Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Heading to PulpFest 2013 two weekends ago, I grabbed a book to read
in the wee hours of the morning when most people are sleeping.  Not
me.  I’ve been trained by my cat Simba to wake at certain hours to
tend to her whims and, even when she decides to let me “sleep in,”
the neighborhood birds start their chirping by 5 am.  So I bring a
book to read when I’m out of town.

The book was Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict
on the Expo Floor
by Bob Calhoun [Obscuria Press; $16.99].  Calhoun
was a wrestler, peepshow barker, ring announce and a comics/Star
Trek/Star Wars fan.  Currently he’s a senior research analyst at
the University of California, Berkeley.  Without a publishing deal
in place, Calhoun went on the road to comics and sci-fi gatherings,
trade shows, insane conspiracy cons, political events and even an
event for Sasquatch seekers.  The only con he couldn’t get into was
a plastic surgeons event which had tighter security than any of the
others.  What were they hiding?

The initial chapters of the book aren’t pleasant.  Calhoun writes
about his earliest comics and sci-fi conventions and, in doing so,
gives the impression of self-loathing for himself and an arrogant
superiority towards other fans.  In writing about these events, he
only rises above his personal issues when he gives in to the joy he
experienced at them.

The book shines brightest whenever Calhoun goes outside his comfort
zone.  A MacWorld Conference and Expo sans Steve Jobs proves to be
a sad shadow of what it once was.  The atmosphere of a Republican
convention is tainted by the stench of the vile Andrew Brietbart.
Hemp and gun shows share one chapter, but the scariest chapter is
the Conspiracy Con event where bigotry, delusion, fear and hatred
of horrific proportions combine into a self-perpetuating legion of
evil and madness.

I think my favorite chapter might be the one that starts with a for
real cattle drive down the streets of San Francisco and takes the
author to the aptly-named Cow Palace.  Calhoun’s conversations with
a teen whose family raises cattle are delightful.  I’m sure most of
my bloggy thing readers have experienced the passion of our fellow
fans for our thing.  As Calhoun reveals, that kind of passion isn’t
our exclusive domain.

If you’re interested in the world of conventions, including those
beyond our comics/sci-fi interests, I think you’ll enjoy Shattering
.  It’s worth reading.

ISBN 978-0-578-11582-5


Phantom Lady #1-4 [DC; $2.99 each] introduces the “New 52" versions
of the title heroine and Doll Man.  The first Phantom Lady made her
debut in the 1940s; this is her fourth incarnation.  Doll Man also
hails from that decade; this is his third incarnation.

Written by Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Cat Staggs
(pencils) and Tom Derenick (inks), the series casts Phantom Lady as
the daughter of a newspaper man who watched her parents die at the
hands of an seemingly-above-the-law criminal.  Using tech created
by her scientist friend Dane Whitman, Jennifer Knight tries to get
the goods on the criminal and bring him to justice.  Her lack of
experience is her undoing as the criminal is able to trace her to
Dane’s lab.  Dane seems to die while locked in one of his devices,
but, in reality, he’s reduced to the size of a doll.

While not blindingly original, the series is entertaining with an
outstanding moment or two along the way.  The heroes experience an
elation using their powers against the criminals, but quickly find
themselves conflicted when they are forced to battle innocents who
have been turned into zombie-like creatures by the bad guys.  This
super-hero stuff isn’t as clear-cut as they might like and they’re
not sure if their course is the correct one.

In past incarnations, both Phantom Lady and Doll Man were members
of a team called the Freedom Fighters.  Over the past year, we’ve
also seen the re-invention of teammates the Ray and the Human Bomb.
All four of these heroes have been brought together by a government
agent known only as Samuel.  We’re still missing a Black Condor to
fill out the roster.  Whether or not Samuel turns out to be the new
Uncle Sam or not, I look forward to seeing what Grey and Palmiotti
do next...and there are almost no “New 52" super-hero titles I feel
that way about.


Peanuts: It’s Tokyo, Charlie Brown! [Kaboom!; $13.99] combines two
things I love: the Peanuts kids and one of the cities I’d most like
to visit.  The story and pencil art for this 91-page graphic novel
are by Vicki Scott with inks by Paige Braddock.

The premise is both absurd and absurdly simple.  The President of
the United States selects Charlie Brown’s team to represent us in
an international baseball game to be held in Japan.  If I were one
of those sad right-wingers, I would accuse the President of trying
to diminish our stature in the world.  Since I’m not, I’ll assume
some sort of random lottery was involved.  If I think about stuff
like that, I might start wondering why Charlie’s team, unlike every
youth team I was ever on or my kids were ever on, has absolutely no
adult supervision.  For that matter, how do these kids get to fly
to Japan without adult supervision?  Shut up, stupid logic.  Just
enjoy this delightful story.

Delightful is surely is.  The Peanuts characters are spot-on.  The
gags, recurring and otherwise, are funny.  The travel stuff is fun;
there’s even a Godzilla shot.  And while Scott doesn’t shy from the
enormity of this game or what losing it might do to poor Charlie’s
already tender psyche, she delivers a brilliant resolution to the
situation that I found satisfying.

The graphic novel comes complete with many informative features on
the making of the book.  That gave me a second reason to recognize
Scott’s cleverness.  By contract, no new characters can be created
for the Peanuts comic books.  None.  Whatsoever.  Scott overcame
those restrictions to tell a wonderful story that took Charlie and
his friends across the world.  That’s brilliance.

Peanuts fans will love this graphic novels.  Younger readers might
enjoy it as well, depending on how versed they are in Peanuts lore.
I give it my highest recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-60886-270-2

Come back tomorrow for the return of our “Rawhide Kid Wednesdays.”

© 2013 Tony Isabella

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