Sunday, August 31, 2014

FanExpo Canada 2014

This past weekend, the third largest comic and fan convention in North America occurred. It started on Thursday, August 28th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Canada and continued until today (Sunday). Unfortunately, your humble blogger was only able to attend one day, but I was able to take a bunch of photographs for this photo-essay. Here it is: 

FanExpo Canada 2014. Normally this convention is the weekend before the Labour Day weekend,  but this year it happened to fall on that long weekend. And with Derek Jeter playing his last series against the Blue Jays, one felt there would be a lot of visitors from south of the border in town this time. Who doesn't love a double-header of Geek and Baseball, right?   

And this was the case: the crowds were massive! This is the pre-purchased ticket queue on Saturday morning. 

A few years ago the North Building of the convention centre was not used for FanExpo. Now it's packed at 10:00 am!

Horror masks.

North Building at about 10:10 am.

Into the South Building. Comics at a comic book convention??? Who would have guessed?!?

Darth Vader on holiday.

More sales in the South Building.

The DC Champions of Justice panel; Left to Right: David Finch, Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Greg Pax and Larry Ganem. The highlight of the listening to Azzarello talk about his (amazing) run on Wonder Woman. It ends later this autumn but has been a very soild three years. He also talked about how it, while being largely free of the larger DC continuity, was never-the-less true to the character. His advice to David Finch and his wife, Meredith, who take over the book in November, is to always keep in mind the passion fans have for that comic book icon. Jeff Lemire talked about Justice League United, his research into its heavily Canadian content and the personal inspiration for his new character Equinox, the aboriginal Canadian who features in the story. They also spoke about working together on Futures End. Pak spoke about his ongoing work on Batman/Superman.
Imperials of the 501th Legion.

The Marvel: All Access panel; Left to Right: Jeanine Schaefer, Charles Soule, C.B. Cebulski, Greg Pak, Ryan Stegman, Mahmud Asrar and Adam Kubert. This panel was more free-flowing than the DC with Kurbert talking about the upcoming Axis crossover, Soule, the upcoming She-Hulk courtroom drama with Matt Murdock and, of course, the impending death of Wolverine. Stegman spoke about Inhuman and Pak about his work on Storm. Jeanine was asked a "diversity in comics question" and she and C.B. spoke about how Ms. Marvel is the most popular downloaded book outside of North America, which has told Marvel that female lead characters are good for the bottom line. 

A Batmobile...of sorts.

The Batman: Arkham Knight Batmobile again. 

Vive la France!

A Nissan S130 painted up as the Autobot "Prowl".

Prowl Again.

This was interesting. This Deadpool-look-a-like is actually a police recruitment character named "United" who works for the York Regional Police, a force from a region north of Toronto. I certainly don't want to see local cops wearing that outfit, but it does show how pervasive geeky things are these days. 

Exterminate! I'm loving Peter Capaldi in the role, btw.

Boba Fett and Darth Vader

Commander Adama signing autographs along with...

...the incomparable Bruce Campbell. Hail to the King, baby!!!!

The Batmobile circa 1966.

The evening was capped off with a brief talk by William Shatner. The big event is An Evening of the Two Captains with Shatner joined by Sir Patrick Stewart on Sunday evening. In this short chat (30 minutes) Shatner spoke mostly of his early career, much of which was spent in Toronto after he first moved from Montreal. One notable story was about when he didn't have much, it was friendships (and that's not a euphemism) with "ladies of the evening" that helped him get through those tougher times. He was fantastic and even made a couple digs at George Takei, who doesn't seem to speak too highly of him these days. Shatner is always awesome to see, and brought the house down in only half an hour!  
So there you go: one day of FanExpo Canada. I hope you enjoyed it and we'll see you next year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Birthday to Jack "The King" Kirby!

Today marks what would be the 97th birthday of Jacob Kurtzberg a.k.a. Jack "The King" Kirby. For the few of you who don't know, Jack Kirby is one of the most important artists in the history of comic books and the co-creator of such superhero stalwarts as Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, the Avengers, Silver Surfer and Galactus, and so many, many more.

Jack Kirby in 1993, shortly before his passing. Photo by Suzy Skaar. 
Born August 28, 1917 in Lower East Side Manhattan, Jack was the son of Jewish immigrants from Austria. At an early age he found himself to be a gifted artist and this eventually led to a job working on comic strips and graphic images at a newspaper company. Shortly afterwards, he found work drawing parts for film animation and then moved to the Fox Feature Syndicate where he met writer/editor Joe Simon. From there, the pair moved on to Martin Goodman's Timely Comics where Joe and Jack created the iconic Captain America in late 1940, almost a full year before Japanese bombs sunk the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. 

Private Jack Kirby home safe and sound after the Second World War. 
Jack himself would go on to serve in the 11th Infantry Regiment and would land at Normandy, although not during the D-Day invasion. With entertainment options limited in the theatre of war and comic books easy to carry and pass around a barracks, there are stories of soldiers reading Captain America during reprieves in the fighting, often at complete unawares that Cap's co-creator was on the base close by. Jack returned state-side in early 1945 after honourable service in the US Army, perhaps most notably at the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of that dreadful war. 

Marvel's Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966) which featured Silver Surfer and Galactus.
Once back in the states, Jack returned to his true calling: art. But when the bottom fell out of superhero comics in the late 1940s, Kirby took to other versions of the funny books. Indeed, after they had reunited, Simon and Kirby created romance comics, a forerunner to young adult-themed cultural phenomena that could even include television programs like Friends or How I Met Your Mother. Kirby's work with Simon would come to an end when the latter moved to advertising, but Jack soon made the move back to Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics and when the Silver Age dawned with the publishing of DC's of Showcase #4 in 1956, Kirby was well-situated to reconnect with his former colleague Stan Lee and create a new group of superheroes. 

Image from Marvel's Fantastic Four #91 (October 1969) This art is classic Jack Kirby. 
"Stan and Jack" would go on populate the Marvel Universe with the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers and many more, with the duo becoming some of the most prolific story-tellers in the history of the medium. They were also the gold standard too, with their tales featuring galactic adventures, large-than-life heroes, god-like villains, a resurrected Captain America and Marvel's calling card of the Silver Age: teen angst. Jack Kirby stayed with Marvel until the early 1970s when he was enticed to cross the street and move to DC. While at the "Distinguished Competition" Jack took the reigns of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (a poor selling book so he wouldn't take anyone's job) and created the highly serialized and archetype-rich science-fiction epic Jack Kirby's Fourth World as well as characters OMAC and Kamandi. In the mid 1970s Jack returned to Marvel for a short, final time where he created fan favourites The Eternals, among a few others.

Kirby art in Pacific Comics' Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #3 (March 1982).
After a brief stint in animation in the late 1970s where he worked on such awesome stories as Thundaar The Barbarian, Jack returned to the funny books once again to do work that we would now label "creator owned". This choice of phrase is both apt and ironic due to on-going legal issues relating to the ownership of Kirby's co-creations at Marvel, issues that may yet be heard before the Supreme Court of the United States. But that is a sordid tale for another blog entry (or even a book).

Jack Kirby's self-portrait. It features many characters he co-created and developed at Marvel Comics. 
Jack Kirby passed away on February 6, 1994 at the age of 76. When your humble blogger became re-acquainted with comic books after a decade-plus hiatus, it the re-discovery of Jack Kirby's art that drew me in and indirectly led to the creation and naming of this blog. WGTB loves Kirby's larger-than-life characters, his legendary "Kirby Krackle" and the dynamism of almost any page he has ever drawn. So happy birthday, King! You're well and truly missed and have legions of supporters and fans who will ensure your name is never forgotten.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Johnny Canuck is a piece of Canadian history. Let's get him back in the Game!

On the 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Wehrmacht to invade Poland. The United Kingdom, then allies with the Poles and having pledged support in the event of an invasion, immediately declared war on the German Reich and the Second World War had begun. For Canadians however, the beginning of this conflict was not immediate. Twenty-five years earlier when Britain declared war on the Central Powers (which included Germany) it was done by King George V in the name of the British Empire and Canada was automatically in the conflict. But by 1939 things had changed. Eight years prior, the UK parliament had passed the Statute of Westminster which ended British control of the Empire's foreign policy and Canada’s government was now free to make up its own decisions about a response to Hitler's aggression. These new powers notwithstanding, the Canadian parliament wasted little time and on 8 September 1939, Nazi Germany also found itself at war with Canada.   

A Canadian World War II propaganda poster by Henri Eveleigh. Although the Statute of Westminster meant Canada was now (almost completely) independent, it was never-the-less still very close to Britain.  
Over the course of the Second World War, Canada would contribute a great deal to the overall effort. This included over 1.1 million people (out of a population of slightly over 11 million total citizens in 1939) and considerable materiel and supplies for its own and the British war effort. Indeed, in the same month that President Roosevelt proclaimed that the United States would become the "Arsenal of Democracy" and start selling mutations to Britain and Canada, the Canadian parliament passed the War Exchange Conservation Act, 1940. This law stopped the importation of "non-essential" items into Canada with the purpose of curbing its mounting trade deficit with the United States. A casualty of this new law were both magazines and the cultural phenomenon that was started in 1938, in part, by a talented young artist from Toronto: comic books.

Image from Johnny Canuck #1
But as is often the case, the War Exchange Conservation Act had some unintended consequences and one of these was the prolific growth in homegrown comic books, based largely on Canadian tropes and geared to Canadian consumers. Sure, the superhero trend started by Action Comics #1 had reached across the somewhat porous American border and many Canadian superheroes were similar to their US counterparts. But others, like Johnny Canuck, focused on the Canadian war effort and spoke to a young audience that had this on their minds. Johnny Canuck wasn't a superhero per se, but that didn't stop him from doing many of the things his super-soldier ally from Brooklyn did, including beating the crap out of Adolf Hitler! With Johnny there was an emphasis on the skills Canadians liked to think their "regular" soldiers, sailors and airmen had too: derring-do, intelligence, fighting-spirit and skills, among many others.

Johnny Canuck stamp issued as part of 1995 Canadian Superheros collection from Canada Post. Johnny Canuck was often portrayed as a pilot.
First appearing in Dime Comics #1 (February 1942) and published for 38 issues, Johnny Canuck was a hit with Canadian readers for much of the war. But unfortunately, his fame was short-lived and unlike many of his American contemporaries, he has not been seen since. Well, that's until now, because in July of this year my friend Rachel Richey, a comics historian and successful co-publisher of the 1940s Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics has launched another Kickstarter campaign to bring Johnny back to print. Rachel is hoping to re-print all issues of Johnny's run and WGTB is looking forward to delving back into the stories of a Canadian icon!

If you haven't done so already done so, please consider supporting Rachel's Kickstarter project by visiting it here. Rachel has also assembled a team of some of the best in the business to support her cause and as of today is only a few thousand dollars short. Please jump on this bandwagon today because the campaign to get Johnny Canuck back in the game ends August 27th. Tally-ho! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

WGTB Reviews Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios' latest offering arrived in cinemas today, and while I'm positive many of you have already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, here's a quick review for those who haven't. It's abridged because I'm off to a wedding soon and has been divided into three categories: 1) Good, 2) Bad; and, 3) Post-Credit Scene. The two minutes at the end of the film warrant its own category because, let's face it, it has become as much a reason for going to Marvel films as the flick itself. 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Starring: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Vin Disel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace & Glenn Close. Directed by James Gunn. RATED: PG-13,  TIME: 122 minutes 
The Good

Marvel has nailed the CGI and this film was a treat for the visual senses. Computer generated characters Groot and Rocket Raccoon were awesome and the many space scenes were as good as any I've ever seen. The acting, for the most part, was good too with Chris Pratt being a fantastic Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista excellent in their roles of Gamora and Drax the Destroyer. That said, the best character of the film was a witty, likable and very funny Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. The origin story of Peter Quill was also very well written and is a great example of not needing an entire film to explain the beginnings of a Marvel character. Speaking of Marvel characters, the film did feature some awesome tidbits of Marvel's extensive mythology, with the MacGuffin of the story being a key element of it.   

The Bad

While the acting and parts of the plot were good, on the whole I found the storyline to be weak and at times seemed to simply jump from one battle to the next. Don't get me wrong, I love action as much as anyone, but I really thought there could have been a little more flow between the chapters of the story. Also, parts of the dialogue seemed clunky and there was also an unnecessary amount of foul language. Not swears per se but just stuff that shouldn't be heard by the legends of kids who will come out to see Guardians. I know that sounds a little old-fashioned, but that's how I feel.
After-Credit Scene 

Unfortunately, I actually found it to be weak. The joy of these scenes is they hint at a future film. But the character featured in this one just didn't seem to match and to walk into the cinema hoping for something from Avengers: Age of Ultron or Ant-Man meant that you left a little disappointed.  

So although this was an enjoyable film, it wasn't as good as I hoped, nor was it as good as its been reviewed. But let me know if you think I'm completely off-base because, after all, I was a blogger who liked Green Lantern a couple years back! In the meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy will get 3.5/5 STARS