Marveling at Avengers: Endgame

The first exposure I can remember to superheroes were the Superman movies and the old Batman television series. The former was rather earnest and the later was incredibly campy, and both set the bar in my mind for what type of film or television was possible when based on a comic book. The initial Batman movie was such a phenomenon in 1989! Culture moved so much slower back then (trust me), so Batman owned what felt like a year or more of everyone’s attention. The movie expanded my perception of what was possible in a movie based on comic book characters, and it fueled an interest in comics as a hobby.

My first and really only dive into comic books was during the early 1990s when Image Comics splashed onto the scene. I was certainly aware of comic books before then and knew a few things about common superhero lore, though I didn’t start collecting until I had a chance to be in on the ground floor of something. The idea of getting caught up on characters and franchises that had been going on for many years or decades seemed daunting, and starting with #1 of any new book felt exciting.

Somewhere in my mother’s house sits several long boxes of early-era Image comics such as Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Savage Dragon, Youngblood, Wetworks, Cyberforce, Shadowhawk, The Maxx, Pitt, Gen 13, Witchblade… I set out to collect all the Image stuff.

And for a time, I did.

I also sprinkled in other titles from those days like Spider-Man 2099 and the Star Wars Dark Empire issues. It all became too cumbersome and expensive though, and my interest in comics faded as I progressed through high school and into college. Superheroes remained something I was aware of, and I slowly got interested in graphic novels many years later – finding titles like Watchmen and Y: The Last Man quite profound.

Superhero Films Revival

The first X-Men film in 2000 was a reminder that the stories within comic books can be translated into quality entertainment at the cinema, and the first sequel in 2003 was a wonderful comic book movie featuring talented actors performing interesting roles with twisting allegiances, snappy dialogue and stunning visuals. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 arrived around this time, and both of them delivered quality experiences. The Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy started in 2005, and the massive success of The Dark Knight (released July 18, 2008), fueled by the otherworldly and tragic performance by Heath Ledger, gave superhero movies increased credibility.

A few months earlier in 2008, another superhero movie, Iron Man, opened and started a chain reaction of events that would result in the following completely silly and staggering box office numbers below. Even with the success of several superhero movies and franchises, nothing could predict the outrageous popularity and success of what became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Marvel Box Office

Look at those numbers. It is absurd!! Twenty-BILLION dollars worldwide and counting from worldwide box office!? And that doesn’t factor in merchandising and gods-only-know what else they have as revenue streams.

Marvel released a movie about Ant-Man, and made half-a-billion dollars worldwide. 500 MILLION!? Ant-Man!?

I believe I have seen every one of these films in the theater, likely within a week or two of them releasing. They rarely fail to deliver on entertainment, and they have continued to thrive at the box office and avoid (for the most part) the natural cultural backlash that comes with anything that is this wildly successful.

The Endgame

I’ve tweeted this numerous times over the years; it amazes me how Marvel continues to keep this up. The casting has been fantastic, the marketing is always top-notch, and the films deliver escapism entertainment with heart and humor, and they make it look easy.

It’s not easy.

So after I saw Avengers: Endgame, I wanted to explore how this all happened. How did Marvel get the point that it could release a three-hour movie about a group of heroes battling back against a cosmic villain most people hadn’t heard of 10 years ago that culminated a 20-film story line – and it would be the highest-grossing movie of all time (most likely soon)?

How is Nebula, a side character from the pages of in a C-level comic book (in the eyes of the mainstream), one of the narrative linchpins of this film?

How does it all work!?

In the latest episode of Childhood Ruined, my co-host and I welcomed Duane Sibilly to the show to discuss these questions, and geek out about the wondrous splendor that is Avengers: Endgame.

I hope you’ll give it a listen!

And special thanks to the supporters of my Patreon including: Ashton Ruby, Adam J, Michael Shea, Duane Sibilly, Faience, Hawke Robinson, Jana Flesher, Samuel Dillon, and Sinan Turnacioglu.

 

A Star Is Born With My Guard Down

Spoiler Warning: The following post contains numerous plot details for the film, A Star Is Born. I encourage you to see the film before reading any further. If you continue reading, multiple plot points will be ruined for you. Thank you.

Are you happy in this modern world?

My wife and I took some vacation time from work yesterday to have lunch together and see a movie. It was a rare weekday date for us while our son was in daycare. She picked me up from my office, we ate lunch at Wahlburgers in the Mall of America (she refrained from asking our waiter if he ever met Donnie), and went to see A Star Is Born at the mall’s new theater palace.

I stayed away from reviews because I knew I wanted to see the film, so I entered the theater with a blank slate. I knew there were prior versions of the same film, but I could not recall too many details about them. I assumed A Star Is Born would provide a compelling story and engaging music. I’ve found Lady Gaga to be an intriguing and impressive artist over the years; for example, I respected her dedication to a performance during the 2011 MTV Music Awards when she took on another persona and COMMITTED to that as she launched into You & I with Queen’s Brian May. I remember watching that, and just finding the whole thing so epic; the BALLS it took to do that. The creativity required to generate the idea and the fearlessness to execute it was inspiring. I recall showing it to my wife and saying, “You should watch this. It’s amazing.”

A Star Is Born
Jack & Ally

Meanwhile, I’ve been on board with Bradley Cooper since his performance as Sack in Wedding Crashers; probably the most I’ve ever laughed inside a movie theater. He’s provided quality performances in other movies too, and I gleaned from kinda-sorta, not looking at headlines that he took this movie with Lady Gaga very seriously.

So I had high hopes for A Star Is Born, and I assumed it would have something important to say.

My guard was down. I was not prepared.

I can only imagine what it would be like to see this film without living through the experience of my brother ending his life last year. You ever wish you could “unsee” a movie so it could surprise you all over again? I’d love to “unsee” The Shawshank Redemption, The Usual Suspects or Fight Club so I could experience that “ah-ha” moment all over again.

I imagine A Star Is Born would still be a powerful film to watch had my brother not decided to end his life. However, I only know this reality where I sat in my seat yesterday watching the final portion of the film – knowing and dreading what was unfolding before my eyes.

I am happy this movie exists, and I hope it increases the volume on a conversation about depression and mental health that is still much too quiet in this country and worldwide.

Continue reading “A Star Is Born With My Guard Down”

Art & Arcana Will Galvanize Your Fandom of Dungeons & Dragons

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana over the weekend by the kind folks at Wizards of the Coast and Ten Speed Press. My review and discussion of the book could be influenced by the fact that I was given a copy at no cost. However, I am confident I would find this book amazing if I paid the full price for it.

I was anticipating the mail over the weekend because I knew I would be receiving a copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, which is authored by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer; the book also has a foreward by Joe Manganiello. The mammoth book contains nearly 450 pages that span the game’s entire history. The one-page press release that accompanied the advance copy summarizes Art & Arcana well:

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill “art of…” book; rather, it’s more of an archaeology project that involved lots of needle-searching in haystacks….

The author team spared no expense in finding these pieces; unearthing sketches, memos and internal drafts of some of the game’s most iconic material; locating and interviewing early artists whose names had since been lost to D&D lore; gathering pristine products and obscure advertisements; and obtaining hard-to-get-licenses – a labor of love all leading to a previously unavailable visual archive and untold story about how D&D truly came to be. No matter what edition of D&D you play or played, or even if you are just a casual observer or pop culture enthusiast, this book will have something special for you.

Honestly, after I read the press release I wanted to immediately delve into some dungeons and fight some dragons!

Dungeons & Dragons has been in my life off-and-on for close to 40 years in some capacity, and that history is very important and personal to me. I even celebrated the classic art from early D&D modules by decoupaging my gaming table with those images, which still stands proudly in my home. So it feels wonderful to hold a study, well-produced tome that captures – and celebrates – D&D’s history!

Art & Arcana is a feast for your eyes as every page is lovingly curated to highlight moments from over four decades of Dungeons & Dragons history. From crude concept designs to massive, pristine spreads of iconic images, Art & Arcana will trigger those nostalgia neurons in your brain and cause your heart to skip a beat. No area seems taboo or off-limits as the book presents an overview of the rise and fall of Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with never-before-seen artifacts such as personal communications and invoices. The sale of D&D to Wizards of the Coast is also covered in detail as Art & Arcana provides commentary and context for the movements and development cycles of the game over the years. It’s clear the authors adore the game, though the book is willing to examine (and delightfully poke fun at times!) D&D’s potential shortcomings. The treasures in the book provide a feeling of, “Whoa!” as nuggets of information are organized in a visually pleasing and accessible manner across the pages.

Art & Arcana is beautiful to consume visually, and it is also quite educational. I imagine there are new details in here for even the most hardcore fans of D&D. For someone like myself that skipped about 15 years during the 2nd and 3rd Editions, the book is a master class on how – and more importantly, why – D&D evolved over the years. Art & Arcana also has a sense of humor about it that makes the book fun to read, and I read every piece of text before writing a review; I encourage everyone to do that same! It has everything you could ask for from a visual history – classic advertisements, screen shots from computer games, pages from manuals, pictures of miniatures and toys, black-and-white photos of Gary Gygax and company, glorious maps of dungeons and cities, and an enormous collection of the best pieces of art that have been created for the game – quite simply,  Art & Arcana will galvanize your fandom of Dungeons and Dragons.

The only situation that comes to mind that is comparable to how I felt after devouring Art & Arcana is my reaction after watching the documentaries about the making of The Fellowship of the Ring on the Extended Edition DVDs. I had previously read The Lord of the Rings and even taught a class on the books along with other modern mythologies while in graduate school. I enjoyed the film, but seeing how much care and devotion went into the making of the movie increased my adoration for the franchise. My wife and I even traveled to New Zealand back in 2012 primarily because we fell in love with the locations from hours of watching those films get made. I’m a much bigger fan of The Lord of the Rings because of those documentaries, and I believe Art & Arcana will have a similar effect for fans of D&D.

I just wonder where I should travel now that Art & Arcana has me fired up? Watch out, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, here I come!

If you are a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, then treat yourself to this book. I cannot imagine a material plane of existence where you would be disappointed.

Now, please enjoy my in-depth musings on Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History.

Continue reading “Art & Arcana Will Galvanize Your Fandom of Dungeons & Dragons”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 26 – Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman bio pic
Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman, President of Trinket Studios, joins me to talk about their new release, Battle Chef Brigade, which is now available on Steam and Nintendo Switch. Tom talks about the four-year development process for Battle Chef Brigade, and the challenges his team faced as an small independent company. He discusses the perils of marketing the game while fighting obscurity, and how Trinket Studios partnered with Adult Swim Games. Tom details how Battle Chef Brigade went through a rollercoaster in terms of scope and gameplay variations, and how they arrived at the current combination of mechanics and features. He answers my numerous questions about the design of the game, including how players are rewarded – rather than punished – for playing the game. We also get into the logistics of art design and voice acting. Tom concludes by talking about the mental toll of working on such a project and releasing it into the wild. If you have played Battle Chef Brigade or are simply interested in how games are developed, then this podcast is a must listen! And if you have yet to experience Battle Chef Brigade, go buy the game! It is an amazing experience that I am loving.

Battle Chef Brigade
Racing to hunt, gather ingredients, and cook to impress the judges is way too exhilarating. The game is a huge dose of fun, and you should play it!

Enjoy the 26th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode of 2018 is scheduled to post on February 20th.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

My Head (Canon) Exploded! The Mental Discomfort of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

NOTE: There are spoilers for The Last Jedi in this article. Please stop reading if you have not seen the movie yet.

The Last Jedi posterWhen I started writing this article, the first paragraph detailed my excitement for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and how the only expectations I had were that it would be a good movie. At one point in the original article I wrote, “I was happily absent of expectations before the film.” It felt true when I wrote it; it really did. As I kept writing, I realized it was not true. It was actually far from true! I had many expectations for the film beyond it being good. I was just unaware of them all.

There is a moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda warns Luke not to take his weapons into the cave. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”

The Last Jedi is a Rorschach test of a film.

Consciously and subconsciously, we all have expectations about what Star Wars should be. And when The Last Jedi challenges those expectations – or openly subverts them – it triggers an anxiety reaction. How we monitor and process that reaction likely goes a long way to determining if we thought The Last Jedi was a “good” movie or not.

I’m not here to tell you how to react to The Last Jedi. What I am suggesting is to review the expectations you had about the film and franchise because I was unaware of many of my own expectations. Overall, I thought the film was brilliant, and I would like to harness the nervous energy I experienced during those two-and-a-half hours while watching the movie on opening night.

Because that feeling of plunging into the unknown was pure electricity.

My response to the Rorschach test of The Last Jedi is below.

Continue reading “My Head (Canon) Exploded! The Mental Discomfort of Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Iddy Approved: Monsters & Heroes of the Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book

Monster Coloring Book
“Color Me Badd!”

Many moons ago, I was given a free copy of both Dungeonology and the Monsters & Heroes of the Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book. (Thank you, Wizards of the Coast and Greg Tito!) Since there are already a bounty of useful reviews about Dungeonolgy, which is a nifty book to be sure, I decided to write an article about the later while incorporating some psychological concepts.

It’s what I do.

The adult coloring book industry has mushroomed in recent years and many book stores have entire sections devoted to this activity. Coloring is often marketed as a relaxation device to adults, which seems intuitively accurate. Engaging in a hobby that requires attention – anything form woodworking to knitting to painting miniatures – forces us to tune out extraneous variables and lock in to one thing.

Save Versus Multitasking

Multitasking is a bane of my existence. Earlier in life, I thought I was truly proficient in multitasking. I doodled in notebooks in high school while taking notes and listening to the teacher during classes. I achieved good grades (except for that one Biology class), and figured this was evidence that I could juggle multiple cognitive tasks well. As recently as this week, I get up before work to walk on the treadmill while watching a hockey game on the television AND playing Hearthstone on my cell phone. The good news is this never ended in an injury. The bad news is I probably do all of those things poorly.

I miss a lot of details from the hockey game.

I make countless misplays in Hearthstone.

And my posture is likely terrible because I look down at my phone for the better part of 30-45 minutes while walking.

One could say that I was multitasking well because I combined exercise with my enjoyment of professional ice hockey and video games. Another point of view is that I’m doing a disservice to all three activities because I’m not focused on any of them.

Now that I have a newborn in the house, multitasking is even less effective. I’ve tried to balance feeding him while doing other things.

It doesn’t go well!

Coloring as Stress Management?

Coloring is an activity that is difficult to combine with something else. Perhaps one can listen to music or have a show or movie on in the background, but coloring requires you to stay in one place and focus on filling in spaces with different pens or pencils. Many of the coloring pages have intricate shapes and tiny details that encourage the artist to concentrate on his or her coloring efforts. This level of strict concentration on one activity can be soothing.

Continue reading “Iddy Approved: Monsters & Heroes of the Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Book”

A New Hope In the Post-Rogue One Galaxy

Rogue One is wonderful addition to the Star Wars film library, which is now eight films spanning five decades. My enjoyment of all things Star Wars is well-documented, and I was happy to see Rogue One twice over the past week. If you can find a theater with the 70mm IMAX print, then go out of your way to see that; it’s an amazing experience! While I loved the new addition to Star Wars lore, there are several things about the ending of Rogue One that continue to itch my brain days later. And I feel the need to externalize those thoughts!

The rest of the article contains details about the plot and conclusion of Rogue One. If you have already seen the movie and wish to indulge in my nerd-brain madness, then please continue!

Rogue One Rocked

Before dissecting continuity concerns, I want to clearly state the things I enjoyed about Rogue One. The characters – and the actors portraying those characters – were excellent. There is not a weak link among the ensemble cast, and I appreciated the performances more on the second viewing. Riz Ahmed especially does great work infusing Bodhi with tortured nuance, and Diego Luna presents Cassian as a conflicted soldier who has been involved in too many traumatic situations. It seems clear the character of Jyn went through some revisions between the trailers and release of the film, and Felicity Jones puts herself up their with Carrie Fischer and Daisey Ridley as strong women in the Star Wars universe. K-2SO is voiced by the “fonging” wonderful Alan Tudyk, and channeled one of the greatest droids in Star Wars history, HK-47. The crew members of Rogue One all serve a purpose, and it reminded me of the unique personalities in the strike team in Predator.

rogue-one-cast-photo-d23
They’ve gone rogue!

The visual and sound effects were stunning, and this includes the computer-generated performance of Grand Moff Tarkin. When Tarkin first appeared in the movie, I assumed it was a brief cameo. I was incorrect because Tarkin is a major character in the film. The scenes with him certainly passed the uncanny valley for me though his complexion seemed too dark and sickly. The computer-generated Leia at the conclusion of the film felt more unnatural to me, though it was still a cool moment. I am guessing the brightness of the room and the whiteness of her clothing made that a tremendously difficult shot to execute well. The sound in the IMAX version of the film was a delight, and the soundtrack felt like Star Wars.

Continue reading “A New Hope In the Post-Rogue One Galaxy”