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Category: Con Culture


The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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Remember how epic the “ultimate” eleven-movie Marvel marathon sounded back in 2015, or the 20-movie Marvel film festival last year where participating theaters screened only four movies per day?  Yeah, not so much after this next marathon arrives.

At only three theaters (so far?) AMC Lincoln Square 13 (New York), AMC River East 21 (Illinois) and AMC Metreon 16 (California), fans will have the opportunity to experience a movie marathon like no other–AMC and Marvel Studios’ 22 Movie Marathon.  Beginning Tuesday, April 23, this marathon has it all: Watch all 21 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe all leading up to and including the latest, film #22, Avengers: Endgame.

We have no doubt that this will quickly sell out in any theater they decide to hold it.  This is how good the franchise is, how much the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies outweigh the worst, how crazy and devoted Marvel fans are, and how epic this could be.

The event will include marathon-only collectibles, and some sort of to-be-determined concessions offer.  Plus Avengers: Endgame will be screened at 5 p.m. local time April 25, about 55 hours after Iron Man begins on April 23, and one hour earlier than regular public show times.  Do you have what it takes to survive 58 hours in a theater?

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Happy April!

Planet Comicon Kansas City wrapped its 2019 convention yesterday, another great show this time highlighting the event’s 20th anniversary.  We snapped several photographs of sights we’re sharing today as we wind down our coverage of this year’s show.


I snapped some photographs of a family in front of this great fire-breathing dragon.  Whenever I see a person taking photos of their family I offer to step in so everyone can be included.  How many people have photos of everyone in them except their mom?  This was another success.

We also caught up with several authors at the show, including…

… our pal Jason Arnett, writing and signing his books Evolver and A Map of the Problem.

And we met up with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee, enjoying their second year at the event, highlighting their books Wrath of the Fury Blade and Unremarkable.

As usual, there were lots of cosplayers at the show, especially compared to the first years of the show back in the 1990s when cosplay was a rarity.


Hard to beat this great Darkwing Duck.


This was a fantastic, fully lit-up Ghost Rider.

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As expected Saturday at Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019 meant a great turnout for the annual convention, with tens of thousands of fans from the Midwest converging on the Kansas City Convention Center after a day of rain and morning of surprise March snowfall to meet their favorite celebrity and creator guests from years past and today.  Each year the event gets bigger, and for the show’s 20th anniversary that also meant better, with a host of comic book creators whose names any comic book reader of the past 50 years should recognize.


Creator of dozens of characters including Rogue, Mystique, Phoenix, Emma Frost, Legion, Gambit, and Captain Britain, and whose books include a long run on Uncanny X-Men, including the popular story arcs The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, adapted into X-Men: Days of Future Past, multiple X-Men movies, and this summer’s coming film Dark Phoenix, writer Chris Claremont was on-hand signing his books for fans.


Artist Denys Cowan studied under the late comics legend Rich Buckler (a previous Planet Comicon guest) and went on himself to become one of the biggest names in comics, drawing issues of several great series from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics including runs on three of my favorites from the 1980s, Green Arrow, Batman, and The Question.  He was signing books and selling prints of some of his best-known work.


Jim Starlin is a well-known writer/artist and creator of Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, the Master of Kung Fu, and his classic books include Batman: The Cult, Batman: A Death in the Family, and Cosmic Odyssey. This weekend he signed autographs for a long line of fans.


Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez began in comics illustrating books for Charlton Comics and then became one of the longest running names associated with DC Comics, where he drew major issues of Superman, Action Comics, The Brave and the Bold, Detective Comics, and later, the pop culture favorite Atari Force.  He signed comics and had prints of his work on hand for his fans.


Most of us knew him from the single word that graced many of his unique and futuristic comic book covers–Steranko.  Pretty much nobody has been making comics longer.  Here Jim Steranko chats with a fan at his booth in Artists’ Alley.  More recently he’s known for his nostalgic recollections he shares with fans in his many near book-length tweets on Twitter.

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Lines for Friday guests started early on the opening day of Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019.  Today is expected to be the biggest day of this year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The event is open today and tomorrow at the Kansas City Convention Center.  A big plus for the tens of thousands of parkers today: no NCAA Final Four game is scheduled today, so parking east of the convention center should be freed up for the convention’s annual biggest attended day.

In part because of the 20th anniversary, and because of the great slate of celebrity and creator guests this year, Comicon Friday by all counts seemed to be better attended than a typical Friday at a pop culture convention.  That didn’t stop us from tracking down some actors from TV and film.

Like Henry Winkler, visiting Kansas City this weekend with his lovely wife of 41 years, Stacey.  Winkler, who became a household name in the 1970s and 1980s as Fonzie on Happy Days and as co-star of Night Shift (followed by more than a hundred starring and guest-starring roles in TV and film since), never sat down, graciously greeting everyone who stood in line to meet him, he chatted with adoring fans, signing autographs, and posing with fans for photographs.

John Wesley Shipp became a familiar face in the 1980s on Guiding Light, and then became the star of the first modern superhero TV series in 1990, portraying Barry Allen on The Flash.  He went on to star and co-star on several series over the past 30 years and has a legion of fans on social media.  Most recently fans of the superhero genre saw him portray not only the father of Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash, Shipp also returned as the Flash that he portrayed in 1990 in the new series last season–fulfilling the dream of those who loved the original show.

We enjoyed talking about his favorite character as a kid (he wanted to be Luke), the weight of a crossbow, and what it felt like to be one of the most beloved characters in the history of film with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.  No matter how tall you think Chewbacca is, in person, he’s much, much taller.

This weekend visitors also can meet, from film and TV, William Shatner, Lori Petty, Cary Elwes, Dean Cain, Linda Blair, Jennifer Morrison, Daniella Panabaker, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps. Check out the entire line-up of celebrity guests and great creator guests like Chris Claremont, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Kevin Eastman, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Keith Giffen, Bob McLeod, at the PCKC website here.

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Captain Kirk, The Fonz, Chewbacca, The Flash, Starbuck, the Weasleys, two Supermans, Tank Girl, and a slate of characters from The Princess Bride are heading to Kansas City

For twenty years Planet Comicon has been one of the Midwest’s biggest comic book and pop culture conventions and that was no less so in 2014 when it became the largest attended event in the history of the Kansas City Convention Center.  And it’s only gotten bigger.  Last year’s show featured guests including Jason Momoa, John Cusack, Michael Rooker, Danny Trejo, and Alan Tudyk, and this year Planet Comicon Kansas City is bringing in some of the most memorable names from TV and movies from the past and present for its 20th anniversary show.  Leading things off, Captain (and Admiral) James T. Kirk, William Shatner is returning to Kansas City for the annual event, which takes place at Kansas City’s convention center at Bartle Hall, March 29-31, 2019.

The guy who invented cool, the first person to “jump the shark,” Arthur Fonzarelli “The Fonz” from Happy Days actor Henry Winkler is making his first comic-con appearance in Kansas City.  Star of last year’s big Star Wars event, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo is scheduled to attend.  Star of one of the best sci-fi TV series of all time–the reboot of Battlestar Galactica–Starbuck actor Katee Sackhoff will be appearing at the show.  Two co-stars of the CW’s The Flash will be on-hand for autographs and photographs: Danielle Panabaker and the original 1990 Flash, John Wesley Shipp, both attending the event for the first time.  And for more of your superhero retro fix, two Superman actors, Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain and Smallville star Tom Welling, will have autograph booths on the convention floor.

Famous for her role as Tank Girl, and star of A League of Their Own and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, actor/director Lori Petty will be in the house.  Harry Potter fans can meet actors that portrayed three of their favorite Weasleys: Ginny Weasley’s Bonnie Wright, and brothers Fred and George, James Phelps and Oliver Phelps.  Also in the fantasy movie realm, three stars of The Princess Bride are making their way to Planet Comicon 2019:  Westley’s Cary Elwes will join Prince Humperdinck’s Chris Sarandon and the inconceivable Vizzini himself, actor Wallace Shawn.

–there’s something for every TV and movie fanboy and fangirl at this year’s show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted.  And it might be just that.  Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers.  Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye.  From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.

Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future.  According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s —  movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

THE SPACE PROJECT – Fournier’s Space Shuttle Discovery Nose Landing Gear, J.F.K. Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011 (from theravestijngallery.com)

Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead?  Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest.  Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom.  Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not all TV shows are made for binge watching.  Case in point:  The Umbrella Academy, now streaming on Netflix.  The TV series is based on a six-issue comic book series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.  Most comic adaptations for the screen have more content to pull from, but there are exceptions, like Cowboys & Aliens, From Hell, A History of Violence, iZombie, Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Men in Black, Oblivion, Polar, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Timecop, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Wynonna Earp.  Just as most of these were able to hold up something substantial to the audience, some comics, like Cowboys & Aliens, Polar, Sin City, and 300, either didn’t have enough content, were insubstantial, or are simply too difficult to translate.  The Umbrella Academy falls somewhere in this last group.  The story is entirely derivative with nothing new to be found here, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing.  Slow moving, painfully so at times, pretentious in one story thread and over-dramatic soap opera in the other, at ten episodes this might be the most difficult series produced by Netflix to trudge through so far.  But some key elements are so well done it may be worth a try if you’re patient and have the extra time on your hands.  But don’t be afraid to have the remote control handy for fast forwarding.

Unlike timeless characters and worlds from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which have some benefit in not needing to be completely explained in each adaptation, The Umbrella Academy offers only a brief glimpse at its origin story, leaving many questions unanswered.  In October 1989, 43 women on Earth give birth unexpectedly.  Don’t expect to learn why.  It is never revealed.  Seven of these babies are purchased by a strange, wealthy, apparently Dr. Moreau type, played by an unrecognizable Colm Feore (Thor, Anon, Paycheck).  Do all 43 have superpowers?  It doesn’t seem so and we don’t learn why.  But these seven, or at least six of seven, do.  The wealthy man takes on the role of father in name only, turning them into the Jackson Five of superheroes, and the kids are provided a mother who is actually a life-like robot (Jordan Claire Robbins), and a sort of butler who is a talking ape (Lodge 49’s Adam Godley).  Why?  The story never tells us.  These are but a few of the frustrating parts.

The good–maybe even great–parts are found in four of the seven superpowered siblings.  Number Five is a boy who stepped out of time, deemed lost to the others, and lives into the distant future only to find a way back to his siblings looking like the very boy who left years ago.  Young Nickelodeon actor Aidan Gallagher steps into this role perfectly, playing a kid with life experiences of a 58-year-old with the authority and bravado of George Clooney.  Irish actor Robert Sheehan (Bad Samaritan) plays Klaus, one of the singularly unique characters of comicdom:  He is a mess, an addict, with no drive or direction, and he can see dead people, and maybe much more if he can only stay sober.  He is also the only one who can see the only brother who has been killed in action, off camera, years before, and with no explanation how or why for the viewer.  That’s Number Six/Ben, played by Justin H. Min.  Ben tries to guide Klaus onto the right path from the other side.  And then there is Number Two/Diego, played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado).  Diego has a history of being nervous about his powers, and he’s the only one who seems to want to save the world with his powers–the classic superhero character of the group that you’ll cheer for.  The special effects are a high point–as when Number Five, Klaus, and Diego get to use their powers.  Of all the characters in the series, only Klaus and Ben get a clear, satisfying character arc, but if you only watch The Umbrella Academy to catch these four characters and fast forward through the rest, you’ll witness some solid superhero performances and story elements.

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In less than four weeks pop culture convention Planet Comicon Kansas City returns, this time to celebrate its 20th year.  Even more than before the event is hosting a pantheon of nationally recognized comic book writers and artists for its seventh year in the downtown Kansas City, Missouri, venue at the giant Bartle Hall facility at the Kansas City Convention Center.  The show runs Friday, March 29 through Sunday, March 31.  Bring your stacks of comics for autographs from your favorite creators–we’ve included here only a few important and familiar books by creators scheduled to be at the event.  Attendees will see some of the biggest names and most popular character creators spanning fives decades of comics, including:

Chris Claremont, writer and creator of dozens of characters including Rogue, Mystique, Phoenix, Emma Frost, Legion, Gambit, and Captain Britain.  His classic books include a long run on Uncanny X-Men, including the popular story arcs The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, adapted into X-Men: Days of Future Past, multiple X-Men movies, and this summer’s coming film Dark Phoenix.

Jim Starlin, writer/artist and creator of Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, the Master of Kung Fu, and the first graphic novel published by Marvel Comics, The Death of Captain Marvel.  His classic books include Batman: The Cult, Batman: A Death in the Family, and Cosmic Odyssey.

Jim Steranko, writer/artist known for his unique 1960s style, his work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., plus memorable runs on Captain America and X-Men.  He was also a creator of concept art designs for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Fabian Nicieza, writer known for creating Deadpool in the pages of The New Mutants, and working on dozens of key superhero titles.  His classic books include New Warriors and Psi-Force.

Keith Giffen, artist and creator of Rocket the Raccoon and Lobo.  His classic books include several issues of Legion of Super-Heroes.

Kevin Eastman, writer and creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Steve McNiven, artist and creator of Marvel Comics’ Civil WarMcNiven is known for his cover art on dozens of Marvel titles.

Bob McLeod, artist and creator of The New Mutants.  (A concept that is the subject of 20th Century Fox’s last slated Marvel project, the coming late summer big-screen release The New Mutants).

And that’s not all…

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Anyone who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy also grew up with the Kenner line of action figures and other toys.  Eagerly awaiting kids learned about each new figure and each new ship and playset via commercials during Saturday morning cartoons.  They also learned about them in the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalogs and mini-catalogs that accompanied certain ships, games and playsets–making checklists from the catalog for Santa was a key component of being a kid.  Over the next two days an auction house in Valencia, California is selling off a Star Wars fan’s ultimate dream collection.  At its Vintage Toys and Collectibles Live Auction, auction house Prop Store is auctioning off a spectacular collection of the Star Wars toys most kids from the era are familiar with, plus many of the rarer toys and prototypes that were known for decades to exist only through rumor and occasional obscure references.  Among the collection is a high-quality collection of nearly 100 pieces from Lucasfilm executive Howard Kazanjian.

Long before the latest Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill mentioned in interviews that certain Lucasfilm professionals received the line of new tie-in toy products as they were rolled out.  He mentioned that his kids enjoyed most of them, and he’s joked about wishing he’d saved some in the original boxes because of the sale prices some achieve today.  Kazanjian was also on that distribution list, and he maintained the toys he received in the mail for 40 years, some boxes were never opened and remain in near mint condition.  Prop Store’s auction catalog is incredible, a full color book of photographs and descriptive information almost as exciting as the auction itself–an extraordinary trip back through time even if you’re not able to drop $5,000–minimum–on a rare vinyl-caped Jawa or Yak Face variant action figure.

Bop bags, a Luke headset radio, Give-a-Show projectors, all the ships and action figures you remember, and trading cards are just the beginning,  The auction is featuring the rare Cloud City cardboard playset kids first saw in the Sears catalog–the only early playset that included four action figures (currently bidding at $400).  There’s the radio-controlled Sandcrawler (currently at $2,500), rare plush toys each starting at bids in the thousands of dollars, and all but the rare IG-88 figure in the large-sized version that was created for the key characters to match up with G.I. Joe and The Six Million Dollar Man.

But the 3.75-inch action figures make up the bulk of the toys hitting the auction block today.  The rare vinyl-caped Jawa even before the auction starts is already bid up to $6,000 (all bidders must pay the strike price plus more than 20% of the price for now-standard auction house fees).  An original R2-D2 is at $4,000, and if you want one of the rare “Power of the Force” Yak Face figures, it’s going to cost you more than $8,000.  At the end of the initial run of The Empire Strikes Back, I remember an entire wall of Yoda figures at my Target store being sold on clearance at fifty cents apiece.  That action figure type in this auction has already been bid up to $1,000.  In hindsight the figures on that clearance display were worth a small fortune.

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