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For the past couple of months I’ve been hosting Comic Book, Etc. Nerd Trivia at My Parents Basement Comic Book Bar in Avondale Estates, Georgia. In a short time, the game has grown quite popular and I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some old friends and meet plenty of news ones. I’ve been hosting general trivia games with Outspoken Entertainment for a couple of years and I’ve sneaked a fair share of Batman questions here and there, but I’d always had a larger comic book game in the back of the mind. One of the owners and an old friend Tim approached me over a year ago about asking some trivia questions at their Dollar A Pound Comic Book Yard Sales that they held leading up to and to raise money for the opening of the bar. These yard sales were fun affairs with beer, barbecue, music, and of course, comic books. I’d set up a table, sell some art (not much (sad emoji)), and ask a few questions and folks could win bags of comics. When they opened the bar last summer (2015), the response was tremendous. I have a ‘comic book’ news alert on my Google news and every day there was a new article about my friends’ comic book bar. After a few months of continued success, Tim thought they were ready for trivia and I hosted the first game on December 1, 2015 to three teams made up of employees- not a great start, but not uncommon for a bar’s first game. I was a little worried, especially since conventional trivia knowledge dictates that winter is the worst time of year to try to start a game. My worries have since subsided as our last game hinged on standing room only. I think everybody that has come so far has had fun and will keep coming back.

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The spot is actually in the old building of the James Joyce Pub and can be found just outside of downtown Decatur near the set of Scream 2 and the Waffle House Museum, just past the Avondale Estates border. Firstly, there’s a lot of nice things to say about the bar itself. The parking situation is divine and if you don’t drive, it’s a short walk from the Avondale MARTA Station. They have a phenomenal patio, which is where I host the games. It’s actually quite toasty in the winter thanks to modern science. Inside, the decorations are special, many one-of-a-kind treasures and something new every week. I can’t speak to the food as I haven’t eaten it, but some of it smells really good. Their beer menu will impress your friends if your friends are into beer menus. I drink their craft root beer every week and I love it. It’s syrup-heavy and light on the bubbles. The owners are wonderful. All of the staff that I’ve dealt with has been beyond delightful. Having hosting games all over Atlanta and its surrounding villages, I’ve been witness to how many restaurants and bars operate and this one is special. They actually save the discarded golf pencils from the week before and give them to me when I return. That’s just one example of their courtesy. From what I can tell, they’re kind and courteous to the customers, each other, and me. As far as trivia locations go, every place will give the winners a gift certificate to the restaurant. I’ve hosted a few $100 games too where my company puts up some cash to drive excitement. However, My Parents Basement does something different. In addition to gift certificates to the spot, they also give tangibly fun prizes like comics, funko pops, beer coozies, wall art, key chains, and more.

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I write the games themselves and we’ve had a few theme games. The week that the Force Awakens awoke, we hosted a Star Wars themed game. On December 23, the categories were themed around Christmas Carols, but the content remained comic book, etc. nerd subjects. In honor of Alan Rickman’s passing, I created a round based on his characters in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Harry Potter films, Alice in Wonderland, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The February 9th game will contain elements to celebrate Spring Festival. On February 16th, I’m excited to host a game that celebrates the contributions of black creators and the adventures of black characters for Black History Month. Similarly, I look forward to hosting at least one game for Women’s History Month in March (along with a Batman v. Superman game, of course!). My enthusiasm might surprise you because I’m not black or a woman, but you forget that I’m an historian and I love history months! As I put together the game for Black History Month, I’m reminded of the embarrassing lack of characters of color in mainstream nerd media. I think creating such a trivia game would be a good exercise for the editors and executives that oversee the modes of production. It would be impossible I think to create a meaningful trivia game about transgender characters for a mainstream audience at this point in our history and it’s still pretty difficult to do it for black characters. I remember Daniel Amrhein  did some exhaustive research about representation in the big superhero teams over the course of a year at Dragon Con a few years back. He did his best to quantify how different characters of different races, genders, and maybe sexual preference or religion compared in terms of appearances in big titles like X-Men, Justice League, and Avengers. He kept having to qualify his findings by pointing out that “yes, Wolverine is non-American, but he’s white non-American” or “technically four women heroes appear in fifty-something panels, but they only say a combined three and a half sentences.” As I put together the games, his remarks resonate with me as the difficulty isn’t simply having characters of color, but having characters of color that matter. (If you ever get a chance to hear Daniel speak, he puts together a really good presentation and provides ample evidence for his conclusions.) One way to gauge how a character matters is to see if a general audience can answer a trivia question about them. Luckily, the players of my games aren’t a general audience. These folks are pretty clever, well-read, well-watched, and well-versed. The players have gotten into any fights or shoot-outs or orgies or anything; pretty civilized.

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If you find yourself in the Atlanta area on a Tuesday with an urge to show off whatever wisdom you’ve siphoned from a lifetime of watching cartoons, reading comics, and shouting at video games, I welcome you to join us for a game. You might win something, see a celebrity, fall in love, who knows? If you find yourself in the Atlanta area on a Wednesday in a similar mood, I hear there’s a geek trivia game in Sandy Springs that I haven’t check out yet, but maybe you and I could go together. We’d probably make a great team. If it’s Thursday, I think you’ll have to find something to do, but Tuesday will come quicker than you think. Before you attend, you may want to go and ‘like’ the facebook page because I give away an answer every week. While you’re on that darn facebook, you should go ahead and like the page for this site.

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With LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham coming out in the US in just a few days (November 11, 2014), I picked up its Bizarro version LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. As longtime readers of this blog know, I am much more a DC Comics fan than a Marvel Comics fan, which speaks more to my fondness for DC properties than for any love lost between Marvel and I. If I had all the time and money in the world, I’d probably read Marvel Comics too…and I’d probably read them while traveling the world by boat and train. However my clock and pocketbook have limits, so I’m a Marvel fan like the majority of Marvel fans- I’ve seen the movies and I watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD every week. I also dabble in the Marvel video games, which, like most comic book video games, are hit and miss. Captain America: Super Soldier? Hit. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Miss, but Silver Surfer serves a central role in the LEGO game and it works really well.

I’m a believer that certain superheroes produce better video games than others because of their powers. Because of the limitations for characters like Batman and Captain America, they make for better games than more powerful heroes with more complicated power sets like Superman and Green Lantern. Flying characters bring their own problems and their success lies in the gameplay- is it easy to control Iron Man’s suit? how fluid is Spidey’s swinging? Wolverine is a unique character because of his famous healing factor. Characters with hyper-developed mental abilities like Jean Grey and Professor X (or Maxwell Lord and Hector Hammond, if you like) also present challenges for video game platforms. How do your remotely control a metahuman brain with less than ten buttons and your meager human brain? Other characters with power sets that overwhelm almost any situation like Magneto or the Sentinels require the player to forgive a necessary weakening of the character in order to make them playable.

In the case of Magneto, LEGO lucks out as LEGOs are not magnetic, making a LEGOverse a severe handicap to Magneto. The LEGO approach to superhero gaming actually works incredibly well and not just for Magneto. Some characters suffer, but their suffering is presented in a way that 1) recognizes its limitations and 2) tries to soften it up with humor. Two particular characters come to mind. In the DC universe, we find Green Lantern being able to assemble a few green legos that no one else can assemble and while that’s a far cry from being able to create unlimited light constructs, LEGO makes reference to the classic Highball Hal Jordan’s repertoire by having him build boxing gloves and bowling balls. In the Marvel universe, Mr. Fantastic is only able to take advantage of his stretchiness when certain triggers in the game allow it. When standing on a 4 platform, he turns into situation specific shapes- something I imagine we can expect from Plastic Man in the LEGO Batman 3– and most of them are humorous. Similar he can slip through grates as long they’ve been clearly marked as passable grates.

Humor is a huge element in the LEGO games and LEGO Marvel really brings it. All of the LEGO games have the player building ridiculous things for ridiculous reasons. Because LEGO has chosen such content rich franchises as Star Wars and Harry Potter, they’ve been able to integrate into their games many in-jokes for fans of those franchises. While the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones franchises have a great deal of content to draw from, those franchises pale in comparison to either Marvel or DC in terms of source material. Even as a modest Marvel I was able to pick up on many of the game’s jokes such as Stan Lee drinking a contaminated soda a la The Incredible Hulk. Being only a Marvel novice, I’m sure I missed plenty of winks, giggles, and Easter Eggs. Several characters appear in the game that I don’t recognize and I think that’s great. I hope hardcore Marvel fans really appreciate all the little details put into the game. As a hardcore DC fan, I’m expecting a sophisticated awesomeness from LEGO Batman 3 and the pre-release hype has got me pretty excited. Some of my favorite more obscure characters have already appeared in promotional materials- Frankenstein, Detective Chimp, Swamp Thing, and so many Lanterns including my two favorite Red Lanterns Bleez and Dex-Starr. You’ll also be able to play as real like folks like Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Kevin Smith, and Adam West- maybe in the fourth installment you’ll be able to play as a real-life woman. Maybe the adorably rad Tiffany Smith from DC All Access or iconic refrigerator inspector Gail Simone.

In LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, you can wear lots of Iron Man’s suits including the original, War Machine, Iron Patriot, and even Pepper Pots. Costumes from different points in the lives of the Fantastic Four, Spider-man, and certain X-Men are available. You can even choose between the Mandarin from the comics and the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. With LEGO Batman 3, the creators actually have less cinema to draw from than the Marvel folks, but they have a longer comics history, an expanding television universe, and a long string of brilliant Elseworlds tales to draw from.

In signing off, let me just mention that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an underrated console game.  I’m bummed Arkham Knight isn’t coming to Wii U. I want to see Cheetah in Injustice 2, I’m really enjoying the Injustice comics, and I don’t understand why the Mortal Kombat series have to be in the Injustice games at all. I don’t know how I feel about having a Joker in the Suicide Squad movie, but then again, I don’t how I’d feel about a Suicide Squad movie without Harley Quinn. The whole thing just tears me apart like a string of LEGO blocks.

 

 

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Upon the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I’ve felt a slight discomfort with the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite characters of all time, and more importantly, I think Eisenberg will do a great job as Lex Luthor. My discomfort comes from the difficulty is separating Eisenberg from his Jewish heritage. Eisenberg is not the first Jew to play Lex Luthor- Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum played an incredible Lex- but part of Eisenberg’s charm is how well he personifies many of the characteristics that pop culture finds endearing about the way Jews behave. He’s not Woody Allen, but he played him once in a movie. Does he play up to Jewish stereotypes? Sure, to some extent, but he’s also embraced roles that challenged popular conceptions of Jews, such as playing an Orthodox Jewish MDMA smuggler in Holy Rollers. Eisenberg is Jewish and deserves a certain amount of consideration when he portrays Jews positively or negatively as it is his own culture he’s representing. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, Jews has suffered negative portrayals by gentiles and while it is a generally accepted dramatic trope, negative Jewish stereotypes are usually identified by the Anti-Defamation League swiftly and often make news. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I’ve come to tolerate the negative depiction of Jews as unavoidable symptom of a larger systemic social problem and rarely make a crusade about the way Jews are presented. As the husband of a Chinese woman, I’ve probably become more sensitive to the portrayal of Chinese people in Western media than I am to representations of Jews that reinforce stereotypes.

So……………………

what’s wrong with a Jewish Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor plays to some very specific Jewish stereotypes

1) Lex Luthor is the smartest man in the world. This point may be argued by Michael Holt or Ray Palmer, but it is generally accepted in the DC Universe that Lex Luthor is the smartest man on Earth. When I was living in China, the most common reaction to the discovery of my Jewish heritage was: “This is why you are so clever.” or “The Jews are very clever.” While this is not really a negative stereotype, it is a stereotype and one that makes the lives of Jewish children with learning disabilities doubly difficult. Is unforgivable to portray Jews as intelligent? No. Is it racist to portray Jews as intelligent? I’m not sure if it is. The belief that Jews are somehow smarter than others is rooted in the Jewish tradition of revering scholarship. Many cultures place an emphasis on education, but there is something special about the role education plays in the development of Jewish identity, both communally and for the individual.

2) Lex Luthor is the richest man in the world. Lex is not only one of the richest people in the DC Universe, but he has obtained his wealth through the type of ruthless business behaviors that non-Jews have frequently accused Jews of engaging in. Of course, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor won’t be as damaging as Bernie Madoff or any of the very Lex-Luthorian types of Jewish descent that the US government has an irrational fear of prosecuting. The stereotype that Jews have lots of money is hardly new. The phenomenon of Jewish wealth can largely be traced back to the limiting of opportunities for Jews by the gentile populatins in which they lived. The inability to own land and Christian opposition to usury can both be credited with encouraging a tradition of finance and trade in Jewish communities, making both finance and trade elemental to the Jewish economy and to Jewish social mobility.

3) Superman is Jesus. As we all know, Superman was created by a couple of nice Jewish boys from Ohio and the comic book industry itself was largely created by Jews, borrowing many of its production strategies from the garment industry where Jews were also prevalent. Why did these Jews make a caped Jesus? The Christ-like nature of Superman has always been there. While Superman’s origin story greatly mirrors the story of Moses, we should pay attention to some differences in the two stories. Moses liberates his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians while Superman liberates a foreign population from the tyranny of themselves and external forces of Darkness. Superman is Jor-El’s only son. Jor-El gives his only son to the people of Earth- people he largely look down upon while simultaneously adoring them (sounds like any god you’ve heard of?). The messianic nature of Superman is well-documented and generally accepted, so I won’t go into too much detail here and will assume that you accept that the idea of “Superman as Christ” has legitimacy. Lex Luthor hates Superman- perpetuating the idea that Jews hated Jesus or willfully contributed to his crucifixion is an irresponsible assessment of the relationship Jesus had he with members of his own community.

For these reasons, I’m a little uncomfortable with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, but as a comic fan, I have no doubt that he will do a better job than Kevin Spacey, the worst Lex Luthor of all time. My favorite Lex so far? Either Clancy Brown or Anthony LaPaglia.

Honestly, I might be more excited about the Son of Batman animated movie that was recently announced more than the Man of Steel sequel.

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To see more pictures from Dragon Con, click HERE

(warning: some pictures might not be suitable for all audiences)

Dragon Con this year went pretty well. I enjoyed nearly every panel which I attended, which was considerably less this year as I volunteered for the first time. As usual, the panels from the academic conference were the most interesting. I must admit I had the most fun at my panel, “Comics Through A Socio-Political Lens.” The other speakers were very nice and delivered witty papers. The crowd was engaging and even included a real life superhero- Jet from the Rock City, Alabama! I got to speak with a lot of artists and writers, such as Neal Adams, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Connor, Brian Stelfreeze, Darwyn Cooke, Van Jensen, and others. Because I was a volunteer, I ended up meeting a lot of movie and TV stars including Malcolm Macdowell, George Takei, Edward James Olmos, and the guy who plays Hank on Grimm. I did feel a bit starstruck meeting the cast of Smallville, especially Allison Mack- talking to her was just like talking to Chloe Sullivan. Supergirl is even more beautiful in real life and Brainiac has been working out. The other volunteers I met were generally nice. Some of them were more interesting than others.

The most interesting person I met wasn’t actually a guest at Dragon Con. I was walking out the Marriott when I spotted a guy wearing a Strange Talent of Luther Strode t-shirt and I complimented him on it. It turns out he’s Tradd Moore and he gave me a copy of Luther Strode Vol. 2, which was pretty sweet.

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To see more pictures from Dragon Con, click HERE

After Dragon Con, I realize that I left two great titles from the past year off the list of best comics. Obviously the omission of Luther Strode is a bit embarrassing and perhaps even a little corrupt in light of his recent generosity, but it’s definitely a book that stood out this year. The other omission is the unreasonably controversial and incredibly well-done Before Watchmen series, which I really feel like rereading after hearing Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Connor talk about it.

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To see more pictures from Dragon Con, click HERE

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