About that new Mary Jane Watson

In case you’re unaware, there’s a new Spider-Man movie coming out! It features Tom Holland as Spider-Man, an actor you’re probably now most familiar with since seeing him in Captain America: Civil War.

Since the set up of Spider-Man in Civil War, the audience got a bit of a taste on what to expect for the new Spider-Man movie, scheduled to be released in 2017. What some people weren’t ready for were the casting choices.

Since this is the third reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise, all of the characters were to be recast. Of all of the casting choices, having Zendaya Coleman cast as Mary Jane Watson – Peter Parker’s girlfriend/eventual wife – caused a bit of an unexpected uproar.

Mary Jane's first appearance.
Mary Jane’s first appearance. Her actual person would not be revealed for another 17 issues.

Personally, I never had heard of Zendaya before the casting announcement. And to be honest, I still really don’t know who she is. A quick IMDB search shows she’s been in a lot of Disney stuff, but that’s about it. I’ve never seen her act as I don’t have cable, Netflix, or watch any Disney television shows. I was going in blind upon hearing the casting announcement.

When I heard of the casting choice through ComicBookResources, I saw a picture of her and moved on with my life. It was another actress hired in another role. I’m excited for the outcome but cannot pass any judgment on an actress whom I’ve never seen work before.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from some Spider-Man fans.

Over social media, some Spidey fans cried out about the casting choice saying Zendaya is not what they want in their Mary Jane. I know this because I bore witness to this outcry on a friends’ Facebook page:

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Is it that hard to understand that the colour of someone’s skin does not have to be the definition of a character? Mary Jane being a Caucasian redhead was never really an integral part of Mary Jane. Sure, she was nicknamed “Red,” but if she was blond, it could’ve easily been “Blondie.” Either way, a nickname that a writer creates for a character is not an integral part of that character.

In fact, all of the physical attributes this person on Facebook makes are solely based on the physical appearance of Mary Jane – not who she is as a person. From no storylines can I recall how her skin, eye colour, or hair colour were important to the story. She’s not Medusa from the Inhumans. Mary Jane’s hair isn’t that important to the character, let alone the colour of it.

And spoiler alert: hair can be dyed.

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Is it racial diversity or is Zendaya just a good actress? Mary Jane can be whomever she is cast as. Skin colour doesn’t define the role. The written characterization, the actress doing her job, and the storytelling is what defines Mary Jane.

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How does Zendaya not fit the character? The movie isn’t even out yet. There’s prejudice in these words as they make assumptions without any base to support them.

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Is it really that your fandom is being changed? Or is it that your “picture” of Mary Jane is being changed because we’re no longer in the 1960’s and people of different backgrounds and colour are finally starting to get equal representation in the comic book medium?

As of late, Marvel has made some major strides to become all-encompassing with their characters. Thor is now a woman, Jane Foster; Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan; Amadeus Cho is the Korean-American Hulk; Riri Williams – a black woman – is going to be the new Iron Man named Ironheart, and let’s not forget Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The comic book industry is shaking up and changing in some major ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of the major comic book characters we all know and love were created in the 60’s and 70’s when minorities did not have a voice in the comic book medium. Strides were being taken, such as Storm’s introduction in ’75, or Luke Cage in ’72, but arguably neither of those characters are “big league” characters like Captain America or Thor. But now we have a Luke Cage TV series coming out soon and the Black Panther movie is slated to come out in 2018.

It’s a changing landscape and it’s wonderful that it’s happening. But when Marvel takes a character like Mary Jane and change the colour of her skin, suddenly it’s the biggest deal on the planet?

Twitter1

Right, because Martin Luther King is a fictional character. . .

Twitter3

Hrrrrrnnnngggghhhhh.

Twitter2

That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of it all.

Look, if you’re freaking out over the colour of someone’s skin because your fictional character no longer looks the same, then you haven’t been enjoying that character as a character. You’ve enjoyed their looks and therefore never really cared about the character at all.
Think about it.

Agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comment section below.

Pokémon GO & Growing Up as a Nerd in the 90’s

With the new release of Pokémon Go seemingly affecting everyone’s lives and social media platforms (which arguably are the same thing to some folk), it always surprises me when I see something from my childhood come back into the mainstream. That’s not to say Pokémon ever went away. There are still new movies, new toys, and of course the online sensation known as TwitchPlaysPokémon which went all over the news which also introduced lots of people to the streaming service Twitch. This also happened with the Twitch Bob Ross marathon, but I digress.

I grew up in the 90s. I was born in the mid-80s, letting me absorb the cool TV shows that survived the end of the 80’s era: GI Joe, Transformers, Dino Riders, and Denver the Last Dinosaur were only a few of the many shows that trickled over into the 90s with me.

I was pretty obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. I wanted to be a palaeontologist when I was in grade three and wrote cool stories featuring both dinosaurs and Transformers in my English classes. Why I never considered just writing about the Dinobots – I’ll never know. I collected rocks and went through the gravel in neighbours driveways to look at the imprints of trilobites or plants within them. It was really fascinating to me.

Ah, my first comic book.
Ah, my first comic book.

In the early-90s, I stumble across a animated TV show called The X-Men on FOX Kids. There was also Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Tick, and a short-lived Hulk series that I also enjoyed. I picked up my first comic book, X-Men #36, in 1994 when I visited a local convenience store. I recognized Sabretooth from the cartoon. The book also featured Jubilee – who I also knew from the show – as well as having a gatefold cover which caught me up with what was going on in the series. I recognized a lot of the X-Men on there. I felt like I was in the loop!

Coming to the mid-90s, some kids my mom babysat brought over this three-part movie series on VHS called “Star Wars.” Needless to say, that changed my life in a dramatic fashion. No longer did I want to dig up old dinosaur bones: I wanted to fly into space, maybe meet the Shi’ar Empire, fly an X-Wing, and so on. You know, the usual stuff kids dream about doing.

But as with everything, there comes a price.

I was a scrawny kid. I had asthma, acne, allergies – the works. All I ever wanted to do was talk about Star Wars and read comic books. It’s quite typical to look back and think that’s all kids in the 90’s wanted to do. If they weren’t doing that, they were playing video games. Let’s not forget that great pastime. I especially played the non-sport games or popular games from franchises. NHL series? Nope. Zelda? No time! At least Super Mario? I certainly played those games to death but would easily prefer games on a different “console” – the PC. SimCity 2000? Totally. X-Wing? I still have all five floppy discs! Command and Conquer? My ion cannon was ready!

While everything I wrote above gives you a good idea to what kind of kid I was, it was definitely not considered “the norm.”

I remember in grade seven on May 4th (years before the “Star Wars Day” even existed), my grade seven teacher wrote on the chalkboard “May the Fourth be With You.” I distinctly remember arriving early to class that day before both the teacher and the majority of my fellow classmates came in. I saw those words on the board, and I nearly cried in embarrassment. I ran up to the chalk board and erased everything that was written. I went back to my seat while the few other students didn’t say anything about my actions. When class started and the teacher arrived, she asked why her message was erased. Once I was ousted as the culprit, she asked me why I did what I did. I shyly shrugged my shoulders. She was good enough to accept the answer and move on with the day.

She understood why I did it: I was picked on a lot as a kid. Star Wars wasn’t cool. I wasn’t into the same things the rest of the students were: MuchMusic (Canada’s version of MTV), WWF, sports, hanging out with each other after school. . . it just wasn’t me. While I did participate in after-school sports, I considered “cool” enough by my peers for a variety of other reasons. I still had no idea what music they were talking about, what movies they went to see together, and what games they were playing. I had my own world with my own interests.

I was often bullied and usually made fun of for my indulgence of the things I enjoyed. However, I eventually became a bit numb to it and ended up wearing it like a badge of honour. In my grade eight yearbook, my nickname was “Star Wars Fan” as the teacher opted not to have “Freak” put into the book. Good call, grade eight teacher. Good call.

1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.
1997 saw a lot of changes such as Greedo shooting first.

So you can see how looking upon the fads now, I’m a bit surprised by how popular all of these things are. While sure, Star Wars is definitely one of, if not, the most popular film franchise of all time, there was a period when it was completely not cool to like it. I know that because I lived it.

With Return of the Jedi’s release in 1983, there was no new Star Wars until 1999. That’s a long period of time for something to be removed from popularity. While the 1997 Special Edition release brought the series back into the spotlight my fellow peers didn’t care, but my excitement and intensity over the films only increased. Newer toys were being released which I bought up with my paper route money.

I remember trying to talk to someone in my grade eight class about a few toys I had purchased. Their response? “You could’ve used that money to buy a car.” I was laughed at by a few of the other students. I was thirteen. Star Wars was what made me happy. I’m sorry I didn’t watch Party of Five or 90210. I was busy watching Nova on PBS. Besides, I wasn’t even old enough to drive.

Even as I began to discover music, I found myself starting to enjoy both progressive rock and heavy metal. It was complex stuff that shunned away the masses but really drew me in. As with heavy metal music, it is a purposeful insular culture that gives the middle finger to the establishment. And for me, that establishment was the two Catholic schools I attended and the rest of the people who didn’t understand me.

By that time as well, I was in high school and I had stumbled across a PC game called StarCraft. Even to this day, I watch professional StarCraft as my “sport” of choice. I don’t and never have followed popular sports. But I do follow the eSports scene.

Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.
Game 3 of Scarlett vs. Bomber during Redbull Battlegrounds.

With all that being said, you can imagine seeing the rise in popularity of comic books, their respective movies, and other nerd culture being highlighted in the media – how someone like me can feel a bit overwhelmed and if not sometimes feeling like a bit of a shut in.

However, now some friends and family will come to me to ask me questions about comic book character X, or ask me about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or Legends as it’s now called). Suddenly the ridicule for the things I enjoyed for the first sixteen years of my life was to be forgotten: my interests were in the spotlight and as collateral had it, so was I.

But I wasn’t, and still at times, am not ready for it. It’s just seems strange to see people freak out over Pokémon Go now when I still talked about Pokémon exclusively with my younger brother when I was in grade ten because I didn’t know anyone else who was interested in it (shortly after I found, and still have, some long-time and close friends who I can nerd out with). Even look at the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Kickstarter that BROKE records. While I am super happy for MSTies everywhere, it was only myself and two other friends who watched the show religiously, making it a surprise for me to see the revival actually happening. How didn’t I know so many other people liked it? Where were these people in my life growing up?

Now when the big comic book movies hit the theaters, I’m allowed to be myself in public and indulge in the culture I was once made fun of for indulging in before. When I’m at work, I’ll see a customer with a comic book movie shirt on and talk to them about it. They may not be fans of the comic books, but that’s okay! It’s great to finally be able to have the conversation without getting made fun of.

I'm actually level 15 now.
I’m actually level 15 now.

As irony would have it, I was out playing Pokémon Go with a friend the other night. We were only two out of about 150 people in the downtown core playing at a couple of close proximity Pokéstops. Five kids, I’m guessing ages 7 to 10, rolled up next to us on their scooters and bikes, looking out to the crowd of 15-35 year olds playing Pokémon Go. Their response? “Pokémon Go is THIS popular? What a bunch of losers!” they said out loud.

While everyone ignored them, my friend and I laughed as they rode away in disbelief. It was certainly something wonderful to see that despite all of the diversity and ridicule one may have had growing up, I looked out upon this group of Pokémon Go’ers and felt right at home.

In another instance this week, I spoke with a lady in her late-forties and joked with her about the game – not revealing that I play it. She said, in all-seriousness, “If I catch my son playing the game, I’ll kick his ass.” Her son, she admitted, is twenty-seven years old. Fortunately I was mature enough to simply let the conversation bounce off of me and not feel concerned about what she thought (and unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to correct her at the time).

So in one instance there’s a mother bullying people younger than her over the game, while in another instance those young kids who looked down upon my friend and I would’ve been the same kids to do that to me when I was their age.

While some things will never change and crappy kids and adults will always exist – one thing is for certain, if not a bit clichéd: enjoying what you do – regardless of popularity – is important. Life does get better.

Remember my grade seven teacher who wrote “May the 4th be With You” on the chalk board? Later in the day she did come to me in private before recess and apologized for unintentionally offending me. She knew how I felt and it was really one of the only times in my grade school years I felt someone outside of my family actually get what I was going through. I know this because here I am in 2016 still remembering that very simple gesture from all those years ago. I can only hope that more people are like that to children today. Empathy is a wonderful thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch some Pokémon with some friends.

Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!

Getting Your Book Signed: Good Move or Bad Idea?

Collecting comics can be a pretty fun, if not costly hobby. It requires keeping up with current market prices as well as the know-how of what makes a quality book.

A lot of that weighs heavily on the cover. Having an original, un-restored version of the book cover is important, along with it having vibrant colours. Also having a cover fully intact improves the overall price of a book.

But what about when a creator signs a book? What happens then?

Surely if you have a copy of Jack Kirby and Captain America #1, you’d be sitting on a goldmine, right? What about a copy of Showcase #22 featuring a signature from Gil Kane?

Chances are actually, the book would be worth less.

Before you start shouting at the screen or balling your eyes out, let’s find out why – and see if you can do anything about it.

A lot of this hooplah about the quality of the book degrading over a signature can be somewhat blamed on the company, the Certified Grading Company, or the CGC. For a more in depth synopsis of the CGC, check out what I wrote about them in the past.

CGC Hulk 340

But if you wish to keep reading, I’ll make it simple: the CGC is considered the best of the best when it comes to grading comic books, magazines, cards, and many other types of relatively-flat, printed collectibles. If you get your book graded by the CGC, chances are the price of your book can increase by a small or large margin.

Considering there are a lot of scams within the comic book collecting hobby, the CGC are considered the best place to go to get the “truth” behind a comic book. Through their grading process, they have experts in restoration check to make sure the book is in its original form. From there, they will go through the entire book to guarantee the book is up to par and not missing any pages. At the end of the evaluation, they assign a grade on the book from .5 (Poor), to 10 (Gen Mint).

The CGC will then put the book in a transparent case along with a coloured label to tell the viewer what kind of book they are looking at. Blues are the most common as they represent basic, graded books. A Purple banner means the book has been restored, while a Gold banner means it has an authentic signature.

While I could write different stories about the other banners (which you can read in the blog I made about them), it is the Gold banner we’ll be focusing on. The Gold banner stands for the “Signature Series.”

Because the CGC has become a staple in the grading process, the general comic collecting community has agreed (somewhat – but that’s also a whole other article for another day) that what the CGC says is authentic, and so the books should be sold as such.

For example, if you have a non-CGC graded book (or an “unslabbed” book), it may only be worth $50. However, if you get your book slabbed, it may suddenly be seen as $100, or even more. That’s great news, no?

But with signatures, it gets tricky.

If you say, have a copy of Captain America #1 signed by Jack Kirby before his death in 1994, you cannot submit it for a Gold banner to the CGC. Even if you have photos or video of the event happening, they will not consider it for the Signature Series. This is because a CGC representative was not present at the time of the signing.

I hope you see where I’m going with this.

To receive a Gold banner for the Signature Series, a CGC representative must be present to witness the signature. Nowadays, CGC goes to just about every major comic book convention. It’s great money for them to do it. If you get a book signed by Neal Adams or Stan Lee with CGC present, they’ll grant you the Signature Series banner. But CGC only began in 2000, with their Signature Series starting in 2001.

Any books prior to 2001 cannot be submitted for the Signature Series as a CGC representative would not have been present – let alone the company was even around then.

That being said, you can set up a CGC-approved witness for a signing by contacting the company.

CGC Buffy

So let’s get back to the slabbing of the book.

For unslabbed books with a signature, the books are considered – to many collectors – not valuable, solely because there is no guarantee who signed it. Even if you have videos, pictures, and a great story to go along with it, CGC set the standard to signature books. A collector may be hesitant to purchase a book even if you provide the proof. This is only because in their minds, they may be aware of the CGC “standards” of the comic collecting industry.

So if an unslabbed book is worth $50, and slabbed it’s $100, surely a Signature Series book will increase the value even more, right?

Yet again, I’m poised to say the answer is both yes and no.

Why it may increase in value: a signed book that is authenticated by the CGC is considered more valuable than a signed book that is not authenticated. The reason is that CGC guarantees the book was signed by the signer. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. They guarantee the collector (or buyer) that the signature is real, and thus it would not depreciate the price of the book. They guarantee the signature is not just a “scribble.” It’s actually proven to be signed by Jim Lee!

On why it’s not increased in value: sometimes you get buyers who do not want a signature on a book – that it “ruins” the artwork on the cover. Even if CGC authorized the signature, it still may not be what the buyer wants. Effectively, that signature may have just shunned away a potential buyer.

Keep this all in mind if you’re a collector and are considering having someone sign your comic book.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Sound off below! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! And indeed, keep on Space Truckin’!

Comic Collecting and Price Jumps!

I was visiting one of my local flea markets recently and stumbled across a copy of X-Factor #6 from 1986. This book has some significance as it is the first full appearance of Apocalypse.

I saw it bagged and boarded on the wall at this particular flea market without a price. It had a sticker on the bag stating the comic was “NM.” (For those unfamiliar with the grading system, NM stands for “Near Mint” and represents a 9.4/10 when it comes to grading quality).

I asked the gentleman who ran the booth what he was asking for it. He had the price tucked in-behind the book because, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If regular people around here saw what these books went for, they’d get stolen from me.”

He lifted the book from the wall and revealed the price.

$120 (Canadian, by the way).

I was a bit shocked at the price. But before I move on, let’s backtrack a bit here.

XFactor 6

If it wasn’t obvious from this website already: I collect old comics. It’s a serious hobby of mine, and yes, it’s an expensive one. I love to go to shows and seek out the best deals on books: to compare prices, grades, quality, and experiences with other collectors.

While I’m big on finding old Horror and/or Atomic Age books, I have a particularly personal investment with Marvel books – especially the X-Men related books.

So when I see something X-related and the price surprises me, flags go off in my head. Why is the price the way it is? Why would someone charge so much for this book? I knew the NM price from the Comic Book Price Guide: around $50. Why was this price so inflated?

Of course, there’s the newest X-Men movie: X-Men: Apocalypse. But does that mean the price can fluctuate that high?

Well, yes and no.

Demand for the book would dictate the price. While I’m not at every convention or following all of the prices for every book out there, it seems as if recent demand has suggested the price of X-Factor #6 to inflate to a surprisingly high price.

However, the book’s sudden inflation is solely based around the movie. The book is actually quite common and may only be “up” for the short people that the movie is around.

It’s not as if movies transform viewers into readers either.

I remember when Iron Man 2 was released in theaters, I saw these numbers on The Beat:

02/10 Invincible Iron Man #23 – 50,027
03/10 Invincible Iron Man #24 – 49,239 ( -1.6%)
04/10 Invincible Iron Man #25 – 73,694 (+49.7%)
Iron Man 2 is released.
05/10 Invincible Iron Man #26 – 53,625 (-27.2%)
06/10 Invincible Iron Man #27 – 52,268 ( -2.5%)
07/10 Invincible Iron Man #28 – 48,690 ( -6.8%)
08/10 Invincible Iron Man #29 – 49,012 ( +0.7%)

Iron Man 2 Movie Poster

Now I had blogged based on these numbers when the movie came out all those years ago. But as you can see, there was no major influx of readers because of the movie.

That all being said, Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon are friggen’ rock stars now, so who knows?

What I do know from collecting comics is that prices can be quite drastic when they rise and fall. While X-Factor #6 may even be considered a “steal” at $120, I personally do not think it would be a great investment for down the line.

But don’t take my word for it. Am I the be-all to end-all dictator of comic pricing?

Not yet.

Questions? Concerns? More questions? Ask away! Or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram! Until then, keep on Space Truckin’!

Six Tips to Buying Comics at a Comic Book Convention

ta Comic collecting can be a very demanding hobby. Not only is it difficult to keep up with prices and to find the best deal, but it’s important to know that you’re not getting ripped off. When in a comic book convention especially, things can seem hectic and you can feel pressured into something you did not feel comfortable with in the first place. Here’s a personal, if not, embarrassing story that happened to me when I first started collecting.

I saw X-Men #66 – the last issue of the series before it went into reprints – for a meager $20 at a local Comic Convention. The Comic Book Price Guide suggested a near mint (graded at a 9.2) copy of the book would go for $240.

I asked the retailer to take the book down and give it to me. I looked over the cover in the bag and couldn’t believe the price. The quality of the book was pristine. But there was no mistaking it as there was a big two inch by two inch $20 sticker right on the front of the bag the book was in.

X-Men 66

Realizing the great deal I was getting, I paid the man for the book and went on my way. It wasn’t until I got home did I see what had happened.

Had I opened the bag and pulled the book out I would have noticed that behind the large $20 sticker was a corner of the book that was obviously torn off and taped back on by the retailer. The sticker was covering up the defect! I was had! Or was I?

Let’s just say I had learned my lesson. As the years went on, I picked up on some other tricks about collecting comics at conventions. Here’s how you can guarantee to not fall under the same trap I fell into.

Open the Bag

Reading my story, it’s obvious that opening the bag should be the number one thing you do when you’re checking a book for quality. Whether it’s in a bargain bin or on the retailer’s wall, open the bag up and look at the cover. Check for defects and make sure the cover is all in one piece. Look at the staples, look at the vibrancy of the cover, and check for creases, tears, or touch ups. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, ask the retailer to open the bag for you for you to look at.

They’re trying to make a sale, so they are more than willing to let you nitpick over the book. You want to make sure that you’re paying for what you’re getting. Even ask them questions about that book’s history: who owned it beforehand? Was it touched up? Are all of the pages intact?

Open the Book

Another early collecting story of mine is when I picked up a copy of Fantastic Four #45 – the first appearance of the Inhumans and Black Bolt. While the cover was alright, I purchased the book and went through it later when I was at home. As I looked inside, there were clippings from the mail-away advertisements missing. So while the cover makes up the majority of the price, the interior of the book must also be in good condition to make the value. While you have the book out of the bag, by all means, flip through the pages of your potential investment.

House of Secrets 92

Don’t be a Booth Bum

Most Comic Conventions have more than one retailer. By all means, look at them all before you purchase your book. You can save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by being vigilant and checking/comparing prices from the various vendors.

Know What You’re Looking For

Go to these conventions with a goal in mind. If you’re looking for House of Secrets #92 featuring the first appearance of Swamp-Thing, know what the general prices are before going into the convention. Check out the Comic Book Price Guide and try to memorize the numbers. The book is often considered as the Bible to what book prices should be. You should never aim to pay more than what the book is asking.

Alternatively, you can use it as a reference guide to pricing and to help you find the version of the book in your budget. A good quality (CGC 2.0) version of House of Secrets #92 goes for around $50 according to the Guide. However, a near mint copy can start around $1200. However, you may find a vendor only asking $1000 for a 9.2 graded copy of the book – or maybe they’re asking $1300. The purchase is your call.

The Guide is NOT the Bible

Allow me to be contradictory for a moment. According to the Comic Book Price Guide, a near mint version of The Walking Dead #1 should be $800. However, it has been recorded beyond the Guide that the book can easily sell for $1500 or more.

While the Guide offers a great reference point to both retailers and collectors, the market can fluctuate the prices of books dramatically. For example: if someone wanted to pay $1500 for that quality copy of The Walking Dead, chances are the next book will sell for $1600, or $170.! Maybe even $2000! It’s important to do some additional research before you jump into the thick of collecting. You may just be in for a surprise when the book you want is surprisingly out of reach.

Iron Man 55

Plan Ahead

Think about a book and WHY it should increase in value. For example, we’re already two Thor movies in with a third one on the way. While a villain for the third film hasn’t been announced yet, it’s been heavily rumoured for years that The Enchantress will be making an appearance in the Thor series.

It’s probably best to buy Journey Into Mystery #103 where she makes her first appearance BEFORE she gets put into a movie. What if she never gets put into the film? The book will rarely ever depreciate in value, so it’s best to get a head start before everyone else.

I’ve always wanted to buy Iron Man #55 as I love Thanos. Iron Man #55 has his first appearance and before The Avengers movie hit theaters, it was heavily rumoured that Thanos was going to appear.

I’ve always stalled on buying the book – where a near mint copy would go anywhere from $20-$75 before the film was released. Once it came out, the book skyrocketed to over $800 at some conventions. A missed opportunity there.

Lessons Learned

You’ll never be 100% flawless from buying comics at conventions. There will be some point where you’ll get burned on price or realize the book you should’ve bought was at another vendor: it’s part of the comic collecting experience! It’s important to learn from your past mistakes, much like I have and blogged about that X-Men #66 experience before.

Nowadays, I do my best to stay vigilant and look for certain opportunities when they arrive! I once grabbed a near mint copy of Uncanny X-Men #266 – the first appearance of Gambit – in a dollar bin. The book could’ve easily went for $60+. But I knew what I was looking for and knew the prices. Not all vendors are perfect, you know! However, if it seems like too good of a deal – it may just be that price for a reason (but that Uncanny X-Men #266 went to me for $5 and it was sincerely in near mint condition – the retailer’s fault)!

So the moral of the story is to be prepared when going to a Comic Convention! If you do have any questions about collecting, ask away or you can hit me up on Twitter and Instagram!! And keep on Space Truckin’!

That Time I Was Lady Jaye

For the past few months, I’ve been reading articles, reading blog posts, seeing images, having some conversations, and reading some status updates from friends and family – mostly all on “the Facebook,” mind you – regarding what really defines masculinity and how the whole feminism movement is “ruining” whatever it is people are finding it ruin. I can see what all the hooplah is about though: men are suddenly getting pulled out of their comfort zones – being confronted with the sudden realization that “what makes a man” can be based on societal expectations. Uh oh, SpaghettiOs.

While I think we could talk for eons about the whole subject, I felt like sharing something that I hope would bring up a discussion of how the world can be full of expectations when it comes to defining roles and how it is really isn’t a norm.

Get this awesome patch here.
One of the things I saw on Social Media. Get this awesome patch here.

Once upon a time – and this may be hard to believe – but I was younger than I am now. It was the early nineties and I was busy watching cartoons with my closest friend and brother. Cartoons such as X-Men, Transformers, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and so on. When we weren’t doing that, we’d play games on our Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros. 2, Guerilla War, Clash at Demonhead, Blades of Steel, BurgerTime, and many more.

Sometimes we’d find ways to incorporate the video games into our imaginative world of pretend play. We’d re-enact games like Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge by playing the game, then running around as an X-Man character. This also worked when we played road hockey after playing Blades of Steel. “Get the pass,” we’d say. Although we probably heard it as “Hit the Pads” or “Make the Pass” as the language in the game was a pretty garbled mess.

We’d also all watch the G.I. Joe animated series. We had a lot of fun with our action figures and on the odd occasion, we’d pretend we were G.I. Joes. We’d play the NES game, Captain Skyhawk and pretend we were on a mission to do whatever it was the Joe’s had to do. Fight Cobra? Defeat aliens? I don’t know. Why we just didn’t play the G.I. Joe game for NES still boggles my mind to this day.

However, when we played G.I. Joe, we picked who we’d pretend to be. My friend always chose Duke. My brother was either Snake Eyes or Roadblock. Me? I was always the bad-ass javelin-throwing Joe, Lady Jaye. We’d spend hours in front of the television and hanging out with one another as we defeated whomever it was we had to defeat in the video game – then we’d take the fight outside and pretend to fight Cobra as well. We were kids – it was fun!

Lady Jay? More like, Lady SLAY!
Lady Jay? More like, Lady SLAY!

Looking back at it now, no one ever told me it was “weird” to pretend to be Lady Jaye. All of us just picked a Joe we liked and was that person for the few hours when we pretended to be G.I. Joe’s. My parents never said anything to me about it. Talk about progressive parents. It probably made as much sense to them as seeing us young Canadian boys pretending to be Real American Heroes.

To me, Lady Jaye was and is still just another one of the Joe’s.

Later in my life, I picked up the G.I. Joe cartoon series on DVD and ploughed through it all. Reflecting on my childhood, you know what? Lady Jaye really was a bad-ass. The writers on the show did an excellent job not making sexist or misogynistic characters. And even if they did for an episode, the female Joe’s proved them otherwise.

Lady Jaye, Scarlett, Cover Girl, The Baroness, Dreadnok Zarana, Jinx – all of them kicked some serious butt. They were written as equals and no one ever said otherwise in the cartoon show.

Scarlett wrecks Dreadnok Torch
That time Scarlett didn’t give a damn what Torch thought

I even remember an episode dedicated to just showing how awesome the women Joe’s were. Spell of the Siren featured Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl as they had to rescue every male-Joe who was brainwashed by The Baroness. I can’t think of any other show that I grew up with that did anything similar to that outside of the X-Men animated series with Rogue and Storm. Even both cartoon shows managed to pass the Bechdel test!

It’s interesting to go back and see why I wanted to be Lady Jaye: she’s simply an incredible character! As a young boy, I never saw her as anything else but someone to look up to. As an adult, I still see the same thing.

Admittedly, I’m speaking solely about the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero TV series. While even the early Marvel comics have shown her in a positive light, a simple Google search can show you what she’s currently like in the mainstream – especially since the second live-action G.I. Joe movie.

Scarlett, Cover Girl, and Lady Jaye from "Spell of the Siren"
Scarlett, Cover Girl, and Lady Jaye from “Spell of the Siren”

While I’ve tackled some other obvious issues regarding the way women are portrayed in comic books and in cartoons, I have to say that I’m completely surprised and impressed how these Joes were written and portrayed.

What my parents thought of me wasn’t based on them telling me how to live. It wasn’t them imprinting their expectations on me. They were letting me be me. And if you ask me, I think I turned out just fine.

But to my main point: Lady Jaye didn’t fill the traditional role of a woman or a man. She was her own person. When one thinks of G.I. Joe, few people would think women would be included in that group – let alone being able to name one of them. They’re JOES after all. You’d expect no women, right? But that’s the thing about societal expectations: what you think you know is not always what’s right. And while some of you may be thinking, “She was seen as one of the Joe’s because she was written like a man,” try re-reading what I wrote above and think about why you’re wrong.

I know I’m just barely scratching the surface with this topic, so for any comments, questions, concerns: sound off below!

My Top 15 Albums of 2015

I have been doing this annually since 2005, but I rarely mention it publically. I usually post these things on Facebook for friends, but I had a few people tell me they wish to see this on my website. So here we go!

15. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Iron Maiden

With the band’s first double album, The Book of Souls explores many progressive concepts that really seem to harken back to 1984’s Powerslave. With three songs over ten minutes, the album expands on Maiden’s already great musicianship shows off their compositions. Save for the single, the rest of the album has a lot more technical prowess to it.

Watch the music video for the single, “Speed of Light”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F7A24f6gNc

14. Himinbjorg – Wyrd

Himinbjorg

Folk black metal band Himinbjorg have always been rather absent from the music scene. Featuring the somewhat lackluster albums in the past, their newest release, Wyrd, steps up their songwriting and production game to a new level. With a vast array of song styles within the rather moody album, I have to say I was super impressed of the band’s change.

Listen to “The World of Men Without Virture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUWCtX5K3JM

13. Symphony X – Underworld

Symphony X

Breaking new ground with 2002’s release, The Odyssey, the band now had to live up to certain expectations. With 2007’s Paradise Lost, they really pushed it to the limit. 2011’s Iconoclast fell flat. Now in 2015, Underworld brings them back up – not to previous standards, but pushing different standards and setting a new precedent for themselves. Unlike traditional SX fashion, the first few songs – while impressive – are not nearly as good as the last half of the album. Underworld mixes with new sounds and shows the listener that the old progressive metal band they once were is gone. With Underworld, we hear SX aren’t afraid to try something new and experiment again.

Listen to the opening track “Nevermore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z3AHbjeb1U

12. Frank Zappa – Dance Me This

Frank Zappa

Even though he passed away in 1993, he had enough music recorded to be released up until now. Dance Me This, both Zappa’s 100th and final album, features Frank predominately performing with a Synclavier – a digital sampling device – along with Siberian throat singers. While the album is definitely an acquired taste, I can honestly say that even twenty-plus years after his death, Frank is still pushing the musical envelope with this album – making me hear things I’ve never heard before. This rings especially true with the final track, Calculus.

Listen to the opening title track and what is considered Frank’s final guitar solo, “Dance Me This”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHns_UnyWZQ

11. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud

Amorphis

Another year and unsurprisingly another Amorphis album makes my list. Can this band do no wrong? They have a formula and they stick to it. However, unlike previous albums, Under the Red Cloud plays around with more musical themes outside of their traditional Finnish roots. Always impressing and improving on their sound, there’s no wonder why this band still dominates in the music world.

Listen to the single, “Sacrifice”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiOX2axSWvg

10. Venom – From The Very Depths

Venom

Where did this come from? Never did I expect to see new Venom in a top fifteen list of mine, and yet here we are! While credited as one of the originators of the black metal genre, Venom has grown far away from that to the point. Fom the Very Depths sounds like a cross between bands like Testament, Overkill, and Motörhead. Pulse-pounding and relentlessly heavy, this new release breathes fresh air in the band and excites me for their next release.

Listen to the single, “Long Haired Punks”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KwCOoEI0rM

9. Sigh – Graveward

Sigh

As expected, this Japanese band gives the listener more than they could ever expect. From the far-extreme to the slow-mellow, Sigh have always gone with the strange, purposeful “under produced” sound with incredible quality in their music. Graveward never ceases to impress throughout the entire album.

Be surprised! Listen to the single, “Kaedit Nos Pestis”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iczcILBMlcs

8. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed

Nile

This American tech-death band features a return-to-form after the disappointing 2012 release, At the Gate of Sethu. With crushing riffs and pulse-pounding drum beats, Nile’s newest release is perfect for the listener who’s looking to be blown away from the intensity the album provides. As usual, expect lengthy write ups about each song’s meaning in the linear notes.

Listen to the single/opening track, “Call to Destruction”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSVqclCr4fI

7. Nordic Giants – A Séance of Dark Delusions

Nordic Giants

The debut full-length album from this English duo is nothing short of impressive. Almost as if each song is a soundtrack from a movie, it is difficult to explain what Nordic Giants are. With each song different from the other, featuring keys, trumpets, drums, guitar, operatic vocals – they are a rock band but with unconventional instruments. An absolutely breathtaking album. I’m confident it will impress.

Watch the music video to “Rapture”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K79YFZLXobM

6. Torche – Restarter

Torche

After 2012’s lovely Harmonicraft, Restarter ups the ante and gets heavier, dirtier, and sludgier (new word) with overdriven bass, pounding kicks, and gruff vocals. Still keeping true to their song-writing roots, Torche simply makes the same music they always have, but they made it heavier. While that defaults as a bonus in my books, the band does so naturally without losing who they are. That alone speaks volumes to both the quality of the band and of this album.

Watch the music video to “Annihilation Affair”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWt7V-E9S7U

5. Arcturus – Arcturian

Arcturus

As a band known for helping change the sound of black metal, some would say their newest, Arcturian, is far from it. And you know, it certainly doesn’t sound like it would be considered black metal – yet it still is. Always different and never boring, Arcturian is the band’s first album in ten years and still sounds as if they never stopped being themselves along the way.

Listen to the first track/single, “The Arcturian Sign”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uWIg5hI7hE

4. My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

My Dying Bride

As expected with a band name like this, My Dying Bride pushes your chest in and holds you there as you experience the sheer brutal sorrow of this album. From the gothic, poetic lyrics and dark sounds, Feel the Misery absorbs you into it and refuses to let go. Hands-down, one of the band’s – if not the band’s – best release.

Watch the video of the title track, “Feel the Misery”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e_c3XAPoUI

3. Ozric Tentacles – Technicians of the Sacred

Ozric Tentacles

Another first double album for a band in this list, the instrumental band Ozric Tentacles, release their fifteenth album in spectacular fashion. As a band that always seems to do something stranger than the last, Technicians of the Sacred still manages to pull some punches with the hefty variety of music it brings. Spoiler alert: I’m a big Ozric fan. I can say that this is their best album since 1993’s Jurassic Shift.

Listen to the full album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmg7wXhy41I

2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Steven Wilson

What Steven Wilson does for music is like what the sun does to plants for Earth. His newest release, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is bold, touching, emotional, driven, brilliant, moody, intense, beautiful, and oh-so much more. Blending both pop music and progressive rock, the album still features a concept, unlike most pop albums: and the concept of the album is remarkable, if not a bit depressing. Guest vocalist, Ninet Tayeb, provides a balanced contrast and freshness to both the album and Wilson’s production.

Watch the gorgeous music video to “Perfect Life”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOU_zWdhAoE

Watch the heart-breaking music video for “Routine”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCn-CNanD_g

1. Riverside – Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

Riverside

After the release of 2005’s Second Life Syndrome, the Polish band, Riverside (much like Symphony X), seemed to lose themselves in a couple of stale albums. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine changes everything and puts the band up on a pedestal that surpasses everything they’ve done.

Never slowing down, but hardly ever breaking the precedent set by the first track, Riverside finds their stride with the opening notes and continues through to the end. LF&tTM keeps a constant sublime and melancholic feeling throughout the album – right up until the final note is played. The album is calming, yet still intricate enough to satisfy the listener with the layers of beauty within each song.

Often upbeat, despite the rather relaxed mix and mastering of the album, LF&tTM features a variety of tunes that all share familiarity to each other while still being completely different in structure and theme.

For these reasons, and because it’s my most listened to album this year, does Riverside take the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to “Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)” – which pretty much captures the feeling of the album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN0uSZ8xNcs

Listen to the single, “Discard Your Fear”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc4MSBVLF2c

Honourable Mentions:

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

Kamelot – Haven

Moonspell – Extinct

George Kollias – Invictus

Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Faith No More – Sol Invictus

Kylsea – Exhausting Fire

Spectral Lore – Gnosis

Most Disappointed:

Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror

Annihilator – Suicide Society

Royal Hunt – Devil’s Dozen

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?