Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is Superman & Wonder Woman's Romance DOOMED from the Start?

I have to admit that I'd been passing on purchasing DC's Superman/Wonder Woman monthly serial when I've seen it on the stands at the comic book store because I really wasn't interested in reading something that seemed like a soap opera in print.  That was my loss as I learned when reading SUPERMAN / WONDER WOMAN VOLUME 1: POWER COUPLE the graphic novel compilation of the first seven issues of this monthly comic book series.  I found this series to actually be very impressive and enjoyable to read with a tidbit of romantic elements but also very action packed.  It has a storyline that hooks you in complimented with decent artwork that provides nice visuals that have a classic comic book feel to them (not the artsy sketchy work that has a hand drawn feel but often leaves you squinting at drab images nor the CGI visuals that seem too glossy and cartoonish rather this artwork strikes a balance somewhere between those styles that really brings the characters to life off the pages of the book).

I still have a 20th Century mindset when it comes to thinking of Superman (His secret identity works at a newspaper, changes into his costume in a phone booth, Lois Lane is the love interest he longs for but can't have) but this comic book clearly is a 21st Century product for today's generation (Clark Kent is now working at a "blog", there are no more phone booths and people around the world can get obtain information almost instantaneously through smart phones, social media and cable tv...oh and he's not chasing Lois Lane anymore he's hooking up with Wonder Woman now).  This comic book series is part of DC's NEW 52 effort which reset all of their characters stories back to a fresh start in 2011 when they were restarted at Issue #1.  In this new 21st century timeline it's not Lois and Clark but rather Superman and Wonder Woman to provide some romantic angles and twists to the DC Comics universe.


The premise of the story is that Superman and Wonder Woman share a kiss which begins to transform into something more.  Can two of the Earth's mightiest super heroes be boy friend and girl friend? Can they have a romance and relationship without it interfering with their super hero responsibilities or without those responsibilities tearing them apart from one another?  They decide to give a relationship a try but want to keep it a secret, but in today's paparazzi world the secret doesn't last long.  A photo of Superman and Wonder Woman kissing is leaked to a blog and suddenly a post that shows the picture is trending across social media and everyone on the planet knows the big news.  Some people are thrilled, some are scared and others will do whatever it takes to kill this romance.  Of course who breaks the news, it is Clark Kent's own blog when his business partner is mysteriously provided the photo she jumps on promoting it, and the blog, without happening to tell "Superman" in advance...oops!  She of course doesn't know his secret identity and spills the beans on her partner without realizing the connection.

While the romantic elements are a big part of the story they are well balanced with the NEW 52 era of DC Comics introduction of two of Superman's most dreaded foes General Zod and Doomsday who provide a lot of action and suspense.  These villains have escaped from the Phantom Zone and may be too much for Superman to handle.

In a nod to the classic Superman film SUPERMAN II and forty-something fans like me, General Zod and his wife are portrayed in this comic book more like the characters from that 1980 movie compared to other incarnations of the characters such as the recent Man of Steel movie directed by Zack Snyder.  First General Zod escapes the Phantom Zone and Superman doesn't know if he is friend or foe only that the man is from Krypton.  Superman places Zod in a cage within the Fortress of Solitude but doesn't realize in a funny twist that these aren't cages but storage containers that Zod knows the way to easily open.  He than uses the technology in the Fortress of Solitude to help his wife escape to Earth.  The Kryptonian couple than tackle Superman and Wonder Woman in a battle to determine whether Earth will be enslaved by the newest arrivals from Krypton.


Beyond just having to deal with Zod and his wife though Superman and Wonder Woman have to fight off the threat from Doomsday - the character who originally "killed" Superman in a DC Comics storyline back in the 1990s.  Will this villain be the one thing that dooms their love?  Doomsday isn't bundled together with Zod in his involvement in the story which is nice in it expands the script and gives each villain their own time to be in the spotlight.


The only thing I really didn't like is that in this NEW 52 reboot they've given Wonder Woman the ability to fly around in the sky just like Superman (what happened to the great invisible plane) and is painted more like a female superman than an amazonian warrior with her own unique abilities and talents.  That aside, SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN VOLUME 1: POWER COUPLE has this geek daddy's nod of approval.

You can pick up a copy of SUPERMAN / WONDER WOMAN VOLUME 1: POWER COUPLE on Amazon.com or at your local comic book retailer.

DISCLAIMER:  I received a complimentary time limited access reviewers pdf edition of this publication to utilize for this review.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Arrr! It's Talk Like a Pirate Day - September 19th

Avast! my mateys September 19th is that grand ole day of the year when all the land lubbers of the world stop to pay homage to the spectacular vocabulary skills of those scurvy band of corsairs we've come to know as Pirates. Talk Like A Pirate Day has been celebrated since 2002 when syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry promoted the idea created by two wise-cracking buddies John Baur and Mark Summers. It's now become a globally recognized day of fun that takes place every September 19th where people across the world debate the usage og Arrr! versus Arrgh! What's the main message of this special day...life is short take a break and have some fun being silly from time to time.

 In honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day, I'm going to share 5 Pirate Myths that are Actually True courtesy of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC:


#1  Pirates Flew the "Jolly Rogers" over their ships;

#2  Pirate ships were rowdy, boisterous vessels full of drunken rogues;

#3  Pirates had hooks and peg-legs;

#4  Pirates would maroon crew members on deserted islands;

#5 There was such a thing as a "Pirate's Code"

Take a moment to watch the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC video posted above, it is pretty good with lots of interesting information.  For example many ships' crews primarily drank rum because as they were traveling across salt water oceans and seas where they couldn't guarantee their supply of safe fresh water to drink so the drunken sailer image may not be too far off.  So yo ho ho is the Pirate Life for you?

For myself next to trying to remember the proper usage of then verus than the next biggest the next biggest vocabulary challenge is the properly using Arrr versus Arrgh.  Fortunately the good crew over at TalkLikeAPirate.com have an answer for that within their official pirate language dictionary.  Arrgh is the sound you make when you get a poke in the eye or a kick in the butt.  Arrr means YES, I AGREE, I APPROVE , or SEND ANOTHER BEER MY WAY PLEASE.

So lift your grog you bilge rats on this occasion and give toast to those who made this day be.  Cheers to John, Mark and Davey!  Thank you for making sure we all know the proper use of Arrr versus Arrgh and creating a day that always provides smiles and amusement to us land lubbers one and all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nickelodeon Goes Dark to Encourage Kids: Get Out & Play

You'd think that a multimedia company that makes its money by providing children focused television programing and online services would be the last ones to pull the plug on their content to encourage kids to get outside and play; but Nickelodeon is doing just that!  In an effort to promote that children's television viewing, video game playing and online use should be balanced with outdoor active play time, Nickelodeon is going dark on September 20, 2014 in recognition of Worldwide Day of Play.



Beginning at 9 a.m. through Noon on September 20th, Nickelodeon will air special messages featuring stars from some of its most popular live-action series, including  Sydney Park and Tylen Jacob Williams (Instant Mom), Curtis Harris and Breanna Yde (The Haunted Hathaways) and Paola Andino and Nick Merico (Every Witch Way), that will encourage children and teens to take time to be more physically active.  Than at Noon, Nickelodeon will sign-off, not just the main Nick cable channel but all of is television and online outlets Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nick.com, NickJr.com, Nicktoons.com, TeenNick.com, and the Nick App for mobile devices, until 3pm.  While the network is turned off a message encouraging TV viewers and online visitors to go out and play will appear.  When Nickelodeon's channels, websites and app resume normal operations at 3pm, messages promoting getting outside and playing featuring highlights from "Road to Worldwide Day of Play" events that Nickelodeon sponsored in my hometown of DETROIT, MICHIGAN, San Diego, California and Virginia Beach, Virginia over the summer will continue for the remainder of the day.



If you didn't make it to one of the three summer kickoff events to Worldwide Day of Play, there will be thousands of events across the country taking place on September 20th hosted by Nickeldeon's national partners, including Afterschool Alliance, the Association of Children's Museums, the Boys and Girls Club of America, Girls on the Run, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Key Club/Kiwanis, the National Environment Education Foundation, NFL PLAY 60, Playworks, Right to Play (USA Gymnastics), Roller Skating International, Save the Children, the United States Tennis Association, Up2Us, USA BMX and the YMCA, to encourage kids to get off the couch and out of the house to spend some time playing.  Click here for a list of links to all of these national Worldwide Day of Play partners to check and see if they are hosting any events in your area.


The United States Tennis Association is probably one of the most active partners this year in holding and promoting events tied to Worldwide Day of Play.  Visit their website and you can enter your zip code to find an event near you.  I found one of their events going on 5 miles from our house.  You may also want to keep an eye out for other local tie-in events being promoted in your own community by various organizations.

What are some of the reasons why it is important to get kids outside playing?  Playing outdoors helps build up immune systems, provides exercise, stimulates imagination, promotes problem solving, and provides Vitamin D.  Check out a nice article from Mommies Magazine on this topic.  Add to this list that our family likes to get outside and take a few trips to our local zoo throughout the year to get a good dose of Vitamin Z too!

So how are you going to get out and play for the Worldwide Day of Play?  I know that we'll be out playing soccer that day.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What if we could make a Star Trek Tricorder a Reality? Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE Competition is Attempting to Make it So

In the Star Trek television shows & movies, the tricorder is a handy device that allows doctors to scan patients and receive an instant medical diagnosis. Called a "tricorder" because it is used for sensor scanning, data analysis and recording data; wouldn't it be nice if instead of this device just being a SciFi prop or a toy you can buy from ThinkGeek it was a real life medical tool?  Think of the possibilities of how this could help people.  Well now Qualcomm has partnered with the XPRIZE Foundation to try and make the Tricorder a reality!  Ten teams have been selected to compete for a $10 million prize awarded to the first to create a functional tricorder.



Imagine a portable, wireless device in the palm of your hand that could monitor and diagnose your health conditions.  That's the technology envisioned by this competition and will allow unprecedented access to personal health metrics.  The end goal of this competition:  Radical innovation in healthcare that will give individuals far greater choices in when, where, and how they receive care.  I thought the laser thermometer in my kids pediatrician's office used to take there temperatures by scanning their foreheads with a laser was incredible; this competition looks to push high-tech to make that device I considered futuristic look simplistic.  Qualcomm and the XPRIZE Foundation are asking for our help to assist these competing teams get over the finish line.  Are you up to lending a hand?!

Qualcomm is asking people to visit the competition's website tricorderfederation.org to learn more about this effort and help spread the word about it so that world encouragement will help keep these teams motivated to accomplish the goal of making a tricorder a reality.  As part of the campaign to promote awareness of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE Competition there is also a contest the rest of us can participate in.  People are encouraged to upload a Star Trek inspired photo on the website for the chance to win prizes.  Some photos will be randomly selected to win and other prizes will be awarded to those entries that get the most votes from the public.


As a parent, just think of how helpful this would be in the middle of the night when you have a crying baby or a young child throwing up or complaining of pains.  Every parent has to admit they've been in a medical situation with their child at some point where they really don't know what to do.  Do you page the pediatrician at 1am, take a trip to the emergency room or wait things out to the morning? A tricorder scan could alert you to what the problem is, suggest treatment options, or warn you that this is a situation where you really do need to rush to the emergency room.  How wonderful would that be!  J.J. Abrams who directed the recent Star Trek motion pictures addressed some of the practical applications of a real life tricorder in this interview posted by the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE Competition:


Let's wish these teams Warp Speed in completing their mission!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Pigs In Space: The Star Wars Themed Muppet Show Episode that Predicted the Future

 

Wow! I stumbled across a Star Wars themed episode of The Muppet Show the other day finding myself amazed that the original series is as good as I remember it being as a kid and that Jim Henson had the insight to know way back in 1980 that someday in the future The Muppets and Star Wars would all be a part of the Disney family. Kermit the Frog & cast are joined in Episode 417 of The Muppet Show by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (in C3PO costumer), Peter Mayhew Mayhew (Chewbacca) and R2D2 (listed as played by himself in the show credits).  The Star Wars quartet go on a variety of missions behind the scenes of the show and on stage wrapping up with a foreshadowing song number that has the Muppet and Star Wars characters singing together "When You Wish Upon a Star" in front of a prop that looks very much like a Disney amusement park castle.  Freaky!!!


There are some nice Star Wars skits in the show including a "Pigs in Space" feature and a Fred Astaire inspired dance number by C3PO.  It is also funny that at this point in his career Mark Hamill was really concerned about being type cast as Luke Skywalker in Hollywood so he insisted that if he appear on the show they do something that differentiated Mark Hamill the actor from Luke Skywalker the character.  So the show has a gag where Mark Hamill is portrayed as Luke Skywalker's "cousin" who is showing off various talents in an effort to get his own skit on the variety show.  While I was hooked into the watching the episode by the Star Wars connection, I have to say I was truly impressed by the  non-Star Wars related performances in the The Muppet Show which reminded me of just how great this family friendly show was in its time. I highly recommend sitting back for a half hour and enjoying this classic original episode of The Muppet Show:


Here are a few easter eggs from the show you may want to look out for while watching it:

Hanging on Scooter's bedroom wall during his "Six String Orchestra" number are posters of Luke Skywalker and an upside-down Star Destroyer.


This episode of The Muppet Show was released prior to Empire Strikes Back appearing in theaters but Hamill is wearing Luke Skywalker's never before seen Bespin costume from the movie.  Hinting that this may be tied to the upcoming Star Wars sequel, the Muppets refer to his costumer throughout the episode frequently pointing it out and asking him "Who's your tailor?" which the audience wouldn't get the connection to until watching the movie in theaters and seeing him wearing it.  Even Mark Hamill says to Luke Skywalker "Who is your tailor? I love that outfit" in the high-tech for its time ending of the show that has the two of them appear with Kermit the Frog at the same time.


Similarly at the time of the show's broadcast, the audience wouldn't have known that Darth Vader's identity is revealed in Empire Strikes Back but The Muppet Show episode teases that the true identity of Dearth Nadir (Gonzo) would be revealed during the "Pigs in Space" skit. Was this a hint to the audience that Darth Vader's identity would be revealed in Empire Strikes Back?


Frank Oz was the puppeteer and voice on this episode for Ms. Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal.  He also was the puppeteer and voice for Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi movies.  At the time this episode aired people wouldn't have known who Yoda was as the character first appears in Empire Strikes Back.

The space ship piloted by Ms. Piggy and her crew in "Pigs in Space" is named Swinetrek, a nod to Star Trek.

Disney purchased the rights to The Muppets in 2004 and Star Wars in 2012.  This episode that aired in 1980 foreshadowed that with its final number that has the characters sing one of Disney's trademark songs "When You Wish Upon a Star" with a castle behind them which are often combined to promote the company's theme parks and media products.  Now you can purchase Muppet / Star Wars co-branded items like these toys we picked up at Disney World.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New STAR WARS television show debuts in October

 

A brand new Star Wars animated television show titled Rebels will be debuting in October.  Star Wars: Rebels is scheduled to premiere on October 3rd with a one hour special Star Wars: Rebels- Sparks of Rebellion on the Disney Channel.  Half hour episodes will than routinely air on Monday nights each week on the cable channel Disney XD beginning on October 13th.  The premise behind the tv series that is set 5 years before the original Star Wars move "A New Hope" is that a motley crew of a spaceship called the Ghost begins harassing the Empire in an effort to spark a rebellion.

In an attempt to recapture the vibe of the original trilogy of movies the artwork in this animated series will use the Star Wars concept art that was created by artist Ralph McQuarrie in the 1970s & 80s for inspiration.  One specific example of McQuarrie's impact on the show is the character of Zeb Orrelios.  The appearance of this alien who serves as the muscle for the Ghost's crew utilizes McQuarrie's original concept for Chewbacca to create the character.  I remember as a kid spending hours scouring through Ralph McQuarrie art books my aunt had given me and imagining all sorts of adventures inspired by those wonderful sketches; so I'm really looking forward to seeing his influence in Star Wars: Rebels.

Other characters in the show include:

Kanan Jarrus a survivor of the Empire's purge of the Jedi. After barely surviving Order 66 he went underground hiding in obscurity until discovered by the owner of the Ghost, Hera Syndulla.  He is now the leader of the Ghost's crew doing his best to inflict harm against the power of the Empire.



Hera Syndulla is the Twi'lek owner and pilot of the Ghost.


Sabine Wren is a Mandalorian warrior who is an expert in combat, weapons and explosives.  She fancies herself as an artist who loves to tag Imperial facilities with graffiti after an attack.

Ezra Bridger is a 14 year old pickpocket and con artist who the crew of the Ghost find living on an Outer Rim world.  Unknown to him one of the reasons he is able to get out of so many jams is that he is gifted with the ability to use the Force.


To help up the excitement for Rebels, Disney has released four short youtube videos to promote the excitement for this new series:


In “The Machine in the Ghost,” the rebels’ Ghost starship is under attack by a wave of TIE fighters. Hera pilots the craft, while Kanan tries to blast the Imperials from the Ghost’s gunner. While they do evade and shoot down several TIEs, it’s up to astromech droid Chopper to finish the job – even if he’s reluctant to do so.


 In “Art Attack,” Sabine sneaks into an Imperial compound, looking to create a diversion for her friends aboard the Ghost. Spotted by stormtroopers, she proves too quick to be captured – and leaves behind an explosive surprise.


 In “Not What You Think,”  Ezra finds a downed TIE fighter on the plains of Lothal. The young rebel opens the ship’s hatch -- pretending to help the ungrateful Imperial pilot -- and leaves with a few souvenirs.


In “Entanglement,” Zeb fails to meet with Kanan at a specified rendezvous point…and instead finds himself joyfully battling many, many stormtroopers.
 
For more information about Star Wars: Rebels CLICK HERE
 
 

Star Wars: A New Dawn - a Novel by John Jackson Miller

 ** Warning Spoilers Below **

A NEW DAWN ushers in a new era of publishing for the Sci-Fi franchise being the first novel to be "officially" included in Disney's canon for its Star Wars Universe and serves as an introduction to the animated series Star Wars: Rebels.  This book is a decent romp of an adventure for the teen and young adult audience that the Star Wars: Rebels television show is being developed for and marketed to.  The tie-in to the Disney XD tv series and Star Wars universe is a great hook to get a young audience, that probably doesn't read literature as much as they should, to pick up and enjoy a book.  While the novel isn't designated as a Young Adult (YA) book [The Young Adult Library Service of the American Library Association defines the young adult genre as for ages twelve to eighteen although many publishers and authors market materials as either Teen Fiction for ten to fifteen year olds or Young Adult for sixteen to twenty-five year olds] that should be its key audience as it really is a flop when it comes to providing an enjoyable read for more mature adult Star Wars fans who may be more discerning readers. 

The story begins with a young fourteen year old Jedi in training (known as a Padawan) named Caleb Dume who escapes the Empire's purge of the Jedi Order and goes into hiding.  Ten years pass and Caleb has changed his ways and his identity to avoid detection from the bounty out on the heads of any remaining Jedi.  Hiding out in a backworld mining community far away from the heart of the Empire, he enjoys a lifestyle of drinking and carousing with the ladies when not performing menial labor to get by.  Caleb never uses the force or his real name to avoid any chance of being associated as a Jedi which would undoubtedly lead to his death at the hands of Imperial authorities.  The problem becomes that the mineral being exclusively mined where he is hiding out suddenly becomes a hot commodity being used to build the Empire's Star Destroyers (and probably the Death Star too) bringing with it the novel's villain and a lot of attention to the planet that Caleb, now known as Kannan Jarrus, doesn't want.

Kannan Jarrus is one of the primary characters of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series described as a Jedi in hiding from the Empire.  So anyone who has looked into the show in advance or watches any of its episodes will quickly pickup that Kannan Jarrus is Caleb Dume.  I suspected this about a page into when the Kannan Jarrus character was introduced but the author tries to spin this angle into a huge plot twist for the story.  Younger audiences may not connect the dots and appreciate this story angle but more sophisticated readers will find this angle overplayed and a rather boring element of the story that drags on way too long. 

John Jackson Miller originally became associated with the Star Wars universe by scripting  some pretty good stories for Dark Horse Comic Books which he parlayed into a gig as an author for Star Wars novels.  I've read all of his Star Wars books so far because their descriptions always sound interesting and I enjoy  Star Wars stories. A New Dawn though just really finally cemented for me that I'm not a fan of John Jackson Miller's novels which I find to be very simplistic and uninspiring.  I give him credit for having great story ideas but beyond delivering a decent outline for a novel's premise he just can't deliver a quality final product in my opinion.  Yet, I will say his work is probably good enough to amuse and entertain a younger reader so I would recommend A New Dawn to that demographic; but John Jackson Miller's writing just doesn't cut it for me when it comes to wanting to devote my valuable time towards enjoying a good book.  To be honest, if I wasn't reading A New Dawn for this review I probably would have stopped reading it halfway through the story. 

A New Dawn also introduces another major character from Star Wars: Rebels known as Hera Syndulla, but beyond introducing this mysterious Twi'lek as being "mysterious" that is about all we get about her.  We find out that she owns a space ship called the Ghost which is a big part of Rebels but don't learn anything about her past or present that really connects her to the television show.  I thought the book was supposed to be setting up the television series but telling the story of how Kannan and Hera meet before Rebels is about all the novel accomplishes.  Hera seems to have a lot of information and intel about the story's main villain and other Imperial activities but the story doesn't delve into how she acquired it, how she funds her secret agent type activities, who, if anyone, she is associated with, what is she actually doing traveling around the galaxy piloting an expensive starship, and so on.  The story actually goes out of its way to say there isn't a Rebellion yet...so what is Hera up to and what brought her to mingle in the Empire's affairs.  None of these issues is brought up and it just leaves you scratching your head.

Miller doesn't even do a nice job of creating a reason for Kannan and Hera to team up.  Essentially the author has Kannan lusting after Hera and offering to follow her and help her in whatever she wants him to do because he's fallen for this mysterious beauty? Really! that just seems a little naive and uncreative. Fortunately for readers incidents beyond the two of them bring Kannan and Hera together for a more rational reason to join forces rather than her being an attractive female that caught his eye.  In the end, the two of them fly off together into the sunset to do who knows what because John Jackson Miller doesn't elaborate anything about Hera other than she is a good fighter and pilot who hates the Empire.


The best part of the story is probably the villain who is sort of a parallel Darth Vader.  While Darth Vader went from being a healthy and powerful person that was crippled into a robotic cyborg form, Count Vidian was a sickly and weak individual that became physically and professionally powerful when he transformed his body into a mechanical cyborg.  Count Vidian was a worthwhile adversary and featured the best plot elements and twists in the story.  I appreciated how he demonstrates the corruption and abuses of the Empire from a business perspective versus the military viewpoint that is the normal perspective in Star Wars novels.  Unfortunately in the end, the reader isn't invested enough within the story and its characters to really care if County Vidian succeeds with his villainous scheme or not but rather is just curious to find out how the story will wrap up.

For this being the first book to be included in the canon for the overall Star Wars storyline and the introduction to the highly anticipated Rebels, I have to say it was disappointing that the novel didn't contribute anything memorable to either.