Welcome Back to Shadyside.

28 10 2013

Fear_Street_The_New_GirlIt has been 24 years since R. L. Stine introduced young adult readers to the fictional town of Shadyside and its unlucky teenage populace in the Fear Street series. As a book worm growing up in a western New York state suburb during the early 90s, free time during my years in middle school was often spent at the local library. It was in this quiet haven that I would set up shop at a table in the back, away from people coming and going to the check-out counter, and delve into the latest macabre misadventure to befall an unlucky student at Shadyside High.

The series was named for a street in the aforementioned town of Shadyside (presumably somewhere in New England) where a rotating cast of run-of-the-mill teenagers would be thrust into a variety of horror cliches. Chilling prank phone calls. Murdered prom queens. Hauntings. Nightmarish camping trips. No fan of scary or supernatural stories could possibly be disappointed. As the series progressed over the years, readers would learn about the history of the town and its curse due to the actions of its founders during the witch hysteria that gripped puritanical folks back in the day.

Save for a three-part miniseries, Fear Street Nights, published in 2005, Mr. Stine concluded his saga with 1999’s Fear Street Seniors spin-off.

You can imagine my nostalgic elation when the New York Times reported that he would be reviving the series in October of 2014 with a new entry… Party Games.

843086One of the things I remember the most about the books was how accurately they depicted everyday life for a teenager during that time (save for the gruesome murders and ghostly encounters). The clothes they wore. The hairstyles they donned. The town they lived in and the places they hung out. It was all relatable. With his impeccable attention to that sort of detail, I am excited to see what Mr. Stine does to update the setting and cast of characters for his stories. Gone are the days of baggy sweaters, teased bangs, and those pesky corded telephones used to stalk unfortunate baby-sitters. These days, kids are all about the social media, smartphones, iPads, and skinny jeans.

It could also be the perfect time for Mr. Stine to introduce gay/lesbian teenagers into the Fear Street mythos. In comparison to the early 90s, LGBT youth are coming out of the closet at a much earlier age, often in high school. It would stand to reason that a handful of students at Shadyside High would be out and proud and heading up the local GSA… you know, when they aren’t being tacked on to the body count list of the maniac that killed the head cheerleader.

As disappointed as I was to have missed an opportunity to meet R. L. Stine at this year’s NYCC (I was in the part of the queue that was cut due to the excessive length of the line), the revival of Fear Street is more than welcome and exciting news. With the first new book being titled Party Games, I am just waiting for the game of “Never Have I Ever” or “Cards Against Humanity” to go horrifically wrong.

Leaving Behind a Legacy.

22 10 2013

x_men_legacy__14_by_deadlymike-d6eyyooA funny thing happened in November of 2012. A quirky comic book title centering on an oft-overlooked mutant character was born. David Haller, otherwise known as Professor Xavier’s mentally unstable son, Legion, would be headlining Si Spurrier’s relaunch of X-Men Legacy. Oh, there were naysayers and readers who quizzically cocked their heads in confusion that such a book was being ushered out with Marvel’s first wave of “NOW!” titles. Unfortunately, I have to count myself among their ranks. How on 616’s earth would a character like Legion be able to sustain an ongoing title in such a capacity that readers would continue to pick up the latest issue each month?

What we weren’t prepared for was the odd and imaginative literary magic that Spurrier would weave into the pages of Legacy. A very devoted and vocal fan following developed and the book would become, consistently, one of the best written X-books each month.

To bring foolish non-readers up to speed, X-Men Legacy finds Legion dealing with the fallout of his father’s death during AvX and trying to figure out his own place in the grand scheme of the fledgling mutant race. With a “legion” of multiple personalities that inhabit his fractured psyche (each with their own mutant ability), David decides on a more direct approach to dealing with mutant threats… he intends to preemptively cut them off at the pass before any damage can be done. His machinations do not go unnoticed by mutant precog, Ruth Aldine (a.k.a. Blindfold). These two outcasts soon find themselves inexplicably drawn to eachother and are soon as inseparable as Sid and Nancy.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is that the story alternates between events happening on the physical plane and those occurring within Legion’s gray matter. By delving into the trappings of Legion’s mind, readers are not only treated to a first-hand account of David’s internal thought process, but we also have the opportunity to witness the chaos of having a near-infinite cavalry of sometimes very dangerous personalities running amuck in his head.

X-Men Legacy 13-01Fans of continuity references and tertiary characters have, arguably, made up a good portion of Legacy‘s fan base and with good reason. Past events like Inferno were referenced and obscure characters (Ruckus of the Nasty Boys, Lila Cheney, Pete Wisdom, Meggan, Liam Connaughton, and Alchemy) were dug out of Marvel’s bottomless bin of forgotten mutants. Spurrier also used the past year to tie up the loose end regarding Blindfold’s brother who was briefly but ominously mentioned by Destiny towards the end of Necrosha. In addition, we finally get closure (albeit, heartbreaking) between Legion and his estranged mother, Gabrielle.

The X-books, Legacy included, and mutant characters in general have always been seen as a metaphor for any persecuted minority in real life. Gay and lesbian fans of comic books have often gravitated to Marvel’s merry mutants for this very reason. From reparative therapy clinics and virulent anti-mutant protests, Legacy‘s references to some of the daily vitriol that many members of the LGBT community still face was crystal clear.

As we have learned from Marvel’s January 2014 solicitations, nothing this great lasts forever. The start of the new year will, unfortunately, see the series “race towards its conclusion.” I don’t doubt that the climax of this book will be as enjoyable as the story thus far. One of the few saving graces is that Si Spurrier and amazing cover artist, Mike Del Mundo, will be allocated to other Marvel titles.

If you have been a reader of any countless X-books in the past but have avoided this title due to a lack of “a-list” characters or immediate ties to the various mediocre crossover events that we’ve been subjected to in the last year, I suggest digging through your store’s long boxes, dropping a couple of bucks on the back issues, and settling in for quite a fantastic ride.

Fearless: A Requiem for the Defenders.

18 10 2013

tumblr_mteam7F0V11qzidaoo1_1280In February of 2013, if you were to tell me that my favorite book of this year would be mainly comprised of C and D-List superheroines and villainesses, would I have believed you? Yes. Yes, I would. If you’ve had the opportunity to speak with me about my love of comic books for at least five minutes, you would quickly find out that my unwavering love for underused and underutilized female characters knows no bounds.

For those of you not in the know (yes, I hold you all mostly responsible for the book’s cancellation), Fearless Defenders  spun out of the events of Fear Itself: The Fearless, arguably the only good tie-in associated with the Fear Itself crossover event. The first issue hit store shelves just prior to Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle which, coincidentally, would be the first time that I had the priviledge of meeting the book’s scribe, Cullen Bunn. His excitement about the new book was palpable. I remember discussing Misty Knight with him and stating that she doesn’t get the love she deserves even though she’s pretty much Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown with a robot arm!

battleThe book brought together a ragtag group of female superheroes to battle the love child of Doctor Doom and Morgan Le Fay as she and her army of Doom Maidens attempt to usher in world-wide destruction. The team leadership role was split between Brunnhilde (Valkyrie) and Misty Knight. As the story progressed, the team’s ranks would expand to include a bookish archaeologist (Annabelle Riggs), a resurrected Amazonian warrior (Hippolyta) a depowered mutant (Danielle Moonstar), a snarky British monster hunter (Elsa Bloodstone), an exiled sorceress (Clea), and a newly activated Inhuman (Ren Kimura). Even with such a large and diverse cast, Bunn had no problems adding to each character’s development within the story and giving each lady her own, distinct voice.

Caroline Le Fay’s team of Doom Maidens was also made up of a veritable who’s who of “where the hell have they been?” villainesses… Ruby Thursday. Quicksand. Sylvie Lushton (The Enchantress). Titania. Scorpia. Mindblast. Shriek. When a creator pulls characters like this out of “comic book limbo”, it’s pretty safe to say that it has more to do with his/her affinity for the character and less to do with editorial mandate.

titaniaWill Sliney handled the pencilling for the series (save for issue #7 in which Stephanie Hans took the helm for Clea’s return). To say that his work was consistently enjoyable would be an understatement. His characters’ facial expressions were crisp and clearly demonstrated the appropriate emotion required for the panel (the pseudo-condescending looks and side-eye that Elsa would throw Misty were some of the most memorable). During some of the epic smackdowns and battle scenes, characters were never lost due to murky artwork which is more than some other artists on the top-tier books can boast. Sliney’s pencils, coupled with both beautiful coloring from Veronica Gandini and Mark Brook’s absolutely stunning covers, made for some unforgettable visuals.

If we have learned anything from Marvel Comics over the years, it’s that nothing this good ever lasts forever (read: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s Alpha Flight reboot, Jeff Parker’s Agents of Atlas and Atlas) It’s easy for folks to say that books that lack an A-list character like Captain America or Iron Man will never make it. I don’t necessarily believe that to be true. Books featuring these characters are going to sell, regardless, and yet they are the titles that generally receive the most promotion and the heaviest push from Marvel. It’s well beyond time that publishers give the underdogs a bit more of a boost instead of leaving them to tread water until they’ve become exhausted around issue #12. The fans and creative teams of these books deserve better.

FDWhile the fanbase of Fearless Defenders may not be as large as that which reads any one of the sixty Wolverine-centric titles that Marvel pushes out on a monthly basis, I can safely say that we are a dedicated and vocal fanbase. Perhaps my memory deceives me, but I don’t recall seeing any Savage Wolverine readers organizing a cosplay photo shoot based on the book at this year’s NYCC.

Fearless Defenders was one of those rare gems that my eyeballs eagerly gobbled up each month on the day it was released. It represented both female and queer characters in not only a positive but also a powerful light. Saying it will be greatly missed just doesn’t seem appropriate enough of a sentiment.

My hat goes off to Cullen Bunn, Will Sliney, Ellie Pyle, Stephanie Hans, Veronica Gandini, Phil Jimenez, and the entire team involved in the title. I know I speak for many others when I say “thank you.”

The Secret and Relatable Lives of Dorks.

3 10 2013

la-et-still-from-the-secret-lives-of-dorks-20130926A film that references Jason Todd being voted to death (Batman #427-428) by readers, Superboy-Prime “punching” people back to life, and the arguably d-list Marvel Comics character, Night Nurse?

Yes, my fellow dorks, such a majestic thing exists!

This past weekend, Buffalo’s Amherst Theatre held a one-night-only screening of The Secret Lives of Dorks, a high school social outcast comedy penned by Western New York native, Nicholas Brandt.

While some of the “dork”-related references may leap (tall buildings in a single bound… sorry, I had to) over the heads of general audience members, the common plight amongst several of the characters shouldn’t. Those awkward first moments during courtship and the nightmarish scenarios that you fear would play out during a first date are something that all of us can relate to, both teenagers and adults alike.

Granted, most of us haven’t been completely mortified by farting and accidentally feeling up a date in front of his/her parents, but to say that you didn’t fear some equally debasing moment would take place would be a blatant lie. While the bulk of dating misshaps befall the teenage Payton (Gaelan Connell) and Samantha (Vanessa Marano a.k.a. Valerie Cherish’s step-daughter, Francesca), the adults are well-represented by Ms. Stewart (Jennifer Tilly) who relies on relationship advice from Mike Ditka’s self-help videos in order to woo Payton’s father and football aficionado, Bronko (Jim Belushi).

The Secret Lives of Dorks is smart, well-written, lighthearted, and witty. That, coupled with the relatability factor, make the film an overall fun and enjoyable experience. The movie poster states that “dorks are in right now.” It’s true… we are. We’re everywhere… and, in a way, everyone.