Category: Featured

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84

The other evening, with nothing better to do… I put WW84 on while I drew comics. Suffice to say, I wasn’t exactly in love with Patty Jenkins and Geoff John’s script. The overlong-underbaked flick drove yet-another-nail into the coffin of the Extended DC Universe of gritty, sappy, crap-fests. And while it had a handful of high spots… WW84 ultimately left me with more questions than answers. So here’s 84 of them.

Spoilers abound. You’ve been warned. And I apologize that these questions will be out of order of the sequences of the flick. I’m shootin’ from the hip.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #071: 84 Questions I Have About WW84”

With Further Ado #130: Unidentified Flying Obsession

With Further Ado #130: Unidentified Flying Obsession

One of my friends, prolific author Jim Beard, has been documenting (via social media) his episode-by-episode viewing of the old Gerry Anderson show, UFO.  When I was a kid, it was a favorite. They re-ran this British series on Saturdays in syndication, and my brother and I loved it.  UFO detailed the efforts the efforts of a secret organization called S.H.A.D.O. and their clandestine efforts to save the world from an ever-imminent alien invasion.

There’s so much to like about this 70s show!

  • There were cool vehicles (submarines, jets, tanks and even spaceships) they’d employ every episode (who cared if it was always the same stock footage shots).
  • It was set in the “future” – in the 1980s! And the future never looked better with the cool cars, slick hairstyles, and engaging “at work” attire. (The women’s work attire is a bit prurient, to be fair.)  And they even got some of it right.  Various episodes explored  the reliance on computers, wireless communications,  the frustrations of bureaucracy and fingerprint/voiceprint databases.
  • The brilliant theme song by Barry Gray was like no other. It’s an engaging, swinging call to arms, heralding the idea that “now we’re going to get down to business!”

Let the Music Be Your Guide

The theme song always stuck with me.  A few years ago, when I was working for the Reed Elsevier division that would become ReedPop (the group that manages New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic-Con, PAX and more), I was attending a business meeting in Berlin.  I don’t speak German, but prior to the trip I had been diligently listening to language tapes. The idea was  to try and absorb some of the simple phrases that would facilitate rudimentary communication.

One night, walking back to my hotel, I heard a familiar song. It was a funky variant of the UFO Theme song! Like Ulysses being lured by a siren call, I followed the music to an urban park where an outside bar had created a “pop-up shop”, complete with a DJ. Our mutual appreciation of, and passion for, the UFO theme song allowed me to communicate with, and be accepted by, the locals.  I guess I didn’t need those language tapes after all. Continue reading “With Further Ado #130: Unidentified Flying Obsession”

With Further Ado #129: “Scout’s Honor” Earns AfterShock A Merit Badge

With Further Ado #129: “Scout’s Honor” Earns AfterShock A Merit Badge

I was never a Boy Scout. But from the outside looking in, it seemed like a pretty neat club: secret rituals and goals and uniforms and badges.  And they have that “Knights of the Round Table” mindset: to do some good in the world.

Way back when I was a kid, the only Boy Scout rule I ever knew was “As a Boy Scout I promise to do my best and the help the girl scouts get undressed.” And you know what? I don’t think that was a real rule. (I can’t believe the things we used to say back then.)

Fast forward to my professional adult life. When I worked at Nabisco on cookies like OREO and Chips Ahoy!, we really did plan around the inevitable sales dip for when Girl Scout Cookies went on sale. They were a force to be reckoned with.

When I worked at an agency in midtown Manhattan (in the original, beautiful Tiffany’s building, in fact) the National Headquarters of the Girl Scouts was right around the corner. They had a nice open area with benches in front of the main entrance where you could sit and have a sandwich during lunchtime.  I was always surprised that nobody ever tried to sell me a cookie.

I’m thinking about the Scouts because AfterShock Comics has just come out with an innovative new series called Scout’s Honor. The premise is clever. In a dystopian future, the ragtag survivors use the Scout Handbook (they are called Ranger Scouts in this reality) as their “instructional manual” for survival. Continue reading “With Further Ado #129: “Scout’s Honor” Earns AfterShock A Merit Badge”

With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled

With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled

So that statuesque, raven-haired beauty makes the leap from comics to a big time movie! And the leap, by most accounts, lands with a resounding thud.  How could it be? The actress was perfect for the part. The public adores her. The camera loves her too.  And there’s a real fondness for the comic/source material. But still fans are unhappy with it.

I’m talking, of course about the comic-to-cinema movie, Tamara Drewe. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t remember this picture.

A decade ago, I wasn’t familiar with the UK strip, Tamara Drewe or the creator Posy Simmonds.   But Simmonds’ art looked engaging and I thought the movie might have a Love, Actually vibe to it all.  Meaning: both my wife, Kathe, and I might enjoy it. Inviting her to see a comic movie that is kind of like Love, Actually is easier than dragging her to…for example…Marvel’s Captain Marvel.  Although she’s patient and open-minded, I remember her eyes glazing over when I tried to explain, in preparation for Captain Marvel, about the Skrulls and the Kree. Continue reading “With Further Ado #128: That Comic Book Movie Starring That Statuesque Raven-Haired Beauty That Stumbled”

Continued After the Next Page #017: Looking Back At The Good In 2020

Continued After the Next Page #017: Looking Back At The Good In 2020

Well, we made it to the end of 2020. I am sure that it didn’t turn out like any of us expected. There have been plenty of low lights, and there are too many people who have been irrevocably harmed by the local and global tragedies that happened this year. That is awful.

However, someone told me something recently that stuck with me. Despite the horrible dumpster fire that 2020 has brought, your mental health can benefit from the activity of looking at the good things that happened in this past year. So, that is what this final post of 2020 will be about.

The SquadCast

This year I finally got off my tush and started presenting the interviews that I do with comic book professionals in a podcast format. In the past, I had merely transcribed the interview, but I found that there was more interesting content in the discussions that people would enjoy that didn’t quite fit in a text post.

So, I went to Buzzsprout and created a hosting site for the Pop Culture SquadCast: Interview Edition. I learned enough of Audacity to edit the interviews and splice some sound together, and here we are.

I need to say thanks to our artistic genius Marc Allan Fishman for the logo and episode art. Also Space In Time is the band that we use for the intro and closing music. You can check there music out at Bandcamp.

And of course, thanks to the pros who to took the time to talk to me about their work.

The Books

While all of you Pop Culture Squad Members know about our digital presence here on the site and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there is now physical printed evidence that Pop Culture Squad exists. On the back covers of two trade paperback collections, I have blurb quotes for reviews.

I cannot tell you how awesome it is to see my name on a comic book. I could not even have ever imagined that five years ago.

Both of these books are special to me. Hyperbreed from Louise Simonson and Guy Dorian is a fun YA space story from Storm King Comics. Did you notice that? My name is on a book written by THE Louise Simonson!!!!

I have been following the Love and Capes stories that Thomas Zahler creates for years, and when he told me last year that he would be coming back to that universe, I was stoked. He totally made it work, and I am grateful for his putting my review blurb on the back of the book in some seriously impressive company.

The Comics Industry Adapts and Supports Itself

This year has hit the comics industry hard. Publishers and retailers had to deal with a nearly two month shutdown of new comics distribution. But through it all, people worked hard to support each other and save the industry that relies a lot on in-person contact.

So many great new comics were made and you can check out our list of the years best here.

Fundraisers and charity auctions popped up all over the place. We detailed some of those as they occurred.

Give Comics Hope is one of the charities that we highlighted through the year and will continue to do so.

There were plenty of Kickstarter campaigns launched to find different ways to publish and create comic book content. You better believe that we covered them.

Conventions Happened… Sort of

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit America hard in March, comic conventions were scrapped as we all needed to isolate to stop the spread of the dangerously contagious disease. But plenty of talented people scrambled to turn the experience of seeing pop culture personalities and comic creators in virtual cons.

Some were better than others, and none truly replaced the experience of strolling down artists alley and chatting with creators and friends. However, they were good enough to be a decent placeholder for the time that we will be able to be vaccinated and able to go out and see each other in person.

Geek Culture TV

There was a massive amount of quality television programming that was produced and broadcast this year. There are more outlets, streaming and otherwise that are now committed to delivering high quality shows. Here is a list of some of our favorites in no particular order:

  • SCHITT’S CREEK: SEASON 6 – AMC
  • WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: SEASON 2 – FFX
  • HARLEY QUINN: SEASON 2 – HBOMax
  • THE BOYS: SEASON 2 – Amazon Prime Video
  • THE MANDALORIAN: SEASON 2 – Disney+
  • LOVECRAFT COUNTRY: SEASON 1 – HBOMax
  • THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: SEASON 2 – Netflix
  • STARGIRL: SEASON 1 – CW
  • I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS: SEASON 1 – Neflix
  • STAR TREK: PICARD: SEASON 1 – CBS All Access
  • KILLING EVE: SEASON 3 – BBC
  • PERRY MASON: SEASON 1 – HBOMax

And don’t forget there were some other shows like Tiger King (Netflix) and The Vow (HBO) that left us captivated, or horrified, or both.

Based on the announcements from Disney, Warner Bros, and others, it looks like this trend of high quality serialized episodic programming with continue.

Pop Culture Squad Thrived

Even before the pandemic shut down a lot of the world, we worried that this would be a slow year for PCS. However, we persevered and continued to bring you content as best you can.

If you are not a regular reader of Mike Gold‘s two columns here, you are missing witty and entertaining stories and opinion.

Ed Catto’s regular With Further Ado column finds new ways to look at comics, books, film and other cool stuff.

While we have bigger dreams for what is to come, it was a pretty good year for Pop Culture Squad and we are excited for making them happen in the next year.

Thanks for being here, and READ MORE COMICS!

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

As the pandemic wreaked havoc on life and so many marketing promotions and businesses this past year, there was one retro-idea that gained traction: Drive-Ins.

I love Drive-Ins. We had two in my hometown growing up, and I have clear memories of seeing so many films there.  When I became a parent, I took my girls to the Drive-In once a summer. We all had a ball. I don’t remember the movies all that well, although Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds and an Austin Powers movie come to mind.

Before Covid, Pop-Ups were becoming a hot marketing tool. It seems as if so many of the ideas behind Pop-Ups just migrated to all the 2020 Drive-ins.  And hey, as long as everyone was having fun and staying safe, it sounds good to me.

So it’s appropriate that the last book of 2020 I spotlight is all about a Drive-In: More Better Deals published by Mulholland Books.  It’s from a favorite author, Joe R. Lansdale,  and is another bumpy ride in a beat-up car on the back roads of noir fiction.

Many feel that Double Indemnity is the pinnacle of Film Noir. If you’re one of those folks, then this thriller, which has so many similarities, will lead you to inevitable and excruciatingly delicious, comparisons. Continue reading “With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?”

Brainiac On Banjo #103: So You Want To Be An Editor!

Brainiac On Banjo #103: So You Want To Be An Editor!

Stan Lee and Roy Thomas

So… do you really want to be an editor? A comics editor? Really?

Why?

Seeing as how I’ve been editing lots of different stuff (newspapers, magazines, books, broadcast stuff, and a whole lot of comics) since President Johnson thought he was a shoo-in for a second term, I guess I’ve learned a thing or two about the job. I’ve come to that point in my life where I’m ready to share. I figure I’m no longer grooming any competition.

Here’s just a few of the skills you need for the job:

Marvel Editors 2017

1) A deep, ongoing desire to be eternally satisfied with struggling to make ends meet. Publishing is an iffy racket on its best day, and that was before anybody with an internet connection and a self-serving sense of ethics could download whatever they want without paying for it. Maybe someday that will change, maybe Russia will want to better monetize bootlegging, but right now the only gold in them thar hills is writing this piece.

2) You are a control freak. Honestly, it’s the gist of the job. I have tried to avoid being a control freak when I’m not on the clock, but, hey, white-collar workers work home from time to time. There’s a fine line between being a control freak and being an asshole, but as an editor, your superiors are going to put you into the position of being one lest you lose your job. After a while — but before I got into comics — I discovered that finding out exactly where that line in the sand is can be enormous fun, but my sense of entertainment is very anti-corporate.

3) You enjoy being in the middle of a lot of shit storms. If you’re the type of person who watches those camera people on The Weather Channel chase tornados and wonders who in their right mind would want to do that, editing is not the best career move you can make. Taking comics as my example — after all, that’s what I said in my lede paragraph — let me explain why a comics editor titled one of his creations “The Human Target.”

Will Eisner

Your job is to represent the interests of the company and all its contradictory and ever-shifting needs and practices to the talent. Because there is nothing more fun than owning a condo in the crossfire, if you have any sense of ethics your job also is to represent the needs and skills of the talent to the publisher, which includes the master of editorial, the master of marketing, the masters of art direction, the master of production, the grand-master publisher, the owners, their board of directors and the Grand Invisible Cop-Out, the stockholders. Oh, and the lawyers. Everybody’s lawyers.

(Fun fact: even lawyers dislike lawyers.)

Let’s make this even more interesting. Your job is to represent the needs and the skills of the talent to the needs of the other talented people working on the project. Let me remind you, I used the phrase “shit storms” in the plural. When it comes to creative vision, not everybody’s always on the same page. I’ve had to referee a great many such disputes, and, no, I am not going to rat out the perps. Talent is driven by ego, so what do you expect? It’s Chinatown, Mr. Gittes. But I’m just childish enough to note that the better the creative team is and the longer they’ve worked together, the more likely such conflicts will pop up like zits before a teenage orgy.

Chances are, you, as an editor, will be involved in several different projects at the same time. Let’s say you are handling five different projects, which might even be reasonable. Multiply everything I just said by five.

Now, let’s say you are a full editor and you’ve got an assistant and/or an associate editor or maybe several of them. Perhaps you’ve been around for a while and instead of offering you more money, which they probably don’t have, they make you a group editor or a senior editor or a master-of-Kung-editor and you’ve got several editors working under you… and they’ve got their own assistances and associates. Maybe you share a proofreader and other support staff. We used to have photocopy kids which, in many cases, was the only way to observe and learn the craft. Now that we have all these computers and scanners and wi-fi, these folks pretty much have gone the way of the buggy whip. Yeah, you might have to Google that. Anyway, managing all those folks is also a part of the job. What, you wanted to make friends?

So. Does all that sound like a barrel of monkeys? Well, life always is better with a monkey. There’s got to be a reason I’ve been doing this for decades, but at least it helps explain how I developed my warped worldview.

If you’re still with me, you’ve made it past your first hurdle. Congratulations. Continue following this series, the second part of which just might appear in this space next week.

But maybe not next week. The biggest hurdle you’re going to have to leap, every day of your career is what Marvel Comics long ago called the “dreaded deadline doom.” It is inescapable, and if it didn’t exist “they” wouldn’t need to hire you. I’ve got a way to train yourself to handle that, but I’ll hold that as bait.

Which is another stupid editor trick.

© 2020 Mike Gold – ArrogantMGMS. Watch your ass!

With Further Ado #126: Ripped from the Headlines: The Fake News of Rip Hunter

With Further Ado #126: Ripped from the Headlines: The Fake News of Rip Hunter

It’s funny how the looking at an old story with a contemporary lens can change things completely.

But before I get into that, I must admit I’ve always loved time travel stories.  Movie favorites include everything from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Time After Time to Back to the Future. I love the simple ones and the complex ones.  I still think the main reason I was admitted to a top ten business school was because I turned my essay into a time travel story.  And in my comic collection, I have one short box that’s all time travel-y series, you know stuff like Aztec Ace, Chronos, Ed Brisson’s Comeback and Stephen Perry and Tom Yeates’ Timespirts. And DCs’ Rip Hunter…Time Master is right there in the front of the box.

I snagged a beat-up “readers copy” of Rip Hunter…Time Master #23 earlier this year, but I just recently got around to reading it. As you can see by the stunning cover – the shocker is that George Washington was really a spy!

(As an aside, I can’t help but draw parallels between Rip Hunter’s “You’re a spy/No you’re a spy” exchange the infamous “I’m not a puppet, you’re the puppet” debate exchange a four years ago.)

It seems that in 1964, many American school children believed, or were taught, that George Washington was the greatest American patriot of all. So, how could he, of all people, have been a spy?!? That’s what the whole sales hook of the cover was based on.

Here in 2020, there’s a contrary view for everything.  I am fascinated by the concept of the epistemic dissenter. As I understand it, this term refers to a well-informed individual who uses selective facts to develop a view or belief that is contrary to mainstream, commonly held and even science-based ideas.

As an extreme example, people who believe the world is actually flat, and have facts to support their theory, are epistemic dissenters.  And no, I don’t know if they can explain how their cellphones work. Continue reading “With Further Ado #126: Ripped from the Headlines: The Fake News of Rip Hunter”

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Oh, holy crap!

Last week, outgoing Vice President Pence proclaimed “We just returned from the Oval Office and so it is my honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to announce that henceforth, the men and women of the United States Space Force will be known as ‘guardians.’” Hmmm. From this, I gather our soldiers, sailors, air people, and Marines no longer have to be troubled with guarding anything.

Upon hearing this pronouncement, Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn whimsically tweeted, “Can we sue this dork?” Others — many others; maybe everybody who ever saw these movies or and/or have ever read the very long-running Marvel comic books of the same name — asked if either Groot ( the tree who only says “I Am Groot!”) or Rocket Raccoon (who is a raccoon) would be the United States Space Force mascot.

The government pointed out that they’ve been using the term since 1983 when they appropriated the name “Guardians of the High Frontier.” That’s nice, but the Marvel Comics trademarked property “Guardians of the Galaxy” debuted in 1969. For that matter, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created a super-hero for DC Comics named “The Guardian.”

This is hardly the first time the United States Space Force has been accused of purloining intellectual property. Their logo is a pathetically obvious (or hysterically oblivious) swipe of ViacomCBS’s Star Trek, which has been in continuous use since 1966 and, as of this writing, is in use on five separate current and ongoing television productions.

The United States Space Force already has a major problem: many people, including this cynic, find it impossible to utter the name without triggering the giggle-reflex. That’s a really dumb name for what we’re told to accept on faith is a serious use of 16,000 troops and a 2021 budget of $15,400,000,000.00. Prior to their creation on December 20, 2019 (happy birthday, I guess) “Space Force” had been used as the name of the new Steve Carell / John Malkovich situation comedy, which is presently filming its second season. This television series was green-lit by Netflix in January 2019, almost a full year before the creation of the United States Space Force.

Carell’s character, General Mark R. Naird, doesn’t seem to know the details of the Space Force’s mission. What a coincidence! We’ve never been told what purpose is served by the United States Space Force, if any. Is there reason to believe we will be fighting some sort of war in space? With whom? The Russians? Japan? The Klingon Empire? As an occasional tax-payer, I’d like to know something about what we’re getting for our bucks, other than a big wet kiss on the ass of our outgoing Idiot-In-Chief.

There’s good reason why we should take our sundry defense services seriously. Combined, they provide the security blanket for the United States of America, which is a lot more than I can say for our current president. To put a decimal point on this, the budget for our Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2020 is in the neighborhood of $721.5 billion — not counting the black budget stuff. In real estate parlance, that is known as a high rent district.

I guess that compared to $721.5 billion, $15.4 billion is just a fart in a blizzard. Sure, we’re spending a hell of a lot more than all that on Covid research and relief, but we’ve already lost almost as many Americans to Covid as we did in World War II, and it’s disgustingly likely that before this is over that number will eclipse American WWII deaths. So I understand where that money is going. Such expenditures are understandable and clearly benefit the greater good.

Until we have evidence to back up both the concept and the expenditures, the United States Space Force will be commonly perceived as Donald Trump’s vanity project with its marketing elements ripped off from those who have been fostering our sense of wonder without the benefit of any tax dollars whatsoever.

In other words, the United States Space Force is little more than a joke.

But the joke is on us.

Brainiac On Banjo #102: Will Wonder Woman Destroy Life As We Know It?

Brainiac On Banjo #102: Will Wonder Woman Destroy Life As We Know It?

The answer to my headlined query is “yes, but don’t blame it on her.”

In eight days or so, I suspect the majority of Pop Culture Squadsters will be plopping our quarantined asses on our couches and watching Wonder Woman 1984. We might be eating microwaved popcorn and chomping the heads off of gummy bears. Some will be bitching about how they miss the magnificence of the shoebox movie theaters out by the Applebee’s, and to these folks I mutter the immortal words of William Shatner: Get a life!

Movie theaters were puking up blood long before The Joker weaponized Covid-19. The whole idea behind the contemporary movie theater was to motivate people into driving 10 miles, parking in a lot and walking 3500 icy feet to a gaudy poster-laden building, wrestling with an obstinate ticket machine and a debit card to ransom the tickets for which you’ve already paid, standing in a ridiculously long line to procure a 55-gallon drum of soda pop and a vat of popcorn upon which somebody hosed glow-in-the-dark oil, maneuver all that into the one theater out of maybe two dozen that is showing your movie in the format you paid for and juggle your way into your assigned seat, which, of course, is right behind the one occupied by The Incredible Hulk.

(Fun Fact: Those ever-rotating hot dogs at the candy counter? Yup, you’re absolutely right. They have been twirling in vain since Jimmy Carter announced his presidential run. I wouldn’t bite into that shit if it was sprayed with the Covid vaccine.)

Portal to portal, including gas, you’ve blown your kids’ college fund on a night out which, in December 2020, might kill you. Remember the good old days when all you had to worry about was getting an STD?

Yeah, I’m not a fan of the multiplex movie theater. I love seeing movies with a bunch of my friends. If some asshole is talking in my home theater, most likely that asshole is me. But with 65-inch 5K televisions now available in boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, I can invite those same folks to my home to watch a streamer and charge less than half the theater rate for well-greased popcorn.

There’s lots of stuff from my youth that I miss. Restaurants that aren’t themed. Bars with less than a half dozen television sets all tuned to El Ocho. Cars with fins. Parking meters. Lime Lifesavers. Glittering movie palaces that inspire awe and put you in the mood for magic. The only thing these shoebox theaters give me, aside from a maxed-out credit card, is the thrill of listening to two movies at once to the light of dumb people’s smartphones.

So, now, the theater chains are screaming about streaming. I get it: their future is on the line, and that sucks. Pardon me if I’m just a bit more concerned about the neighborhood bars and other family-owned businesses that do not force me to go to a nearly-abandoned shopping mall where three of the four anchors went blooie because Macy’s doesn’t understand that buying up the local department store chains undermines the shopping experience.

Like I said, times change. Geriatrics bitch about how great the good old days used to be, and we’re often right about that. Childhood experiences are habit-forming. But tomorrow’s good old days will look a lot like a big parking lot that houses a Best Buy, a Denny’s, a Costco, a Pizza Hut, and maybe a Bed, Bath and Beyond. You know, the folks who are keeping the postal service alive.

Before you know it, the streamers will have gone the way of Blockbuster. They will have been replaced by something else. I’m hoping for that phone company brain implant chip predicted in 1967 in that truly wonderful movie, The President’s Analyst.

You probably can catch The President’s Analyst on one of the streamers.