Saturday, December 20, 2014

Get your Marvel Experience on

Karen: Yesterday my husband Tom and I went to the Marvel Experience here in Phoenix. If you've not heard about this show, you can check out their website here. I honestly didn't know what exactly to expect when we got tickets for it, although I did know that it would include some sort of projections and interactive experiences. The husband and I figured, "Hey, it's Marvel, and it's right when we'll be taking a break at Christmas, so let's check it out!"

Karen: For nearly a month I watched as I drove past on the freeway in the morning as the domes went up near the baseball diamonds out at Salt River Fields. What could be inside? Would it really be worth going to? More importantly, would it be worth the money we forked over for the VIP tickets?

Karen: Overall, I am going to say that the Marvel Experience is something any Marvel fan will really enjoy. They've succeeded in making the customer feel like they are in the Marvel Universe -whether you are a fan from the movies, animated shows, or even the comics. A selection of thirteen main heroes drive the story (yes, there is a story) and attractions are built around them. I don't want to give too much away -it is more fun when you are surprised and can experience these things fresh. But I will give my top three reasons you should go see the Marvel Experience, and my take on three areas for improvement.

Top Three Reasons to See the Marvel Experience

Reason Number One: Total Marvel Immersion

Wherever you turn, you are surrounded by some piece of Marvel coolness. There are prop recreations of hero and villain weapons and gear, along with history of said gear. Projected on the domes are  different characters, busy doing stuff. You may hear the loud speakers calling out for 'General Thaddeus Ross' or notice a familiar newspaper publisher on a screen, debating what's going on in the domes. When people stepped into the first dome and saw everything, it was all smiles. 

Reason Number Two: Interactive Games and the Simulator Ride

There are a number of interactive opportunities at the Experience. We just scratched the surface with our visit today. Unfortunately we went on a Saturday and it was very crowded, with long lines for almost everything (take note if you are planning to go -try a week day). However, I got to be the Hulk and destroy robot drones in a Wii-like simulator and it was a blast. There's a similar game for Iron Man, a wall-crawling area, a shooting gallery (we did this as well), and a bunch of other activities. At the very end of the Experience is a large motion ride where you team up with all the heroes to take on the bad guys, and it was a lot of fun! So if you enjoy this kind of stuff, this will be right up your alley.

Reason Number Three: The VIP package

If it is reasonable to you, you may want to get the VIP package, because you get some nice perks. For one thing, you get a return ticket, so it's essentially two admissions. VIP parking gets you a spot up near the entrance, so you don't have to walk far. You get access to the VIP lounge, which is OK, but nothing to get excited about. They have some free food, chips, fruit, popcorn -nice but nothing to write home about. There are also phone chargers in case your battery runs low, and places to sit and watch Marvel movies, but it's a pretty small place. But you get some nice swag for the price: a very nice SHIELD badge and wallet -this thing is metal and heavy! A t-shirt that we were told is not being sold anywhere, is only available to VIPs, and it has the city name on the back; the ability to have a 3D figure of yourself and a hero carved out in the gift store (we skipped this -we'll go back and do it -we saw finished ones and they looked very neat); a souvenir drawstring bag; and a kind of generic-y looking poster -not my kind of artwork but some people dig it. Another thing about VIP, it does get you to the head of some lines, so it may help reduce waiting (more about this in the next section).

So VIP when you add it up might be worth it -I believe it was $179 each for ours -I know, it's a lot but standard tickets are $35, so two admissions are $70 right there. It really depends on whether you want the stuff. 

Three Areas for Improvement at the Marvel Experience

Area Number One: Information Please!

I know this is the first city on the tour, and to be honest, it shows. This was the second day of the event, and it was still rough at times. We got there around 12 noon, and when we drove up, a sign read "Event Parking" and pointed us down a road, but we soon discovered it pointed us the wrong way. We had to drive all the way back and we finally found the lot. There was no clearly marked signs for anything in the lot. The VIP parking was up front but we had no way of seeing where, and there were no signs directing us there. We had to ask event staff, who did manage to tell us where to go. Getting our tickets and VIP stuff went well, but once we walked in there was some confusion about whether we could go to the front of every line with our VIP badges or just some lines. The staff never seemed to have the same answer. Although everyone was helpful, they didn't appear to have their act completely together.

Area Number Two: Keep it moving!

The first part of the Experience is the interactive area, which guests can peruse at their leisure. The second and third parts however, are timed to come one right after the other. Unfortunately, the staff doesn't seem very adept yet at getting folks from one part to the next very quickly. One part concludes and then you are left standing around for several minutes waiting to do the next part. You are ushered into another area, see a short film, then again, waiting for several minutes to get on to the next part of the adventure. Now sometimes I believe this was due to the ride or film going down -we know that right after we arrived, the main theater had a 'glitch' and they didn't let anyone in for almost a half-hour. But it seemed like at other times they simply weren't very good at timing things and moving groups from one point to the next. I'm sure this will improve as time goes on. (Also important to know: once you get to the second stage, there's no opportunity for a bathroom break until it is over (30-40 minutes), so be sure to go ahead of time!)

Area Number Three: Form a Line Please!

Like I said earlier, we went on a Saturday, so we knew it would be crowded. But many of the lines were extremely long, and in some cases, they overlapped with the lines for other attractions, or were crossing the exit paths for attractions. It became somewhat chaotic at times. I hope the staff invests a little more in crowd management. A few rope lines put up here and there would do wonders. Also, if at all possible, a few places to sit, maybe in the main courtyard area, would be helpful. It was a long day of mostly standing and the ability to sit down for even a couple of minutes would have been welcome.

All in all, we had a good time and I'm not only glad we went, I look forward to going back when it is less crowded and the staff has had a week or so to get their routines down. One small thing I noticed that gave me a smile: next to the cafe they had a collection of classic comic covers -yes, they actually acknowledged the source material! I saw a lot of kids looking at them. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

Friday, December 19, 2014

And Now for Something Competely Nerdy...

Doug: Way back in May, Karen wrote a post called "The Numbers Game", where she asked our readers about numbers that immediately call to mind specific comic book stories. Today I'll take that a step further: show your true devotion by telling us how much of a comic's history you could tell us. So if I said Amazing Spider-Man in the #150s, you could say, "Oh, yeah -- drawn by Ross Andru, and Spidey faced the Shocker, the Sandman, Doc Ock, and Hammerhead. Maybe the writer was Len Wein?" By the way, I did that off the top of my head. Was I right? Who here can do stuff like that? Or wants to admit it?? Please share about your trivia prowess.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

BAB Book Review: Marvelous Mythology

Doug: Today you'll be able to find some thoughts on the very-soon-to-be-released history of Marvel Comics, Marvelous Mythology: How the World's Greatest Super-Heroes Were Created by Todd Frye. If you recall, in a post a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Todd had reached out to the BAB through our email account. He requested that we review his book and then hopefully give it a plug on our blog. To be honest, Karen and I have been solicited for such things in the past, but I'll say personally that I don't think I've been offered a book that was in my wheelhouse such as today's tome is.

Doug: Those of you who have been patronizing our blog for many years know that I usually frame my reviews in a "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" manner. Trouble is, Todd's book didn't really fit into that mold. But unless you think I'm on the take today, or that Todd's written the be-all-and-end-all of Marvel history, I'll state truthfully that I did have some concerns about the book and even a correction. Those were dealt with through email, and quite cordially. So today we're going to try something new, and that's to welcome an author onto the blog for a sit-down about the contents and creative process of his book. The interview you're about to read was carried out December 15-16, and was approved for publication here by myself and Todd Frye. Enjoy! And of course, as all good BABers do, leave a question or comment at the bottom!

Doug: Todd, you've written the about-to-be-released book, Marvelous Mythology: How the World's Greatest Super-Heroes Were Created (Action Figure Publishing 2015). I guess the first question would be "Why did you write this book?"

Todd: Money. …..Oh, you want a more meaningful answer. Um… well, the truth is, I wanted to see if I could do my own take on a sort of informal history of how the Marvel characters were created. Not simply how they were created, as in how the artists and writers thought them up, so much as how they fit into the context of the time, what superhero comics were like in the early 60’s, how all of the new characters being introduced fit into the new Marvel universe, that sort of thing.

The book is chronologically ordered, so as each character is introduced, hopefully readers will get a picture of how the Marvel universe looked at each point in time. I think it’s relevant to see how it all fits together in the early stages, like puzzle pieces.

Doug: Give us a bit of background on your comics reading/collecting past -- when did you get into comics, and do you consider it now (or then) a hobby? Are you into the newer stuff, or stuck in the past like many 40- and 50-somethings?

Todd: Well, I was born in 1966, so I grew up in the 70’s basically. 1974 was the year I really started collecting comics as a kid. And what a year it was… that was when Marvel and DC were both doing their experiments with different sizes and shapes of books, like Marvel’s Giant Sizes and Treasury Editions, DC’s 100-Page Giants, and so forth. But you also had great reprint comics like Marvel Tales, Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Triple Action… so in addition to the regular, new comics that were coming out, thanks to the reprint titles I got to read a lot of the ‘classic’ stories too.

I don’t really collect any more, even though I have a few collected editions and bound copies here and there. My comics reading is mainly stuck back in the 60’s and 70’s. Not completely, though: I think Alan Moore is a genius, and I pick up just about anything he does. Also the Hernandez Brothers, who I got to meet at a con several years ago. But for the most part newer books just don’t interest me. Maybe it’s the art styles… I know I don’t respond to it the way modern kids do. Anyway, I know there’s probably a ton of brilliant comics being published, but I just don’t have the energy to wade through all of it to find the good stuff.

Doug: At the end of your book, you list several other books as resources for your research, such as Mark Alexander's Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years and Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. What separates Marvelous Mythology from those other books? Why should a reader come to you first?

Todd: Good question. Well, in many ways each of those books had a different focus, even though the subject matter certainly overlapped. My main concentration was on the origins of the Marvel universe, going forward slowly from the beginning as each new character was introduced, and as each new important story or issue or concept was released to newsstands. It was never really meant as a history of Marvel Comics as a publisher, so much as telling the story of the beginning of that fictional universe. I also meant it as a book that could be enjoyed by people who don’t necessarily read the comics – after all, the movies are bringing in a LOT of new fans, and I wanted to make the story accessible to them without bogging them down in the minutiae of historical record.

Why might readers come to my book first? I would say that – to me, anyway – my book concentrates on ‘the good stuff,’ the character introductions and important moments in early Marvel history, rather than having that be just a part of a larger narrative that might be forced to cover less interesting topics also.

Doug: As I read, I noticed that there are no creator interviews. Was this intentional from the beginning of the project, or did you get stymied early on in trying to reach Silver and Bronze Age creators and shift your direction?

Todd: No, I didn’t really try to interview anyone… that kind of ‘journalistic’ writing style just doesn’t interest me. I thought about reaching out to a few people, but I knew that each link in that chain would make writing the book take just that much longer. Besides, good interviews with all of these people, or at least most of them, already exist by the dozens. Also, whenever possible, I tried to let the printed comic stories speak for themselves. After all, if you’re going to try and survey the fictional Marvel universe, it might be best to go back to the original source material, just as if you were a kid buying the comics off the newsstand back in the day.

I guess I could have written a different type of book. Well, sure I could. But I’m contrary, I have to do things my own way.

Doug: Readers might be interested in knowing that there are no images or graphics in the book. Since the Internet gives us almost instant access to any picture, cover, etc. I did not at all feel like it detracted from your writing. But it would interest me to know if you did pursue any rights permissions, and if so what you encountered?

Todd: I didn't pursue that sort of thing. Like with trying to contact possible interview subjects, I just figured that it would be endless waiting and red tape to try to license any images, and possibly more money than I was willing to spend, too. Just as the manuscript was being finished up, though, I did discover a couple of images of Jack Kirby that are in the public domain. But they wouldn't really have added anything substantial to the book. Like you said, readers have a vast array of online tools they can use to seek out images.

In a perfect world, I would have had color illustrations, full panels and covers and original art. But just thinking about negotiating with Disney's lawyers for all of that stuff makes my head spin.

Doug: Ha! Fair enough. As you originally envisioned the project, did you finish what you set out to do? For example, one of the things I thought of as I read was an analysis of those areas you feel the Marvel Universe is better or (insert whatever other adjective you want) so on from other companies' pantheons -- most notably DC's. Was there any interest in doing a comparison/contrast with other characters?

Todd: Okay, those are two separate questions. Um, the first one… I guess I didn’t really have as clear a vision in mind when I started as I thought I did, because I was actually about two and a half chapters into an earlier version when I realized that it wasn’t quite working. I was using too much detail, and listing each title that the company was publishing in chronological order… which got to be silly, because they had a lot of two-issue funny animal series, things like that, which was just a nightmare to catalog. Also, an average reader just couldn’t possibly care about such things. So I threw most of that out and then had a clearer idea of what I wanted to write, which I did.

As to comparing Marvel characters and stories to those of other companies and such… I think that to understand Marvel’s impact on the world of comics in the early 1960’s, and on the larger popular culture later in the decade, you have to kind of… contrast what the company was doing, versus what everyone else was doing. Marvel superhero comics really were radical for their time, in that they just had a lot of what I guess you could call ‘realism’ in them. People quarreled, they had girlfriend and money problems, that sort of thing. Most of the time before that, superheroes were just defined by whatever stories they were in, or whatever villain they fought. They were really two-dimensional, or at least I think so. Marvel made them more interesting by making them more human.

Doug: Was it difficult to write the book and think only of the characters? Readers might be interested to know that you mention from time-to-time what was happening at Marvel Comics, and perhaps how business practices and personnel may have shaped the budding mythology. Can we really separate Conan, from say - Roy Thomas? Or does Roy's increasing status/stature in the company need to go hand-in-hand with a discussion of Conan?

Todd: Yeah, like I said, I wasn’t really trying to do a history of Marvel as a publisher, but at a certain point it would be silly to try and talk about these characters being created without talking about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Or about Ditko or John Romita if you’re talking about Spider-Man. Especially Lee and Kirby, though… I might get yelled at, but I would say that a good… 85%?… of the important early stuff came just from those two men. And to get a good overall picture, it’s important to know what their working relationship was like, or how the comics were done 100% by freelancers for a long time, how they were limited to publishing only eight titles a month, that sort of thing. Because it all had an effect on what got published.

As far as separating an important character from his creators… well, yes, it’s good to know these things. Giving Spider-Man as an example, John Romita’s smooth art style went a long way toward making the character more approachable to readers later in the 1960’s, I think. Ditko’s weird, unique art style may have been important early on – and he certainly was responsible for so many of Spider-Man’s cool enemies – but I think Marvel needed a Romita on board to take the character’s popularity further, where it needed to go. And now he’s the company’s most important superhero.

Doug: You do a nice job of surveying many key literary events throughout the growth of the Marvel Universe. Did you read all of these comics? And if so, what sort of access do you have to classic comics?

Todd: Thanks. I really did sit down and read nearly every Marvel superhero comic from 1961 to about 1964… and a goodly number of issues beyond that. Most of them were in reprints. I also have a local friend who has a killer collection of old issues… If you’re willing to spend the time and a little money, you can usually get your hands on darn near every story they published. The ‘Essential’ volumes, for example, provided a nice, cheap way of accessing a lot of material. But then you have to put them all in chronological order, which can be a nightmare… 

There were a LOT of stories that I only read for the first time while writing this book… like the first appearance of Ant-Man, the first two Fantastic Four annuals, and so forth. Some of it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped – like, now that I think about it, the return of Captain America in Avengers #4. What a mess that issue was! But some of them astonished me by how good they were… again, like those first two Fantastic Four annuals. Kirby really outdid himself with those. And when Thor got going in the mid-to-late 60’s, like when the living planet Ego was introduced… those stories just knocked me out.

Doug: I enjoyed your style of moving from topic to topic -- you sort of built in some cliffhangers either from section to section or even between chapters. Did you sort of "story board" the project, or does that type of narrative style come to you naturally?

Todd: I wish I’d put a bit more of that stuff in, to be honest. It does kind of come naturally, though. It helps if you know what you’re going to write about next, as opposed to what you’re working on at the moment. Then you can kind of see where two subjects are going to connect, so you can write a little transition between them. I noticed as I was working on the book that that sort of thing was getting easier as I went along, I guess as I got more comfortable writing it. Of course, I also knew the later source material better than I knew the early stuff. 

Also, there were some storylines that I was chomping at the bit to write about. You know, it’s toward the end of 1965, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh boy! Galactus is going to show up soon!’ Or, ‘I finally get to talk about Mary Jane Watson.’ That sort of thing. I was anxious to start talking about my favorite stuff, which is only natural, I guess.

Doug: Winding it down here... So what's your favorite era of Marvel Comics? Does that contrast with an era you feel is most important?

Todd: As far as ‘most important,’ I would have to say that the years 1962 and 1963 were, because you had so many great characters and titles starting up. Of course, you could also argue that many of the best storylines and such didn’t start showing up until a few years later. Also, like I talk a little about in the book, it took time for Stan Lee to work through a lot of his sort of bad writing habits in the early era. He had been doing run-of-the-mill comics for so long, and now he had to start upping his game. But either way, I don’t think there’s much argument, that if we’re talking about Marvel Comics, the 1960’s were by far the most important period.

It’s also my favorite era, even though by the time I was growing up, it was all in the past. My favorite title is Amazing Spider-Man, and reading those great stories reprinted in Marvel Tales month after month… it was heady stuff. John Romita’s art was just gorgeous, and Stan Lee was at the absolute top of his game. Kirby’s work on FF and Thor was unbelievable. 
And I just love the Don Heck era of The Avengers where the team consisted mainly of Cap, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hank Pym. It was all so much fun.

Doug: You wrap the book up with the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Why? Is that a personal break line for you?

Todd: Good call, it is kind of a personal break for me. I lose interest in Marvel's output starting in the early 1980's. And frankly, from the standpoint of what the book was meant to accomplish, a lot of what happened from that time forward would be irrelevant. I had to include the modern X-Men - I mean, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, etc., simply because of the characters' popularity thanks to the films. That's also the reason I included material about the Guardians of the Galaxy. After all, the book is supposed to be concerned with characters that readers might want to know about.

I realize I left some things out, especially characters that will soon appear in feature films: Deadpool, a lot of those later X-Men characters like Cable, for example. I didn't go into Frank Miller's era on Daredevil, and how it coincided with how a lot of 80's comics took a darker turn. But much of that is just outside the scope of the book. It was always meant to concentrate on the 'classic' Marvel characters, the ones who mainly started appearing in the early 1960's. The further out from that you go, in my opinion, the less relevant things become, at least in the context of the book.

Doug: In closing, I'd again state that it was an easy read -- very accessible, I think novice-friendly. But there's enough in the book to keep even well-studied fans interested. So here's your chance to blow your own horn one last time --

Todd: Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you like it. I tried hard to make it accessible to as many readers as possible, and of course there should be plenty of meat there for the die-hard comics fans, especially classic-Marvel fans. Also, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you! It’s been fun.

I should mention that the e-book version comes out on December 20th through the usual places, while the paperback is available on January 20th, although of course you can pre-order at Amazon. I’ll also be selling copies directly from the book’s website at, where everyone can also read the first chapter for free.

Now, if everyone reading this would buy ten copies to hand out on street corners, I can finally start buying the name-brand Ramen noodles instead of the store-label variety…

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Spinner Rack: April 1977

Doug: By now everyone knows the drill -- you click on this link and you'll be taken to books cover-dated April 1977, courtesy of Mike's Amazing World of Comics. Click on the large date below and you'll jump over to the Comic Book Database, where you can find complete information on each issue. Little Dougie would have been almost 11 years old and fully smitten by the comics buying bug. But who among you also holds memories for this month's fare?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who Made Who?

Karen: Sunday morning I was lazily reading some articles on the comics sites, since I like to keep up with what's going on in the books I no longer actually read, and I came across this article in Comic Book Resources by Brett White, which discusses how Marvel Comics are changing characters and long-time story lines to get more in line with the Marvel films. I knew some of this had been going on -for example, the increase in Inhumans in the Marvel Comics universe. But I was stunned to read this little tidbit: it was recently revealed that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are NOT the children of Magento! What??  

Karen: Yes, a brilliant idea from 30 years ago apparently wiped out in order to make the comics more like the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film. So who will be the twins' parents now? I don't know. Will they turn out to be Inhumans? Mutant inhumans? It's mind-boggling to me that Marvel feels the need to make a move like this.

Karen: It's obvious that they think that they need to bring their books more in line with the films, so that new readers (coming from the movies) will not be confused by discrepancies from the film universe to the book universe. But I think they are operating from a false premise. I really don't think there is much flow of readers in that direction. From what I can tell, you have movie fans, and comic fans who also are movie fans. There aren't a lot of Marvel movie fans who also decide to go read the comics.  Sad but apparently true.

Karen: So Marvel is essentially going back and altering/hacking away at its own roots, all for naught. This move, and others mentioned in White's article (replacing Nick Fury with Nick Fury Jr, who looks like Samuel Jackson, the worldwide Inhumans increase, books featuring movie and TV characters, etc) are unnecessary, over-complicating, and make the comics seem like slaves to the films. I'd much rather see the movies drawing from the comics, and not the other way around.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Arc of Triumph? Marvel Fanfare 1-4

Doug: Now I know we've never discussed Marvel Fanfare around here, because when I set up the post's labels it didn't come up as an auto-fill. I have this series in a trade paperback called X-Men: The Savage Land. It may actually be the first tpb I ever purchased. I read it way back when I was in college, but to be honest have little memory of the story beyond the incredible art by Michael Golden, Dave Cockrum, and Paul Smith. Does this ring a bell with any of our readers?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wish List Time!

Doug: With the "big day" about two weeks away, what are you hoping to find under the tree? Feel free to be realistic, or just really cut loose and tell your BAB friends what you'd like to find!

Doug: And as a public service, I'd like to tip our readers to another great discount seller with whom I've recently done business. Head on over to eBay and check out the listings of seller dheader. Shoot -- save time and just click here!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Nerdy...

Doug: I saw this on Twitter a few weeks ago. I'm sure it's been discussed across the Internet in the past, but I don't think we've ever broached the subject on this blog. Really, it's such an awesome topic for pondering that I don't know why we haven't gotten to it. So without further ado, see the image below and pick a side!

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