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Batman is not who you think he is

- February 19th, 2015

No one would ever confuse Batman with Superman.

But if I hear one more internet comic expert contrast the two storied DC superheroes by saying the essential difference between them is that the last son of Krypton is a superpowerful alien while the Dark Knight is “just an ordinary guy,” I’m going to scream.

Let’s get this straight: Bruce Wayne is not an ordinary guy.

He’s a billionaire.

His superpower is money.

A superpower is the special trait that distinguishes each comic hero from the rest of the human population.

It’s true, Wayne is not from another planet. He was never bitten by a radioactive spider. Nor was he born with mutant abilities.

But he’s far from normal.

Most estimates put the current number of billionaires in the United States at less than 500 out of a population of 320 million. Assuming the DC universe isn’t too far afield from our own, that means Batman’s alter ego belongs to a very elite group of American citizens.

He is among the wealthiest of the wealthy. He is not the one per cent – he is a fraction of a fraction of the one per cent.

And let’s not underestimate the importance of money to Wayne’s identity and mission, ridding his world of crime. Everything flows from his financial status.

Having nearly unlimited resources mean’s Wayne’s concerns are not the same as the rest of us.

Unlike a character such as Peter Parker, who struggles each month just to make the rent, Wayne doesn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over his head. He knows where his next meal is coming from.

Being a billionaire frees Wayne so that he can devote his entire existence to waging war on Gotham’s criminal element. Ultimately, it buys him a precious commodity that other people don’t have: extra time.

It has also allowed him to amass an unrivalled store of weapons and gadgets.

Without his money, Wayne wouldn’t be able to afford all the instruments of his vengeance — his tank-like Tumbler, the Batwing, even Bat Shark Repellent. These are not the things to which a regular person has access.

As smarter people than me have pointed out, if Wayne really was like everyone else, maybe he wouldn’t be so messed up.

If he had to find a way to support himself, perhaps he wouldn’t have the time to be so obsessed with avenging the death of his parents.

When a tragedy befalls you or I, we don’t have empty day after empty day to fixate on our misfortune. We have to get on with our lives, for better or worse.

So please don’t tell me you are a fan of Batman because he’s just a guy who depends on his wits and in-born strength.

Without his fat wallet, Batman would likely not exist – at least not in the form we recognize today.

Blah

- February 11th, 2015

Does life seem a little thin lately?

Has your day-to-day existence lost its flavour?

Do you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning?

Are even easy tasks hard to pull off?

Do you feel like Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano, like you’re living in drab black and white, not glorious colour?

Then you, my friend, may have the winter blues.

This is the time of year when the residents of this country are locked in the dead of winter.

We’ve all made it through January — which is like one big, long Monday at the beginning of the year — but February refuses to end. The days are dragging. Winter has us by the throat.

I feel it, too.

That’s because I’m a summer person trapped in a winter nation.

I realize harsh winters are a direct consequence of living in the best country on the planet. I hate winter. Yet winter rules Canada for months at a time.

I do what I can to make the most of it.

Surprisingly, my wife and I have managed to keep up our routine of walking our two dogs outside three times a day. Somehow, we manage to put one foot in front of the other, despite the chilly weather. We trudge outdoors morning, noon and night.

As I have written before, winter feels to me like a weight pressing down on my shoulders. Winter feels . . . heavy.

In summer, it’s easy to walk out the door. You slip on some sandals and you’re gone.

On the other hand, at this time of year — in order to protect yourself from the oppressive cold — you are required to put on layers of clothing, long underwear, heavy boots, bulky coats. Life itself is cumbersome.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not really into any cold-weather activities. Smarter people find a way to make use of the snow and the frigid landscape, so they can maintain their sanity.

But I don’t play hockey. I don’t skate. I don’t ski. Truly, I need to get a hobby.

As a kid, I loved to go tobogganing. I really should take that up again. That would be one way to stay sane.

Mostly, I like to hang out indoors. Perhaps my fondest memories from the last few years have been of my wife and me sitting together under blankets in front of the toasty woodstove in our kitchen, reading or just hanging out with our three cats and the dogs.

But too much time cooped up indoors leads to cabin fever. Maybe you’ve felt it, too. The walls close in on you.

Still, that’s better than being out in the open.

I can take the snow, the ice, the freezing rain. It’s the wind that gets to me, those chilly blasts that blow right through you — you feel as thin as a dirty sheet flapping in the wind.

At this point, all we can do is try to grin and bear it. All we can do is consider every day that brings us closer to the inevitable arrival of spring as a victory. If you don’t have the money to take a sunny vacation, give yourself permission to spoil yourself.

I know it’s no fun when your skin is perpetually dry. Your lips are cracked. Your back aches from shoveling. And you’re thoroughly sick of chiseling off that layer of thick ice from your windshield every morning.

It won’t be long until sunny days are here again. I promise.

Hang in there.

Attention geeks of London

- February 5th, 2015

I know it’s early days.

I know you’re probably not thinking beyond this spring, when all the snow will finally melt away.

I know October seems like a lifetime from now.

Regardless, I have to tell you I’m already excited for Oct. 18, when the second annual Forest City Comicon will take over the London Convention Centre.

Can the organizers top themselves? Can they match – or even outdo — the success they had the first time around?

I say yes.

No question about it.

If anyone can capture lightning in a bottle twice, it’s the folks who founded the event, the biggest of its kind ever to be held in London.

The first edition of FCC last fall has already passed into local legend.

Organizers thought they might draw 1,200 ticket buyers. Instead, by the end of that Sunday, more than 2,300 people had shown up.

The con tapped into an invisible market. It turns out not everyone in Southwestern Ontario has the resources or even desire to go to Fan Expo in Toronto.

I had always liked London’s geeks, but by the end of the day I loved them.

What I remember most about FCC was the vibe. To put it simply, London’s geeks are not obnoxious or impatient people. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. I didn’t hear of a single ticket holder asking for their money back.

There were aspects of FCC that didn’t go according to plan, to be sure. For example, the crowd that gathered for the cosplay contest at the end of the day got pooled on Centennial Hall’s floor in front of the stage. But no one freaked out.

They offered their suggestions for improving the con and that’s part of why it’s moving to the convention centre in 2015.

Full disclosure: I had a hoot hosting a panel discussion on Southwestern Ontario comic creators. I’m not sure we answered the question “Why is this region so rich with comic talent?” but we sure tried.

FCC was one of the highlights of my year.

And along with events like the Ting! Comic and Graphic Arts Festival, it’s more proof that London has the infrastructure to support a thriving geek community.

Come to think of it, I didn’t speak to anyone who felt the event was the poorer for the absence of Ron Glass, the Firefly star and featured guest who in the end couldn’t make it to London.

No offence to him, but we all got along just fine with attendees like Mitch Markowitz of Hilarious House of Frightenstein fame and London/Stratford graphic novelist Emily Carroll.

An encore? I don’t mind if I do.

Now if only October would hurry up and arrive!

You can find the Forest City Comicon website by clicking here.

It hurts to be George Lucas

- January 29th, 2015

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably very happy January is almost over.

January is never a good month. It’s like one big, long Monday at the beginning of the year.

But it could be worse: You could be media mogul George Lucas.

I nominate Lucas for the award for the Hollywood celebretainer who has had the worst first month of 2015.

First, he loses any say in the direction of the new Star Wars trilogy. Then his latest production is critically savaged and ignored at the box office.

It’s a good thing the American Graffiti director has billions of dollars.

I picture Lucas crying himself to sleep every night the last few weeks with his head resting on a pillow stuffed with $100 bills.

As you may have heard, Lucas revealed a couple weeks ago that the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams, has opted to take the space franchise in a new direction, away from the one envisioned by Lucas, who originated the wildly popular property.

Here’s what happened: When the Walt Disney company swallowed up Lucasfilm in 2012, part of what Disney execs paid for was future Star Wars storylines penned by Lucas, in the form of a treatment – a brief outline, that is – of the next three movies.

But guess what? J.J. Abrams, writer Lawrence Kasdan and the rest of the Force Awakens brain trust must have found that precis lacking.

“The [ideas] that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the ones that I originally wrote,” Lucas said in an interview with the pop-culture site Cinema Blend.

Since Lucas is slated to receive only a “creative consultant” credit on Episode VII, he has no choice in the matter.

Whatever you think of Abrams, the next Star Wars movie is his baby; all of the blame or glory will rest on his shoulders when it lands in theatres Dec. 18.

We may never know what Lucas had in mind, although decades ago — when he spoke of an eventual third trilogy to complete the saga – the director told interviewers it would depict hero Luke Skywalker ruling the galaxy and deal with philosophical themes like moral responsibility.

But you never know. Lucas is famous for dreaming up story elements and then discarding them, only to find new uses for them down the road.

Back in the early 1970s, for instance, he came up with the idea for a Jedi Knight named Mace Windu. Fast-forward to the prequel trilogy, and the character finally popped up, played by a half-sleeping Samuel L. Jackson.

I suppose it’s possible Lucas could take his name off The Force Awakens as a protest. We’ll see later this year how he deals with this slap in the face.

The other bad news Lucas got this month was that his latest motion picture, the animated fantasy Strange Magic, was critically panned and passed over by the public.

It recieved an unreal 17% fresh rating on the film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which wouldn’t be so bad, except it has sold barely more than $5 million in tickets.

“Conceived before his deal with Disney and now bound to be the House of Mouse’s first big-screen disaster of 2015, Strange Magic looks decent but plays terribly,” Film Racket reviewer Bill Gibron said in his write-up, which is one of the kinder notices Strange Magic got.

If you didn’t even know Lucas had a movie out, that was likely Disney’s design. January is traditionally the time when studios burn off productions in which they have no confidence.

Lucas just can’t win.

The more movies he makes, the worse his reputation as a filmmaker becomes.

Lucas was always more interested in being an entertainment mogul, a creator of companies, than directing movies, although he has long threatened to start making experimental art films in the vein of 21-87, the National Film Board of Canada short that inspired him as film student in California.

I’m betting, however, it won’t be long before he starts founding more film companies, maybe even another studio.

No one can argue he’s not good at that.

It’s time to un-fix Canada’s election dates

- January 22nd, 2015

There’s been much speculation of late about when Canadians will next cast their federal ballots, with some pundits predicting that Prime Minster Stephen Harper may opt for a spring election.

This is supremely strange because, according to legislation passed by Harper’s own Conservatives, we’re supposed to know exactly when the next federal vote will take place – Oct. 19.

Canada has fixed election dates, doesn’t it? Sure.

Well, not really. Not like the United States does.

The truth of the matter is that the legislation – at both the federal and provincial level – has been ignored more than it’s been observed.

In theory, having fixed election dates was supposed to eliminate the political advantage the governing party in our parliamentary democracy has to dissolve the legislature when it chooses, sending politicians out on the campaign trail and voters to the polls.

That was the theory. In the real world, it hasn’t worked out that way. Prime ministers and premiers from coast to coast still pretty much call elections when they see fit.

So it’s time to do away with this charade.

What we know for sure is that politics in this country is pretty much the same as it was before this experiment in Americanization was launched.

If we had real fixed-date elections, there wouldn’t be any rumblings about Harper pulling the plug on the House of Commons early. If we had real fixed-date elections, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn’t have been able to call a snap election last year.

The truth is that the legislation is toothless. There’s no penalty for not following it.

In fact, there’s a very strong argument to be made that our traditional mechanism for setting election dates – letting the leader of the governing party choose the timing as he or she sees fit – allows for a much stiffer penalty: banishment to the political hinterland.

Readers with long memories will recall how, long before the fixing of election dates became fashionable, former Ontario premier David Peterson called a snap election in 1990, not even three years into the Liberal mandate.

The thinking was that Peterson knew the economy was about to go into the tank, and he wanted to renew his hold on the legislature before the coming recession hit. What happened next was that Ontario voters punished him for the cynical ploy by tossing the Liberals out in favour of Bob Rae’s New Democrats.

Peterson and the provincial Grits paid a very real price for inflicting an unwanted election on the province’s voters.

I think we can all agree that having fixed election dates was an interesting experiment, but it’s been a failure.

Speaking as someone who has an affection for the quirks of the Canadian parliamentary system, I don’t want an American style of government. What works for our neighbours to the south obviously isn’t working for us, as the last few years demonstrate.

When a law gets broken regularly by the same people who brought it in, it’s time for another solution.

Let’s do something truly conservative and turn back the clock, so we don’t have to pretend anymore that this legislation means something. It doesn’t.

All it has done is provide more proof to the public that politicians from all sides of the ideological spectrum are equally opportunistic.