Batman’s foes have an existential crisis in his latest outing, The LEGO Batman Movie.
Kicking off with an amazing 10-minute song-and-punch introduction, the LEGO Batman Movie not only features a bevy of villains, known and obscure — Crazy Quilt and Killer Moth! — the movie also treads into interesting meta territory.
After Batman saves another day in Gotham City, he drops a bombshell on the Joker — the Dark Knight doesn’t think the Clown Prince of Crime is his greatest foe.
Teary-eyed, the devastated supervillain escapes and begins work on a new plan to get Batman’s attention.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne finds himself torn against a potential love interest and a new commissioner who sees Batman as a problem. Between bouts of love and anger at Commissioner Barbara Gordon’s new plans for the city, Bruce agrees to adopt the orphan Dick Grayson.
At last, the release of Suicide Squad — the movie at the top of my must-see list for 2016.
The first trailer previewed a rogues gallery of misfits — awesome and not — who become forced into some good ol’ fashioned do-goodery. The preview had a bit of humor, our first look at Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and a shot of Batman hanging from the roof of a speeding getaway car.
The latest trailers gave us more of the same, but it was the delivery — they played like the best fan-made music videos. A helicopter launching flares as Brian May goes into full swing for his guitar solo in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or Sweet’s high-charged Ballroom Blitz in step with shots of pure kinetic energy.
Unfortunately, we’ve come into a golden age of trailers, where companies can cherry pick the best visuals, break open the plot, and piece together a TLDR version that can make a bad movie look good.
Somehow, people were tricked into seeing Fantastic Four — and half of the scenes in the trailer weren’t even in the movie!
On the strength of its casting, premise and top notch trailers — rumor has it, the final cut of the movie was completed by Trailer Park, the company that created the previews — Suicide Squad topped even Rogue One on the “Want to See” list, but no amount of editing could save a movie with a circular kind of logic that is a means and end to itself in all of the worst ways.
Big Wow! is only an hour away from me, but I’ve never been.
Why? I don’t know. But this year, I saw what I’ve been missing.
Before the convention, I gathered some information on what I should expect from Big Wow! — I was told it was artist-friendly, a bit more intimate, and less frantic. I checked out the impressive list of attendees and guests — notably, at least for me, Bin Furuya of Ultraman fame and Kenpachiro Satsuma, one of several men who’ve donned the Godzilla suit. Greg Rucka who grew up in my city and Michael Lark — co-creators on my favorite modern comic Lazarus — would be on hand as well along with Humberto Ramos, Buzz, Joe Rubenstein, Mark Brooks, and Stephane Roux.
(The list was a lot longer than the ones I got to meet.)
I started off my first trip to Big Wow! by getting on commission lists before my buddy Joaquin and I walked the floor exploring booths, shops, and artist information. Joaquin came with me to be a second pair of hands because the delicate nature of comics means having to watch out for tape while bagging and boarding — or unbagging/unboarding — and doing things as efficiently as possible without damaging anything. I caught the commission/signature/grading bug at my first convention, and I’ve treated comic-cons as work as much — or more so — as pleasure. Not that I’m there to flip everything I buy, but I have goals I want to meet. Blame it on my obsessive-compulsive nature.
(By the way, I’ve yet to sell any of my sigs or commissions — and besides a few I had Desert Wind Comics do that were multiples and through an artist who was fine with it, I might be holding on to them all, or most of them, for a very long time before some hands me a $1-million.)
If I had to describe Big Wow! to a person who had never been there — it’s got a vibe unlike any other convention I’ve been to. It wasn’t as packed as WonderCon or Wizard World Sacramento when Stan Lee and Chris Hemsworth made their only appearances on a Sunday, so it was easy to snag an autograph or chat for a while. I had conversations with Norm Rapmund who was surprised to find San Jose was farther from Los Angeles than he thought and Buzz who told me he’d hook me up on a commission of Spider-Man. I got a commission from Buzz before at another convention, and I knew what kind of quality he puts into his work. When I picked up my Spider-Man commission, I was floored. Again.
Meeting Rucka was a little nerve-wracking, seeing as how he’s a former Salinasan. I didn’t know if it was a subject I was allowed to approach, but when the area in front of me cleared, and I moved forward to shake his hand, his friendliness opened the doors.
“Hello, Mr. Rucka. I’m from Salinas, too.”
A big smile spread across his face, and he told me how much it surprises him to find people from his hometown. And when I told him I see his father’s commercials — Mr. Rucka’s a lawyer — Greg seemed wondrous. “He’s still doing that?” he asked.
I told him Lazarus was my favorite current book, and then I got my issues signed by Rucka’s boothmate, Lark, who earlier delivered my commission. Lark seemed very sweet, and I thanked him again.
“Which commission did I do for you?” he asked.
“The Batman rising up in the rain.”
Between walking the floor, complaining about being hungry, and shopping, I went to check on Bridgett Spicer, Ace Continuado, Chris Arrocena, and Ray Zepeda, Jr. — fellow Salinasans who had booths. At one point, Ace and Chris let me man their table while they went to check out the convention. I’ve had dreams of writing my own comic for a while now, and I definitely liked the idea of one day being able to talk to comic fans from that side of the booth as a creator.
As for Bridgett — she shared a space with Betsy Streeter — they looked like they were having a blast. Their booth, renamed the Fun Booth, garnered plenty of attention.
“I’m definitely doing this again next year,” Spicer said.
“Better than APE?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding her head, furiously.
And while I was mainly there for the artists, I did have a chance to meet and shake Bin Furuya’s hand. There was an awkward mixup when I went to the wrong booth to get a ticket — Steven Skyler of Power Rangers Samurai graciously corrected my mistake, telling me: “This is a totally different booth.”
When I found the person handling tickets, the man in front of me in line bought 12 autograph tickets with his pick of 12 photographs. The ticket handler threw in a couple more photos which Mr. Furuya signed politely. For an octogenarian, Furuya looked great, and he signed cards and thanked each person after each signing. While I waited, I snapped a photo of Mr. Satsuma as he posed for the camera.
I sort of freaked out when I placed my Ultraman #1 — I can’t believe I had one in my collection — down in front of Mr. Furuya. I don’t know if he’s ever signed comics, and he asked me, “Doko, doko, doko?” as he searched for a place to sign his name. I opened the cover, and he signed it on the inside.
“You sure that’s where you want it?” the CGC witness asked, “You won’t be able to see it when it’s slabbed.”
I slapped myself.
“Can you please sign it here?” I asked Furuya pointing to the slip over the cover.
He did, and then he signed a small card that had a picture of himself with his arm cradling the Ultraman helmet that he was the template for.
“This is the only one in the registry,” Mike of CGC told me, “He never does these shows.” Checking the CGC registry now, I can see there’s only one that’s ever been graded at all. Mine would be the second to get a grade, but it would be the first to be graded for the Signature Series.
I scored commissions from Stephane Roux who told me to return during the last hour of the convention on Sunday for quick sketches. My coworker is the biggest Harley Quinn fan I know, and I wanted to get him something.
I also received a Spider-Man from Joe Rubinstein — he holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for most inks over artists’ pencils — and I got an amazing Spider-Man for my Amazing Spider-Man #1 sketch cover. It was pretty much a Spider-Man weekend as I sort of shelved my Batman project to get various covers for my Amazing Spider-Man #1s. Ramos was the last commission I picked up — it seemed right to have the interior artist give me his own original for the outside.
I got a good number of souvenirs that I’m trying to figure out how to display without light damage. It’s a comic problem that I’m willing to take input on, so if you know of a way to show off CGC books without worrying about UV damage, please leave a comment.
Quin and I didn’t attend any panels until Sunday when we were reunited with a long-lost friend we haven’t seen in years. James and his son stopped by the convention and found us in line. It was great hanging out with the both of them — they were interested in action figures and other toys. James got a commission from Stefano Gaudiano, which seemed like a steal for what he got and how much he paid.
We ended the last day of the convention with a screening of the Batman Chronicles, hosted by Anthony Misiano with a Q&A panel at the end. Misiano made a great impression on me as he kept us entertained even when the projector and sound continued to malfunction. Instead of reacting to the problems with negativity, Misiano displayed a sort of humor and joviality that made a lot of fans, myself included.
The screening and Q&A ended 15 minutes after the convention was over, and I thought I missed my opportunity to get Josh a Roux quick sketch. James somehow got back in, and I chased after him. While Joaquin went to thank Ramos for a commission, I went to find Ace and Chris who were already gone. On the way back, I saw Mr. Roux talking with a few others. I approached him, thanked him for the commission, then asked if he had five minutes.
“Sure,” he said, “Do you have a Sharpie?”
I took out a Batman #29 sketch cover and a gold Sharpie.
“This will be the first gold Batman I’ve ever drawn,” he said.
“Actually, my coworker is a huge Harley fan.”
“Well, this will be the first gold Harley I’ve ever drawn,” he told me.
One of the others that Roux was talking to said, “Check this out. You’re going to see some magic.”
“I saw some magic earlier,” I told him, “Roux did a commission for me.”
“Was it on the sketch cover?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That one was awesome,” he said. We both nodded at each other as we saw a familiar face appear on a once-blank page.
Harley Quinn’s still getting accustomed to her new digs, and she makes the rounds meeting her tenants.
Quinn’s new building hosts a menagerie of freak shows, carnival attractions, and one House of Wax and Murder run by Madame Macabre who dresses the part down to the Elmyra skull that keeps her ponytail together.