Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Conversation with Stephen King & Owen King - My Experience

 A Conversation with Stephen King & Owen King
October 3, 2017 @ the Newmark Theatre in Portland, OR

Growing-up, my mother and eldest sister were huge fans of Stephen King. I remember the first of his books that I read back when I was in 5th grade. It was "Cycle of the Werewolf" and the biggest thing that drew my attention to it were the illustrations that were done by Bernie Wrightson. 

Reading this book at this time in my life definitely made an incredible impact of my development into the man I am today. It was from that single book that not only developed my fascination for King's writing, but also sparked my imagination while I was also coming into my own as a roleplayer. I can honestly say that the work of Stephen King has made the single largest impact on how I try to play RPG's.

King's impact on the young me would carry-on through my high school years where, in my sophomore English class, I decided to study-up on the man behind the writing for a project we were given. I was very excited, and put a great deal of time and research into it. When it was all said and done, I turned it in to my teach for grading. When my report was returned to me, the teacher was very critical not about my writing, but about my subject matter. He called King "full of himself" and overrated. My response to him was a simple one that did not help my grade one bit: "How many novels have you ever published?"

Fast forward to my junior year in high school when they decided to add a Creative Writing class into the curriculum. I was excited to join, until I found out that the same teacher who had scoffed at my project just a year before was the instructor for this class as well. *sigh* I persevered and this was the time in my life where I had firmly decided that I wanted to become a writer.

That was a long time ago, and I still occasionally feel the urge to write, my mind always races and I have never been able to complete a single writing project that I have started. When I was in high school, I kept a notebook full of story ideas. I never got around to writing any of them, but I remember that I have tried to develop several of them. I wish I still had that notebook today.

Now that the backstory has been set, let me bring you to the current day.

When I had learned that King and his youngest son, Owen, were doing a book tour and would be coming to Portland, I knew that I had to be there. For months I kept my eye on King's website to find out when the tickets were going to be available. The date had already been set, but there was no confirmation of the actual location. My hopes were that it would be similar to the event I went to several years ago for Neil Gaiman. I was giddy as a school girl with the thought of actually meeting my life-long hero in writing. The source of so many of my dreams and nightmares. The man I wanted to aspire to for so long.

When the ticket information was released, my heart sank when I learned that it would not be a personal signing and rather a talking event featuring the King's. I was not deterred. I knew that I had to go, and when the day arrived that the tickets became available, I was online about 30 minutes after and place my order for the "best available" tickets. What came-up was 2nd balcony. Although I was saddened by the fact that I would be so far away from seeing King, I did not allow this to upset me.

October 3, 2017 came. I drove to Portland, which I despise driving in, and found a decent and inexpensive place to park that was only about 2 blocks away from the venue. I had never been to the Newmark Theatre before so I wasn't sure what I was in for. My excitement was difficult to contain... until I got to my seat, that is.

I knew that I would be very close to the stage, but I wasn't prepared for the actual distance I experienced.

My bigger disappointment was about the actual seats more so that the location of them. As those readers who have seen photographs of me or have met me in person know, I am not a small man. As Gabriel Iglesias would say (and I prefer the term), I am a "fluffy" man. the seats were narrow and the arms dug-in to my sides. There was also absolutely no legroom and I was constantly concerned that one of both of my calves would cramp during the event. Happily, this did not happen.

Without any editing, this was my view of the ceiling from a seated position at my seat.

About 10 minutes later that the event was scheduled to begin, Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell's Books took the stage. When she entered the stage, she had a single red balloon with her, and the audience cheered. It was at that point that 2 things were made apparent to me that I was unsure about before the event: 1) There was to be no photography during the event. 2) Only 400 copies of the book we were there for were going to be signed and randomly distributed. After the event, I went to the website, and wouldn't you know it... the disclosure of only 400 signed copies was right there where I didn't even notice it before.


Fortunately, Stephen and Owen King made the rest of the evening worth the wait and discomfort. They began by reading part of their new book, "Sleeping Beauties". Owen started and the Stephen completed the reading. I have never read any of Owen King's previous work, but as they read I could not begin to sense that it was actually written by 2 different men. The words were so fluid and the writing seemed of a single person. I have shared the storyteller duties in games several times in the past, and the storyline has always been woven well... but I couldn't imagine working with someone else to actually write a complete story or novel together; blending each others words and thoughts together to become a single entity. From what was read, I became interested in reading more from Owen.

I learned more about the man I had idolized since I was a kid. I found out that to earn money as a child, Owen would make his father customized books on tape, beginning with Dean Koontz's "Watchers". Later, as an adult, Owen gifted his father with a complete audio edition of Tolstoy's "War and Peace", which actually spanned from cassette tapes to CD's because of the advance in technology that had occurred while making it.

The Q&A portion of the evening was enjoyable. I could tell that the Kings were enjoying themselves up on stage as they passed the cards of questions from the audience to each other. While there were the occasional witty comments about Donald Trump, the evening never got political. The audience and I enjoyed the snarky comments and allowed the men to continue on their thoughts.

At the end of the event, each person received their hardback copy of "Sleeping Beauties" wrapped in a Powell's paper bag. I still have not opened mine to find out if it was one of the 400 or not. When I returned to my car, there was great rejoicing from a young lady in another vehicle in the garage as she found that she was once of the lucky 400. I don't intend on posting if mine was signed or not. Sorry to disappoint.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rose City Comic Con 2017 - My Experiences
Rose City Comic Con has come and gone for this year, and again it was a wonderful event! I have been to every RCCC since the beginning, and 2017 was by far my favorite year so far!

Before I go any further, let me apologize for the delay in the publication of this review. Days after Rose City, my laptop crashed and I was unable to retrieve any of the photos that I took and didn't have a fully functional computer until now. I am thankful that I shared at least some of the photo's on my Facebook page. When/if I can retrieve the photo's from my hard drive, I will add them as an addendum.

The great part about 2017 was that they expanded it to a 3-day event. This was a common thought among the people I spoke with last year. from what I experienced, I think that it was a wise choice to make.

Another change that was made was that RCCC moved the badge pick-up are upstairs and used the area where they used to have the pick-up open for the celeb area and where they displayed 3 different transformer vehicles.

This was a nice use of space, IMHO.

My personal priority for day 1 was to get in line for "Weird Al" Yankovic, as I have been a fan since I was a kid. My first LP (vinyl record) was "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D; and I still have it and my copy of Dare to Be Stupid over at my parents house.

The only issue is that they decided to queue people right in front of the celeb area, and did not open the lines for these guests until all the people who were queued to enter were allowed to enter. Not sure that was a great decision to make, but I'm not going to complain too much. I was still able to get a good place in line for the signing.

Let's now go back to last year when "Weird Al" came to McMenamins Edgefield, I had decided to commission artist Robert "Floydman" Sumner for a Star Wars comic book cover with "Weird Al" on it. When "Weird Al" was announced as a guest for RCCC, I knew that I wanted to have him sign said cover.

When I finally made it to the man himself and presented the Star Wars Annual cover to sign, he marveled at it for quite a while, believing that it was commercial work and that he had seen it before. I made sure he knew that it was a custom piece, and he was taken aback by the artwork and asked if he could take a photo of it. I couldn't tell him no. I was also able to get proof positive that I actually and finally was able to meet my all-time music idol.

Once I was able to get that off my to do list, I started to get a better look around. I was able to check-in with artists Gene Guilmette, Ben Hansen and Ron Randall; who have all contributed to my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. With the expanded show floor, there was so much to take in.

As opposed to years past, I didn't overload myself with items to have signed. I know that in prior years I have felt that I spent so much time trying to get items signed that I missed getting to panels or get to meet new people at the event. Point of fact, when I took some time to grab a seat and rest my feet, I actually took in a panel about solving a Rubix Cube.

It's unfortunate that I don't have more of my day 1 photos. I was actually happy with myself for taking so many this year.

Day 2 started early enough that so many artists and vendors weren't even at their tables. It was the only time I found the Hero Initiative booth, and nobody was available for me to buy some of their books. But I was able to hit the I Like Comics booth and take advantage of their $4 trades.

Early on, I also got to drop by Mike Zeck's booth. His wife was bringing people in while Mike worked on some art. She informed me of the special/limited G.I. Joe cover that was available. When I saw it, I knew I needed it for my collection.

She also mentioned that there was a deal if I bought the G.I. Joe comic, then the prints would be half of the posted cost. There was a set of Spider-Man covers from the "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline that were grouped together for a special price. I asked if there was a special deal if I bought the comic and the Spider-Man prints. She began to tell me that there wasn't, but then Mike "corrected" her. I told them that they had a deal. It was at that point that Zeck realized his error, but was a man of his word and sold the prints and comic to me for the agreed upon price. So now, I also have these wonderful additions to my print collection.

Special thanks go to artists Andy and Veronica Fish, Katie Cook, Jim Mahfood and Jason Metcalf for allowing me to pick-up their donated covers from them with our CBCS Comics witness.

Due to timing issues, Chip Zdarsky and Valentine De Landro dropped their covers off at the CBCS booth. Looking forward to seeing how they all turn out once graded.

As for the Batgirl issues that were going to be signed, Since Brenden Fletcher was a no-show, our CBCS witness informed me that artist Cameron Stewart was attending as well, so we got his and Babs Tarr's signatures on them. They are also in the hands of CBCS for grading.

Unfortunately I was unable to touch base with every contributing artist who was attending, and I am sorry to those I didn't get a chance to stop by and say "Thank you" to.

The goal for next year is to receive a table for the event so we can continue to promote the cause. That means that there will be calls for fundraising to help get us there, so keep your eyes peeled in 2018 for those announcements.

As mentioned previously, the next series of auctions will be determined once the covers donated at RCCC return from CBCS. I'm thinking around the beginning of December. You can always keep updated on our Facebook page.

As for the additions to my signature collection, I stopped to visit Skottie Young:

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 - No Power in the 'Verse
Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 - Leaves on the Wind

When I went to the last ever Stumptown Comic Fest, I picked-up the volume 1 & 2 of Witch Doctor from Brandon Seifert. That was back in 2013. Since then, I have tried to keep my eyes opened for when Lukas Ketner was going to be making an appearance in a local con. 2017 was my year to finally get his autograph on my trades.

And even though I am a huge Funko Pop collector, I only picked-up a single new addition to my collection from Matt's Cavalcade of Comics.

Dates for next years event have already been announced: September 7-8, 2018. I'm planning on being there, one way or another. If I am unable to get a table for #CBC4C, then I hope that I will again be allowed to officially cover the event as a member of the media.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

RCCC Announcement: Killing is one thing... curing is another in the forthcoming BITTER ROOT


PORTLAND, OR, 09/08/2017 — Image Comics is pleased to announce at this year’s Rose City Comic Con an all-new ongoing series from David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene that will launch in 2018 titled, BITTER ROOT.

BITTER ROOT is set in 1920s with the Harlem Renaissance in full swing. The new series will follow the Sangerye Family—New York (and the world’s) only hope for salvation from supernatural forces threatening doom and destruction. Once the greatest family of monster hunters in the world, the Sangeryes must move beyond the tragedies of the past, or be forced to sit back and watch an unimaginable evil ravage the human race.

Bitter Root is going to be unlike any comic book people have seen,” said Walker. “We're mixing action and horror, with a cast of characters unique to the medium to tell an epic tale of the Sangerye family and the sacrifices they are willing to make for humanity. I'm excited for this series for several reasons. It gives me the chance to work with Sanford again, Chuck, who is a great co-writer, and Image, which publishes some absolutely amazing comics."

Brown added: "Bitter Root is a dream project. Walker, Greene, and I share the same tastes while bringing our own unique talents and perspectives to the book. Bitter Root takes a classic horror genre and remolds it into something new and eye opening. I haven’t had this much fun creating comics in awhile."

BITTER ROOT #1 from Image Comics will hit stores in 2018. 


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Realizations and Lamentations

Today, while eating lunch, I noticed my right hand shaking while I held my spoon. This got me back to thinking about how at one time in my life, I wanted to inking comic book art.

For several years I would find various penciled pieces to download to print for later to work on. I actively reached-out to Image and Marvel for copies of penciled work I could ink and add to my portfolio in hopes of one day actually being able to make some kind of living out of it.

For years I kept searching for a drafting table that could help facilitate my desires. It wasn't until after my divorce that I finally found the table that I had been wanting. I remember seeing it at Michael's when my then fiance and I were shopping for items for our wedding. I remember thinking that it would be great to get it when I had the spare money and a coupon to boot.

Sadly, it was several years after that chance encounter that I just happen to have the money, coupon and it was available at Michael's again. So I took that as a sign and made my purchase.

I brought it home and assembled it. I made space for it, and even acquired a new chair to use at it. I was in heaven at the thought that I could one day get back into the activity that used to help center me when my mind stirred.

I found my pens and the pieces that I had been collecting to practice on. I even printed several of those pieces on card stock similar to Blue Line pages. I was ready to get back to inking. I had the next piece I was eager to work on.

Then the day came when I had time to myself and I could focus on doing some work on the piece. I picked-up my pen. I positioned my magnifying light. I began my first strokes to the art...

And I couldn't draw a straight line to save my life.

It's not like my hands were violently shaking, rather just shaking enough to not be able to hold the pen steady. And this is what I saw today while holding my plastic spoon.

The simple act of feeding myself today brought back the flood of emotions I have gone through. I know that I won't be able to go back to inking again. I now use my drafting table as my computer desk. My micron pens have been sitting in storage for years. They're probably all dried-up and should be thrown away. I still have the penciled images... some even hi-res scans from professional artists... sitting on my computers hard drive. Several of them have also been printed and are in a storage tote somewhere.

I'm glad to have had something that brought a little bit of joy to my life, but I wish it would not have left me.

I felt the need to make sure I wrote this today. I needed to get it off my chest.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rose City Comic Con

Over the past several years, I have been blessed and honored by being a member of the media to help cover Rose City Comic Con.

I just received confirmation today that this year I will again have the honor. This year, the event has expanded to 3 days... something I heard that many people from last year were hoping for. I can't wait!

September 8-10, 2017
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, OR
I know that many of you may be disappointed in the fact that I haven't posted any new reviews in quite a while. The fact is that I am running-out of trades to read and review, and RCCC will be an excellent source to find new material to review. I'm looking forward to taking advantage of the discounted trades from I Like Comics.

In 2018... being the 8th year of Zanziber's Point of View, I'm officially going to expand the scope of what I'll be writing here. Not just trade reviews and the occasional events. I want to open things up to more related items. I'll make a more official and elaborate announcement later this year... probably around November, since that will be my anniversary.

But for now, my sights are focused on Rose City Comic Con next month!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab

Title: Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab

ISBN: 9781401262525
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2015
Artist: Chad Hardin, John Timms, Stjepan Sejic, Joe Quinones, Ben Caldwell, Kelley Jones, Mauricet, Brandt Peters, Amanda Conner, Darwyn Cooke, Aaron Campbell, Thony Silas
Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Collects: Harley Quinn # 14-16, Harley Quinn Annual #1 Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 Harley Quinn Valentine's Day Special #1

Rating: 3.5/5

Either Harley Quinn's getting funnier or, more likely, it was funny all along and I'm getting better attuned to its humor. After a rough first volume, I liked Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab a lot, and in different ways than I did the second volume (probably closer to the authors' intentions). Harley isn't laugh-out-loud funny so much as the puns are occasionally happily groan-worthy, and in her misadventures there's a certain joy simply in watching Harley run around like a Looney Tune. That might not be my everyday fare, but set as it is in the DC Universe (and featuring a Batman appearance, this time), it's a refreshing change of pace.

Kiss Kiss Bang Stab collects just issues #14-16 of the main Harley series plus an annual and two specials. This would be a wholly disappointing number of regular-series issues for a series with a strong ongoing story (the New 52 Teen Titans series did this once), but for a book as random and episodic as Harley, it's no big deal. Writing team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are present throughout, and the closing regular issues reference the annual and specials in such a way that it all feels of a piece; further the specials are arguably even better here than the regular issues.

There's a similarity across the Harley Quinn Annual #1, the Holiday Special, and the Valentine's Day Special, in which they all see Harley committing crimes or otherwise misbehaving (stealing parachutes, stealing money, secretly giving people puppies), generally in the interest of doing a good deed. This is the fun of Harley Quinn, that she and her tenant-friends in her Brooklyn apartment building are generally kind-hearted people, nice to one another, who do completely "nutbucket" things (as the book likes to say) in accomplishing their goals. Like Mark Waid's Impulse series of yore, there's no barrier between thought and action for Harley, and so she's the entertaining pure id that the reader might long to be but can't.

Ultimately, however, I liked the specials more than the regular issues, and it's precisely because of an extended sequence in issue #17 where Harley runs into a burning building, rescues the trapped occupants, and takes out a fiery supervillain called Tinderbox. There's "supervillains" in the other stories (including Dynamic Duo analogs the Mighty Carp and Sea Robin), but the issue #17 sequence seemed profoundly of superhero comics instead of being born from farce, and I found that less effective; that's not entirely what I'm looking for from Harley Quinn comics.

The Valentine's Day Special has a similarly incongruous moment. Harley brutalizes a billionaire to get the money to bid on a date with Bruce Wayne, which is plenty fun, and then also that Conner and Palmiotti have Bruce talk his way out of the Mighty Carp's kidnapping entirely peacefully (just before Harley bursts in guns a'blazing). But even as I acknowledge that realism and continuity are fluid concepts in the Harley-verse, I had trouble believing Bruce Wayne would actually take a date with Harley (a person one step removed from the Joker, mind you), and then the sequence where Batman semi-kindly scolds Harley seemed like a conversation Batman would have with Catwoman Selina Kyle, not Harley. Here again, what I like is Harley as goofy anti-villain, not necessarily Harley as true hero/anti-hero.

But it's all Conner and Palmiotti, and so it's hard to argue there's not a consistent vision for the character in this book. Rather, I think the whole book's Harley is purposefully inconsistent, as in a great set of pages in issue #16 where first, Harley-as-Dr. Quinzel comically dominates an old man obsessed with S&M, and then a page later, perfectly straight, Quinzel performs CPR on a dying woman, with serious and scientific narration boxes to match. One page after that, Harley daydreams about getting into bed with love interest Mason, only to be confronted by a ghastly Joker. That there are multiple personalities here is an understatement, but also clearly the writers have fun with Harley without making light of her, recognizing the character's issues and facets across many interpretations. (And further, two issues later the writers have wacky Harley again pitting a roomful of wannabe Harleys against one another in bloodthirsty battle.)

This might seem obvious, but a self-referential bit in the Valentine's special opened up the Harley title for me considerably. Just before a wonderfully cartoony Harley dream sequence by Ben Caldwell, Harley's talking stuffed beaver Bernie (yes) explains that this is the part of a Harley story where she has a dream and a guest artist illustrates it (giving the regular artist, Bernie slyly admits, fewer pages to finish). I've seen these hallucinations before, but in my
naivete I think I thought "this is just messing about" and not "this is a cool opportunity to see someone else's interpretation of Harley." Recognizing that allowed me to relax into the process more, and indeed there's plenty of great art in this book -- John Timm drawing an attractive "regular" Harley in the Valentine's special, Mauricet's cartoony Harley and Brandt Peters's chibi Harley in the holiday special, not to mention Darwyne Cooke.

It all adds up to a good Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Stab Bang, and I'd be more eager than I have been before to read the next volume. Despite my mild concerns about the regular issues, the new "Gang of Harleys" seems like a whole lot of fun (and mayhem) and I look forward to following them. Also the next collection seems to include eight regular Harley Quinn issues, which more than makes up for the shortfall here.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Justice League Volume 8: Darkseid War Part 2

Title: Justice League Volume 8: Darkseid War Part 2

ISBN: 9781401265397
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2016
Artist: Jason Fabok
Writer: Geoff Johns
Collects: Justice League # 45-50 and Justice League: Darkseid War Special #1

Rating: 3.5/5

This volume contains all the big beats that are important to know if you’re reading the DC comics coming out each week. That includes Jessica Cruz becoming a Green Lantern, a major turn for Superman that lead to his death, and a reminder as to the last time we saw Grid. No doubt, Geoff Johns has big plans for whoever takes control of the malevolent artificial intelligence of Grid. There are also major developments involving Wonder Woman you shouldn’t miss either.

As the big climactic issue, you’re going to get all the punching and kicking that’s good for you too. That includes a slugfest with Mobius who certainly looks cool as he pushes the Justice League around. Most importantly, there’s a physical battle raging whilst an internal one takes place. The characters are emotionally invested in a variety of ways which only enhances the action.

Then there’s the art, by Jason Fabok and Francis Manapul, that’s out of this world good. The choreography is top notch and the detail impressive. Because the quality of their art is so high you get the sense that you’re reading a book that will never be put on the big screen due to its scope–it’d simply cost way too much money. Brad Anderson outdoes himself on colors as well, making even the most depressing crumbled city shot look bright and vivid.

Since so much happens for so many characters–Johns appears to be trying to manipulate the futures of many characters–there isn’t enough time spent specifically on every character to have it feel meaningful. Like a breadcrumb, Johns is showing us a new direction, but doing it so quickly it’s hard to feel its impact. There are a lot of characters being juggled in this volume and thus it’s hard to get invested into one character’s story with so much cutting going on.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Title: Flashpoint

ISBN: 9781401233389
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2011
Artist: Andy Kubert
Writer: Geoff Johns
Collects: Flashpoint # 1-5

Rating: 3.5/5

The DC Universe has restarted before, with a bang. With Flashpoint, the DC Universe begins again not with a whimper, but with a whisper. Flashpoint places an astounding focus on interaction rather than action; it is perhaps the most accessible of all the great DC Comics events, one that may disappoint long-time fans even as it has the best chance of standing the test of time for new ones.

By the end of the first issue of writer Geoff Johns's Infinite Crisis, we'd already seen Bizarro beat the Human Bomb to death; the number of deaths and decapitations would only rise before the story ended. The body count rose equally quickly in Johns's Blackest Night. Each of these stories were two-to-three issues longer than Flashpoint, and yet I believe those books had really started by the second issue (the Indio Tribe whisking away Green Lantern in Blackest Night, for instance). In contrast, Flash Barry Allen is powerless until the third issue of Flashpoint and spends most of those three issues in the Batcave talking to Batman -- almost half the miniseries -- and ultimately only engages in one or two action sequences in the entire book.

That's not wrong, necessarily, but to be sure it singles out Flashpoint as something else -- a different kind of event miniseries than Geoff Johns has delivered before.

Flashpoint does present the first appearance of the DC New 52 costumes (and some characters), but the new continuity is not its focus. Whereas in DC's ultimate continuity-shattering tale, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Golden Age Superman Kal-L famously wakes up in a world that no longer remembers him, Barry Allen never explicitly understands that the "real" world has changed (things are the same, Barry says, with a fourth wall-breaking glance at the camera, "as far as I can tell"). In this way -- and perhaps because Flashpoint's role in the DC New 52 relaunch was decided after the story's original conception -- Flashpoint is not about continuity-cleaning in the way the other events are. Flashpoint has that as its result, but not as its focus.

Instead, Flashpoint examines one of the central conceits of the DC Universe, that the death of a parent might inspire a child, perhaps obsessively, to a lifetime trying to make up for that loss. Batman is the best example of this in DC Comics, of course, and Flashpoint is very much about Batman even if Bruce Wayne only appears in a handful of pages. Superman is another, the consummate orphan even if, depending on your continuity, he never much knew his Kryptonian parents.

And under Geoff Johns's pen specifically, over the past five years or so, we've seen Superman lose his father Jonathan Kent, Green Lantern Hal Jordan's origin revised so his father died in Hal's childhood, and then Flash Barry Allen's origin revised so his father went to jail for the murder of his mother (and this is aside from Johns's creation Stargirl who dealt with her father's abandonment). It got to be repetitive, frankly, and possibly Johns knew it.

Barry Allen takes a Parallax-like turn in Flashpoint, only worse. The shocking revelation in issue five is that the alternate Flashpoint reality stems not from the villainous Reverse Flash, but from Barry himself having ventured to the past to prevent Zoom from murdering his mother, thus mucking up history but good. Barry's depression over his mother's death -- for which he's been so uncharacteristically distraught that the Flash family staged an intervention in Flash: Road to Flashpoint -- has him so unhinged that he broke superhero rule #1 and messed with time. In the context of Flashpoint, at least, Johns offers no excuses or mitigation for Barry's act -- Barry knew what he was doing was wrong, thought he could get away with it, and nearly destroyed reality instead (with consequences he himself can't perceive).

Johns suggests that this is the end of "parent's death as inspiration for heroism" in the DC Universe. Barry's sorrow over his mother's death has reached outlandish heights, culminating in Flashpoint. Hardly, we know, would Barry's parents want him to torture himself to this extent in their memory -- and if Barry's familial reason for heroism dissipates as he realizes the error of his ways, then so too do some of the others start to thin. Childhood trauma has long since stopped being an effective excuse for Bruce Wayne's nocturnal activities, and when Barry delivers a time-tossed letter from Bruce's father, and Bruce cries and thanks Barry, the reader gets a sense of something ending. These are grown men, unknowingly entering a new universe supposedly more "modern" than the one they just left, and Flashpoint brings a sweet, gentle end to childish things.

There are no absolutes in comics, of course, and even as I write these lines, I have no expectation that this is the last time we'll ever see Batman kneel before the graves of his parents and swear vengeance for their deaths. I was surprised, however, that Johns even kept Barry's mother's death "in continuity," so to speak; I imagine it might be a while before we see Johns visit that particular well again.

As Blackest Night re-established for modern audiences the friendship between Green Lantern and the Flash, Flashpoint does the same for Flash and Batman. This has so far been a juggling act on Johns's part -- Batman missing the Flash at the end of Justice League: The Lightning Saga is one of my favorite comics moments, but for the majority of the time since Flash Barry Allen has been resurrected, Batman Bruce Wayne has been presumed dead. When Barry tells the Flashpoint Batman that Bruce was one of his closest friends, we believe it to be true but in fact we've yet to see Barry and Bruce have a substantial conversation in any comic since Barry's return.

Flashpoint is essentially proof of its own hypothesis; the six-page conversation that Barry and Bruce have in the end is their first, really, and ties up a hanging thread from Johns's Flash stories. It is not the only thread that needed tying, but it does bring to a satisfactory close one aspect of the pre-Flashpoint Flash storyline.

Johns does not present Cyborg very strongly in Flashpoint -- Johns's Cyborg Victor Stone comports himself well, but he's far from the dynamic breakout star of Flashpoint that Mera was in Blackest Night, and also Cyborg simply disappears with no closing arc at the end of the book -- but I thought Johns's use of Barry Allen here with Vic offered a unique opportunity. Had the Flash in the book been Wally West, his relationship with Vic would be more emotional, like Barry and Bruce; had it been Superman, his relationship with Vic would be more paternal, like hero and sidekick. Barry remarks on Cyborg's increased armor, but otherwise accepts him for who he is; there's no diminutive applied to Cyborg, but rather he's simply a hero.

This is a rare moment for Cyborg -- better, perhaps, than in the New 52, when Cyborg may be a Justice Leaguer but Superman will be back to being Superman. In a rare pointed moment, one of Johns's S.H.A.Z.A.M. kids (the real breakout stars of the book) notes that "perception is reality," and it couldn't be truer here. Cyborg's role with the Justice League may be retroactive continuity, but it's important; more so is seeing Cyborg here, if only for a moment, as the preeminent hero of some DC Universe.

Andy Kubert's art helps Flashpoint's slower moments, to be sure. His crowd scenes are no slouch, but the real power is in his close-ups, whether it's a young Barry Allen on the first pages, the gathered Flashpoint heroes on the Gotham rooftops, or Bruce Wayne with tears in his eyes at the end. It's a rare treat to have a DC Comics mega-event drawn just by one artist throughout; I very much wish DC would leave the covers for the end and let a book like this read like a graphic novel. I'm looking forward to Kubert's guest-stint on Action Comics coming up (though only one issue, sadly); it seems to me that Kubert's art in Flashpoint is slightly stronger in the early issues with inker Sandra Hope than it is later in the book (and the most important reality-warping page, in issue five, looks unfortunately quite hurried), but I'm happy to see him on other titles either way.

At the end of the DC Universe as we know it, a reader expecting Crisis on Infinite Earths will be sorely disappointed. There's not much here, either, for a reader who wants the white-knuckle action of Blackest Night; Flashpoint is closest, in terms of its self-containment, to Final Crisis, but Flashpoint is minuscule next to Final Crisis's scope. Flashpoint is instead exactly what we heard it was from the beginning but perhaps didn't quite believe: a Flash story bigger than some but much smaller than others, which mostly focuses on Flash and Batman. Despite that Flashpoint may not have some of the "wow factor" of any of DC Comic's other event stories, it wins in one crucial area -- accessibility.

Flashpoint is perhaps the most accessible event story DC has ever produced, the one I'm most sure I could give to a new reader and they'd understand it. For a long-time reader, it may feel somewhat unsatisfactory in the end -- what, no red skies? -- but at the dawn of a new DC Universe, maybe this very simple book is exactly what we need to start off a new day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Dilemma

I have been collecting comic books for over 30 years now. I have a sizable collection that I cherish, but I just don't feel the same about getting new books as I have in years past.

I don't typically read individual issues of a comic any more, preferring to instead read a trade paperback and get a better read. Collecting individual issues has become more of a rote than a passion. Years ago, I would be thrilled to be adding issues to my collection. Now, I find the task laborious and tedious.

When I go to comic cons, I still enjoy being able to go to writers and artists to get my books signed. Do I really need to continue collecting the latest issues of titles that I'm interested in, but will never take time to actually read? There are only a handful of titles that I really would like to keep current on, for whatever reason that I can't explain. Thinking of them specifically, it may be a sense of nostalgia because they take me back to my childhood. Series like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Star Wars still have my interest and call to me, whereas my passion for collecting Lady Death has seriously diminished.

I can remember when my love of Lady Death began to wain. When LD started taking-off under Avatar Press/Boundless Comics, for every regular issue, there would be 3 variant covers. As a completionist, a some may call my collecting habits a bit manic, I had to get as many of them as humanly possible. For every # in the different series, I would be purchasing 4 different covers from my LCS on my subscription. There would be times where additional variant covers would be published, and I would buy them as well. These additional covers were limited and so carried a higher price tag.

At the time, it really didn't matter that much to me because I felt like I need to have them to keep my collection in tact. When I couldn't get the variants at my LCS, I would have to turn to online sources to get them. There were so many it felt like I was living through the 90's again with all the various special covers that were published. Examples such as:

When they finally stopped publishing Lady Death for a time, there was a part of me that was relieved. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I could again breath easy. But now, every time a new title comes-out, it seems like publishers flood collectors with a series of variant covers again. On Comic Collector Live, there are 121 individual entries for Star Wars #1 from Marvel Comics! That's insanity!

I admit that money also plays a role in this dilemma, as if I purchase less comic books for my ever-growing collection, I will be able to use that money for other purposes such as paying bills, expanding/continuing my fundraising activities with Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, growing my collection of Funko Pops, etc.

I don't even know every title that I have on my subscription list. I just pick-up the comics as I can, enter them into my database and add them to the collection. I know that at least 1 of the titles that I get is being published twice a month! ACK!

As I mentioned before, there are some titles that I think I will continue to collect for pure nostalgia of it. I feel like I need to let go of several titles from my list. I don't want to give-up comics altogether, and I will NEVER stop collecting, reading and reviewing trades and graphic novels, but I know I need to step back and take an introspective look at what's on my list versus what I actually want to continue receiving.

I'm not going to say that this is the biggest decision of my life, but it does feel like a huge change for me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Writing this post has been quite cathartic and it feels like a lot of what has been weighing me down recently is now lifted.

On that note, I think I will also provide those of you who actually read my blog through to the end a little update as to what my continued plans are for this blog.

I know that I have been remiss of my duties of producing a regular series of reviews, and for that I apologize. I haven't been reading as much as I would like, and I actually don't have a large stack of trades that need reviewed as I normally have had in the past. I will be devoting some time this week to writing, as I have decided to take some time to myself from work. I hope to have some reviews scheduled for at least the next month or 2 by the end of the coming week.

As those of you who also follow my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, I have been actively working to get attending artists for this years Rose City Comic Con to donate a cover at the event. I'm proud to say that we have already lined-up 4 new artists who will be contributing to our cause: Katie Cook, Chip Zdarsky, Jim Mahfood and Valentine De Landro. I have reached-out to many others, and will continue to provide updates on our Facebook page.

I'm also proud to announce that we will again be receiving a generous donation of 10 grading services from CBCS at RCCC. The last time we joined forces, the bids for the covers were incredible. I can't wait to see what will come from this years donations. Here's what we received last time:

So excited for September!