Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zombies...Not The Worst Thing!

Do you like movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, Omega Man, Escape From New York and Mad Max?

Did you get a boot out of the Batman Epic , “No Man’s Land”?

And who doesn’t just love Zombie Apocalypse’s (or is that Zombie Apocalypsi?)

Or to paraphrase Buffy , “When the apocalypse comes, beep me”

Yes, post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is all the rage these days and has been for a very long time. One of my personal favorites is Soylent Green (is people!)

And every so often we see documentaries that discuss real life possibilities like nuclear war, pandemics, or collisions with asteroids wiping us all out in a rather spectacular fashion. We are all reassured though that such events are about as likely to happen as me hitting a $ 350,000,000 lottery by picking the numbers by throwing darts. Which is to say not very likely.

BUT! Did you know that there WAS an event in 1859, that if it hit the planet today would literally plunge us back into the Dark Ages? Did you know that the odds of another event just like it happening within a century or less is a near certainty?

In September, 1859 amateur astronomer Richard Carrington observed a massive solar event through his telescope. He observed two patches of intense white light, solar eruptions that triggered coronal mass ejections (CME) towards the earth. Within three days a massive geomagnetic storm struck the earth, blowing out telegraph lines all over the world. Telegraph lines were seen to spark and operators received shocks. Scarlet auroras began to appear all over the planet so bright that night turned into day.

All the result of a solar flare with the power of 10 billion Hiroshima Bombs.

Fortunately the planet did not yet possess a worldwide electrical grid. Life went on with no long term consequence.

This has become known as a Carrington Event. They happen every so often. According to NASA there is a one in eight chance of such an event happening by 2020. And a near certainty within a century. We are not talking about 100,000 years here. It’s just around the corner cosmically speaking. The only question is “will we be in the way?”

So what happens if we DO get struck by a Solar Storm on the level of a Carrington event?
Let’s jump for a moment to July 2020…

A geomagnetic storm with the power of the 1859 event strikes the earth head on and lasts for several days effectively destroying the power grid of the entire planet with what is essentially a Solar EMP. When the electricity failed worldwide the following happened:

• Transportation systems failed
• Fresh water supplies became scarce
• Emergency services failed
• Police and military were compromised
• Government services became nonexistent
• Worldwide finance crumbled
• Communications and the Internet disintegrate
• Fuel oil and gasoline become unobtainable.

Within six months all the major governments collapse. The population is decimated by starvation, thirst, disease and exposure.

The fact is that a head on Carrington event would destroy our civilization. We would quite possibly never recover as a technological species.

Perhaps this is a common occurrence in the Cosmos and explains why starfaring cultures don’t seem to exist (at least not in these parts). Maybe their technology is wiped out by Carrington events.

So are we destined to go the way of the Dinosaurs?

Only if we are foolish. People are a lot smarter than Dinosaurs (with the possible exception of Red Sox fans!). We are entirely capable of shielding our essential technology from the effects of a Carrington storm. Most importantly we are capable of protecting the massive power transformers that are the very heart of our global power grid and are irreplaceable on any large scale.

We haven’t done that yet. Doing so would be EXPENSIVE!

But there have been a few events recently that one would hope is waking the decision makers up to the fact that some up front expense will save us all a ton of grief…if we are forward thinking enough to act.

We suffered a glancing hit in 1989 that caused power outtages in the US and Canada. In 2012 we had a near miss that, if it had hit us would have had an immediate economic impact of 2 trillion dollars and would have taken many years to recover from.

While there is no need to get one’s affairs in order quite yet, the lesson we can learn from this is two fold.

First, the Earth is a fragile, beautiful place. It is actually tiny on a cosmic scale and can easily be ravaged by solar events.

Second, we can protect this fragile, beautiful planet. We’re pretty smart that way….if we act.

A Carrington event is certainly not as sexy as a Zombie Apocalypse but it’s far more likely to happen…and sooner than later. Bear that in mind when Mockingjay II comes out.

That's 30!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Lonely Man - A Look Back At The Incredible Hulk

The Age of Comic Book TV has certainly arrived. With shows like Walking Dead, Arrow, Flash, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, (oh and Comic book Men) currently on the schedule and Supergirl and Daredevil set to make their debuts in the coming months, TV and comics have never been more closely linked.

Why just this week iZombie, the DC owned property has made a very promising debut. (It’ sort of Buffy meets Veronica Mars and worth a peek!)
Not only do we have a lot of comic related television, we have a lot of GOOD comic book related television. Dead, Flash and Arrow are all bonifide hits. And while Agents has had it’s fits and starts along the way, that show too is finding both it’s legs and it’s audience.
Even shows that were not directly tied to comics give the media more than a passing nod. The Big Bang Theory in particular nails the comic shop experience right on the head!

Yes, things have never been better for comics and TV. But of course that’s hardly a new thing. As far back as the 1950’s we had the classic Adventures of Superman. The 60’s through the 90’s saw shows like Wonder Woman, Batman, The Tick, Lois And Clark, Superboy and (ugh) Spiderman all hit the airwaves at one time or another. These shows had varying degrees of quality and success. But even the very best of them seem a bit dated by today’s standards…except for one;

The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk made it’s debut in 1978 under show runner Kenneth Johnson, known for shows like V, Alien Nation, and The Bionic Woman. It starred Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrrigno and Jack Colvin. The show ran in prime time for five seasons and spawned several made for TV movies. It has never been off the air in all the years since and is a mainstay on Netflix even now.

The Hulk would fit right in with the character driven “super” dramas of today. David (not Bruce) Banner as portrayed by Bixby is based more on Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables than on his comic book counterpart. The fact that he is relentlessly pursued by Jack McGee (Colvin) brings that parallel even closer. Johnson consciously based the reporter on the obsessed policeman Javert from the classic novel.

The relationship between Banner and the Hulk (Ferrigno) is explored in the manner of Jekyll and Hyde. Banner is not just a man who changes into a monster. He is a man who has the two sides of his nature constantly warring with each other. As portrayed by Ferrigno, the creature is more childlike and given to frustration than simply rage personified. The creature is also VERY MUCH David Banner in his compassion.

The Incredible Hulk is very much a tragedy along the lines of Les Miserables in that we know Banner is always and ultimately alone. From week to week, regardless of the circumstances, Banner moves on alone to his next stop along the road to redemption and the ever elusive cure.

In the wrong hands this show could have become maudlin and even silly. However the team of Bixby/Ferrigno, Colvin and Johnson was as talented as TV has ever had to offer. They played the material with respect and honesty. They felt for the characters and made us feel for them as well.

Perhaps the most remembered “character” in the Incredible Hulk is the music. Specifically “The Lonely Man Theme”. It is a forlorn four note motif played most often on solo piano. The piece takes the pain that Banner lives with day to day and gives it a voice that haunts everyone who hears it. It may be the single most memorable theme in Television History.

Comic Book fans have never had a better time than today for our beloved hobby and TV, but there has arguably never been a show that quite matched The Incredible Hulk.

That’s 30!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Fantastic...Challengers?!

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…

Four adventurers, scientists, daredevils, ace pilots all survive a crash that should have killed them and are forever changed by the experience. Banding together they confront the weird, the unexplained and evil forces that could destroy the world if not for them.
This intrepid group is a cross between superheroes and adventurers, often exploring the unexplained just for the sake of going where no one has (ahem) gone before.

AND they were created by the King of Comics, Jack Kirby

Who ARE these four amazing people???

Obviously I’ talking about The Fantastic Four right?


I'm actually talking about a quartet created by the great Kirby several years EARLIER…
The Challengers Of The Unknown!

Challengers made its debut in the Showcase # 6, cover dated January/February 1957. Due to the delay in getting circulation data back on the comics of the time DC comics decided to create a try out title that would allow them to give new concepts a chance to catch on in their own title. Characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom and The Spectre all helped to usher in the Superhero revival of the Silver Age. In fact Showcase was so successful that a DC sister title, The Brave And Bold also began trying out new titles, notably Justice League of America and Hawkman.

Challengers fell somewhere between the adventure comics of the 1950’s and the growing trend to Superhero comics. None of the Challengers , Rocky Davis, Professor Haley, Red Ryan or Ace Morgan possessed superpowers, but all were extraordinary men. Each was an Olympic level athlete. The team had a daredevil, a scientist, a fearless daredevil and master skin diver. In so many ways the Challengers reads as a proof of concept for the Fantastic Four which would be so instrumental in launching the Marvel Age of Comics.

Obviously there are differences between the books. Not the least of which is the presence of Susan Storm in the latter title and the “fantastic” powers possessed by Reed Richards’ team.

Still three are as many similarities which can’t be ignored due to the simple fact that Kirby was instrumental in the creation of both titles in less than five years. Both groups are more adventurer than superhero. Both groups are banded together by a near death experience that changes them forever. And both groups are more like family than a group of like minded associates.
Visually both Challengers and Fantastic Four bear the unmistakable Kirby style. Kirby’s art is always in motion, the characters not just talking heads, panels easily broken. Kirby dynamism is evident in both titles.

Although Challengers never reached the height that the FF did (largely because Kirby migrated from DC to Marvel) the former title was a mainstay at DC for over twenty years and still makes occasional appearances today. They make a notable appearance in the Darwin Cooke created DC The New Frontier in both the comics and animated feature.

The Challengers have a solid place in the pantheon of Silver Age titles that revived the industry. For two decades the went boldly and fearlessly into the Unknown. They were the template for one of the most popular ongoing titles in comics history which had no small part in launching the Marvel Age.

Not a bad legacy!

That’s 30!


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Thank You Leonard

It’s been a while. But then anyone who knows me, knew that I wouldn’t and couldn’t let the passing of Leonard Nimoy , the beloved Mr. Spock go without saying goodbye.

Leonard was Spock, and Spock was Leonard. If ever an actor and character were two sides of the same coin, it was this pair. Leonard did more than portray a character that became an icon. He gave that character a life of his own. To millions of people Mr. Spock is every bit as real and alive as anyone has ever been. The Vulcan legend was imbued with depth, and insight…and humanity by Leonard Nimoy.

Gene Roddenberry may have conceived Spock, but it was Leonard who birthed him. In birthing Mr. Spock, Mr. Nimoy gave us a character that said in a very clear voice “It’s ok to be different”. In a world that has always been so focused on conformity, Spock/Nimoy, with that raised eyebrow and bemused expression showed many of us that diversity was much cooler.

Spock was an inspiration to anyone (meaning all of us) that ever felt alienated, different, or alone. He was an alien in a human world who found his place by making peace with the two sides of his nature. It was not easy, and it was a journey. But at the end Spock was very much content being a creature of two worlds. He was very human that way.

As an adolescent going through those feelings of alienation, even from my own body, when everything is awkward and nothing seemed to work quite right, my Vulcan friend was an anchor for me. At that age emotions are raging all the time and never quite the same from day to day. Girls are a terrifying mystery and being part of the group seems far more important than it really is. I saw in Spock someone who used his intellect and reason to balance his own emotional war. And in as much as any 13 year old could, I tried to emulate that trait. At the time I thought it was Spock who gave me an example to follow. Later I realized it was just Leonard. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

Leonard gave Spock that humanity. Had Spock simply been, as longtime nemesis and friend Dr. McCoy liked to point out, a computer with legs, the character would have faded from our consciousness in due course. It was the humanity that Nimoy imbued Spock with that made him whole and alive. Spock still lives. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

When you live long enough you see that certain issues never go away entirely. They may fade for a while, but they always come back. One of those is intolerance. When Spock was born and I was just a kid, racial intolerance and the Civil Rights movement were an open national debate. There were riots and killings and lynchings all over the color of a person’s skin. Today we are a world divided over religious ideology and the idea that if you aren’t o a certain belief that it is perfectly alright to kill you.

Illogical…tragically illogical. But Nimoy/Spock had and have an answer to that ridiculous world view. It is an idea and way of looking at the world called IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. In the world of Star trek it was a plot device to explain Spock’s more spiritual side. It became the “mission statement” of Star Trek to not only tolerate the differences between us but to embrace them. IDIC was another gift that Spock gave to me because that idea resonated with the 13 year old me and never left. It has made me, for want of a better word, “color blind”. Thanks again Leonard.

In 1985 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to, briefly, join the world of Star Trek when I wrote “The Official Star trek Quiz Book”. Not my finest hour, but more fun than a basket full of Tribbles. My phone rang one morning and it was Leonard Nimoy. He took the time to call someone he had never met just to offer a few words of encouragement. It still amazes me thirty years later. While I never became the writer I had hoped to be, I have never forgotten that gesture. I have made it a point to encourage the people that I have known in business and in my personal life whenever I can though. Leonard showed me how valuable just a few words can be. Thanks Mr. Nimoy.

There are some lines from Julius Casear:
“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”
In the case of Leonard Nimoy the opposite is very much the case. The good he has done will live long and prosper. I’ll probably see Spock on the screen later today so I won’t miss him. But I’ll miss Leonard. And so will the millions of people he touched in his journey.

Thank you Leonard.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Come Blow Your Horn – Remembering Sinatra

When you make a visit to Comic Book Jones you are greeted by comics, collectibles, wonderful and friendly people, and more often than you might realize…

By Frank Sinatra

I can’t count all the times I have walked through those doors and had my ears graced by the man known as Old Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice, or (my favorite) Mr. S.

It’s hard to believe that Sinatra has been gone for sixteen years this month because not a day goes by that I don’t run across him in some way. And so have you, whether you know it or not. Frank has so influenced popular music that he continues to shape musical tastes to this day. Just ask Michael Buble. Ask Harry Connick Jr. Ask Paul Mccartney!

No less a publication than Rolling Stone has this to say about the Great Man:

“Baritone Frank Sinatra was indisputably the 20th century’s greatest singer of popular song…”

Rolling STONE!

Sinatra, like Muhammad Ali and Babe Ruth was a game changer. His personalization of lyric and phrasing has become the Rosetta Stone for modern vocalists.

Sinatra conquered every level of the entertainment business in a career that spanned sixty years. Aside from his remarkable recording career, Sinatra was a key figure in outing Vegas on the map. Along with his Rat Pack (Martin, Davis and Bishop), Mr. S defined cool for generations.

As if that was not enough Sinatra was an academy award winning dramatic actor with a filmography of over 50 films including classics like “From Here To Eternity”, “The Man With The Golden Arm” and “The Manchurian Candidate”.

No less a personage that the immortal Gene Kelly stated that a young Sinatra was the best dancing student he ever coached.
There was literally nothing in the entertainment world that Sinatra couldn’t do.

Back to his recording career. If you have ever listened to a concept album by any artist (That is an album with a central theme) , you can thank Sinatra. While recording for the Capital label Sinatra, along with Woodie Guthrie invented the concept album. His 1955 album “In The Wee Small Hours “ inspired other artists to create concept albums. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” anyone?

Of course Frank’s off hours exploits were legendary, filled with booze, broads and bar room brawls. But the lesser known Sinatra helped financially strapped and even terminally ill people whom he never really knew. Among them the legendary heavy weight champion Joe Lewis. Sinatra built schools and encouraged young artists. He was mercurial with wide mood swings. He got up off the deck when his singing career crashed in the early 1950’s with his performance in “From Here To Eternity”. He said great things and very stupid things.

Sinatra was completely and utterly human. We shall NOT see his like again.

Come Blow Your Horn!

That’s 30…Pally!


Monday, March 10, 2014

What If?

The thing I love the most about our shared hobby is not the comic books, or the TV shows, or the movies. It isn’t the games or novels or related APPS.

It’s the people.

I may be biased but I really believe that the people who gravitate towards comic books and all the things that go with them are pretty special. For the most part our fellow collectors are kind, compassionate and intelligent.

There is a strong element of humanism that runs through our community.

There is one other quality that the community shares. Almost everyone of you is a “What if?” and a “maybe someday” personality. You see the world in much broader strokes than the average person. Life is more that just those things that directly impact your immediate existence. You are question askers!

What IF a man could fly?

What IF we travel from the inner mind to the Outer Limits?

What might happen a long time ago, in a Galaxy far away?

Can we REALLY make a small side trip to the Twilight Zone?

And so on…you are all so full of wonder. It is why so many of us try our hand at creating things. It may be a comic, or a blog, or a pod cast. We write, draw, sculpt, build, create…

And wonder.

The best thing we create are all the wonderful friendships.

We look over the next hill and wonder every day about our place in the Cosmos.

(You KNEW I was going here didn’t you?)

Last night on FOX in PRIME TIME the sequel to the classic Carl Sagan hosted series COSMOS made it’s debut. Hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, author, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Cosmos, A Space Time Odyssey asks a LOT of questions. More importantly it prompts US to ask a lot of questions.

Like the original series, Cosmos is set to air thirteen episodes. And like the original, this new Cosmos will not only explore deep space. It will explore the heart , soul and endlessly questioning nature of humanity.

The first words of the first episode come from Car Sagan, in his own voice. He reminds us that “The Cosmos is all there ever was and all there ever will be”

At one point in the early part of the premiere episode Tyson points out that while we will need our imaginations to take this journey of the mind, we will also need science, because the reality of the Cosmos is so much more than anything we could ever imagine.

The opening episode takes us from the Big Bang, to 16th Century Europe to beyond the Universe and into the Multiverse. We revisit the Cosmic Calendar which compresses the existence of the Cosmos to a single calendar year. We, you and I….everyone we have ever heard about…all the wars…all the science…all the literature…EVERYTHING in the human condition took place in the last few seconds of the last day on the Cosmic Calendar .

Pretty humbling. But, as Carl once said, WE are the way for the Cosmos to know itself.

The Cosmos would be a pretty poor place if there were no one to bear witness…to wonder at it all.

The thing that stuck most powerfully for me from this first episode is a story that Tyson tells about how, as a young teenager Carl Sagan reached out to him, as he did with many young people. Sagan invited him to his laboratory and spent the day with him. Sagan, who was the face of science at the time and very famous felt that it was important to connect with young people. To give of his time and pass along his own sense of wonder.

It almost makes me think Sagan collected comic books. As Tyson observed, he learned more than what sort of scientist he wanted to be. He learned about the sort of person he wanted to be.

Watch Cosmos. Wonder at it and keep asking questions.

That’s 30!


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

DCUO Three Years In

DC Universe Online has just hit it’s third anniversary! DCUO as it is known to it’s many players it THE superhero MMORPG. City of Heroes recently shut it’s doors after a long run so if you are looking for a Superhero MMO fix you can’t do better than this FREE TO PLAY offering.

Here are the nuts and bolts :

• Available on PC, PS3 and PS4 as a digital download
• Eleven Million registered players
• Based on the DC Universe BEFORE the New 52

I’ve been playing this game since it’s launch and let me tell you, there have been MANY changes. The game is totally immersive and highly customizable. You can choose from a litany of Powers, gear styles (in the thousands), alignment (Hero or Villain), and roles (Damage dealer, Healer, Tank or Controller).

Each character can have his own personal lair/hideout, specialized armories, crafting abilities and of course LOOK. I’ve seen a lot of Wonder Women, Supermen, Batmen and even X-Men, Caps and Spidermen. BUT the vast majority of players create their own distinctive looks. There is no end to the possibilities and imagination of the players regarding their look.

There are more missions than I can count but they encompass everything from Solos to Duos, Four man alerts and , Eight man raids. Your missions take place in Gotham, Metropolis, Central City, The Wastelands and most recently MOGO.

The most current trilogy being played out is War of The Light which centers on the entire spectrum of all the Lantern Corps. Part one has just released. Concurrent with fight for the light are plans to release a Wonder Woman based trilogy and one centering around the New Gods.

There is no lack of content to keep you engaged!

As a player you can remain a free agent or join one of the many “leagues” that have sprung up in the game. The initial leveling process is solo based so you might want to wait until you reach level 30 to join a league.

Character creation is a breeze and very easy. When you first start the game you are asked to choose a mentor from among the iconic DC Heroes and Villains depending on your alignment. From there character creation is as simple or intricate as YOU want it to be.

Once you have reached level 30 by completing your mentor missions the real game begins. From this point you can take part in RAIDS and advanced content. Though if you remain F2P you will need to buy DLC packs for much of this content. Should you reach level 30 and like the game I would heartily recommend subscribing to the Legendary tier which is about $10 a month but includes all of the download content and many other perks, such as an unlimited cash cap, free lair and free armory.

If you prefer you can opt for PREMIUM status which only requires a total of $5 spent on mini transactions at anytime while you are playing. Once you have spent $% your Premium status is permanent.

However you want to play (F2P, Premium or Legendary) DCUO is a must try for any Superhero fan. There are even leagues out there that are heavy into the role playing and comic book connections.

As to game play, combat is real time and fast paced. Unlike many other MMOS this is not a turn based game. Your reaction time and skills play a big part in how successful you are in game. Gear and skill points are second to YOUR skill!

Three years in, DCUO continues to grow and grow BETTER. But new comers don’t get left behind. Unlike many other MMOS a new player can catch up to the highest levels within the first month or two of starting. The progression path encourages players to reach top tier very quickly.

Go on. Give it a try. It’s free after all. AND if you are on the Playstation look me up! My in game character is MUN EL and I’ll be happy to show you the ropes!

Now I gotta get back! Brainiac is acting up again and needs a beat down!!

That’s 30!