ROGUE ELEMENT 54

Rogue Element #54: Go Team, Go

By Avril Brown

I never used to be much of a hockey fan, but being a Chicagoan, as of late an aversion to hockey is unheard of and downright un-American. When your hometown team is kicking ass, taking names and a short skate away from capturing the Stanley Cup, you get a little jazzed. Actually, you get a lot of jazzed, whether or not you fully understand or appreciate the finer points of the game. I have been watching, learning, and cheering the past few weeks because there is something about sports, about the energy involved in and surrounding them, which makes them addictive. A good sports game is a drug and when done properly, it does the body some good, healthy fun.

Even if you’re not hard core into sports and know who played third baseman for the Cubs in 1978, for many it is at least easy to understand WHY people can become so invested in sports. There is a vivacity and mutual camaraderie present at sports games that is undeniably infectious. We’re all there for the same exact thing: to watch our team kick the living snot out of the other team. When you hear the crack of a high-speed ball impacting with solid wood, or watch outstretched hands grasp spiraling pig skin, or realize at the same moment as everyone around you the puck is indeed in the corner of the net, something inside of you sings. You jump to your feet, a primal yell erupting from your throat and echoed all around you. There are smiles, cheers and high-fives abounds. We won, and we are loving the rush.

In the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are ass-kicking peace-keepers. To keep the peace, they occasionally need to kick some ass. Traveling all over the globe and beyond, they are consistently experiencing rushes of all sorts in their line of ‘work,’ from the terrible tragedy of losing a teammate, to the otherworldly joy at saving lives. Therefore, when it comes to the mighty mutants and sports games, they appreciate the other side which can get lost in major sporting events, the one where the game is all about clean, competitive fun.

Some of my favorite light-hearted, character-centric scenes in X-Men related entertainment have been centered around a sports game. Not only are they always good for a warm fuzzy feeling, but there is an added kick of seeing something so familiar performed in a way you never thought possible.

Movie – X-Men
More than a quarter way into the first X-Men movie there is a mansion tour montage which includes a couple quick scenes showing the mutant students on the grounds. A basketball game is being played, and as one kid brings the ball down the court by passing it to himself via super-speed, another is heard shouting, “Hey, no powers!” Nearby, several children are in a sprinting contest, and one of them is running on water. Teensy, inconsequential scenes which nevertheless give the entire movie an extra entertaining thrill.

Comics – Uncanny X-Men #308
There are many baseball and basketball scenes in X-Men comics, but this particular issue took place during Thanksgiving, therefore football was the sport of choice. While Jean and Scott walk down memory lane recounting the early days of their courtship, the rest of the X-Men are enjoying their Thanksgiving by romping in the fall leaves and introducing Bishop to the holiday tradition of football on Turkey Day. From Forge’s genius speak in the huddle, to Archangel descending on the ball and raising the question of a powers vs. no powers game setting off an amusing bit of banter, to the grand finale of Professor Charles “I’m in a wheelchair” Xavier accidentally catching the football before being mowed into the ground by half his X-Men (and later showing up to dinner with a broken nose), this scene makes me smile every time.

Television – X-Men: Evolution, Season Three, Episode ‘Under Lock and Key’
Apart from being one of the all-around best episodes of the series, ‘Under Lock and Key’ contains a scene with the X-teens playing baseball in the beautiful summer sun. What began as a normal game transformed into baseball as only mutants can rock it. Once Iceman ices up his bat to be three times its size, Beast, the only adult, simply sighs, takes off his umpire’s mask and retires for a seventh inning stretch while the kids shout out, “Mutant ball!” and kiss goodbye to the rules. Nightcrawler teleports to catch a ball in mid-air, Shadowcat phases through a lineman to get to base, Magma puts enough heat on her ball to melt through both the bat and the cage, and Sunspot absorbs the sun’s heat, giving him enough power to literally knock the ball out of the park. America’s favorite pastime never looked so cool.

These snippets of scenes are not the most dramatic or thought-provoking, but they do inspire joy joy feelings and generally make you beam in happiness. When blended properly, sports and the supernatural go together like roasted peanuts and Wrigley. We have all thought about what it’d be like to have superpowers. To be able to fly, make things move using only your mind, or walk through walls would just be too awesome, and if we were in possession of those powers, all of us would also feel the urge to cut loose and have some fun. After all, we’re only human, and sports in the supernatural helps the human aspects of beloved characters stand out because at the core of the sporting culture that is what games are supposed to be about: fun. Well, fun and smashing the Philadelphia Flyers into a squishy orange and black paste. But I may be a bit biased.

ROGUE ELEMENT 53

ROGUE ELEMENT #53: Funky Yet Fabulous Feature Films

By Avril Brown

Funky – a) odd or quaint in appearance or feeling; b) unconventionally stylish

There are several other definitions for this flexible word (for a good grammar lesson and an audio definition of the premier versatile F word check this out. Warning: you may pee yourself), but the above explanations are quite fitting for the films and television I have been privy to in recent days. Though the television program is one nearly every person in the States is aware of, the films are not as well known as they should be, and all three boast an aspect what some may describe as kind of funky, and I sincerely mean that as the highest form of praise. Funky subject matter, funky scene structure and a funky host have all lead to some massively entertaining cinema, and each are enough to turn those with a straight edge into fans of funky.

Let The Right One In (2008)
Two years ago this vampire horror/drama out of Norway made a few waves in the cinematic community. Oskar is a bullied, lonely child that befriends his new neighbor Eli, who happens to be a vampire. The horror aspects of the film are subtle and terrifying, the most graphic example being when Eli walks into Oskar’s home without a verbal invitation. She at first appears unharmed, but soon starts bleeding from all over her body, the thick red liquid seeping from her back, scalp and eyes until the distraught Oskar shouts out an invitation. Though there is gore, murder and blood-drinking, the central focus of this quietly powerful film is about the depths of children’s cruelty and the limitless horizons of their love, compassion and desperate need to connect. Though vampires are hardly an unheard of subject matter in this day and age, the portrayal of a vampire as an androgynous twelve-year-old who is neither entirely good nor evil sets this funky film apart.

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)
Have you ever heard of Paul Newman? Stupid question. Have you ever heard of/seen ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx?’ Probably not. For some reason which escapes me, this cinematic gem is not a title which comes to mind when people speak of Paul Newman’s most iconic roles, barely even garnering a mention in his Wikipedia profile, for god’s sake. The only reason I knew about this movie in the first place is because it has been sitting on my shelf for almost five years, having once belonged to my sister who gifted it to me when she moved out to get married or something, and having finally seen it I find it a crime against nature how long this fantastic film has remained in my possession yet unwatched. My friend Jack recently came over for a movie night, and while surfing through my stuff he found ‘Fort Apache.’ Upon hearing it starred Paul Newman and I had yet to see it, he would brook no arguments and into the DVD player it went. Neither one of us expected to be as thoroughly entertained as we were, at times rewinding to watch brilliant scenes for a second time, scrunching our brows over the piecemeal plot progression and gasping at the unexpected brutality. Those who grew up watching films from the sixties on up may not blink at the funky film structure, but younger generations who are used to a standard format of, say, ‘Good guy meets bad guy, they have a fight, good guy wins the war and gets the girl’ are in for a shock. And the ending, oh the ending…not only was it the perfect conclusion to such a random film, but Jack had called it only minutes before it happened. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if it ended with some sort of freeze frame action shot?” he postulated. One and a half minutes later the camera freezes with our heroes in mid-jump about to apprehend a sprightly thief who had been popping up like a Whack-a-Mole throughout the film. We laughed until we cried. Jack’s take on ‘Fort Apache’ can be found soon at his blog.

Saturday Night Live with host Betty White (May 8th, 2010)

The Super Bowl is known for its expensive, highly anticipated and often hysterical commercials crammed in between the football-y goodness, and last year’s Bowl was no exception. Betty White’s thirty second Snickers spot launched the former Golden Girl back in the spot light with a brief yet pant-wetting performance where she gets tackled into the mud and talks some serious smack. People were so tickled by her appearance a Facebook petition was launched in support of the octogenarian to host Saturday Night Live, a group whose efforts succeeded with flying colors. One would not expect a country obsessed with youth to be so united in the cause to bring a definitely senior citizen onto America’s most recognized live television program, but at eighty-eight and a half Betty brought the house down live in New York and on TVs across the country. Full disclosure here: I do not care for SNL on the whole, but I do take a peek at the skits which make headlines, and I caught up on clips from this landmark episode. From her opening monologue where she tries not to call Facebookers losers to in-depth conversations about her yeasty muffins, Betty proved to be the definition of a funky hostess by boasting an unconventional style many of Hollywood’s ‘hottest’ should be jealous of.

Undoubtedly there are many funky films, television shows, plays and books we have passed up or ignored, probably with good reason. Yet there are still diamonds in the rough to be discovered, dusted off and given their chance to shine. Use your best judgment but make sure to step outside the lines once in awhile and give yourself the chance to expand your litany of favorite forays into the world of fiction, for if you find nuggets like these, you will not regret the experience.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 52

ROGUE ELEMENT #52: Something to Sing About

By Avril Brown

Nerds tend to be very expressive. We announce our nerdy-ness in many ways, including (but not limited to) the books we read, the clothing we don and the body art we have eternally etched upon our flesh. There are some nerds, however, who just gotta sing.

Though I enjoy various types of music ranging from oldies rock and roll to classical to contemporary pop, music is not an artistic arena where I spend a great deal of time and focus, therefore the extent of my musical knowledge is finite. Undoubtedly there are many other musical scores which have been inspired by a nerdy person, object, book, etc. to which I remain ignorant, but within my limited library of songs the following are a few of my choice favorites which have nerdy inspiration.

David Duchovny (Why Won’t You Love Me?) – Bree Sharp

What ‘X-Files’ fan doesn’t love rocking out to this song? Released in 1999 this lively musical number centers around (wait for it) David Duchovny aka Fox Mulder from the long-running science fiction series ‘The X-Files.’ Bree Sharp sings of her love for the ‘American Heathclif, brooding and coming’ and wonders why David Duchovny will not love her. After all, she’s so sweet and cuddly, and she’s gonna kill Scully. This song kicked up such a fervor when it was released that a music video parody was created starring a whole slew of celebrities lip synching the lyrics. Sarah Michelle Gellar, KISS, Alex Trebek, George Clooney and Brad Pitt were just a few of the faces which popped up in the parody, in addition to Jerry Springer in a hysterical ‘Final Thoughts’ moment after the music ended. Funny shit and highly recommended, if only for those last thirty seconds of Springer.

Do You Want to Date My Avatar? – Felicia Day and The Guild

With my head bowed in shame I will admit I am not completely caught up on this pee-your-pants, highly amusing show entitled ‘The Guild’ which follows a group of gamers and their nerdy shenanigans. I am not a gamer, but you do not have to know what a MMO is in order to enjoy the show, and more especially this song and music video. Felicia Day makes an excellent case for those heavily involved in gaming and their avatars. ‘Grab your mouse and stroke the keys, here in cyberspace there’s no disease,’ this foxy redhead sings. Dating would be a lot simpler if one dated an avatar: ‘And if you think I’m not the one, log off, log off and we’ll be done.’ I’m sold.

Once More, With Feeling – Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Crew

Alright so I may be cheating here a bit, but the songs Joss Whedon wrote for the sixth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled ‘Once More, With Feeling’ are some of the most entertaining musical numbers I have ever heard. From start to finish Joss kept the rhythm going, each song having its own distinctive flair and feel, some inspiring laughter, others tears of heartbreak and longing. Sarah Michelle Gellar has a very pleasant voice, but the stand out songs belong to the supporting cast. Nicholas Brandon and Emma Caulfield (Xander and Anya) sing a jaunty tune about pre-marriage jitters, James Marsters (Spike…drool), who also performs in off-screen venues, sings of the torture of unrequited love while Amber Benson (Tara) uses her amazingly beautiful voice to sing her love for her girlfriend. Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), a noted British actor and performer, sends tingles up my spine with his delicious accent wrapped around words of sorrow and resignation. With demons dancing, hot chicks fighting and everybody singing, this episode is one of the most entertaining pieces of television ever created.

Magic Dance – David Bowie

Anyone who grew up in my generation and is not familiar with the movie ‘The Labyrinth’ has some serious problems. A slightly dark and twisted tale about fantasy creatures, friendship, a race against time and growing up, this Jim Henson/Lucasfilm production is a visual stunner with several memorable musical numbers performed by pop icon David Bowie…in very tight pants. Magic Dance is an animated number with a bouncing beat and an eclectic group of background singers, making it impossible to stay glued to your chair when this scene pops up in the film. Goblins, babies and Bowie, oh my! What is not to love? When she is in a particularly silly mood, my sister (a non-nerd) sings ‘Dance, puppies, dance!’ and grasps their front paws for a jig whenever her two Boston Terriers rear up on their hind legs for attention. She may not be a nerd, but she can certainly be a dork; one of the many things I love about her.

We all have it in us: the occasional burning desire to open our mouths and simply belt out our emotions. Whether you can hit the high notes like Whitney Houston in her hey-day or if you have a singing voice that frightens small children, every person has the need and the right to vocally express ourselves, including nerds. Therefore it is wildly comforting to know there is a musical outlet for those of us who need that extra nerdy kick in order to fully sate the savage beast, even if it is safely within the confines of a private shower. So grab your iPod, plug it in and crank it to eleven, for when it comes to singing our love for all things nerdy, it’s better out than in.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 51

ROGUE ELEMENT #51: Why C2E2 Rocked My World

By Avril Brown

You know when you are really looking forward to something and despite your loftiest expectations it still turns out to be better than you expected? Personally this scenario does not happen to me very often due to my attempt to keep my expectations for anything as un-lofty as possible, but I broke that tradition and was rewarded with an amazing weekend, courtesy of the first annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo hosted at the McCormick Place in Chicago, Il. This congregation of comic book companies, professionals and fans evolved into a magnificent miasma of social events and nerdy networking, leaving a smile on my face, an ache in my liver and my head filled with exciting ideas and the motivation to see them brought to life.

The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo is certainly not the first Comic Con to grace the Windy City. Wizard World Comic Convention has been rolling for years and used to be one of the largest annual gathering of nerds outside of San Diego. However a recent article in the Chicago Tribune quoted several comic professionals in the area, including Patrick Brower, the owner of Challenger’s Comics + Conversations, who stated that Wizard World Comic Convention (which moved the original Chicago Con in the ‘90s out to Rosemont aka The ‘Socially Dead’ Sticks) has not felt like a comic convention in a long time. Although my very first comic convention was a WWCC only a few years ago and I had an amazing time, I have to agree that last year was pretty much a bust. First off, Rosemont is a cramped incubator of a convention center, a long-standing complaint of exhibitors, professionals and patrons alike. In addition, Marvel and DC Comics did not attend which left a gaping void in the gathering which was impossible to ignore. The Big Two are by no means representative of the entirety of what comics have to offer, but they are the two largest comic companies in the world, producing dozens of titles which have lasted, and been loved, for decades. Without them, an incredibly large chunk of the non-local comic crew did not make the trip out, despite the Rosemont’s convenient (for out of towners, at least) proximity to O’Hare International Airport.

Enter C2E2 and the resurrection of the Cool Chicago Comic Convention which has saved my fair city from being black-balled by die-hard comics fans and professionals. As with any great gathering, a key ingredient is a point real estate agents have been harping on for years: Location, location, location! The McCormick Place is an architecturally aesthetic building which sits right next to Lake Michigan and just south of downtown Chicago, giving a stunning view of the city and the beautiful blue of our Great Lake. Although some of the building’s internal signage needs a massive overhaul (the Place is a bit of a maze) there is plenty of room to host a fledging comic convention and C2E2 took advantage of that fact. Artist’s Alley was spacious, well-lit (windows! Lots and lots of windows!) and ventilated giving everyone a chance to breathe deeply and not choke on the scent of unwashed nerd.

For a brand new convention, the brains and money behind C2E2 seemed to get a lot of things right, including offering a diverse array of panels and pros to pick and choose from. Neil Gaiman, known to many as one of the premier minds in the fantasy and fiction genre, hopped the pond and gave a two hour lecture in which tickets which were offered to Con attendees and ‘norms’ alike. BBC America had a screening of the first two episodes of the fifth season of ‘Doctor Who.’ The cast of the latest comic-turned-major-motion-picture ‘Kick-Ass’ turned out for a pre-screen premiere of the film based upon a Mark Millar comic book. Writers, artists and editors from many popular books sat in on panel after panel which included adapting comics to film, women in comics and how to be a successful retailer, patiently answering questions and offering insight into their particular field. Luckily I have captured some of their wise words:

“I think [all mythology] should be violated.” – Gail Simone, writer of ‘Wonder Woman,’ during the Comics and Mythology panel.
“Even the guys on the panel were looking at me like I farted in a synagogue.” – Peter David, writer of ‘X-Factor’ on people’s reactions to his insistence on waiting to see the first ‘Batman’ movie before judging whether or not it was going to suck.
“Once I started doing what I love instead of what I thought I should be doing, everything else just fell into place.” – Marjorie Liu, writer of ‘Dark Wolverine’ on switching careers from lawyer to professional writer.
“I got a lot of ideas shoveling horseshit; God’s honest truth.” – Ron Marz, writer of ‘Witchblade’ on how he comes up with new story ideas.
“I just want Magneto to wake up from his coma and kill a lot of people!” – an enthusiastic and well-received boy at the Marvel: X-Men panel inquiring about the future of the currently comatose Master of Magnetism.

Despite a popular and often true stereotype, women are not the only gender who enjoy a good shopping spree, and that is never more apparent than at a comic convention. People will throw down hundreds, even thousands, of hard earned dollars at booths in attempt to complete their collection. Some retailers will not accept credit cards in attempt to avoid patrons who overspend then renege on the bill (thank Jebus for that otherwise I would’ve been financially screwed). One of my favorite parts about shopping at a Con happens while rifling through half-off trade paperbacks: We all begin chatting with each other, asking our neighbors to keep an eye out for what we are searching for. We’re all in this together, and if one person finds a coveted book before another there is no arguing or resentment, simply a wistful sigh and a smiling reminder that if they change their mind, they know who to flag down. Comics are not the only fodder for sale, either. Movies, swords, toys and clothing are all for sale at Cons and are all snapped up with near equal intensity. I walked away from this Con with several trades, a bag of tea named after a ‘Firefly’ character, a TARDIS pin from the Doctor Who shop, a DVD collection of the ‘Gargoyles’ cartoon (you know you’re jealous) and a corset. That’s right, a corset. Admittedly it will take a bit of time for me to get used to an article of clothing which could crack my sternum if I laugh too hard, but hey, the Girls and I looked hot.

One of the best parts of the whirlwind that was C2E2 were the people. Anyone who thinks nerds are incapable of partying has never met my nerdy friends. From hanging in Artist’s Alley with some of my favorite talents, to walking the aisles with old buds, to chatting up the new ones, I was pretty much in a perpetual state of social giddiness. We talked comics, we laughed at jokes, we geeked out over, well, everything, and we essentially had a blast. I wasn’t the only one sporting a silly grin; the energy suffusing this weekend was something to behold. Everyone seemed happy. Veterans and newbies alike were wandering around with wonder and joy in their eyes, soaking up the atmosphere and cheerfully chatting with friends and strangers alike. I have yet to attend a Con where people on the whole were surly, but at C2E2 it seemed like damn near every person was making a point to initiate conversations with new people, eager to share stories, passions and recent acquisitions.

Thank you C2E2, for giving me and all of us other nerds something to sing about this weekend. Thank you weather gods for the beautiful, if somewhat nippy, climate we enjoyed. Thank you Chicago for once again raising the bar of Chicago Comic Conventions. And thanks to some of the best damn people I have ever met for making this a weekend I’ll never forget, and for giving me confidence in myself and what I am capable of creating.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 50

ROGUE ELEMENT #50: Why I Collect Comics

By Avril Brown

To understand why one is a comic book collector, one must first be familiar with the several types of comic book readers who exist in this colorful world, for not everyone who reads collects, and not everyone who collects reads (though this is rare). There are ‘browsers’: those who enter a shop with no specific book in mind opting instead to browse the shelves, flip through a couple and occasionally purchase the ones that caught their eye that particular day. There are ‘non-collecting readers’: people who keep up with certain books here and there but will drop out of the comic world from time to time, make no attempt to catch up on what they’ve missed and do not retain what they already have, re-selling them at shops, garage sales, letting them gather dust and water damage or giving the books away. Then there are the ‘avid readers/collectors’ (I personally fall into this category): someone who receives a certain number of titles every week and holds onto nearly every book ever purchased. My category, however, is by no means the top caste of collectors. The ‘hardcore, deep pocketed or I-don’t-have-a-budget-when-it-comes-to-nerdy-stuff comic book collectors’ take the top honor as readers who will throw down hundreds of dollars every month at their local shop, collecting dozens of titles along with their variant covers, re-prints and spin-offs. Of course there are ‘in-betweeners’: people who do not completely fit into the above classifications, such as a reader who waits until graphic novels of a particular book are released before purchasing (definitely cheaper than buying the individual issues), or those who occasionally have to quit collecting due to varying reasons but return with their wallet and a vengeance as soon as the opportunity arises.

Being an ‘avid reader/collector’ and a patron of one of the coolest shops in Chicago, Evil Squirrel Comics, means every week my books are pulled for me and set aside for up to a month for me to stop by and pay for them. Therefore I do not have to rush over to my shop every Wednesday to ensure I always receive the titles I want. Typically I cannot wait more than two, three weeks max before a mental cold sweat descends upon my brain, flashing images of superheroes in spandex saving the world or badass British warlocks turning people inside out, thus demanding I zip on down to my shop and collect my comic fix before I snap.

Some people can understand the attraction to comics and some can even comprehend how addictive they can be, but there are many who are unclear on the concept of collecting. Let the tutorial begin.

Investment – The value of comic books, like every other product, has changed over the years. Comic books purchased for fifty cents twenty years ago may be worth at least fifty times that amount today…or they could still be worth fifty cents, depending on the quality and content of the book. Usually the first issue of what turns out to be a landmark series is worth a pretty penny, but with so many titles out and so many re-prints of those titles available, more recent introductory issues are not a hot commodity. Personally,\ I do not often think about the long-term investment of comic collecting, but rather the short-term. It is nearly impossible to re-sell a comic book for the amount you purchased it, let alone for a profit, so you cannot simply buy a book, read it a few times and sell it a month later for the same $2.99 you paid for it. Thus you will have no money AND no book, neither which appeals to me (especially the later). Yet you never know what could eventually rise exponentially in value, therefore I keep almost every book I buy wrapped in its plastic sheath, supported by its solid board backing and nestled in a long or short box away from a heat or water source. However I’m also a bit of a pack rat, so there is little doubt this behavioral trait influences my decision to hold onto books I don’t particularly like and probably will never be worth any money.

Education – Though being unmarried, nearly broke and occasionally irresponsible all translate to ‘no babies,’ I have not ruled out the idea of someday being a mother, and like any good matriarch I would like to educate my future progeny. Comics are an excellent way to teach children about art, writing, friendship, love, responsibility and so much more. Naturally there are limits and one must use common sense (such as keeping books about badass British warlocks who turn people inside out away from the eyes of a six year old) but there is a great deal kids can take away from comics, and that includes good old-fashioned fun and parent/child bonding. I once read a children’s version of the Bible complete with lots of pretty pictures, and though I never jumped on the organized religion bandwagon I enjoyed the resulting conversations I had with my dad (the only one in my immediate family familiar with the Bible) about what I was reading. Someday I can read these comics along with my children, letting them enjoy the books for the pretty pictures or the invincible heroes but eventually enlightening them to the deeper meanings and subtle references I had to find on my own.

Fun – I buy comic books because I have fun when I read them. The story, the art and the layout is different for each and every book and I enjoy the surprises which await between the pages. I collect comic books because even after several readings, I still find them fun. Some books are at best mildly entertaining, some are better than average and some are stories for the ages, eternal in their ability to make me laugh, cry or simply render me speechless. These are the ones I keep near me so I may peruse them at any time, but unfortunately my collection has not been a cohesive whole for nearly ten years. About half of my books still reside at my parents house, and as my mother recently and cheerfully reminded me, that will not be the case forever. I long for my collection to be reunited, but as I live in a not-so-large studio apartment practicality dictates that the two halves remain apart. Thankfully I live only a forty minute El ride away from any book I have ever collected, should the need arise.

Memories – I remember my first comic book. X-Men #81, purchased at the Walgreens six blocks or so from my house in November of 1998. During my first reading I was caught up in the spectacular artwork and the tangible tension between my two favorite characters, Rogue and Gambit, the entire time fighting to keep my eyes on the page in front of me and not skip ahead to see what would happen. When I finished it I knew my life had just changed: I was now, and likely forever more, a comic book fan. Alas I cannot recall where I was and how I felt for every single issue I have purchased, but there are more than enough memories associated with the books I’ve collected over the years for me to want to keep them close.

There are undoubtedly many other reasons why people collect comics, for comics mean something uniquely special to each reader. We all enjoy reading comics, but how we started reading, why we continue to, our tastes and preferences and how we continue to evolve as comic book fans varies for every single one of us. Therefore we flock to Comic Conventions not only to expand our collection of books, but to also find other people to add to our collection of comic book friends, there to lend an ear to our tales and share their own in turn.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 49

ROGUE ELEMENT 49: Avril in Wonderland

The Everlasting Fascination with Wonderland or “Why We Keep Following Alice Down the Rabbit Hole”

By Avril Brown

What is it about Wonderland? Who is this Alice in her blue and white dress and her head riddled with nonsense thoughts? Why does a tale told in the eighteen hundreds still captivate the hearts and minds of people today, whether they be six years old or sixty? When will we finally have our fill of talking creatures, painted roses and hookah-huffing insects?

The answer for many, including myself, is gleefully clear: never. Never shall we walk away from Wonderland with no intent of coming back again. Always will we want a way to escape the confines of reality if only for a brief moment or two. Wonderland is a place where the only rule is that there are none, and any sense to be found makes no sense at all. For some, that makes Wonderland the ideal vacation spot.

The year was 1865 when an Englishman named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson picked up his pen, donned the pseudonym Lewis Carroll and created ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ Six years later Dodgson/Carroll took Alice on another adventure in ‘Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There,’ and characters and scenes from both successful books have been used in subsequent years for various adaptations, including television, film and comic books, many which bear the more commonly known title of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ People of all ages were drawn in by the colorful literary nonsense words of the author and continue to be to this day, thus creating a portfolio of ‘Alice’ pieces to choose from, depending on one’s mood.

For those who are feeling classy, naturally there are Carroll’s novels to dive into. Everything to do with Alice and her Wonderland was birthed from the words of one man, and it is important to touch base every once in awhile with the original idea. The books remain wildly popular despite their advance ages, a clear sign that the author must have done something right.

If you are craving a visual trip down the rabbit hole, Disney is now boasting two cinematic versions of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ The original is the infamous animated feature created in 1951, and the second being the recently released live action film (with a heavy dash of CG special effects) starring the delightfully demented Johnny Depp. The later is being met with mixed reviews, and though I do think Alice was missing much of her much-ness in that particular version I still enjoyed the aesthetic feast of the scenery, costumes and characters. The original cartoon film, however, will always hold a special place in my heart and head. The memories it conjures of countless viewings with my father, who loves the movie as much as I, and the smiles it continuously brings with its funny lines, colorful critters and lighthearted nature, are enough to ensure Disney’s animated ‘Alice in Wonderland’ will remain one of my all time favorite movies.

Raven Gregory is the author and one of the brains behind the series of comic books featuring a hellish dimension of Wonderland. Published by Zenescope Entertainment and most certainly meant for mature readers, these books are rife with betrayal, rape, murder, and suicide, to list a few sins. Beautifully illustrated and scarily written, the Wonderland books are a drastically different take on Carroll’s characters than the Disney films. I recently interviewed Mr. Gregory and when queried as to where this idea came from, he responded by stating he always felt there was a darker theme lying just under the surface of the Wonderland stories and he wanted to explore what would happen to a character thrust into such insanity, especially if this violent Wonderland was real. Through the entirety of the Wonderland series is gory brutality, loss and heartbreak, but there is also a central theme of love and loyalty, regret and starting over, fighting for what is right and enjoying the happiness you have. A visually stunning and nightmarish tale, Raven Gregory’s Wonderland books are another avenue for those craving a darker path when wandering about Wonderland.

Imagine a world with animals who talk and dress like people, food and drink that can make one grow and shrink and where absolutely nothing is impossible and you have Wonderland. Fantasy reigns supreme, reality with all its pesky responsibilities ceases to exist and for the briefest of moments, we are all Alice, following a rabbit wearing a waistcoat wherever he leads, thinking of six impossible things before breakfast and watching them all come true. We are free.

Whatever our raison du jour for taking the tumble down the rabbit hole, we are committed to returning to Wonderland for more adventures whether with Alice, The Hatter, or our own indomitable imagination. We enjoy our visits and then return to the real world, for what fun is the imaginary one without the colorful contrast of actuality?

“The adventures first, explanations can take such a dreadful time.”

Cheers to that.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 48

Bad Movies I Adore Anyway

by Avril Brown

We all have them. The undisclosed DVDs we keep to ourselves, the films stuffed under our mattresses which we secretly heart but are too ashamed to admit to the general public. No, I’m not talking about porn. I am referring to those movies which are terrible yet titillating, undeniably awful yet we cannot resist watching them again and again. Personally, I got over my shame over loving horrendous movies a long time ago and proudly display my entire collection of films, from one-star duds to Oscar contenders. I originally planned to compile a list of my favorite bad movies from all sorts of genres, but I discovered my choices largely favored the Action and Adventure theme, so please enjoy the following assemblage of my own personal favorite crap-tastic creations.

Futuristic Sci-Fi – Demolition Man (1993, directed by Marco Brambilla) Sylvester Stallone plays a twentieth century cop wrongly convicted of a crime, cryogenically frozen and defrosted in the future. Wesley Snipes also stars as one of the most spastic, irritating and horribly dressed villains ever conceived. Both were put on ice when L.A. was a war-torn nightmare and thawed when the city had mellowed to a freakish degree. Sex has become virtual, swearing is punishable by fine, ATMs offer emotional pick me ups such as ‘You inspire joy-joy feelings’ and people somehow wipe their asses with three seashells. Absolutely terrible movie, of course, yet Demolition Man possesses certain nuggets of brilliance which consistently leave me in stitches, and one of my favorite scenes involves Dennis Leary delivering one of the best rants ever written: “You see, according to Cocteau’s plan, I’m the enemy, because I like to think. I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, ‘Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbequed ribs with the side order of gravy fries?’ I WANT high cholesterol. I want to eat bacon, and butter and buckets of cheese, ok? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, ok pal? I’ve seen the future, and you know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin sitting ‘round in his beige pajamas drinking a banana-broccoli shake singing ‘I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener.’” Classic.

Spy Thriller – Long Kiss Goodnight (1996, directed by Renny Harlin) An amnesiac PTA mom (Geena Davis) gets into a car accident with Bambi (whose neck she humanely snapped after she found it still alive and suffering) and slowly but surely her memories of being a covert assassin for the CIA begin to trickle back just in time for her to cut and dye her hair, kill a bunch of bad guys and stop a nefarious plan by greedy government officials to fake a terrorist attack in order to encourage Congress to cough up funding for national security. Abundantly absurd and by the end of the movie boring in its ridiculousness, this is a film which nevertheless boasts snippets of invaluable entertainment which keep me coming back. The concept of having repressed kick-ass skills is an appealing one, but what really makes this demented movie is the plethora of hysterical lines delivered by Samuel L. Jackson and Brian Cox, the later laying claim to one of my favorite movie quotes ever: “Alice. The dog, Alice. It and my appetite are mutually exclusive.” “What’s wrong with the dog?” asks dotty Alice in a vague British accent. “Simple. It’s been licking its asshole for the past three straight hours. Now I submit to you there’s nothing there worth more than an hours attention, and whatever he is attempting to dislodge is either gone for good, or there to stay. Wouldn’t you agree?” Absolute gold.

Vampire Thriller – From Dusk ‘till Dawn (1996, directed by Robert Rodriguez) Some of the ugliest vampires since Nosterafu are partying in Mexico as the fugitive Gecko brothers (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) and their hostages cross the border to deliver their latest pilfered bounty. With a slightly disturbing first half involving off-screen rape and murder, the movie progresses into complete ridiculousness as the vampires and the unsuspecting yet well-armed humans dive into a gory and outlandish fight for their lives. Boasting such gems as a super-sexy, tattoo-clad Clooney and Selma Blair performing the steamiest snake-and-champagne dance EVER, this is a bad movie which is hard to resist. Good things come to those who wait, and the best line in this movie is in the last five minutes as Cheech Marin (in one of his multiple roles in the film) confusedly asks if psychos were responsible for the death and carnage. An exasperated Clooney snaps back: “They look like psychos? Is that what they looked like to you? They were vampires! Psychos don’t explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!” True that.

Treasure Hunt – National Treasure (2004, directed by Jon Turteltaub) Nicholas Cage, the rather foxy Diane Kruger and many other familiar faces star in this wonderfully boisterous and completely impossible hunt for hidden treasure. From almost the first scene it becomes glaringly obvious how many liberties were taken in creating this flashy and fun ‘history lesson,’ but despite the obvious plot holes and some uber-cheesy scenes, this remains one of my favorite light-hearted tales of family quests, romance and doubloons. Justin Bartha as Riley Poole, the plucky sidekick, provides the comic relief and claims most of the amusing lines in the movie, delivering them with an adorably dorky air: “How did a bunch of guys with hand tools build all this?” asks the mindless muscle as the crew descends an ancient wooden staircase. “Same way they built the pyramids, and the Great Wall of China,” educates Cage. “Yea,” Bartha chimes in, “the aliens helped them.” Alas, despite the return of most of the original cast and the addition of a couple favorite faces (such as Ed Harris), National Treasure 2 does not make my list due to it sucking more ass than it kicked.

Creature Feature – Tremors (1990, directed by Ron Underwood) Gigantic prehistoric worms with advanced hunting techniques terrorize a small town by sucking people, trucks, tricycles and all, underneath the sand to be devoured. The band of battling survivors determined to escape and outsmart the beasts include a mullet-sporting, southern style Kevin Bacon and a gun-toting, prepared-for-the-end-of-the-world Reba McEntire. ’Nuff said. Well, except for one of the best scenes of the film: “Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t ya, you bastards!” Michael Gross yells as he and his equally armed wife unload an unholy amount of firearms into one of the creatures. Too cool.

The nineties undoubtedly hold the honor of creating some of the most entertaining flaming piles of shit ever to grace the silver screen, and I for one am thankful for their daring lack of largely intelligent scripts and believable plots. The cinema of the new millennium has certainly brought a slew of brain-numbing pictures, yet too many of them stop at ‘stupid’ and forget to incorporate a reason or two to stick around for the whole two hours of piss-poor story and laughable characters. So instead of being diverted by cheesy one-liners and over-the-top action sequences, more often than not I find myself saying ‘That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.’ Though I am disappointed by the stunted growth of good bad movies in this day and age, I can find solace in the fact whenever I am craving such a fix I can always return to my cache of crap and be almost as entertained as I was upon my first viewing, for some things, be they 30-foot carnivorous worms, trucker vampires or anal-retentive officers of the peace, never go out of style.

ROGUE ELEMENT 47

Behold, the Power of Previews!

by Avril Brown

Previews can have a great deal of power over how people feel about a film days, weeks or even months before the movie is even available for viewing. A properly put-together preview can send horrific chills up your spine, it can pitch you into side-splitting hysterics, or it can have you so jazzed you feel ready to don your armor and join the battle for Middle Earth yourself.

Or, as in the case of the recent release ‘Wolfman,’ a preview can throw you completely off the trail.

Admittedly I was exposed to only one or two previews of ‘Wolfman’ before my sister called me and told me I simply had to see this movie. “It’s so bloody and violent; it’s awesome,” she promised me. I was already sold on seeing it in the theater; I mean, Benicio Del Toro and wolfies? That’s all I needed to hear, but the promise of blood, guts and gore were added incentives.

What the previews originally impressed upon me was a dark, slightly serious take on the standard Wolfman story: man gets bitten by werewolf, undergoes painful and confusing transformation, terrorizes town and himself. What ‘Wolfman’ delivered was an uber-campy, gratuitously gory and massively entertaining movie filled with funky-looking werewolves, tons of amputations and eviscerations and a holey plot. In other words, completely engaging if that’s your thing, and it’s definitely mine. My date swears I was the only person in the theater laughing when the head doctor of the sanitarium was chucked out of a hundred-foot window and impaled upon a wrought iron fence (superfluous violence just isn’t the same without a good impaling). In short, despite being led astray by the previews, I still enjoyed the movie.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

The theatrical preview for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was one of most kick-ass previews ever created and had Lucas loyalists drooling on their Yoda shirts. The dramatic music, the wide-angled CG shots, the glimpse of that nerd-gasmic Jedi fight; all of it combined sent Star Wars fan scurrying for tickets.

Of course, we all know how well that movie turned out. ‘Disappointed’ is by far too weak a word; ‘disturbingly aghast’ is more accurate for what most fans, including this one, felt upon seeing that movie. The preview, however, remains an excellent example of its kind. It pushed all the right buttons and dragged even non-Star Wars fanatics to the theaters, the poor bastards.

I am not a fan of Ben Stiller nor of Cameron Diaz but I will admit even I was laughing my ass off when I saw the preview for ‘There’s Something About Mary.’ Everyone loves a ridiculous bit with a dog and there were plenty of chuckle-worthy slapstick scenes. When I finally saw the film in its entirety at a friend’s house I realized the dark truth: nearly every funny bit in the movie was in the preview, and everything else was just filler. To be honest I didn’t even watch the whole movie, and that is a rare occurrence. This was the one of my first experiences, and it would not be the last, of a preview which was essentially a clip show of the best parts of the film.

I once watched a brief television special on previews, particularly the ones for ‘Godzilla,’ the Matthew Broderick version. Some of the most successful brains behind cinematic advertising were consulted after the movie opened to poor box office ratings and dismal reviews. Did the promotion team and their ‘Size Matters’ preview theme drop the ball? The general consensus: no, the promotion campaign was fine. The movie just sucked that badly. I wholeheartedly agree with said consensus for I remember being entertained by the vague theatrical previews for ‘Godzilla.’ One was a brief clip showing a student group standing in front of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton while being educated by their teacher on how this was the largest, cold-blooded land predator known to exist. Seconds later, a big honking Godzilla foot stomps through the museum ceiling and crushes poor Sue to smithereens. Definitely cool. Of course it wasn’t until years later when I was bored at 1AM and caught the second half of the film on HBO when I realized how right that program was, for ‘Godzilla’ truly is one god-awful film with a couple of shiny previews.

Previews can whet our appetite for a film, they can get the blood pumping and our hearts racing in anticipation of the main event. They can be hints at even greater scenes to come, or they can be collections of the best a movie has to offer. They can be uplifting, exciting, scary as hell or a false representation. In the end, however, previews do not make the movie, and moviegoers must remember the old adage of not judging a book by its cover applies to previews and their feature-length partners as well. Enjoy a preview and take from it what you will, but unless your instincts and basic common sense are screaming to run in the other direction, judge not a movie by its two-minute brother. You may yet be surprised, for better or for worse.