Free Comic Book Day: The Return

My favorite day of the year hasn’t really happened since 2019.

I know, favorite days are supposed to happen annually, but if you think about what the state of the world has been since March of 2020, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what exactly has gone wrong. Among the many, many things that we lost because of Covidpalooza was a day I look forward to every year, a day that makes me tingle with anticipation, tremble with excitement, and quiver with bodily reactions I should probably stop referring to metaphorically. But it’s back. It’s here. It’s Saturday.

It’s Free Comic Book Day 2022!

For many years now, the comic book publishers, distributors, and shops of North America have celebrated the first Saturday in May as Free Comic Book Day, an event where special free comics are given out at stores across the land. The better stores (such as my local shop, BSI Comics in Metairie, Louisiana) have gone even further, expanding from simply handing out books to turning the event into something of a mini-convention full of games, cosplay, and sales, as well as hosting writers and artists hoping to sell some of their wares and meet the fans. In 2020, when the pandemic was still fresh, the event was canceled entirely, with the books (most of which had already been printed) given out piecemeal through a “Free Comic Book Summer” which didn’t really scratch the same itch. You see, it’s not just about the freebies, it’s about the EXPERIENCE. It was like getting a late Christmas present in mid-January… it’s not really the same, is it? Then in 2021, a new wave pushed the event back from its usual May home to August, and another wave – at least in my area – curtailed the event dramatically.

Saturday, it’s back in full force.

For a long time now – first as a podcaster and now as a writer – I’ve manned a table at BSI Comics for FCBD, and I couldn’t look forward to it more. It’s not about the free stuff (although let’s face it, we all love free stuff), but it’s about a chance to celebrate an art form I love dearly. Comic books are a unique form of entertainment, and while they’re finally starting to garner a little bit of the respect they deserve from the public at large, for too many people they’re still looked upon as disposable entertainment, kids’ stuff (as if there’s something wrong with that) or just an IP to be exploited for movies.And yeah, they can be all of those things, but they can also be so much more. Comics are an art form, and a unique one. They’re a blend of words and pictures that doesn’t exist in the same way in any other form of storytelling, and that’s a kind of magic. I love FCBD as a chance to show off to people who maybe don’t view comics this way, or who don’t know where to find them, or who have incorrect assumptions about the art form – take these people and show them what comics are capable of.

But that’s not the only thing. As I said, I’ve been sitting at my table at BSI for several years now, and in that time I’ve befriended a lot of people – local fans, other local creators, people whose work I respect and admire and whose company I enjoy. But, like those relatives you only get a chance to see at Christmas and Thanksgiving, a lot of these are people I don’t often get to hang around with except at comic book conventions and FCBD. This isn’t just a chance to peddle a couple of books or get a couple of free comics — it’s a chance to hang out with some friends. 

Free Comic Book Day is a chance – a sadly rare chance for me – to spend a day around people I like, to meet new people who like the things that I do, and to celebrate those wonderful, beautiful, gloriously geeky things we have in common. And if I happen to sell a few books in the process, even better. Quick sales pitch: I’ll be there selling copies of all four of my novels as well as my humor book, Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class. I’ve also unearthed a box of my first (and to date only) comic book credit, the short story “Ryan and Radar,” with art by Matt Weldon and published in Tales From the Plex #4, so there’ll be copies of that as well. Plus I’ll be giving out free bookmarks and fist bumps all day long. I also know local writer Kurt Amacker and comic creator and children’s book author Vernon Smith will be there too, among other confirmed guests. 

So if you’re in the New Orleans area, come down to BSI and say hello. If you’re not in New Orleans, go to www.freecomicbookday.com and look for a local participating shop. And while you’re there, remember, the comics are free to YOU, but not to the store – so shop around and see if there’s anything you’d like to pick up while you’re there. 

See you in the shop!

How I would handle Universal’s “Dark Universe”

Universal doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with its classic monsters. And while many would argue that we don’t really need a “Dark Universe” connecting them all, the monster rally movies did the shared universe before it was cool, and damn it, I want to see them do it again. So as often seems to happen, I’ve spent too much time thinking about how I would write stories for a property I do not own and could never officially write, and what the hell, I may as well share the ideas with you. 

First of all, you don’t start from scratch. You go back to what has already worked. And that means we gotta start with Brendan Fraser. Because everybody loves him and his Mummy movies are the best use of the Universal Monsters since the Creature From the Black Lagoon’s first splash. We canonize his films, as well as the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing, which had the same director and planned for them to be connected in the first place. 

So here’s what we do. It’s 1953. Rick O’Connell has long since retired. He and Evie are living a good life somewhere quiet, with a library for her to tend, their family to enjoy, and most importantly… no mummies.

Until the day a tour of artifacts from the Egyptian museum comes to town. 

Rick is reluctant, but Evie convinces him it would be fun to go and look at the artifacts for old times’ sake. As they do so, their young granddaughter Elsa happens across some hieroglyphics that have thus far evaded translation. The youngest O’Connell, however, has inherited both her grandmother’s brilliance and her grandfather’s recklessness, and quickly solves the inscription. As she does so, the mummy traveling as part of the exhibit awakens. The O’Connells flee, barely making it out alive and rushing back to Evie’s library to try to figure out exactly what little Elsa said. When they arrive, however, they find a young woman, packed to the gills with weapons and arcane artifacts, has broken into their home and is waiting for them.

Her name, she says, is Van Helsing. She is the latest in a long line of monster-slayers, and they’ve been keeping an eye on the O’Connells ever since that business with Imhotep. This new Mummy, like Imhotep, was a high priest. However, he found something far more powerful than anything Imhotep ever touched upon… the power of belief. The arcane and supernatural forces in the world are fueled by the belief that humans have in them – the more people who believe in them, the more powerful they grow. And the newest Mummy, awakened by Elsa’s careless words, has woken up to a world in which a new form of communication is in ascendance… television.

The Mummy visits a local carnival and manipulates the belief in the freakshow to bring two new acolytes to life: a wolfman and a gillman. Together, they take over a television station, preparing for that night’s big broadcast of the most popular television program of the age, I Love Lucy. The Mummy’s plan is to force someone at the network to break into the show with live footage of the monsters, showing millions of people the truth of their existence at once. The O’Connells and Van Helsing have to chase them down, having an adventure across the city fighting monsters of all types, trying to get to the broadcast headquarters before the truth of the monsters’ existence becomes so widespread that it will be impossible to get it back into the bottle. 

But they’re too late.

The broadcast goes out and, as people at home see the terrifying power of the Mummy and his minions, their power begins to grow. All over the world we see glimpses of creatures waking up – an enormous golem-like corpse in Eastern Europe begins moving, a malformed creature in France begins softly singing, the heir to the Griffin family finds traces of his ancestor’s legendary formula. All is lost.

Until Elsa commandeers the camera, reading off the cue cards to begin the planned live commercial for the evening. As she does so, people at home start to laugh at their own fear, realizing that they’ve just been watching a TV show, none of it is real. As they do so, the Mummy’s power fades, collapses, until the O’Connells and Van Helsing manage to slay the monsters in a triumphant finish. 

The world is safe again.

Until we see a tall, thin man watching the broadcast from somewhere else. He is as fiendishly handsome as he is evil-looking, and as he watches, he strokes his chin, pondering the possibilities of what he has witnessed. After planning all night, he notices that the sun is about to rise, and so he slips into his coffin, and closes the lid. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. If anyone reading this happens to be an executive for Universal Studios, you should know that he will work cheap.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife — A Review

Let’s be honest here: reboots are hard.

Studios like them, of course, because they’re counting on the audience carrying over and giving the refurbished IP the gas it needs to get to a new audience, one that maybe didn’t grow up with the original. The trick, then, is to create something that the original audience will support, but at the same time is satisfying to someone unfamiliar with the property. A lot of reboots fail at least one of these two essential tasks. And a lot of them, trying to do both, wind up pleasing no one.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the unicorn, that reboot that will have the old fans applaud and bring the next generation with them.

I won’t talk much about the plot, except to say that it’s set in the modern day, the events of the first two movies happened but are considered by many to be a hoax or an urban legend, and that it’s about some kids uncovering a legacy they were entirely unaware of. 

That said, the plot isn’t the thing that’s got me so in love with this movie. Oh, I enjoyed it immensely, don’t get me wrong, and I think it hits almost every beat without fail, crafting a story that is respectful to the movies of the 1980s without ever running the risk of locking out somebody who doesn’t know anything about the Ghostbusters except that their dad really likes to wear the costume on Halloween. The script is funny and creepy and full of energy, and it just plain works. But that is by no means the most important thing about this movie. The tone, the feel of the thing matters much, much more.

I’ve heard people calling it Ghostbusters by way of Stranger Things, which is fair, in that both this movie and Stranger Things draw from the 80s, Spielbergian, Amblin-esque concept of a world where children are brave, heroic figures instead of props to be held hostage or obstacles getting in their parents’ way. This is the type of E.T., Goonies portrait of childhood where kids are willing to place themselves on the line and face dangers for adventure, for their loved ones, and for the greater good. McKenna Grace absolutely steals this movie as Phoebe, a 12-year-old socially awkward girl whose predilection towards science and logic has left her without much in the way of human contact beyond her older brother, Trevor and her mother. This is her movie, a movie about her finding herself, finding her history, finding her team, and doing so in an utterly triumphant way. 

The characters are not a simple “Generation Xerox” from the original films either. It’s true that Phoebe has much of Egon’s intellect and adorkable nature, and that Podcast carries over a lot of Ray’s wide-eyed wonder and excitement, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. These two, along with the other newbies, are allowed to grow and develop into their own people instead of just being “The New Peter” or “The New Winston.” You learn about each of them, you feel for each of them, and chances are at some point in your life you’ve been at least one of them. (I was Trevor in high school. And college. And most of my 20s, if we’re being entirely honest here.) 

Fans of the original Ghostbusters know that no future incarnation of the franchise will ever be like the first two films again. It can’t be, not since Harold Ramis passed away in 2014. So instead, Jason Reitman took his father’s most famous work and used it as a foundation for a new Ghostbusters, a new world that I am so happy and eager to explore. But at the same time, this is a movie I want to watch with my 11-year-old niece, who has never seen the first two movies but wants to be a scientist, so she can see a girl just one year older than her utterly kicking ass. And with her seven-year-old brother, who just loves monsters and the Ghostbusters. 

Too many reboots think about one of two audiences, the old or the new, and try to just leave a back door open for the other. Afterlife is wide open, inviting in everyone, having something for everyone, and reminding us just how good bustin’ can make us feel. 

Review also shared on my Letterboxd page.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He has been that dad wearing a Ghostbusters costume on Halloween, along with his son Edward, whose own Ghostbusters jumpsuit just said “Rookie.” His wife wore a Slimer t-shirt, and it was adorable.

Halloween Kills: A Review

I’ve seen a lot of people complaining online about Halloween Kills. In and of itself, there’s nothing unusual about that. People complaining online is part of the natural downfall of our species — hell, some may argue that’s what online is actually for. However, it’s rare that I find myself not only disagreeing with the mob mentality, but utterly incapable of figuring out exactly what they’re angry about in the first place. All of this is to say, I thought Halloween Kills was fantastic.

I enjoyed the 2018 Halloween movie (which I STILL by God wish they had given a subtitle, because did we really need THREE movies in this franchise simply called Halloween?), but in some ways, I think I enjoyed Halloween Kills even more. I’m going to talk spoilers here, because I can’t really think of a way to explain what I liked so much without them, so if you want to remain spoiler free, go away now, secure in the knowledge that I just really, really liked the darn film.

The movie picks up mere moments after the end of the previous movie — Laurie Strode, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson are in the back of a truck fleeing from the burning remains of Laurie’s home where they trapped Michael Myers and left him to die. (Quick tangent: all three of the Strode women were utter baddasses in the first movie, they continue to be so in this one, and how great is it that Judy Greer is finally getting to play a character that’s not just the hero’s ex-wife?) Before we pick it up, though, we bounce back to 1978, the night of the original Halloween movie, for one of several scenes that flesh out what happened both on that night and during the previous film. In particular, these scenes recontextualize Frank Hawkins’s storyline, amplifying the tragedy that he’s facing in his own quest to see Michael destroyed.

“Amplifying the tragedy,” by the way, is a good way to summarize this movie as a whole. Frank accidentally killed his own partner while trying to stop Michael back in 1978. And if that wasn’t enough, we later learn that he carries even more guilt for the current slaughter because he stopped Dr. Loomis from killing Michael that night. In the present day, Michael survives the inferno when the gas is cut off and the fire extinguished by firemen who are doing what firemen are supposed to do, and then get butchered for it. Across town, we meet a new-ish group of characters having their annual Halloween support group at the bar: survivors of Michael’s original 1978 massacre (some of which are even played by the original actors). 

This is the first thing that set this movie apart for me. So many slasher movies — going back to when Halloween first popularized the genre — are about celebrating the killer. Fans aren’t necessarily going for the story or the characters or for anything except to see how many people Freddy and Jason and Michael can kill and if they can do it in a more creative way than they did last time. And I get it, I enjoy those movies too, but in a very dark way it strips of us of our ability to think about what the consequences of a night like that would be for real people.

Halloween Kills is very much about those consequences. In a rare move for a slasher movie, this film spends a lot of its run time dealing with the survivors of Michael’s rampage and the families of his victims, to the point where original survivor Tommy Doyle manages to whip dozens of them into an angry mob that puts the ones that used to chase Frankenstein’s monster to shame. It forces us to think about the fact that every time a slasher movie shows us some teenager getting impaled on a pike, in-universe this would be somebody’s son or daughter or mother or father. What Michael Myers does shouldn’t be applauded. He’s leaving behind a trail of orphans, widows, and friends who will never heal. A few moments in the film focus on the mother of Oscar, one of the teenagers killed in the last movie (a few hours ago in movie-time) for scenes that add absolutely nothing to the story, but drive home the gut-wrenching nail that this mother has just lost her son to a senseless act of violence. In one scene, Karen and Allyson argue because Allyson wants to join the aforementioned mob, whereas Karen (whose husband died just hours ago and whose mother is in a hospital bed) just wants her daughter to stay the hell where she is and be SAFE, dammit… and in that moment, both of these women are 100 percent right to feel the way that they do. 

Perhaps ironically, the other way the filmmakers this time demonstrate the real horror of a Michael Myers is by spending more time with the victims before they get ripped apart in some of the most inventive kills yet. We get to see more of their lives and who they are, and so when they die (in increasingly brutal ways) it’s far more disturbing than those of us who cheer when Victor Crowley takes a belt sander to somebody’s face are used to. 

As much as I love the tone, story, and characterization, there are a couple things about the film I have to take issue with. One is the dialogue. I don’t mind a little cheese, but there are a lot of one-liners and some heavy speechifyin’ from Anthony Michael Hall’s character that add enough ham to make a whole charcuterie tray. 

Then there’s the ending, which frankly, is baffling. In the last moments of the film, we are presented with the theory that killing literally makes Michael Myers stronger and more unstoppable, and you realize that the kills in this movie and the previous one have gotten increasingly brutal even as he seems to have grown increasingly powerful. In this moment, Michael has been beaten, shot, and stabbed to a degree that it seems for certain even HE must be dead. And then he just… stands up. And resumes the rampage, killing even several survivors we have come to love. It seems very clear that the filmmakers are taking a supernatural take on Michael Myers, something that the previous film pointedly avoided.

Whenever this has happened in previous iterations of the franchise, this has been one of the weak spots of the character — he’s much more interesting when he’s a human driven by a soul of pure evil than a demon or driven by a curse. So the decision to go in this direction is, frankly, troubling. But I remind myself that this is the end of act II, not the end of the story. The third and final film in this trilogy is coming out next year, and at this point I’ve enjoyed the first two parts of the story enough that I’m willing to go along for the ride and see if they stick the landing. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. His current child is Edward, who at the moment is watching YouTube videos of cars running over what the guy who makes the videos CLAIMS is rotten fruit, but Blake is skeptical.

What is art?

Earlier today I read something that argued the purpose of art is to subvert and shine a light on how the individual has been failed by society. It’s an interesting argument and one that got me thinking… certainly, that’s a function of art, and it’s a message that art can convey much better than most other means of communication… but to say that’s the sole purpose, or even the primary purpose… that doesn’t ring true to me.

So I asked myself, “What is art?” I tend to lean towards the definition from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which (to paraphrase) is that art is anything a human does that does not further one of the two basic instincts of survival or reproduction. In the book, he illustrates this by a caveman sticking his tongue out at a wild animal he narrowly escaped. Fleeing from the animal was survival, but taunting it afterwards… that was art.

It’s a simplistic definition, to be sure, but it’s broad enough to encompass virtually any kind of art you can name, which is what I like about it. Having said that, this works to define art, but doesn’t actually explore the purpose of art, which is what I was thinking about. Why do I — on those rare occasions I have time anymore — make art? Why do I write or sing or act or draw (poorly)? 

The common thread, I decided, is that art is something created because a person has a need to take something inside themselves and shape it, mold it into something different. It’s the creation of an inherently metaphorical representation of a piece of the artist’s soul. (Obviously, some works of art are less metaphorical than others, but the act of creation invariably creates some layer of metaphor.) 

Some people would argue, of course, that — well sure, but there’s art, and then there’s ART. HIGH art, not LOW art. I inherently reject this notion. The idea that the value a work of art has is dependent on how “elevated” the artist’s message would be is pretentious and absurd. Hell, in his time Shakespeare was a popular writer just trying to pay the bills. Had these people been alive at the time, no doubt they would have dismissed King Lear as just another money grab by a hack writer.

To me, the value of a piece of art is determined by how successfully it conveys the emotions and ideas that the artist intended. That’s true whether the art is subversive or celebratory, whether it’s dark and moody or light and joyful. If you have made people feel the way you want them to feel, your art is successful. 

Hamlet is, in my opinion, a successful work of art. So is the preschooler cartoon Bluey. So is Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, and the Mike Schur’s show The Good Place, and Weird Al Yankovic’s “Frank’s 2000-Inch TV” and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Penelope Spheeris’s Wayne’s World and J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5. And Huckleberry Finn and Newsradio and Casablanca and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and “Rainbow Connection,” and Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys. Not because all of these are going to change the world, but because each of them evokes in me a powerful emotional response, and laughter is just as legitimate a response as tears — although when you can create them both at the same time (lookin’ at you, Mike Schur), then you really have gone to the next level.

Art is subjective, and art intended for public consumption is dependent on the audience to determine its value. So while I enjoy consuming art and analyzing art and discussing art, I’m not big on somebody telling me what is and isn’t art. Never have been. 

Santa’s Odyssey: New Year’s Eve

On Christmas morning, as Santa Claus and two of his helpers returned to the North Pole, they came under attack by a group of holiday Icons angry that Claus was monopolizing the holiday glory. This year, stranded in the human world with no way home, Santa will be forced to take on the tasks for every other holiday — the Icons are on strike.

Previous Installments:

Epilogue: New Year’s Eve

“Are you certain about this?”

“Yes. It’s not a bad place. I liked a lot of it there. I want to see more.”

“And you’re sure it’s not just about…”

“Would it matter if it was?”

“No. No, I suppose not. Well… we’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. But it’s not like we’ll never see each other again.”

“It’s not?”

“Say hello when you drop by.”

“When on Earth would I have cause to drop by?”

“Seriously? Once a year. On Christmas Eve.”

December 31st, 1150 p.m.

The party was no different than last year. Back at the same bar, Gary stood in a corner, holding a drink that went down his throat slowly. All around him his friends were dancing, laughing, getting ready for the big kiss at midnight. It was cold outside, but he felt a chill even inside.

He sat down on a bar stool next to a blonde woman with long hair flowing down over her ears. She was short, but he didn’t realize just how short until she turned towards him and he saw her legs dangling in midair. “Everything okay?” she asked him.

“Hmm? Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just…”

“Not much of a party guy?”

“I guess not. It almost feels like an obligation, coming to this thing every year.”

She looked around at the couples canoodling in the corner. “It’s probably better if you’re with somebody. Are you?”

“With anybody?” he shook his head. “No. The only person I’d really want to be with is my son, but he’s with his mom tonight. That’s okay, though, I got him for Christmas. That was the deal.”

“You got the better end of that one.”

“I know.”

“Nobody else?”

“You know, I had a couple of roommates until a month or so ago. Good guys. I…” He trailed off, realizing if he went any further she might start asking for details. The thing that bothered him the most about his roommates being gone was not that he couldn’t remember much about them. It was that when he stopped thinking about the fact that he couldn’t remember them, he didn’t even remember that he couldn’t remember them. It was an absurd thought that struck him two or three times a day, but only for a few minutes before he was distracted and they left his thoughts all over again.

“What about you?” he asked.

“I just left a job I’ve been at for a long time. Good people there, almost family, but I did a little traveling this year and thought I would like to go out and see what else there is in the world.”

“What are you doing now?”

“Nothing at the moment, but I have a few ideas. Next year is going to be big for me.”

“Here’s to that,” he said, lifting his glass. She smiled as she clinked hers to his. It was a lovely smile.

People started to rush around, crowding in front of one TV screen or another. “It’s almost time!” someone shouted. “It’s time for the countdown!”

“Midnight already?” Gary said.

“Oooh, this will be great,” she said, raising her glass. “What do we do at midnight?”

“What, you’ve never been to a New Year’s party before?”

“Oh, sure, but it’s different where I’m from. What do you do?”

“What do I do? I just finish my drink and go home.”

“Well that doesn’t sound like much fun. What does everybody else do?”

Gary didn’t have time to answer her before the countdown started. People cheered and rushed together and clutched each other.

“Ten… nine… eight…”

“Well… they do…”

“Five… four… three…”

“Come on, Gary, what do they do?”

“One… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Everyone began to shout and cheer, blowing their noisemakers and drinking champagne. And of course, the kissing. People held onto the ones they loved, or the ones they liked, or the ones they barely knew but they were just drunk enough to share this moment with, and they kissed. Gary didn’t remember the last time he’d had a New Year’s–

The blond woman grabbed his neck and pulled him in, giving him a gentle kiss. It was soft and sweet — strange, that someone with the initiative to kiss him so boldly would do so in a way that felt like she’d never done it before. When it was over, he pulled back and looked at her, She was smiling. So was he.

“That’s what everyone was doing,” she said. “It’s seemed appropriate.”

“I guess it was,” he said. She giggled, he laughed, they drank.

“Hey, did I tell you my name was Gary? I don’t remember that.”

“You must have,” she said. “How else would I have known? I’m Eleanor, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Eleanor.”

“Nice to meet you. So, Gary, do you have any plans for 2019?”

He couldn’t help smile. “Not a one,” he said.

The End

Find me at the Forge

ForgedFirst thing’s first — to all the new folks we met at Free Comic Book Day who bought one of my books or picked up a bookmark: hello! It was great meeting you! Eddie says you were his favorite!

Next, those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter (and really, why wouldn’t you?) may have noticed more writing activity from me this week, specifically a piece on Superman and Superboy, a review of Avengers #1, and a piece on why I love Free Comic Book Day. You may also have noticed these articles are appearing at a new website, ForgedBy4.com. I though that a little introduction was in order.

Many years ago, I got my start in Geek Punditry at a website called Comixtreme. I was on staff there for years writing columns and reviews and I loved doing it. But CX was a forum-based site and, like many other such sites, it died a slow death after Facebook came along and changed the landscape of social media. I also had an increasingly chaotic personal life at the time, and I fell out of writing such things almost altogether. For some time now, though, I’ve had an itch to get back into it, which I’ve tried to scratch with personal blogs and social media.

It wasn’t the same.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by one of the old CX crew, Craig Reade, asking what I thought modern social media was lacking. Without any other information, but suspecting what he was getting at, I told him “If you’re trying to get something started again, I’m in.”

Craig has assembled a small (but growing) group of old Comixtreme mates and some newcomers for the new ForgedBy4, a site to celebrate the things we love about Pop Culture. Our coverage will be there to accentuate the positive: no 15-point bullet lists about why your favorite superhero would be a terrible person in real life or why everyone in your favorite movie will probably die after the credits roll. That doesn’t mean there will be no criticism or analysis, just that if one of the site’s contributing writers is talking about something, we’re approaching it from a place of fondness and affection. If you want negativity, there’s the entire rest of the internet.

We’ll have a social media presence, of course. We’re on Facebook and Twitter, and we even have a Subreddit. But our heart and soul is old-school. We’re bringing back the forum as our main place for conversation, and we hope you’ll all take a few minutes to sign up (for free) and join in. Sure, you can read our articles if you aren’t a member, but we think the experience will be richer if you are. And if you’re not really sure what you would get out of a forum experience… well, Craig explains it better than I could.

My personal blog isn’t going anywhere, of course. I’ll still be here with updates of Santa’s Odyssey and whatever else strikes my fancy, but my Geek Punditry will now be concentrated on the Forge.

Join us, won’t you?

Hurricane Harvey: Comic Relief

As I write this, my wife and I are sitting in a hospital room with our newborn son (say “Hi” to everyone, Eddie) and she just read me a story about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox putting aside their legendary rivalry in order to hold a joint Hurricane Harvey benefit auction. It’s a lovely surprise and it warms the heart. It also makes me think about who else could do such a thing to help people in need. In particular, because of the rich veins of nerdery that flow through my body, I’m thinking about comic books.

DC Vs Marvel 1I know both DC and Marvel Comics have said no to doing any future crossovers, but hear me out.

Right now there are hundreds of thousands of people homeless because their homes, lives, and businesses have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. In terms of sheer size, it’s probably going to top Katrina as the worst natural disaster in American history. It may have done so already. I’m honestly not sure. For what I think are obvious reasons, I’ve haven’t been able to watch the news super-closely this week. But what I do know is that rebuilding will take years and potentially billions of dollars to restore the parts of Texas and Louisiana devastated by this storm.

DC Charity CollaborationsBoth Marvel and DC, in the past, have done benefit comics in the wake of tragedy. Marvel put out two different special comics after September 11, 2001. DC teamed up with other publishers after 9/11 and in the wake of last year’s shooting in a Miami nightclub. Over the years, both companies have published special edition comics about things like child abuse, substance abuse, land mines, computer science, literacy, and oral hygiene. It’s not like charity comics are a new thing.

Heroes Marvel 9-11How about a DC/Marvel Harvey benefit book? No huge, universe-shattering event. No years-long buildup or hair pulling over how it effects continuity. Not even any of that stupid, fanboyish, inherently disappointing “who would win in a fight” crapola, since each short story would be about heroes coming together to help people in need instead of seeing which one could punch harder. It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to find creators willing to donate the time to do short stories (between five and ten pages, probably, no more), and you’d put together the biggest characters from each publisher:  Superman/Spider-Man, Batman/Iron Man, Wonder Woman/Thor, and — because you know it would put assess in the seats, Deadpool/Harley Quinn.

It would be the best-selling comic book of the century, AND it would raise a much-needed fortune for people in distress.

It’ll probably never happen, I know, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see the two leaders of an industry that makes its money telling stories about heroes set aside their differences so they could actually BE heroes for a change?

PS – Oh, and the capper? The one thing that could make the whole thing even better for long-time comic fans? If they could somehow just call the book”Harvey Comics.” Just saying.

A sound byte for June

foray
June Foray, 1917-2017

It’s been a rough summer for genre fans. Adam West — the first Batman for so many — passed away. We lost George Romero, who made zombies what they are today. Two women who helped make Marvel Comics what it is — Joan Lee and Flo Steinberg — died within weeks of one another. Then last night, as I was going to bed, word broke of the one that — to me — is the harshest blow of all. June Foray died at the age of 99.

Most of you, I think, probably recognized the name as soon as you read it. If you don’t recognize June Foray’s name, though, you certainly know her voice. Or at least one of them, because she had so many.

Rocky_the_flying_squirrel
Rocky the Flying Squirrel

You may know the voice she used as Rocky the Flying Squirrel in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, or the one she used as Moose and Squirrel’s arch-nemesis, Natasha. If you’re a child of the 80s, you may be more familiar with her as Jokey Smurf. Looney Tunes fans know she spent decades as the kindly old Granny who tolerated Sylvester and Tweety, and may also recognize her as Witch Hazel, who occasionally tormented Bugs Bunny. Drastically different from her turn as Witch Hazel, of course, was her turn as Hazel the Witch, who once tormented Donald Duck on a memorable Halloween. And while we’re on the subject of ducks, Ducktales fans may not remember that she voiced Scrooge’s secretary Mrs. Weatherby, but how could they forget that she was also the nefarious Ma Beagle, or the deliciously evil Magica DeSpell?

Granny_Mysteries
Granny

And we’ve only scratched the surface here. Her IMDB credits — all 308 of them — cover a span of 71 years and include Disney films stretching from Cinderella to Mulan, TV cartoons including Garfield and Friends, The Simpsons, The Real Ghostbusters, Mr. Magoo, Dudley Do-Right, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and even work on live-action television including Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone. The characters she voiced are countless: Martha Wilson, Betsy Ross, Grammi Gummi, May Parker, Mother Nature, Mrs. Santa Claus, Pogo Possum, Red Riding Hood, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and, of course, Barbara Streisand.

Magica
Magica DeSpell

Like many voice actors, when you know that June Foray is the person behind the character, you can hear the similarities between her voices. They are, after all, the children of the same throat. But at the same time, listen to Rocky and listen to Magica. The acting prowess of this woman was remarkable, and it saddens me somewhat that, compared to the other performers who have recently died, reaction to her passing seems somewhat subdued. Not to cast aspersions on any of the others, but I saw so many people talking about how Adam West was a part of their childhood, and now they’re blinking at the name of the woman who was literally the voice of it.

witch hazels
(Left) Witch Hazel, (Right) Hazel the Witch. Totally different.

I think part of the reason is that June Foray, for most of her career, was what you’d call a utility player. She was always there and always great, but she was rarely the star. While Mel Blanc was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and a trillion others, Foray was the Granny who popped in and out of the cartoon or the Witch that Bugs had to outsmart. She wasn’t the main Smurf or the main Ghostbuster. She wasn’t the Grinch, she was Cindy Lou Who. She was Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend. And except for Rocky her few leading turns — such as Dorothy Gale in the animated series Off to See the Wizard — are in projects that are largely forgotten.

cindy lou
Cindy Lou Who

None of this can in any way diminish her talent.

Chuck Jones (who directed so many of those cartoons in which she starred) once corrected someone who described her inadequately as “the female Mel Blanc.” Jones replied, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

The animation community, of course, already knows the scale of the giant who has fallen. The rest of the world should know it too. While there will never be a voice like hers again, we fortunately have enough of her work already to last the rest of our lives. Pop some classic cartoons on today, and listen for a while to the voice that made them whole.

On bats, acceptance, and Adam West

get rid of a bombI have a complicated relationship with Adam West.

This is not to suggest I ever met the man, because I never did. Nor am I going to pretend to be greatly familiar with his body of work beyond the Batman TV series or other roles which were deliberately derivative or satirical of that series. I’m pretty sure the only acting role I ever saw him take where he wasn’t playing Batman, a Batman pastiche, or himself was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I haven’t even read Burt Ward’s tell-all book about their time making that series, which would at least presumably offer a little more insight into who he was as a person. To me, and by no means to me alone, Adam West was simply Batman, full stop.

But it’s more complicated than that.

When I was a kid, like so many of us, I watched his Batman TV show. And as a child, I loved it. Yes, it was sometimes goofy and garish and sometimes the villain’s plots made absolutely no sense, but hey, it was still Batman. On TV.  This was in the 80s, remember, a time very much unlike today when there are a thousand comic book properties on television at any given time, and even more if you change the channel from the CW. It was great just to see Batman — or any superhero, for that matter — on TV in any form. It was pretty much all I required out of this show.

Then I made a tragic mistake, a mistake that so many of us make in our lives, a mistake that many of you have made, and that still others among you are probably going to make in the future.

I got older.

I was almost 12 when Michael Keaton’s Batman movie was released in 1989. When I saw that, it was a game-changer for little Blake. This was the Batman I wanted to see. This was the Batman I read about in comic books. He was dark. He was brutal. He made people fear him, and at that point that was the only Batman I wanted. It got worse when I read things like The Dark Knight Returns or Year One. Suddenly there was no room in my world for a light-hearted, silly. campy Batman.

Not only that, but I grew irrationally, unreasonably angry at Adam West and Burt Ward for several years for the way their portrayal of Batman and Robin had tainted the reputation of the character for so much of the world. When people who didn’t read comics, people who didn’t know any better, talked about Batman, they talked about the silly costumes and the goofy gadgets. Every time the news said anything at all about comic books, the headline was full of “POW!” and “BAM!” Not only was Batman being disrespected, but the entire art form of comic books was being dragged down and it was all Adam West’s fault.

I know. But bear with me, please.

Then after a few years of this, I did something wise. Something that some of you have hopefully done. Something that, unlike growing older, is by no means guaranteed for all people.

I got perspective.

It started with the works of Carl Barks and Don Rosa, rediscovering them in college. I saw the richness and depth of those stories, and I started to wonder why I had stopped reading them in the first place.

Oh yeah. Because they were Disney comics. And I, of course, was “too old” for such things.

I began to realize that just because something is appropriate for children does not mean that it is inherently without merit. Just because I liked something when I was younger did not prevent me from enjoying or appreciating it today. And so I re-embraced those things I loved — Disney and the Looney Tunes and the Muppets and more. And eventually, I went back and I gave Mr. West’s Batman another look.

To be fair, it’s still not my Batman anymore, but now I get that that’s okay. To be honest, it’s hard to define exactly which Batman is mine because there are so many different versions of him, and so many of them I enjoy. If I have to choose a single incarnation, on most days I’ll probably say my Batman was drawn by Jim Aparo and and written by Chuck Dixon. But that could change depending on which way the wind is blowing. There are so many excellent Batman creators out there, and so many great Batman performers, it seems absurd to limit myself to one. And what’s more, even those I don’t personally connect with, I can appreciate for their place in the mythology. Adam West may not have been my Batman, but I can appreciate the fact that he is Batman for so many people. I can appreciate that his Batman is entirely valid, just as much as Keaton, or Christian Bale, or Ben Affleck, or for that matter Will Arnett, and especially Kevin Conroy. All of their Batmen are as real as any other, and everybody is allowed to have as many Batmen as they want.

But that’s not just true of Batman, is it? How many people, over the years, have said that Lynda Carter was the one and only Wonder Woman? Up until last week, a lot more, probably. But as Gal Gadot has proven so beautifully, so effortlessly, there is absolutely room for others. Christopher Reeve was my Superman, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with George Reeves or Tom Welling or Dean Cain or Henry Cavill. There is room for these legendary characters to go beyond any one interpretation. There is room for everyone’s version, and somebody else having theirs doesn’t make yours bad. (This is not to say there are no bad versions of anything, of course, just that you need a more compelling reason than “It’s not the one I wanted” if you’re going to convince me that it’s bad.)

That was the most important lesson I think, that I learned from Adam West and Batman ‘66. There truly is room for everything.

Well, that, and that some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.