Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Superman Returns - A Review

The first and last time I saw a Superman movie in the theater, I was nine years old.

It was about a month after my birthday and I had just gone through surgery for an abscessed tooth. I couldn’t eat anything for a day after and couldn’t drink anything except sugar-free lemonade or water. And yet, despite my mom’s protests, I insisted that we go and see Superman IV as soon as we left the dentist’s office. The fact that she allowed this AND took me to see the live action Masters of The Universe movie that same summer is perhaps the greatest testament to my mother’s saint-like patience.

Given that Superman IV was considered by most to be one of the worst movies ever made, some might argue that I was lucky to have had the pain of the surgery to make the movie more tolerable. Personally, I hold that Superman III was the worst of the Superman movies. At least Four TRIED for quality. Three was a comedy that wasn’t funny – a greater offense to me than an unintentionally goofy action film.

Sure, the effects were sub-par and the plot silly even for Superman… but the movie had its’ heart in the right place. And to a nine-year old Starman whose Novocain was wearing off, that was enough to take my mind off the pain and the feeling of helplessness that surgery always leaves me with.

So here we are; roughly 18 years and 11 months later. I didn’t have surgery but I did come off a painfully dull shift at work and a 20 mile drive to the theater that was having a 10 pm premiere of Superman Returns with tickets for only $4.00 American. I got one of the last tickets and was forced to take a seat on the front row between two groups of young boys.

Now, it’s worth mentioning at this point that I am a back of the theater kind of person. I hate sitting on the front row. And I hate getting stuck next to kids at the theater because of the inevitable noise when they get bored.

I shouldn’t have worried. The kids didn’t make a peep during the whole thing except to cheer or say “Woah!” And that was in the WHOLE theater. The only talking I heard came from an alleged adult three rows back who was making smart-ass remarks at about two hours in. But the first two hours…. Dead silence and awe.

That is perhaps the best complement and recommendation I can pay Superman Returns, which is also not perfect but it has its’ heart in the right place.

I have some more analysis for those of you who like to compare notes after a movie is over or for those who want a little more information before seeing the film. But before I conclude the spoiler-free part of this column, let me make three recommendations before you go see Superman Returns

1.) Go see it on a day when you can be assured there will be lots of kids there. This will help put you in the child-like frame of mind that will maximize your enjoyment of this movie.
2.) If possible, see it in an IMAX Theater. This movie is gorgeous on a big screen but I can only imagine how amazing the flying effects and more look with the big planetarium screen.
3.) Go to Google and read about the tangled history behind the creation of this movie or watch one of the many videos where Kevin Smith gives his account of working with Jon Peters. Then give thanks to the deity of your choice that all Jon Peters was allowed to do to this film was put his name on it.

There we go. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now… SPOILERS AHEAD…

The opening credits were the first sign that Bryan Singer and company had every intention of doing this right. The credits are equal parts tribute and teaser… with the original John Williams Superman score playing as the credits swoop toward us in blue block lettering. But now the blue is mixed with red. And instead of the static star-field of the original Superman credits, we also mix and weave between planets and asteroid belts as we move past the stars, towards the Earth.

As always, let’s define our terms and categories.

PLOT: The big SPOILERS BEWARE part. A basic summation of the story.

INFLUENCES: What are the comics that this movie was inspired by and/or ripped off of?

CHARACTERS: Are the characters written well and true to form?

ACTING: Separate from Characters, this is a measure of how skilled the acting is regardless of how “true” it is to the comic book personality of the character.

ARTFULNESS: Nice touches and beautiful artistic shots in the cinematography.

FX: The flashy whiz-bang material and how it looks.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: Another big SPOILERS BEWARE section. Nit-picking over anything relating to “how it SHOULD have been done” and general Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

OVERALL: The broad summary of how I felt about the movie in general.

PLOT: After a five year absence, during which time he was searching where Krypton was for some sign of survivors, Superman returns to earth. Most everyone is glad to seem him back, with three exceptions. Lex Luthor, who has a new plan to take over the world using Kryptonian technology looted from the Fortress of Solitude. Lois Lane, who was abandoned without so much as a goodbye by Superman and is now a Pulitzer Prize winner and mother of an asthmatic, allergy-ridden son. And Richard White, son of Perry, the new man in Lois’ life and supposedly the father of her son, who is somewhat uncomfortable that this man in Lois’s past is making her uncomfortable.

Give at 10 for 10 for originality. The subplots all flow together beautifully and this story is an original if nothing else.

INFLUENCES: Unlike X-Men 3, this movie borrows more from the previous films than the comics on which it was based. The first big action scene, involving a shuttle take-off, is a slightly more modernized take on Superman’s first appearance in John Byrne’s Man of Steel. And elements of the last 20 minutes of the movie draw upon elements of The Death of Superman. There is one fight scene that seems to draw off the concept of Intergang – the thug with an insanely powerful gattling gun. But the biggest inspiration is Richard Donner’s Superman I and II.

The film uses John Williams’ same musical score throughout and stock-footage of Marlon Brando as well as some of the more famous Superman lines of all time. This could make the film seem like a cheap rip-off but it doesn’t. The effect is one of respectful tribute; best summed up in the credit, after all the speaking-role actors are listed, dedicating this film to Christopher and Dana Reeve.

Singer set out to create an alternate-timeline sequel to Superman II and damn me if he didn’t succeed. 10 for 10 here, as well.

CHARACTERS: If you’re looking for a Pre-Crisis Superman, you won’t be disappointed. Fans of the evil millionaire, Donald Trump with better hair version of Lex Luthor may be saddened but Luthor is every bit the crazed mad scientist who would sell his own mother to the gypsies for an advantage. Lois comes off a little softer than usual but given the circumstances surrounding her conflict regarding the man she loves and the man who was always there for her (and which one is which, for that matter?) that is understandable.

Let’s call it 8 for 10. Lex comes off a little TOO manic, even for Pre-Crisis here and Lois’s writing could use a bit more edge.

ACTING: Character by character…

Superman/Clark Kent – Brandon Routh does not disappoint. He comes off a little stronger as the goofy Clark Kent then as Superman, but given the script does require Superman to be somewhat off-balance given the situation he comes back to with Lois, this actually fists the character somewhat. And in the moments where he has to be regal and strong, he is.

“You say people don’t want a savior. Every day, I hear them calling for one.”

That line may be paraphrased a bit. But I remember getting a little teary-eyed when he said that.

Lois Lane – Kate Bosworth has been slammed by some of the fans, but I think she did a competent job. Other critics have complained she looks and acts too soft. I think most of the blame for that lies in the script, not the portrayal. Because when she needs to be hard, like telling Superman why she wrote an article titled “Why We Don’t Need Superman” and chewing him out over leaving Earth without saying goodbye, she is hard. In the newsroom, she is a hardass. It is only when Superman or her child are in danger that she begins to melt and… well, I’ve seen strong women crumble a bit when they were worried about their child. Strong men too, for that matter. So I think any talk of Bosworth not doing Lois Lane, as she is in this reality justice, is horsehockey.

Richard White – Okay. James Marsden is playing Cyclops again. But this time, he’s allowed to try and make Cyclops a likeable character.

Seriously, that is his role in this movie. He’s the good, reliable man that the main heroine is drawn to even as she lusts after the main hero. But unlike the X-Men movies, Marsden is given a chance to show us why on earth he was able to win the heart of the woman he is sharing his life with. He is likable, he is heroic and he is secure enough in himself to not fuss about Lois being confused about her feelings regarding Superman returning. It’s a thankless task and in a lesser film White would have been killed off in a dramatic fashion so as to allow Lois to move on, guilt-free. Thankfully, Singer is better than that and so is Marsden.

Lex Luthor- Any actor will tell you that it is always more fun to play the villain than the good guy. Kevin Spacey is obviously enjoying himself here, playing everyone’s favorite land-snatching mad-scientist. And the fact that it’s Kevin Spacey enjoying himself in a role is all I need to say.

Jimmy Olsen- Better than the originals, if only because he’s actually a youngish, annoying redhead with a bow-tie.

Perry White- Skeletor says Great Ceaser’s Ghost. ‘Nuff Said.

Kitty the Henchwench – She’s no Miss Teschmacher. The one bad performance in the whole thing as her sudden change of heart is telegraphed WAY too early.

Let’s call this a 7. Parker Posey has done way better.

ARTFULNESS: Sadly, the film lacks a bit in this department. Many shots are handled too close and too quickly, like most of the action scenes and particularly the action inside the crashing plane in the first action sequence. There is much to admire though, but on reflection I find that most of it is Singer reshooting a classic moment from the original Superman. Still, the new flying effects and view of the city and the Earth from above more than redeem the lack of originality.

Give this a 6.

FX: There’s a few obvious CGI moments, but nothing glaringly bad. A solid 7.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: Old-School purists may balk at the idea of Lois Lane as a mommy and Superman as a potentially dead-beat dad. And I’m sure there is someone out there complaining that this alternate reality sequel is destroying the integrity of the Superman franchise and that Superman III was an unappreciated classic. Apart from that, there’s really not much for the purists to complain about apart from the duller red on the cape. 8 out of 10.

OVERALL: A solid 8. It’s a great movie and a worthy continuation of the Superman franchise. Not quite as good as the original, but it doesn’t really try to be more than a worthy sequel.

Oh, and one last bonus bit before I go…Click Here for NEXT Summer’s Best Superhero Movie

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Looking To The Stars: A Woman's Place Is On The Web

I pride myself on being an enlightened, 21st century man. But that doesn’t change the fact that I really don’t know how it is to be a minority. Apart from a good deal of teasing in junior high and the occasional loud-mouthed sort who equates my long hair and good grammar with homosexuality, I really don’t know how it is to be hated for what I am. I’m white. I’m male. I’m straight. Apart from being a liberal in Texas or a comic book reader, I’ve never really been oppressed.

As such, I was a little worried that after last week’s column that I would get a backlash of e-mail asking me what the hell right I had to talk about the subject of sexism in comics since I can’t really recognize the value of the issue.

Well, I’ll admit that’s a point. As a man, I can’t really understand what it is to be made uncomfortable by Supergirl being treated like a helpless bimbo and Scarlet Witch being turned into a psycho hose-beast just for the sake of a storyline. I can’t fully put myself in those stylish shoes. But I can appreciate the inherit issues at hand. Consider me the inverse Homer Simpson; just because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean I don’t care.

And I’m not alone in this. Many of my Comics Nexus Brethren have been discussing these issues in recent weeks as well. Consider Paul Sebert and his Words of Wisdom on Erik Larsen equating comic-reading feminism with small boobs and the problems with the new Batwoman. Take a look at Jeff Ritter’s Minority Report, now in three convenient parts! (Part One, Part Two and Part Three).

Still, there’s only so much that even we three enlightened folks may do. So as a service to the community and an effort to broaden my reader’s horizons as I have tried to broaden my own in the last two weeks, I present you with a list of links to the well-written words of some women who read, write and love comics as much as we merry men of the fandom set.

When Fangirls Attack!

A links list with several methods of receipt, this one gathers up some of the best and brightest of female comic fans’ blog commentary and serves it up to you in a nice little package. For those of you who, unlike me, don’t have time to sort through hundreds of links.

Dance of The Puppets

I was drawn to this blog by a link on the DC Comics message board. And damn me if this isn’t the best criticism of the hypocrisy of Judd Winick’s liberal guilt and his treatment of Kimiyo Hoshi (a.k.a. The good Dr. Light) I’ve ever read. There’s also some more humorous but no less well thought out fare, like the treatise upon Superskirt physics.

Gail Simone’s Personal Blog

Somehow, I missed out on this until I found it linked elsewhere. No surprise that this blog is as funny and witty as you would expect. And it’s worth checking out just for a look at some of Gail’s scripts, as well as a lost scene from Villains United.

A fairly new site, this one has been making waves with the right sorts of people if the number of fetal piglets trying to crash their message board with porn and trolling is any indication. There are far too many good, well-written things for me to link to individually. Indeed, every feature of the site I’ve had a chance to look at so far is excellent and this is easily one of the Top 5 fan sites I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

The one that prompted me to rewrite this entry at the last moment when I saw an article entitled An Open Letter To Male Comic Fans that perfectly sums up the problem that many well meaning, but ignorant, guys try to reduce all feminist issues in comics down to skimpy clothing. Granting that there ARE a lot of complaints on the other side of the aisle about scanty costuming, it is about a lot more than that. And Kalinara sums it up beautifully.

Rangell’s Written World

There are links to so many other great places that you could almost miss the wonderful written world here. Rangell is thought provoking but more than that, she is funny. I burst out laughing at her faux sales pitch for The Cult of Aphrodite (Hourly Rates Available for the Tithe).

What Were They Thinking?!

While not strictly a feminist site, this humorous look at comic panels of long ago does have a lot of commentary upon some of the questionable treatment and costumes of female characters. Sue Storm, the icon for the “useless, until the plot requires her to do something” superheroine gets a particularly hearty examination.

And finally, because I also somehow managed to miss this, a live Web-Radio interview with Gail Simone. You see, most other writers would limit their Gail Simone pimping to ONE link. So I have to do it one better. Because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Gaysploitation!

Hello. Happy to see you all here. Been a while for some of you, hasn’t it?

Well, for those of you who are wondering why there’s been no column for two weeks, please read last week’s A-Kon Convention Report, which was mysteriously posted on Wednesday without much fanfare.

There were also some problems with my ISP which have now, thankfully, been worked out.

Still, despite all this, its’ been two weeks without a regular monthly column. Lots of things happened in the comics world in those to weeks though, and there’s a lot of news I have to cover in my own inimitable fashion. But with all the things that happened in the past three weeks since I wrote a regular column, one story stands above all others.

Frank Cho To Write 4-Issue Red Sonja Mini-Series

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ol’ Unca Starman must have eaten some bad Pocky while at A-KON to think that this is all that important a story. Well, this story is more important than you think when you consider that it is a dark mirror of the attitudes shaping our business today.

Long time fans will remember my taking Mr. Cho to task for his Shanna: The She-Devil mini-series. (Those who don’t remember it can read it here.)

The short version is that Frank took a character who had been created as a feminist and environmentalist hero back in the 70’s and cut all of her character in order to create what would have been a T&A extravaganza had Marvel not wised up and made him put a costume on his creation at the last minute. Indeed, Cho’s exact comments when questioned upon the feminist background of Shanna, according to a recent Wizard Magazine Interview, were...

”When I signed on, Marvel sent me a bunch of those old issues, and let me tell you—I’m not sure what the hell was happening in the ’70s, but all of those damn hippies were smoking crack when they wrote those comics. It was such a B.S., feminist, environmental message! I was so pissed off when I finished reading them. That’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back. It wasn’t a comic, it was more like a “Green Party” propaganda thing”

Yes. Because Steven Gerber is such a well-known crack-smoker.

In all seriousness, Cho, while being a talented artist, has shown himself to have little to no interest in doing his homework as a writer. He couldn’t write a character properly, so he created something new using the same name. And this attitude, this pandemic is become typical of far too many writers today.

That is why I as a Red Sonja fan, and the boyfriend of a fanatical Red Sonja fan, I am rather worried about Frank Cho getting his hands on everyone’s favorite amazon... metaphorically speaking.

Yes, Cho can draw a beautiful woman. If he were capable of drawing more than one face, he might be one of the greatest artists in the business. But there’s a reason why he mostly sticks to pin-ups and cute animals and that is he just isn’t strong enough to sustain a realistic series. And that’s a problem in a series like Red Sonja which, giant monsters and magic aside, is fairly well grounded in realistic characters and real-world physics.

This is not to say that there is not some creative license with the character. Scanty chainmail is not the warmest of garments but thankfully Sonja’s homeland in the Robert E. Howard world is a fairly large and warm land. And of course her armor doesn’t protect much physically but it serves another purpose.

As Sonja herself put it in one issue, “Men are easily distracted”. Throw in the fact that her speed is her greatest advantage in a fight and it makes sense she’d choose not to be weighed down with full-plate. Still, there is a fine line between showing a hint of exposed buttcheek and the chainmail thong that Cho and artists like him are so fond of drawing.

This creates an interesting problem for those of us in the business of bringing new readers into the comic book game. I know Sonja isn’t an empty-headed bimbo but a strong woman who uses her body as a weapon in more ways than one. But how does it look to the new reader? I can ramble on and on about the feminist underpinnings of the character and how she is a strong, independent woman in a world dominated by evil men and dark sorcery and it won’t do a thing for those who are going “Why does she have ass cleavage?”

And this leads us to consider a larger issue – at what point does cheesecake artwork stop being fun and start becoming exploitation. For that matter, at what point does the existence of beautiful women in comics start being exploitive?

Take the new Batwoman for example. I had several people e-mail to ask me what my opinion was of the fact that the new Batwoman was a lesbian. And my opinion was; why is this news?

Actually, it probably IS news to the readers of the New York Times, which broke the story, so let me rephrase that. WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL?

There have been lesbian characters in comic books before. Hell, Rene Montoya... one of the main characters of DC’s 52... is a lesbian. Maggie Sawyer, the head cop in Metropolis for years and late of the much missed Gotham Central? Lesbian, who managed to get her life-partner snuck into an episode of Superman: The Animated Series, no less.

Of course, the big deal is that this is a mainstream character... sort of... who is being outed. But as amused as I am that the Batwoman character, who was originally created along with Batgirl in the 50’s to counter charges made in the book Seduction of the Innocent that Batman and Robin were homosexual lovers, is now being used to promote the gay lifestyle, I am more disturbed by the wording used to describe the character.

To quote The New York Times Article Kathy Kane is “…is a wealthy (socialite), buxom lipstick lesbian”. Now, on the odd chance that someone out there is unfamiliar with the term, a lipstick lesbian, at least in popular culture, is a slang term for any lesbian character whose homosexuality exists primarily to titillate heterosexual males. For an in depth example of this, see most of the characters on the Showtime series “The L-Word”, most of the women in a Girls Gone Wild video and indeed any bit of mainstream lesbian pornography.

It’s called the Internet. There’s tons of it out there.

Now, let us think about that for a second. The character is introduced as being a beautiful, rich woman who likes other women. Apart from the fact that she dresses like a flying mouse, how is that really a change from the other attractive lesbian characters that are already occupying the DC Comics Universe?

It doesn’t. And that’s exploitive. It would be one thing if it were just presented as a fact about the characters, rather than being a banner headline in one of the nation’s highest-selling papers. As it is, it just screams of desperation – like DC Comics is trying to court the gay dollar by screaming “Hey! Look at us! We’re diverse and edgy and gay friendly!”

You know what DC would really do if they wanted to be edgy? Put out a Batwoman that is a wealthy, socialite overweight bull-dyke lesbian. Would this be stereotypical? Yes. Would it be a lot closer to the truth than some stunning supermodel? As someone who knows quite a few lesbians who describe themselves as dead butch, I say yes. Would it sell? Probably not.

You go to the other extreme- the not socially acceptable stereotype of gay women – and what would be the interest? Desperate, wanking fanboys wouldn’t buy it for the same reason they wouldn’t buy Liberty Meadows comics if Frank Cho suddenly converted to Islam and started drawing burkas on all his female characters. The gay comic-reading community (and there’s a minority group if ever there was one) would be up in arms over the phrase “bull-dyke”. The die-hard fanboys like me wouldn’t give a toss one way or the other so long as the writing was good. And ultimately, it would all be just as meaningless.

You want to see how to do this kind of thing right? Go read the Villains United TP. Without giving too much away, it gets revealed that two established female characters… both attractive, self-confident women, are both lesbians in a relationship. Did they make a big deal about it? No. Was there a big parade or articles written about it? No. Did it add something to the characters? Yes.

And that ultimate is the problem with the new Batwoman. She is hype for hype’s sake and her homosexuality is nothing more than a Winickian plot device meant to lure in readers. It is just as crass and exploitive as your average Frank Cho cover. And as a fighting liberal and a feminist, I am ashamed as a comic geek and a man that professional publishers can stoop so low in the name of sales.

Still, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’ve unwittingly become part of the censorship army that Erik Larsen claims is trying to rid comic books of big boobies. All I’m trying to say is that you can draw beautiful women but to avoid pushing the cheesecake angle and that you can have all the lesbians you want in a comic – just don’t pretend that having one more attractive women in a skin-tight outfit is something new and exciting.

Comments? The e-mail is down there.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Looking To The Stars - A-Kon 17 - A Con Report

A-KON! The biggest regular con of any kind in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One of the most famous cons of its' kind anywhere, bringing fans from around the world. Arguably, the best con for Anime, Manga and Japanese culture enthusiasts in America.

What the hell am I doing here?

Seriously. The number of manga I read on a regular basis can be counted on one hand. Most of the Anime I've seen was viewed on Adult Swim. I haven't played a Final Fantasy game since the Super Nintendo was high-tech. I dont listen to any Japanese rock bands. I have no great abiding interest in putting together a perfect Lupin the 3rd costume and showing myself off before the masses. I am, in short, the last person in the world who should be covering a convention like A-Kon.

So why am I?

Is it because my devotion to the journalistic craft is such that I felt compelled to cover an event that didn't thrill me so that I may relate it to you readers who WOULD be interested? Partly.

Is it because until this year I've never had a job that allowed me time off on the weekends to attend A-Kon (or any conventions for that matter) for a reasonable length of time? Maybe.

Was it curiosity and a desire to see how the other half lives? Possibly.

Was it because I just realized that being a respected member of the geek press, I could sneak into places like this for free? Definitely.

Honestly, it was a mix of all four of these things. Plus, as a comics reader whose personal sphere of interest begins and ends with American comics, I wanted to see what a Con like A-KON would have to offer someone like me. A-KON has a reputation for being very diverse despite its' major area of focus and I wanted to put that reputation to the test.

With that in mind, I present you with this, an insider's look at being a press agent at a convention as well as an outsider to the Otaku lifestyle. What follows is my itinerary for the day as compiled by the various notes I made as I ran about the convention on Friday, June 9th, 2006.

12:00 AM - Double check final preparations. Pack backpack with D&D books for pick-up RPG games, dice, pencils, digital camera and can of Arizona Green Tea. Leave plenty of room for swag should I see cheap swag worth buying. Check wallet for $40 for lunch expenses, parking expenses and business cards. Check pocket for reporter's notepad and pen.

12:05 AM - Settle down for good night's sleep early, planning to get up at 6 am. (NOTE: Bare in mind I usually go to sleep around 3 am and only sleep for 6 hours)

3:15 AM - Wake up. Try to get back to sleep.

4:00 AM - Give up on getting back to sleep.

4:05 AM - Begin to shower and shave.

4:20 AM - Watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 tape to kill time as I let my hair dry. It is Santa Claus - not the Martian one, the one made in Mexico where he fights The Devil.

5:55 AM - Movie ends. Hop in car and go for early breakfast.

6:03 AM - Stop at Shell Station to get gas. Enjoy hearty breakfast of Arizona tea and a Ham and Cheese Lunchable.

6:08 AM - Get on the I-30 freeway heading east, which will go straight to downtown Dallas and the luxurious Adams Mark Hotel where A-Kon is held.

6:16 AM - Realize I forgot to program into my cel-phone the phone numbers of the two people at A-Kon I know who will be there. Decide not to turn around and go back home and figure I'll just trust to luck to find them.

6:24 AM - Note that either Dallas was severely underrated in this years "Most Unsafe Cities To Drive In" list or there are a large number of SUVs and pick-ups that no longer come equipped with turn signals as standard equipment.

6:33 AM - Arrive in downtown Dallas proper. Find an all-day parking lot a block away from the hotel that is only $4 and looks relatively safe and easy to get out of.

6:36 AM - Follow guy dressed like Vash the Stampede from Trigun around the block into what turns out to be the hotel convention center Begin searching for the press room, which I was told was in The South Tower on the third floor.

6:40 AM - Stopped by the crack security team trying to get to the third floor. I explain that I am an important reporter and that I am supposed to be getting my press kit somewhere on the third floor.

6:41 AM - Get armed escort to the third floor as they puzzle this out. We figure out eventually that the South Tower we are referring to is actually in the hotel proper. The helpful volunteer gives me directions across the sky bridge and tells me how to get there, he thinks.

6:51 AM - Move across sky bridge. Note how many fans are already here an hour before the official opening of the gates.

6:55 AM - See a skinny white fellow in black leather with a cheesy white wig whom I believe is supposed to be Sepharoth (sp?) from Final Fantasy VII. Tell him it with tongue firmly in cheek that his is the worst Storm costume I have ever seen. He doesn't laugh, though a crowd of fangirls does.

7:00 AM - Find the press room. Make small talk with a gent for some on-line video game magazine that was playing on a PSP for most of the conversation. Trade business cards, although I lost his. Also make small talk with various random volunteers who walk past.

7:30 AM - Volunteer comes to unlock the room across from the press room. Seems this is the guests lounge. She tells us the press wrangler is at breakfast with a lot of the other officials and that she won't be there until 8 am. I do get a schedule of the day's events printed out for my trouble, though.

8:10 AM - Press room is opened 10 minutes late. Am told the official press agent will not be there until 1 pm and that they can't hand out anything until 10 AM, even though things got started 10 minutes ago.

8:11 AM - Make small talk with one of the con staff, who it turns out is one of the moderators for one of the Web Comic seminars I was thinking of attending while scanning the events list. During this time, the photographers working with the video game journalist shows up and one of them is dressed, rather unconvincingly, as Captain Jack Sparrow.

8:34 AM - Am presented with my press kit and am told to read the rules about interviews and taking photos and using photos in my publication. These prove so restrictive I decide not to risk take any pictures, figuring I can borrow much better ones from off the official website.

8:35 AM - Make sure that I can borrow much better ones from the official website.

8:54 AM - Despite what I was told earlier, I am allowed to sign in and get my official press pass - a yellow wristband that miraculously is fixed so that it won't be glued to my arm hair. An hour wasted, I decide to ditch the events schedule and just see what I can find after I find the one thing I know I'll be interested in.

8:59 AM - As I am crossing the sky bridge, I run into one of my old customers from Lone Star Comics. Old, old customer as he was from my days at the Central Arlington store - way before I got put in charge of the South Arlington store. We caught up and discussed some of the gaming events that were being held. To my sadness, there was a Serenity RPG game planned, but it was on Saturday.

9:05 AM - Stop by info desk. Ask where I might find the preview of Neverwinter Nights 2; a D&D video game I received a notice about the day before, which said it would be previewed at A-Kon. The info desk staff were clueless and suggested checking the main presentation floor.

9:10 AM - Check the main presentation floor. Don't see it. Decide to check other floors.

9:15 AM - See nothing on the second floor. Moving on up.

9:20 AM - Find a D&D room. Decide to continue the theme of doing things I have never done before at a Con and sign up. Spend the next half our going over official RPGA rules and making a rough 1st level approximation of my famous Dwarven thief, Abuk.

10:10 AM - Spend next two hours and a bit being the one sneaksy/searchy type in a group full of crazed barbarian teenagers and a father trying to teach his six year old how to play a wizard. Manage to have fun despite being obviously stuck at the newbie table.

12:33 PM - Do not get killed in the D&D adventure. I am awarded 450 xp, more gold than I can honestly spend and an invitation to join an adventure starting at 2 pm. Decide to get back to work, tempting as it is to spend the whole day gaming. Besides, there's still one more floor to check.

12:43 PM - Check the Video Game room. Turns out it is devoted to two TVs used for playing video games, not previewing new ones. Officially give up on finding Neverwinter Nights 2.

12:51 PM - Man, there are a lot of guys dressed as Link from Legend of Zelda here! Lot of girls too, for that matter.

12:53 PM - Get to the dealers' floor, which is now in full swing. Begin to make the rounds and look for notable swag.

1:02 PM - Find a gaming supply store. Have a number of books for $5 each and all the D&D material is 20% off. Begin to calculate how much money I have left on the "emergency" credit card and ponder under what circumstances the new Tome of Magic would count as an emergency.

1:04 PM - Walk past the world's most flamingly homosexual samurai. I had no idea they made such robes in pink.

1:06 PM - Realize I shouldn't worry about being underdressed. Even in my Starman t-shirt, wide-brimmed fedora (with spiffy business card in the hatband) and simple black jeans, I am still not as lame to the cos-players as the twit who is wearing an obvious JC Penny's bathrobe with a plastic sword.

1:10 PM - Stop for quick lunch at hotel café. Get 3 dollar gourmet pizza slice that tastes like a 1 dollar card board box covered with 50 cents worth of mozzarella.

1:12 PM - Break down and finally look at program as I eat. Note with some astonishment that one of the guests is Caitlin Glass, a woman I knew back during my college acting days. Indeed, she was president of the actor's frat and has apparently, since I graduated, gone on to become a director and voice artist with Funimation, who do most of the dubbing for most of the Anime in the USA. Check her schedule to see when I can meet her. Make a 3:00 appointment for the autograph area.

1:20 PM - With lunch consumed, I begin wandering around at random, taking in the sights of the dealers' room and looking for my friends; Marc, who is working as security all weekend and Katie, who is no doubt having screaming fangasms over everything she sees here.

1:43 PM - Another frightening observation about the costumes here. I see tons of girls dressed as the boy from Full Metal Alchemist and a few boys dressed in school girl outfits. I am both confused and horrified by this.

1:50 PM - Wandering over all the floors of the convention hall twice, I marvel at how today, I could not find any of my friends at random and yet I kept seeing the same morbidly obese fellow in a home-made Darth Vader costume over and over and over and over.

1:51 PM - True to dramatic form, Katie spots me as I am going down the escalator and she is going up. She grabs me and I am now less horrified and scared as I have someone who sort of knows her way around. She drags me to the dealers' floor again along with her bodyguard for the day, whose name escapes me for the moment. We spend the next hour wandering around together.

2:06 PM - Note that Katie quite literally knows damn near everyone here and everyone she doesn't know, she's likely to run up and hug and talk to anyway. Too bad for me I'm involved as she confesses to me that this much cool stuff is a big aphrodisiac for her.

2:10 PM - Am reminded of my girlfriend yet again as a I find a costume store selling a pink chainmail bikini. For the record, this is because her favorite color is pink and her favorite comic heroine is Red Sonja. Wish she was with me and not for the first nor last time that day and not just because I want to see said outfit filled out.

2:18 PM- Another costume observation - the ninja mystique is pretty much killed when you are wearing clearly glasses under your mask.

2:20 PM - Katie stops at a button store. She buys me a little number that reads "I'm Famous on the Internet". I think perhaps there should be one that says "I'm Infamous on the Internet", given my reputation amongst some comic creators.

2:25 PM - Begin asking Katie if we can stop two minutes for a restroom break. She says sure and then just keeps on going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny on crack, but much less subdued. I repeat the request several times over the next ten minutes.

2:38 PM - Give up on penetrating fangirl haze. Leave to go to the restroom myself.

2:40 PM - Emerge from restroom after putting out a fire. Not surprisingly, Katie is out of view.

2:45 PM - Katie spots me again. Wander around the artist floor briefly before I part ways, insisting I have to go see my long-lost acting buddy who has apparently made quite good.

3:00 PM - arrive at the autograph area. Am amazed there is no line.

3:01 PM - have it pointed out to me that the line is in fact that small number of people who are slouching against the wall down the opposite hallway.

3:02 PM - I get in line and spend the better part of the next hour entertaining the two women in front of me. I am declared the most entertaining thing they've seen at the convention so far.

3:10 PM - The line moves for the first time.

3:40 PM - I meet Caitlin. To my surprise she not only remembers me but asks how my younger brother is doing. We catch up briefly and I give her my card.

3:45 PM - Go back to the game store and hem and haw about buying a book as a momento. Call my friend Christine to see if there's any Babylon 5 game books she doesn't have that are in the $5 box of this convention. Forget that she is likely still at work and can't answer her phone.

3:50 PM - Decide against buying anything. Decide to drive to my friend Keith's place, where we are having our weekly D&D game.

4:00 PM - Get out of downtown Dallas with surprisingly little trouble and get back on the freeway.

4:10 PM - Get off the freeway and try to cut through the burbs.

4:20 PM - Get turned around, go over the other freeway I meant to turn onto and begin trying to turn around.

4:23 PM - Am ticketed for making an illegal right turn. Am suddenly very thankful I decided not to spend anything on the emergency credit card. Note that there are three other people pulled over in the same area. Determine that it must be time to raise funds for the Policeman's Balls.

4:45 PM - Arrive at Keith's. Spend the rest of the night goofing off, eating pizza and generally recovering from the day.

In conclusion, it's still possible to have fun at AKON even if it is not quite your thing. And if it is your thing, you could not ask for more in a Con.

Overall, even with the massive ticket I am now facing, I still consider it a good day. I had fun, which is more than I had at the last convention I was at. Because fandom is fandom and no matter where you go, people are pretty much the same. And a fat guy in drag is still disturbing be he in a Wonder Woman costume or a Sailor Scout uniform. Still, all the staff I spoke to were friendly, if confused about where some things were located. But with a con this big that is to be expected.

So maybe I'll come back next year, even if I don't come for free.


All the attendees of A-Kon 17.

All the staff and volunteers of A-Kon 17.

The staff of the Adams Mark Hotel of Dallas.

Christine, for loaning me her Internet connection to post this column.

Katie, for guiding me around the badlands.

Marc, who I didn't see, but I'm sure was a good security guard.

Caitlin Tiffany Glass, for remembering.

Keith, Christine and Patrick for making sure I didn't go insane Friday night.

Anyone who cares to donate to the Free Starman Matt fund (e-mail me for PayPal information)

The fine men and women of Police Departments everywhere, who are stuck in boring positions manning speed traps when they wanted to drive around fast and pistol-whip people like Sipowitz.


My cable company, whose poorly trained and incompetent staff were responsible for you not getting a column last week and my not having Internet service at home for what is now going on week three.

The fat guy in the Sailor Scout costume.

The fat guy in the Sailor Scout costume's mother or whoever let him leave the house like that.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.