Category: Con Culture

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you only could choose one book to represent the potential–maybe even the highest form–of the comic book medium, a new book hitting the stands today may be on your short list.  IDW Publishing is releasing a stunning anthology of the history of the Holocaust as seen in comic books of the past, presented with an introduction and afterword by Stan Lee, the creator who broke more stereotypes in his stories than anyone in comic books’ first century.  In We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust, artist Neal Adams, who changed the way comic book stories were told in the early 1970s with his Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman series, Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff, and comics historian Craig Yoe have compiled what is arguably the most noble use of comic books–educating kids in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s on a subject of history virtually ignored in mainstream circles.  Along with Congressman John Lewis’s March series about the civil rights movement, We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust should be in every library and taught in every history class.

My high school history teacher was astonished to learn none of us knew the details of Watergate–we were only infants at the time–and I recall the realization he saw of what he and his peers were not teaching. This weekend my eighteen-year-old nephew mentioned watching the footage of 9-11 in school this year for the first time.  In the 1980s only the last paragraph of the last chapter of our World History textbooks discussed the Holocaust, yet we at least spent a week talking about the subject.  But not until the 1990s was the Holocaust taught in most of American school systems.  Even today only 35 states require education in the subject in school curriculums.  Certainly the most important lessons in history can be taught with its study, and in that light We Spoke Out should serve as a wake-up call to everyone, citizens, educators, and leaders.  Oddly enough, for generations of American kids, the only place they learned about the murder of six million Jews, the stories of concentration camps, of the atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazis, was in the comics pages.


The stories in the anthology present the atrocities of World War II without the overdone blood and gore of many 1950s “horror” comics.  In an April 1955 story from Impact Issue #1 we meet a Jewish man post-War still haunted by his memories in what would now be called PTSD.  In the pages of December 1951’s Frontline Combat, Issue #3 story the then-lauded Nazi general Rommel is dressed down, revealing the villainous truths of his leadership in the face of contemporary efforts to re-invent Rommel as a military hero.  Based on the real-life Nazi Ilse Koch, in a story from Beware! Terror Tales, Issue #4, we are reminded of the vilest of humans who made household goods from the tattooed skin of captured Jews–a real-life horror some may think is only the stuff of fiction from Silence of the Lambs.  Among these stories ripped from real life, Adams, Medoff, and Yoe fill in the blanks of time with historical context, including details of what the stories leave out.

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To celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, Mattel previewed two new waves of Barbie dolls intended to inspire and educate kids.  Hinted at as forthcoming in the recent Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, the dolls celebrate three real-life heroines of the past in its entirely new “Inspiring Women” line, and 14 new women of the present have been designed as additions to Mattel’s “Shero” line.  The dolls aim to follow the vision behind the original toys’ creator, Ruth Handler, who once said, “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be.  Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

The women reflected in the new dolls include heroines of the past: aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo, and NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson.  The 14 new heroines of the present include conservationist and animal rights activist Bindi Irwin, journalist and Seven Summits mountain climber Martyna Wojciechowska, designers Leyla Piedayesh and Vicky Martin Berrocal, athletes Chloe Kim, Çağla Kubat, Nicola Adams, Lorena Ochoa, Hui Ruoqi, and Sara Gama, Chef Héllène Darroze, movie director Patty Jenkins, ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, and actor Xiaotong Guan.  The new line of Shero dolls adds to the line-up that began in 2015 and already includes actors Emmy Rossum and Kristin Chenoweth, journalist Eva Chen, ballerina Misty Copeland, singer Trisha Yearwood, movie director Ava Duvernay, gymnastics Olympian Gabby Douglas and fencing Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammed, and model Ashley Graham.  Only Douglas, Muhammed, and Graham were made available in wide release, making this new release of 14 figures the first truly expansive Barbie line inspired by real people.

Twelve of the 14 new figures include Vicky Martin Berrocal, Xiaotong Guan, Bindi Irwin, Sara Gama, Chloe Kim, Martyna Wojciechowska, Nicola Adams, Yuan Yuan Tan, Patty Jenkins, Hélène Darroze, Hui Ruoqi, and Leyla Piedayesh. Not shown: Çağla Kubat and Lorena Ochoa.

The dolls feature a broad array of clothing, accessories, hairstyles, size, skintone, and head sculpt detail.  The international selection of new dolls features representatives from Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

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Online superstore Entertainment Earth has just posted the first line of products for Steven Spielberg’s new throwback, mash-up movie Ready Player One, and it’s filled with plenty fans of the book may want to get their hands on, including a sneak peek at some of the character designs that haven’t yet been featured in the movie trailers.  This includes a boxed set of four action figures featuring lead characters Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, and i-R0K, a whole load of Funko POP!s, and some nicely designed, prized key icons from the story.


The Funko POP!s feature several characters: Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, Shoto, i-R0K, Daito, a Sixer, Sorrento, and The Iron Giant.  The set of keys includes the sought-after Copper, Jade, and Crystal Keys–featured in the final trailer for the film.  Parzival is played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) in the film, Art3mis is played by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), T.J. Miller (Deadpool) is i-R0K, Lena Waithe (Master of None) is Aech, Win Morisaki (Gokusen: The Movie) is Daito, Asan N’Jie (Murder on the Orient Express), Josh Jefferies (Mowgli), Alphonso Austin (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Annarie Boor (Wonder Woman), Fatah Ghedi (Liar), Maeve Bluebell Wells, and Joel MacCormack (Wolf Hall), all play Sixers, first-time actor Philip Zhao is Shoto, and Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is the villain Sorrento in the film.


You can check out the details and pre-order any of the new toys from Ready Player One now, just click on the images above and below to get larger photos and more information at the Entertainment Earth website.  Entertainment Earth ships all figures with a “Mint Condition Guarantee” (so collectors can avoid getting crumbled corners and boxes).

Paul Shipper created the final Drew Struzan-inspired poster for the film (above).  Shipper has created several posters in this classic 1980s style.  Check out his website here.  And, in case you missed it, here is the final trailer for Ready Player One:

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By now you’ve seen the full trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story and maybe even this week’s fan recut of the trailer.  No?  The recent tradition is back yet again, that knack of a fan taking a movie trailer and “Sabotaging” it by laying a track of Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage over whatever the studio produced, or, better yet, recutting the trailer to actually make the original that much better.  Some may not be able to get past whether or not new Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich looks like Harrison Ford, and others may not care, but the first trailer from Lucasfilm had plenty to get fans excited for this May’s theatrical release.  Maybe it’s Donald Glover as Lando, maybe it’s seeing an early Millennium Falcon, or maybe it’s just seeing Chewbacca again.  But like we saw with its 2016 predecessor Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–where the a band of Rebels handed off the infamous stolen plans to Princess Leia aboard her Corellian Corvette–on a big television screen with the sound turned way up the Sabotaged fan trailer really amps-up the excitement.

Fair warning, if you don’t like the Beastie Boys, you may really not like the band’s song by the end of this article, because we’re going to play it a few times.

The impetus for the trend is no doubt Star Trek and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams’ own love for the band and the song, enough to include it early in the first reboot of the Star Trek movies back in 2009.  Young James T. Kirk plays the song on the car radio as he’s racing along the road in Riverside, Iowa, having stolen his step-dad’s 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, and right before he sends it over a cliff (there are not really cliffs like that in Iowa, but… nevermind).  Director Justin Lin brought the song right back as a surprisingly on-point, key plot device in the climax of the third reboot film, Star Trek Beyond, and he used it for the film’s official trailer.

So that gives us a few versions of the song adapted to two big franchises worth re-watching.   Like we said here a few years back: Sabotage makes everything better.  But how about a Sabotage trailer for a third or a fourth major fandom franchise?

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For the Academy Awards “Best Picture” category, popularity isn’t supposed to matter.  But doesn’t it matter, practically speaking?  Academy voters hail from are across the country, and are no doubt at least indirectly influenced by water cooler chatter.  This year the nine nominated films not surprisingly run the gamut from high box office winners to barely seen pictures.  At the top, the historical drama and war film Dunkirk has taken in $188 million.  The surprise of the year, the horror thriller Get Out, has earned $176 million.  The quickly conceived and produced historical drama about the free press, The Post, was concocted by Steven Spielberg for its relevancy, and in a short period continues to climb, taking in $77 million.  The most difficult sell for many may be the fantasy The Shape of Water, a monster movie and romance mash-up about individuality, which has brought in $53 million, also still in theaters.  Historical drama Darkest Hour has been in release much longer.  It has netted $53 million at the box office.  Lady Bird, a coming-of-age drama, has taken in $43 million.  A contemporary drama, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has earned $48 million.  A character-study drama about a man with an obsessive, controlling personality, Phantom Thread, has garnered only $17 million.  Finally, the contemporary romance Call Me By Your Name, has only taken in $15 million.

Dunkirk, Get Out, Three Billboards, Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, and Lady Bird are all available on streaming video services, with The Shape of Water arriving February 27.  But if you want to see all nine films in the theater, AMC Theaters are offering film fans a few opportunities to catch-up on what you may have missed, first with their Two-Day Best Picture Showcase.  Four movies will be screened this Saturday, February 24, with the remaining five the following Saturday, March 3.  Or you can binge watch all nine films in the 24-hour AMC Best Picture Movie Marathon, all on March 3.

As unique as each nominated film appears this year, each has its precursors for Best Picture.  Oscar has tapped several historical dramas fitting the Dunkirk and Darkest Hour mold, including The Hurt Locker, Schindler’s List, Platoon, and Patton.  Phantom Thread harkens back to bad relationship dramas like The Lost Weekend, The English Patient, or American Beauty.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, evokes those tough mothers enduring losses in Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People, and Mrs. Miniver.  Despite several nominations, surprisingly few historical dramas about real, singular events like The Post have an Oscar, although recent winner Argo, about the American hostage crisis in Iran, is an easy comparison.  The lead character in Lady Bird could be seen as this decade’s version of Annie Hall or a coming-of-age film like West Side Story, but it may also be another study in family relationships as found in Terms of Endearment and Ordinary People.  

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We’ve been covering the Kenner-style retro action figures being sold by Super 7 since the toy company first partnered with Funko and revealed its first line of vintage style Alien “ReAction” figures at San Diego Comic-Con 2013.  At the end of 2016 Super 7 discontinued partnering with Funko and returned to manufacturing and distributing the multi-license toy line on its own.  Super 7 revealed its 2018 plans for the ReAction line this weekend at New York Toy Fair 2018, with some new surprises and expansions to current action figure licenses.  Projections for any toy company at Toy Fair don’t always match reality.  Compare‘s coverage of Super 7 at New York Toy Fair 2017 here, and you’ll find several Super 7 action figures only now inching their way into the market.  The biggest reveals at this year’s show for Super 7’s ReAction line for fans of sci-fi/horror include two beloved film classics: Alien and Planet of the Apes.  

Super 7 is returning to its first pre-Funko toy line in revisiting its Alien action figures.  For the next wave, characters include more refined sculpts than the early waves, with new characters Brett, Parker, and Lambert, Jonesy the cat with new Ripley, Ash with removable head, facehugger Kane in spacesuit, and a new Xenomorph head with jaws out.  Although the company has previously hinted at the possibility, it doesn’t look like we’ll see figures from Aliens this year.

It’s been a year since we saw the prototypes for Planet of the Apes figures on display at New York Toy Fair 2017.  Finally the first figures are now expected to be released in two months, beginning with Taylor, Nova, Zira, Cornelius, General Ursus, and Dr. Zaius in the first wave.

Super 7 must expect some good sales results with the first wave for POTA as prototypes were on display at Toy Fair for Wave 2, also, including a Cornelius in astronaut suit, ape warriors and another ape general, a giant Lawgiver statue set, and the mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes with removable outer heads to reveal those (gross) inner-heads as seen in the movie.

For the Super 7 Universal Monsters license, it will revisit past ReAction figures (The Phantom of the Opera, Wolf Man, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon), while adding some new ones, including the Metalluna Mutant and the Mole People.

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Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner previewed the near future for Hasbro licenses and products at New York Toy Fair 2018 this weekend, including the creation of a new initiative called HasLab.  According to the company, HasLab will be an avenue to bring “dream projects” to fans.  In essence HasLab is a financing vehicle whereby fans willing to prepay for an item can do so via Hasbro’s new online crowdfunding.  As with other Kickstarter or Indiegogo platforms, if the presales don’t meet the demand target, buyers won’t be billed for the product.  But if the target is met, buyers will be charged and the production will proceed.  First up?  Apparently Star Wars fans have been clamoring for a classic Kenner 3 3/4 scale version of Jabba’s Sail Barge from Return of the Jedi.  

Although diehard fans have been building scale versions for their action figures for years, including most recently via 3D printing, Hasbro displayed its mock-up at the show this weekend.  On the design side, to create the Sail Barge (called The Khetanna in the books), Hasbro tapped Mark Boudreaux, principal designer on Star Wars for Hasbro and one of the creators of the original Kenner Millennium Falcon, and designer on other toy vehicles from the Star Wars line including the AT-AT, X-Wing fighter, and Boba Fett’s Slave 1.  Modeled using Lucasfilm digital archives and set photos, the final toy is expected to be a little more than four feet long.  It will feature classic Kenner style packaging, a 3 3/4 scale Jabba the Hutt figure, and lots of features.  The required target to proceed is 5,000 units, and the base purchase price is $499.99.  As of this morning 611 backers have contributed, with 44 days left before the program is closed.  Check out the details at the new HasLab website here.

The mock-up of the ship definitely has echoes of the original Star Wars Death Star playset. And it has the historical feel of an early clipper ship, including a brig in the lower deck.  Here is a video preview of the Sail Barge playset:

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Wil Wheaton standing room only crowd at Planet Comicon 2013

This weekend Planet Comicon Kansas City is featuring a pantheon of nationally recognized comic book writers and artists at its sixth year in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  The show begins tomorrow at Bartle Hall, and continues through Sunday.  Bring your stacks of comics for autographs from your favorite creators, including Frank Cho, Jill Thompson, Dave Dorman, Mark Brooks, Brian Azzarello, Jae Lee, Dan Jurgens, Chris Stevens, Peter Stiegerwald, Amy Chu, Ashley Witter, Greg Capullo, Stephane Roux, Christopher Priest, and Scott Snyder.

Back again are PCKC regulars Freddie Williams, Tony Moore, Jason Aaron, Phil Hester, Jai Nitz, Ande Parks, Ant Lucia, Skottie Young, Megan Levens, Neal Adams, Greg Horn, Seth Peck, Rob Davis, Darryl Woods, Jason Arnett, Bryan Fyffe, Bryan Timmins, C.W. Cooke, Damont Jordan, and Darren Neely.

Planet Comicon 2014

Make sure you visit the Elite Comics flight crew at the “Party on the Pillar” and pick up some great deals on what the Con is all about–comics–including Elite Comics and Planet Comicon exclusive cover variants of special issues available only at the show.

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This month the NASA space probe Juno completed its tenth science orbit around the planet Jupiter.  The spacecraft came as close as 2,100 miles from the planet’s clouded surface, and sent back to Earth what must be the most beautiful images of any celestial orb ever captured.  Just take a look at these images above and below and see if you agree.  The most astounding are the images from the southern hemisphere of the planet (as shown above), providing a new vantage of our view of the planet.

Juno collects scientific data and records it until Jupiter is free of “solar conjunction” and can safely transmit the data back to the science team on Earth.  Juno was launched August 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  Its “JunoCam” camera has produced some of the best images of any scientific instrument to date.  During these flybys, the spacecraft is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras, seeking to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.  When Juno arrived at Jupiter, it moved faster than any human-made object has ever gone: 165,000 miles per hour.  This month’s photographs were taken at about 130,000 miles per hour.

New view of the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.  Courtesy of NASA Juno, February 7, 2018.

The clarity is phenomenal and the imagery nothing but spectacular.  With the exception of the Sun, Jupiter is the most dominant object in the solar system.  Because of its size and the fact that it was the first of the gas-giant planets to form, it has profoundly influenced the formation and evolution of all the other planets.  In studying Jupiter, NASA hopes to learn more about the origin of the universe.  The cloud features, which appear like something from Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, primarily consist of hydrogen and helium.

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