainly any of the American Splendor collections.

SDCC

The San Diego Comic-Con is right around the corner. It's kind of hard to believe it's so close. One week from today I'll be in sunny San Diego, probably trying to get my registration and badge squared away.

Programming is always the primary thought at this point. Going over the schedule, trying to figure out what's a "must see," and what's not. I have to say it's the part of the whole process I hate, and love the most.

I love it because it's all about possibilities. It's this list of wonderful things to see, wonderful creators to ask questions of. Movie Stars right in front of you, etc....

I hate it, well...Look at the daily schedules:

Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday

No matter how you finesse this process, you're going to miss something you would really like to see. Take Saturday, for example. In Hall H, the huge "it's a big deal" room, we have a string of movie presentations. Green Lantern, Harry Potter (meh), Cowboys and Aliens (Harrison Ford...maybe), and the big Marvel deal Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. It's all stuff I would like to see...

But entering Hall H means YOU ARE IN HALL H, and going in and out is not really an option. You want a seat? You stay right where you are. If I go in there on Saturday, I miss out on all the other panels that might be happening.

And there's stuff I'd like to see, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams talking about their 70's Batman work, a panel on SHAZAM! (Captain Marvel) in the Golden Age (that would be pre-50's). Not to mention various panels with current writers and artists. Y'know, the COMIC BOOK stuff.

Early on, I swore I wouldn't spend all day waiting to see some 2 minute sizzle reel, that would be on the internet within hours. That I would remember my past SDCC trips, and how the most memorable panels featured people you really want to see speak before they leave us. In 2006 I saw a Golden Age Batman panel that was amazing, a bunch of old pros talking about what a bastard Batman creator Bob Kane was. It was fun, interesting, and I think half of that panel is no longer with us.

In 2008 Sean H and I watched a tribute panel for Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher/Editor, and general spokesman for fanboys everywhere, Forrest J. "Forry" Ackerman. He passed away less than six months later. Watching Forry in front of that room, even in as poor a health as he was, was one of the most moving things I had ever seen. He could barely speak any longer, but the man just glowed. It was so clear how much he loved entertaining people and seeing the fan community around him. By the end of the string of testimonials and stories about Mr. Ackerman, I was literally in tears.

I spent 3 hours waiting to get into the Watchmen panel that year, and left feeling like "well, that was OK."

Yeah, I think maybe sticking to the "no movies" rule is a good plan.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Irrelevant Exile..

I really love documentaries, especially about music or other "non serious" subjects. In recent years, films like King of Kong, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. and, of course, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage have greatly impressed me.

Of course, they can't all be golden.

In the last couple of weeks I've watched two documentaries that have seemed, flat out, irrelevant. Stones in Exile, and When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors.



Stones in Exile really seems to be a "bonus feature" for the recent re-issue of the wonderful Exile on Main Street album. Much like the excellent Wings for Wheels was included in the 30th Anniversary Born to Run box set. So, essentially, this should be a product for a die-hard fan. Something to reveal unknown stories behind the album, or to provide new insights into it's making...

It's not.

This feels like something that only someone who's knowledge of the Stones is relative meager would glean anything from. It feels slapdash and intentionally on the surface. Who is this film for? If you care enough to buy it, you'll know all the stories, and if you don't...why would you watch it?

Top that off with the fact it's only about an hour long. This whole package feel like a half-assed money grab. Thank God the album itself is so wonderful.



As for When You're Strange...

Oh buy do these people think they're digging deep. Lots of weird, "find the underlying meaning" footage of the band, and Morrison. Johnny Deep doing narration. However, I found myself ticking off the same stories that Oliver Stone dramatized in his fiction film, The Doors. You kinda feel like you're just watching a more lifeless version of that movie.

Yes, yes...I know this is "real" footage, but it's not nearly as compelling as Stone's fictional versions of the same events.

Plus...Look, I know that every male has a "Jim Morrison period," where we become enamored with this guy who was so artistic it apparently gave him lease to be a complete asshole to everyone around him. Jim Morrison was talented, he was also a complete dick. It strikes me funny how Morrison, as a "rock star" is allowed, and even expected, to do selfish, hurtful things that we'd crucify, say, an actor for. Morrison seemingly went to a point where he was lost in a world of antagonizing both the people around him, and his fans.

Not even in a Johnny Rotten, "I'm upfront about it" way. Morrison still played the peace and love bit, and sucked as much adulation as possible from his audience, while constantly antagonizing them. Rotten, it seems, didn't care if you liked him, or not.

I like the music, to a point...but Morrison seems like such a loser.

Monday, July 12, 2010

HULK SMASH MONDAY!!!!

NOTICE: I'm putting "Monday with The Boss" on hold until after Comic-Con is over. I can't keep a regular schedule on it until then, and I should've waited until after things died down to start. It's just difficult to make time to listen to/watch something specific and comment right at the moment.

So, there's a bit of a flap in play around Marvel films' The Avengers right now.

It started last Friday when Drew McWeeny, over at HitFix.com reported that, despite the fact that Edward Norton wanted to play Dr. Bruce Banner in The Avengers, Marvel was looking elsewhere. Now, I gotta be frank here, I was surprised they were even talking to Norton at all. His relationship with the studio during post-production on 2008's The Incredible Hulk was decidedly less-than-happy.



Apparently, Norton and director Louis Leterrier had much more they wanted to do and say with the film, but Marvel pulled them from the editing room. Now, Norton was deeply involved with the development of this film, even re-writing the script. Looking at it from my perspective, Norton had firmly committed to making The Incredible Hulk the best movie he could. Marvel, instead of using this input (Norton is a talented actor, and writes and directs...he can make a worthwhile contribution), shuts him out.

Stupid.

I think Marvel was terrified of repeating the failure of Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk. A film which I feel is unfairly crapped upon. Yeah, it could've used more "HULK SMASH!!!!," but it was a thoughtful, adult comic book-inspired movie. Which, after years of telling people "comics aren't just for kids," might've been something to consider more than fandom did.

So, personally, I prefer Lee's film. That said, I think that Leterrier's version has plenty that's good. Prime among that is Norton's performance.

Still, after all that was said and done back in '08, I thought they'd NEVER get Norton back for The Avengers. Now, in Drew's article, Norton is taking meetings, apparently excited to join the ensemble, only to get passed over.

Now, once this went public, Marvel Films' Kevin Feige had to make a statement.

"We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks."


And to that I say...Woah. I mean, seriously, that's a press release bitchslap. What the hell happened?

Then, of course, Norton's agent released a statement.

Looking at this, again, from my perspective, Norton's agent, Brian Swardstrom, is absolutely correct. If Marvel was just making a financial decision, so be it. It happens. The fact they went out of their way to be bitchy, and cast a bad light on Norton, is just ridiculous.

But, you see...I think this was inevitable. Marvel Films has made a big splash by trying to run their film productions like a comic book company, unified universes, cast crossovers, etc, etc. This whole plan was pointing to The Avengers, where the franchises they were building would come together in a huge, splashy adventure.

The troubling part, based on this recent development, is that you begin to realize that the selling point of The Avengers is solely on seeing these characters, that you know from other films, together. It's easy to have Iron Man meet Bruce Banner in the comics, you just draw them. Not so easy when established actors are involved.

The fact is, now that Marvel has been pushing the "Marvel Movie Universe," these actors ARE these characters. We have a relationship with Norton's Banner, an established character, and that's what makes it interesting to see him interact with Robert Downey Jr's established Tony Stark. Marvel may be learning that your unified movie universe is a double edged sword. Sure, it's exciting, but it also means we expect things. Things like seeing the same faces as the same characters.

The side issue here is that, by sidelining Norton, Marvel's apparent plan to make a big splash at Comic-Con by introducing Joss Whedon as the director, and having the entire ensemble stand with him, is shot. Swardstrom's press release makes it abundantly clear that Whedon is the director, which Marvel had clearly been holding off until "the right moment" to announce, and that the plan was for a big-deal press op in San Diego. If they go ahead with it, the only people in the San Diego Convention Center that will be truly impressed will be the mainstream press, who are pretty clueless about this stuff.

I really don't have any sympathy for Marvel here, at all. They've pushed an agenda that brought them to this point. They wanted "names" for their characters. Not HUGE names, but actors you've heard of. Actors who are going to understand that their participation is a valuable asset, and are going to use that. Marvel seems to want the cachet of saying "Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner," without accepting the creative input that comes with it.

They wanted a unified universe, where characters will routinely appear in each other's films. Now they find that building that universe can get in the way of the film's primary story, a la Iron Man 2. Also that we, as fans, expect continuity to mean just that...an expectation that we'll see the same faces again. You can pull a Terrance Howard/Don Cheadle switch because, frankly, Howard didn't make that big an impression in the first Iron Man, and Cheadle is, well, Don Cheadle.

Who are they getting to replace Edward Norton? Joaquin Phoenix, maybe. That sound like trading up, to you?

Didn't think so. Not to me, either. No disrespect to Mr. Phoenix, because I like his work, but Norton is, well, Edward Norton.

I just see that Norton finally commented personally, on his Facebook page:

"I am so appreciative of the outpouring of support from fans of the Hulk and The Avengers that I feel it would be rude not to respond," his statement reads in part.

"So here goes: It seems it won't work out for me to continue playing Bruce Banner for Marvel in The Avengers. I sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone, but it hasn't turned out as well as we hoped. I know this is disappointing to many people and that makes me sad. But I am very sincerely grateful to Marvel for extending the offer and even more so for giving me the chance to be a part of the Hulk's long and excellent history."

Now, Norton's clearly playing spin himself, but...compare that statement to Feige's. Tell me who comes off with more class.

My original plan was to skip all the movie panels at SDCC, but, I think this may be too much of a soap opera to miss out on.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rush July, 5th 2010

Look, let's be honest. Rush is always going to take crap from a certain segment of the critical media. It's just the way it goes. There's a mindset in Rock that says you can't be "normal," or a musician that strives to become as proficient as possible at your instrument, and be relevant. That a raging heroin habit, and a simplistic tune slapped together from 3 chords is the height of achievement in the genre.

What can three reasonably well-balanced, incredibly talented, guys give us that can even stand up to the damaged psyche of a Kurt Cobain, or an Axl Rose. How can impeccable musicianship stand up to the raw energy of Johnny Rotten, or the anger of James Hetfield. How can a band that takes inspiration from science fiction, fantasy, and Ayn Rand, compare to the blues mainlining of Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page.

Well, frankly, that's a bunch of crap.

I don't frankly care if some guy (Read: Jann Wenner) at Rolling Stone doesn't get them. I get them, and, while I appreciate RS liberally jerking off Bruce Springsteen on a regular basis, I don't need them, or anybody else, to validate that opinion. I know that the band I saw last night is one of the greatest bands, ever. How many other bands have a lineup that has been unchanged for over 35 years, still manage to release compelling music on a relatively regular basis, and write music that, over and over, connects with their audience, deeply, on both an intellectual and emotional level. To paraphrase Matt Stone from the recent Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary, "if you don't give it up for them now, you're just being an old dickhead."

Which isn't to say everything is perfect, all the time.



The 2010 Time Machine tour is a kind of "escape from the studio" outing. The band has recorded several tracks for a forthcoming album called Clockwork Angels, and, in an experimental move, decided if getting themselves to the "top playing shape" they find themselves in after a tour might drive the finishing of the album to better results. There are two new tracks that have been released from this project, "Caravan" and "BU2B," and both were played last night. Also, Rush has jumped on the "full album" craze sweeping most legacy acts these days, and are performing 1981's Moving Pictures in it's entirety (including "The Camera Eye," which has gone unplayed for 28 years).

As usual with Rush live, there's a strong visual element. The set is decked out in a "Steampunk" style, Alex Lifeson has newly designed amplifier cabinets in the style, and the Chicken Rotisseries that backed Geddy Lee on the Snakes and Arrows tour have been replaced with an Jules Verne-style "time machine." (Lee no longer uses on-stage amps and cabinets, plugging his bass directly into the PA system. This has led to a string of whimsical replacements, like a washer and dryer set.) As usual, there's also a lot of video presentations, from amusing skits featuring the band to open both of the two sets, to a really hilarious closing film featuring Jason Segel and Paul Rudd reprising their Rush-worshiping characters from I Love you, Man. There's also video material for many of the songs, and amusing Monty Python-like animations preceding each Moving Pictures track, incorporating elements from the album cover. The show looks great.

It sounds great, too. As usual, the sound was impeccable. However, the first few songs of the first set seemed a little clunky to my ears. Which, I suppose is to be expected. This was only the fourth date of the tour, and elements are getting worked out. Although the opening Number, "Spirit of Radio," was pretty damn tight. It's been a staple of the last few tours, so that's really not surprising. It didn't take long for the guys to get right in the groove, and things really started to click with the instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone!" This led into an amazing, thematically unified run to end the first set, "Faithless," "BU2B," "Freewill," "Marathon," and "Subdivisions." I found myself very emotional as "Marathon" led into "Subdivisions," being two of my favorite Rush tracks, and ones that I connect with on a direct, emotional level (take that, Jann Wenner!).

After a short break, and the intro film, the second set commenced with the full performance of Moving Pictures. It was exciting to hear the full album, but I got the impression that Geddy was a little bored. He's made a few comments that indicate he might not be overly found of tracks like "The Camera Eye," and I felt that a little. The show round out with another new track, "Caravan," Neil Peart's always-expected, always-amazing drum solo (and I can't stand drum solos 98% of the time), and selection of more popular tracks (Selections from "2112," "Closer to the Heart," Working Man," "La Villa Strangiato").

All-in-all, a three hour show that never seemed dull or ponderous, and, literally, left me wanting more. There's not many of your young, "relevant" bands out there that can pull that off, so you hipsters can suck it. I'll admit, I would like to see them switch up the setlist more often, but I'm probably spoiled by Springsteen. Once the first show setlist gets out on a Rush tour, you know exactly what they'll be playing for the entire run. That wasn't that big an issue pre-internet, but now that it's up for the whole world to see 10 minutes after the first show ends...you kinda wish for more surprises. Although, for the video synch and effects matching, I understand why things need to stay pretty constant.

One last note; I write as a fan of this band. Your mileage may vary, but I find only the most close minded can completely dismiss the work Lee, Lifeson and Peart do on that stage.

Setlist
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush Part 1)
The Spirit of Radio
Time Stand Still
Presto
Stick It Out
Workin' Them Angels
Leave That Thing Alone!
Faithless
BU2B
Freewill
Marathon
Subdivisions
(-Intermission-)
Video Intro (The Real History of Rush Part 2)
Tom Sawyer
Red Barchetta
YYZ
Limelight
The Camera Eye
Witch Hunt
Vital Signs
Caravan
Drum Solo (Love For Sale)
Closer to the Heart (with new 12-string acoustic intro)
2112 (Overture/Temples of Syrinx)
Far Cry
Encore:
La Villa Strangiato (with polka intro)
Working Man (reggae intro)
Video Outro (I Still Love You Man)


The masters at work (From the Snakes and Arrows tour)

I also leave you with the news that I will be offline for the rest of this week. So, this is your only blog post until next Monday. Also, apologies for the silence on Thursday and Friday, I got hit with a nasty, nasty cold, and I just didn't feel up to it.