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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #8

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boom_thomas_alsop_008We have reached the end of the series and…I’m not sure I can say I am satisfied with the twist. In storytelling, we commit to a plotline, and when we learn that the journey has not been as it seemed, there is often a sense of betrayal. While it wasn’t quite like that in this series, there was a tinge of the feeling, and that brought about a range of mixed emotions as we closed the cover and thought over what it all meant.

We started off the issue with memories, but also a foreshadow. Thomas is recalling what he was doing during 9/11 and how his girlfriend was in one of the towers. You remember his girlfriend, the love of his life, Susie? Yes, commit her to memory, because she plays a larger part in this series than first realized. But that reveal comes later.

Thomas arrives at the scene of the remembrance and plays up the crowd with an overabundance of showmanship. It feels wrong, disrespectful, but it’s for a purpose. By stirring up the strong emotions, he can fuel the spell and release the souls. And by utilizing one more item in his family’s bag of tricks, he even manages to escape the cops who come after him, giving him long enough to go through the ritual and transport the soul box over to Emma while he is taken into custody. She ensures the souls were released to heaven. All seems to be going according to plan.

Though, I wonder if the assassination attempt was quite foretold. When an angry bystander pulls a gun on him, ranting that Thomas must pay for his sacrilege, not only does Thomas get shot, but Marcus as well when he tries to protect Thomas from the second bullet. But they’re alive, quickly transported into an ambulance, where Thomas says he just wants to get back home to Susie. That’s when everything you thought you knew about this story gets turned on its head.

We’ve seen Susie throughout this series, joining Thomas on multiple occasions. They were a happy couple, committed to one another. Except, it was all a lie. For ten years, Thomas has been living in a hallucination. Susie hasn’t been with him, because she’s been dead since the planes hit the towers. And if that weren’t bad enough, the morning of the attack, she had just revealed that she was pregnant. Piling on angst after angst.

So, how does this make us feel as readers? I am all for twist endings, and I enjoy when I can be surprised. But, there’s a difference in twists and deception. The latter is what I’m feeling now. Perhaps I’ll feel different once it’s sunk in, but for now, betrayal seems a good summary.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Graphic Novel Review: Seconds

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With 2014 beginning to fade from recent memory, it’s about time I write about my favorite graphic novel of the preceding year: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book Seconds. Released over the summer, it is O’Malley’s first published work since the last Scott Pilgrim installment was issued in 2010. The story follows Katie, a young chef trying to open another restaurant so she can leave Seconds (her first culinary establishment and the place where she lives in an apartment upstairs). After a dramatic incident in which a young waitress gets injured, Katie discovers her resident house spirit, who gives her a mushroom and an opportunity to erase a mistake and rewrite events. Soon afterward, Katie finds a patch of these mushrooms and begins abusing their power, despite Lis, the house spirit’s insistence that they should only be used once per person.

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Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The back of the book, with dust jacket partially pulled back to show the design underneath.

The book itself is beautiful. The half dust jacket and cover boards have different designs, giving it a unique style. I’m also a sucker for any novel that takes the color of the panel lines into account (props to the colorist, Nathan Fairbairn).

Seconds differs quite a bit from the Scott Pilgrim series, and more resembles his first graphic novel Lost at Sea. The book is a single, contained story, rather than a series released manga-style. The story also incorporates a narrator, though there is some witty banter exchanged between it and the main character, implying that the narrator may be an inner voice of Katie’s. These quirks bring the story to life. There are even some nods to Scott Pilgrim for O’Malley’s dedicated fans. (Scott and Ramona are eating in the restaurant on page 259, for example).

Main character Katie looking pretty cartoony next to her hunky new husband. (Ignore my appropriately themed bookmark in the upper right).

One of the Second’s flaws is its main character, which is admittedly sort of the point–she is flawed to a fault. As she digs herself farther into trouble by continuing to eat the mushrooms that erase her numerous mistakes, it seems to take an unbelievable amount of time for her to learn from these errors. She is hard to root for. Katie differs even in style from the others. O’Malley’s style is cartoony, but Katie’s design takes it to another level, as she is the only character with gravity-defying anime hair.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Seconds; no new story elements or decisions that set it far apart from other works, but it has just the right amount of humor, quirk, and design to make it pop. I want more graphic novels like this, with a single developed story that plays with narrative styles, and some nice resolution at the end. Seconds is worth checking out, and not just for Scott Pilgrim fans.

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Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet

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Book Review: A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington

Review by Prof. Jenn

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The re-publishing of Warrington’s lush vampire epic continues with A Dance in Blood Velvet–a story that takes place after They Lived Happily Ever After. Because hey, vampires really do have literally the opportunity to do so. However, as former humans with every human foible still intact, it’s not so simple. Relationships become tautly intertwined as Karl’s former companions reawaken and challenge what Charlotte has found and begun with her new life as a vampire. Charlotte herself is learning what sort of a vampire she is becoming as well as dealing with searing jeolousy which finds manifestation (or retaliation?) in her obsession with a ballerina.

Warrington has a gift for portraying realistic strong feelings and is an excellent author of character. Because of this, what we get in this sequel is not over-ornate romanticism but powerful driven characters, going for their objectives no matter what. The reader finds it hard to put the book down, as long as it is, because she must find out what happens next. As far as how it reads as a sequel, I can imagine someone coming into this story without having traveled with the characters before, as there is enough explanation (without info dumps) and opening discussions between Karl and Charlotte that one could hit the ground running without having read the first one. Though, you’ll want to read the first one too.

This book ends with a potential serial villain much in the vein of Batman’s Catwoman–definitely an antagonist and dangerous, but surprisingly not always not on our heroes’ side…and we are left with the idea that yes, we will be seeing this villain again.

Bottom Line: this series is extremely well written–A Dance in Blood Velvet is a taut, tense, exhilarating read.

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Comics Review: Crime Does Not Pay vol.8

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Comics Review: Crime Does Not Pay vol. 8: ed. Philip R. Simon

Review by Prof. Jenn

cdnp8The 8th volume of vintage comics, Crime Does Not Pay, is an entertaining collection of not only vintage true crime comic stories but a delightful and instructional collection of vintage ads as well. Remember when I reviewed volume 5? Well volume 8 is even more entertaining as well as historically educational.

The true crime stories in this volume are more gruesome than in volume 5, and more diverse, as we have female villains in this as well as your customary male ’30s-’40s gangster types. The ghostly narrator character is back, celebrating his acolytes’ descent into worse and worse malfeasance, until their comeuppance causes the repeated declaration, Crime Does Not Pay. The art is colorful and newspaper-y in style, and the ads are a continued delight in historical study and odd nostalgia, as are the letters to the editor. Two dollars for a published letter? Count me in…

Bottom Line: The Crime Does Not Pay series is a fun read and an excellent exercise in edutainment.

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Our Trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

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Author’s note: this article is very picture-heavy. Feel free to click on any of the images to enlarge them, and skip to the bottom for an album of more images.
 

badgeRecently, the fine people over at the NASA Kennedy Space Center invited me to attend a SpaceX launch as a Social Media attendee. This was pretty awesome news – they only extend this invitation to 50 people per launch.

Unfortunately, we got news the day before the launch that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch had been postponed a few weeks due to issues encountered while testing the Falcon rocket. Getting that news was kind of a bummer, but we were promised a special surprise to make up for it, and NASA delivered.

After arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, we got our media badges, and then boarded a bus with a NASA Social sign in the front window. Some introductions were made, and some of these internet socialites already knew each other. One thing I can say for sure was that everyone who attended this event was amazingly friendly and welcoming.

DSC_0041We were driven around the KSC for a little while, hearing facts about the building of the KSC in the 60s. We heard about how the KSC is home to many species of wildlife, and saw evidence of this – including alligators in the canals lining the road, and an enormous eagle’s nest in a tree just off the road. We chatted with each other, exchanged stories and interests, and heard many anecdotes such as “Of course a bus full of NASA nerds are also Firefly fans!”

DSC_0055Our first destination of the day was a launchpad used for – you guessed it – launching large things into space! On our way, however, we saw a couple of Crawlers. Crawlers are what NASA uses to move large objects across the property. Objects such as spacecrafts, rockets, and mobile launch platforms. The crawlers are gyroscopically stable, meaning that no matter what bumps and turbulence they encounter, their cargo will not be affected.

Once we got to the launchpad, we were brought into the actual launchpad, right were shuttles are loaded, and where the launch fire comes out. The walls were scorched by decades of previous launches. The sound suppression system was enormous. You’ll see it in the pictures below – it’s used to make sure windows don’t get smashed all over Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach whenever there’s a launch.

DSC_0073Next, we were taken to check out a couple of mobile launch platforms. When a crawler is used to move this platform, it will be positioned underneath the mobile launch platform, and will then lift it off the pillars it stands on to move it. The scaffolding on the mobile platform to the left here is used to position a shuttle against. It’s ridiculously huge. The pictures don’t really do a great job of showing how huge it is. We also went underneath a mobile platform, and stood where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water would be flushed through to counteract the heat from a shuttle launching. It was pretty awesome.

Then came the really big surprise. We were told we’d be able to see the spacecraft, Orion, but not that we would get to participate in a full press conference for the return of Orion. This particular Orion spacecraft flew 66,000 miles out and around the Earth. It met 85 out of 87 flight objectives, which is extremely high. Orion’s mission was to collect data, and it was considered a success. Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean, and was then transported to the East Coast over about 8 days via roads and highways to get to the Kennedy Space Center. Coming up in February, Orion’s heat shield will be removed for further analysis. Various parts of the space craft will be removed for testing and data analysis, but for the most part, it will remain in tact for display and/or simulations because of how well it held up in space. And of course.. I took a couple selfies with Orion. Wouldn’t you?

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After the big Orion reveal, we were given access to the KSC’s Visitor Complex. I’m honestly surprised that NASA’s pretty amazing marketing team hasn’t come up with a better name for the Visitor Complex. It’s not some stuffy building with a desk and pamphlets like you might expect. No.. the KSC Visitor Complex is like Disneyland for space. It’s a lot of fun. There are rides, exhibits, simulations. If you’re ever around Cape Canaveral, I definitely recommend checking it out. You could easily spend a whole day there.

Despite the launch woes, the trip was a lot of fun, and definitely worth it. A huge THANK YOU!! goes to NASA (and especially Jason!) for the opportunity. 
If you’re interested in the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch, it is currently scheduled for Saturday, January 10th at 4:47am. More info will be posted on the SpaceX website
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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #7

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boom_thomas_alsop_007The 9/11 memorial is quickly coming up, and Thomas is determined to be there…even if it means breaking the law to do so. I feel like the end of this series can only be a success for him, but at times I doubt the through line.

When we start the issue, Thomas is still being detained down at the police station. The detectives on his case are of no use, and are trying to keep Thomas in custody overnight, just long enough to ensure he misses the ceremony. His lawyer, Mr. Hughes, has decided to take matters in his own hands if Thomas has any hope of getting out. Hughes distracts the detectives long enough for Thomas to do some magical slips out to freedom.

This is one of the many times I have issues with the “random magical item there to save the day” but it also underlies a problem with the universe as a whole. At times, Thomas seems to be using his position to his own financial advantage, but at other times he keeps all these magical ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ abilities pushed to the side until he can flash them in an emergency. I was hoping for more consistency as we went on, but I don’t feel like we’ve gotten it. Small issues, though, and things I can overlook for the grand scheme of things.

Upon Thomas’ escape, he calls the mayor to tell him to call off the cops, but the mayor refuses. Then he tries to get up with Emma Caldwell, but she’s a little busy at the moment. Instead, he’s left to fend for himself, and dealing with the public is going to be quite difficult. He gets in a fight with the locals on a ferry and then they throw him overboard. Cue the memory flashback that enforces the lesson he learned way back then – he needs to get back up and keep fighting, even when it seems he’s already lost. He takes that advice now, and onward we go.

Out of the river, he goes to see Arnica, who has a client (Albert) tied up and gagged, as she was in the middle of a scene. She lets him use her phone to call Marcus and Thomas asks for help – show the live feed of the exorcism on the blog so that he can harness the power of multiple people believing to make the magic stronger. With that done, he heads out, with The O on his trail. Emma’s having the same problem, and they both manage to do away with them, temporarily for Thomas and seemingly permanently for Emma. I want to know what she did on that beach, because she’s got some serious power behind her to achieve such a feat.

As we end the issue, The O follow Thomas to the bar he had previously mentioned in a tweet, and thankfully a group of fans eventually show up to dissuade a bloody showdown. The group puts off The O temporarily, though Thomas vows to destroy them once he’s done with the 9/11 event. Will he even make it through the event? And if he does, is he in any place to follow through on his threat? We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming

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Book Review: Chicks Dig Gaming ed. by Brozek, Pearson, Smith?, & Rabe

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Books of this nature can easily fall into the trap of redundancy. Witness my review for Queers Dig Timelords, another anthology of this ilk, and indeed in this series. Chicks Dig Gaming does not, however, fall prey to the trap. The collection of essays span from wicked satire to sweet nostalgic memoir, to a celebration of gaming in general or certain games, a recounting of a particular gaming event, to analysis of a game or game trope, a recounting of the history of video games, to the ever-important discussion of the unfair and even dangerous treatment of women in the gaming world. This collection doesn’t only discuss video games, but board games, LARPing and pen-and-paper RPGs are discussed as well.

My problem with Queers…, as you recall, was that the essays all had the same tone and even the same subject matter (Doctor Who changed my life because…). This, especially read in big sections in one sitting, started to grate on the nerves, or at least became repetitive fawning. Chicks...doesn’t do this, as each essay has an author voice distinct from every other, and the topics at hand vary widely. I commend the editors for this, as it’s an entertaining as well as an informative read throughout.

Highlights of this collection include: a satirical look at the lack of boys in video gaming and what we can do about it, a paralleling of Mario to a bodhisattva and the Mario games to Buddhism, how one author who didn’t like video games at all tried Portal, and a delightfully written description of how another author learned to get cutthroat in Eve Online.

Bottom Line: this collection is highly recommended for anyone who loves any games.

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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #6

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boom_thomas_alsop_006I am ready for the action, and we’re hopefully nearing it since we’re down to the last three issues of this series. What will happen on 9/11? Will Thomas defeat Neziah or will the island be damned forever? I am hoping we’ll see something explosive coming down the line because so far it’s been more of a waiting game.

Even though Thomas is beaten and bloody, he is determined not to give up. He’s got a destiny and he’s finally living up to it in all the ways he was meant to. We soon learn that the ghost who made off with the box is someone Thomas is familiar with – Randall (Smoke) Clever, an old engineer who was cursed to his form by Neziah Bliss and has haunted the subway ever since. Well, that’s the first story we got. We soon learn that Randall was Neziah’s lover, and that he was cursed into his form because Neziah got Tunde to raise him from the dead. Don’t tick off a powerful Shaman because he will mess with the spell he was supposed to do, twisting it into a form it was not meant to be.

Thomas manages to regroup, heading to the Alsop Family Armory for supplies before taking on Randall. While I enjoy the vast array of items in the armory, I get tired to the multiple panels that show us items that aren’t of immediate importance. And, also, considering Thomas didn’t even use the items for Randall, but instead handed them over to Emma for safe-keeping, it’s less likely readers will recall their significance month to month. Maybe just show the items one at a time as he’s using them, which would help my memory better.

Thomas does eventually deal with Randall, I guess for good? The smoke ghost eats a finger that’s been stored in the armory and he seems to disappear, so I’m going with the theory that the storyline for him is over. Now Thomas needs to deal with Neziah, The London Rose, and the whole 9/11 fiasco. That is, if he can get out of jail in time. That’s right, we end the issue with Thomas getting arrested. The poor man just can’t get a break, can he? Until next issue, it’s onward and upward as we head toward the climax of this series.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Delusion: The Best Haunted Attraction In Southern California (And Possibly Anywhere Else)

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I am a huge horror nerd. I love scary movies with spooky soundtracks, Halloween is my favorite holiday, and October makes me the happiest because it means my friends and I get to visit all the worthy haunted attractions in the Los Angeles area. We’ve done the typical LA staples like Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, Knott’s Scary Farm, the Haunted Hayride, etc. They’re fun and charming in their own way, but Delusion surpasses them all easily!

Appropriately named, Jon Braver is the genius behind this live, interactive, chill inducing “Haunted Play” that not only relies on some incredible production value, but includes some of the best live actors I’ve ever seen. The best part of this attraction is that the story changes every single year, and this latest one, about author Elena Fitzgerald’s literary (and not so friendly) character creations coming to life, is my favorite yet. I loved it so much I went twice this year! And, to be honest, my favorite part is seeing my friends who never get scared, actually freak out. No fake chainsaws needed here!

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The location has also changed each year, so none of us lucky (or unlucky?) visitors have any idea what to expect, and, this year, they secured an enormous, super creepy old house in the historic West Adams district. It was truly remarkable to see how each room in the house was staged in detail to really help the audience feel like they’re part of the story and to up the psychological thriller factor to the holy sh** degree.

There’s not a single negative thing I can say about Delusion. The actors are insanely talented, the atmosphere and special effects are jaw dropping, the musical score is spine tingling, and even the welcoming and social media staff are lovely. Fans are called Delusioners, so I’m gonna go ahead and call myself a Delusionerd. I’ve been one since my first, amazing Haunted Play experience, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.

Rightfully so, this event sells out immediately, but, lucky for you, they release new dates every so often so make sure to sign up for their official website newsletter, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook.

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Fellow nerd celebrities are big fans of Delusion, too!

Screenshot from 2014-11-07 17:02:50

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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #5

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boom_thomas_alsop_005It’s a constant struggle between Thomas and the public, as the world is slowly turning against him in his pursuit to save the souls of 9/11. His approach might not be the best, but his motivations seem solid. If only he could make it out of this with his reputation intact.

We start off the issue with Thomas interrupting a late night talk show. He comes in and uses his appearance as a platform to make an announcement about his current case. Jovial acceptance soon turns negative as Thomas talks about what he’s planning to do. Thomas says he’s going to perform an exorcism at the site of the towers on the 10th anniversary of 9-11. This seemingly crazy talk gets him permanently banned from the talk show. It seems the public is willing to go along with his paranormal talk as long as it’s good entertainment, but using the memories of people lost in tragedy is a step too far. I wonder if they will all forgive him if his plan succeeds.

Thomas keeps going on shows, talking about the case, and is continually labeled as insane. However, his promotion team is trying to spin the situation to their advantage. If they can make it seem like he was only kidding, if he tries for forgiveness, maybe his brief stint of craziness will be forgotten? But he’s not going to let anyone dissuade him, not even those closest to him. Finally, his producer gets fed up with him and casts him aside. Both public and private opinion is solidly against him.

And if that wasn’t enough, Thomas gets summoned to a meeting of the Five Families. They question his methods, mad over the fact he talked so publicly about the upcoming spell. Nothing really gets settled, and he leaves to hit some bars around town, tweeting his progress the whole way. It seems that Thomas has a motive for his actions. He is building up energy through public hate, meant to fuel his spell.

And with the last component, the hidden box, he would be in a good place to move forward with his plan. But that is going to prove to be the hardest to obtain. He almost has it, but then a ghost creature emerges and grabs it away. Will Thomas get the box back? Will he be able to go through with his spell and save all those lost souls? We have to wait until the next issue to find out.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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