StarFest bound!

Starfest2019

Thanks to the wonder that is scheduled posting here on the blog thing, by the time you read this my hetero life mate Kevin and I will be on our way to Denver for the annual StarFest Convention!

(Be sure to click on the link and check out the guest line-up. William Shatner. Nichelle Nichols. Ben Browder from Farscape! Rick Sternbach! Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead! Peter Macon from The Orville! And many more!)

I’ve run out of fingers to keep an accurate count of this sort of thing, but I’m reminded that this will be our 17th consecutive year attending as guests of the con. Regular readers know that this show and Shore Leave are my two favorite conventions to attend, and the two I make every effort not to miss. Indeed, I make sure to lock in my availability for these shows before committing to anything else.

AvailableLight-coverWhat’ll we be up to this weekend? The usual sorts of convention shenanigans. We’ll have our tables in the vendor area, of course, and I’ll have with me minty fresh copies of Available Light and other titles, all ready for the autographing and such.

We’ll also be participating in programming, including the guest meet-n-greet on Friday night. We help out with the talent show and the big costume contest on Saturday evening, and we’ll be serving up another couple of Late Night Movie Action with Dayton and Kevin. On Friday it’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension as this cult classic celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2019. For Saturday, we’re presenting Once Upon A Deadpool (aka, “the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2“), which is actually a follow up to our screening of the first Deadpool flick at last year’s StarFest. It’s a whole sequel observance kind of thing, offered in the spirit of good old-fashioned family entertainment.

Beyond that? I’m sure we’ll find some kind of trouble to get into.

If you’re reading this and planning to attend the con, be sure to swing by and say hello!

GoneTrekkin

Happy 80th Birthday, Lee Majors!

The Six Million Dollar Man himself celebrates his 80th birthday today!

It’s been a bit since I saw him pop up anywhere. He looked great from the photos I saw from the set of Fuller House where he along with Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner guest-starred last year. They both still look great, and I hope I have half his energy when I’m his age.

Also? I fervently maintain that Lee Majors has the manliest running stride in the history of running men. Fight me.

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Geek Fact: When I was a kid, I so wanted a jacket like the one in this pic.

Geek Fact 2: I kinda still do.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Majors!

It’s William Shatner’s birthday, everybody!

Today we’re celebrating the 88th birthday of the Man himself. Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911 Guy, Denny Crane, Priceline Negotiator, and CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS BY GOD KIRK.

:: ahem. ::

The one and only William Shatner: 88 years old, and still running circles around people half his age. I’ll have what he’s having.

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Happy Birthday, sir. May you enjoy many more.

Happy 55th anniverary to The Last Man On Earth!

“Another day to live through. Better get started.”


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At least some of you know that I rank Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend among my very favorite books. I read it for the first time when I was 11 or 12 after a chance discovery at a neighborhood library and was immediately hooked.

The story of Robert Neville, who believes he’s the lone survivor after a plague sweeps over humanity in the novel’s “far off” future of 1976 and turns most if not all people into “vampires,” is considered by many to be the first “modern vampire novel.” Additionally, there are those who’ll tell you it’s also a forerunner to the modern genre of “zombie” books, comics, films, and TV series. I long ago lost count of the number of times I reread this book just during my teenage years, and to this day it’s a story I still revisit on occasion when the mood strikes.

In addition to serving as inspiration or just flat out being ripped off for other books, comics, films, and whatnot in the decades since its publication, I Am Legend has itself been “officially” adapted for film three times: 1964’s The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price, 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Also in 2007, The Asylum, the direct-to-home video powerhouse, released an “unauthorized” version they dubbed I Am Omega which they hoped would cash in on the hype surrounding the Will Smith movie.

But hey! Only one of those flicks is celebrating its 55th birthday today, and that’s why we’re here.

Released on this date in 1964, The Last Man On Earth is, so far as I’m concerned, the most faithful adaptation of Matheson’s novel. This, despite Matheson himself not being satisfied with the finished product even though he helped with the screenplay. Produced on a very low budget and filmed in Italy, the film does deviate from the book in several respects, such as Neville being named “Robert Morgan,” and his occupation being changed to that of a scientist. Fans of the novel know that Neville begins the book as a worker at some kind of plant, largely ignorant of things like biology or viruses and related subjects, and much of the story involves him teaching himself these things so he can understand how the plague came to be and (later) to see whether a cure can be found.

Morgan’s encounter with a seemingly uninfected woman, Ruth, is the same in the broad strokes, including her real reason for crossing his path and that she’s been sent as a spy by a group of vampires who’ve learned to live with the plague and control its effects so that they can attempt rebuilding society. The movie’s ending also amps up action of the final confrontation with Morgan/Neville and the vampires as well as how said fight ends up playing out.

These differences work well enough for the film’s version of the story, though the production’s limited budget definitely shows around the edges so far as casting and production design. What does work is thanks largely to the presence of Vincent Price, one of the great genre actors of his generation. He seems miscast here, despite providing a solid if generally subdued performance. Regardless, The Last Man On Earth still feels right at home with other favorite 1950s science fiction and horror movies.

When I was a kid, the film was one of those which would pop up on Saturday afternoons on the local UHF TV channel, which is how I discovered and came to love so many great science fiction and monster movies of the 1950s and 60s. It’s conceivable I’m the only person I know who cared enough to even buy the movie on DVD when it was released by MGM in 2006. I guess it’s because I found it during that “golden age” of childhood fandom that I’m more forgiving of it than I am The Omega Man and the 2007 I Am Legend. Maybe one of these days we’ll get a proper, honest to goodness adaptation but until then? The Last Man On Earth will have to do.

Or, we could all just go and read the book again.

Listen to me talking Trek on ODYSY Radio’s Trek 360!

That’s right, you read that correctly. I’ve been babbling again.

This time, I sit down with Jarrod Cooper, host of Trek 360, a new Star Trek-themed podcast on the ODYSY Radio network which takes a look at things beyond the television episodes and movies. Though the program’s just getting started, Jarrod plans to interview all manner of folks involved with Star Trek in some form or another, including writers such as…well…me.

Yep! For the program’s second episode, Jarrod corralled me to yammer for a bit about writing Star Trek novels, including the new wrinkles being introduced in the last couple of years now that there’s a new television series in production (and more on the way!) and constantly adding to the vast “Star Trek canon.” It’s been a long time since that was a serious consideration, after all, but hey! Times, they are a’changin’, amirite?

We also talk a little about my involvement with the early development of the “living campaign” for Star Trek Adventures, the role-playing game produced by Modiphius and which is continuing to take the tabletop RPG world by storm. This ends up being a nice segue for Jarrod, as he swivels from talking to me to interviewing my good friend Jim Johnson, who as we speak is neck-deep in the game while working as a line editor helping to develop new products for it. He’s got a lot of cool news and juicy details to share, so if you’re into the game be sure to check that out.

Have a listen, whydontcha?

Trek 360, Episode 2 – February 18th, 2019

Many thanks to Jarrod for having me on the show. Maybe we can do it again some time!

ArtCon after action report!

This past weekend, Kevin and I ventured from Kansas City down to Neosho, Missouri to participate in the first ever ArtCon.

Hosted by the Neosho Arts Council and sponsored by a number of local businesses, the con was the first of its kind for the area. Kevin and I were honored to be among the con’s inaugural “featured guests” alongside comics gurus Jeremy Haun, Megan Levens, and Ande Parks. All of us have ties to the region, which made this even more fun.

Expectations for this initial wading into the waters of pop culture fandom were modest, but I’m happy to report that fans coming to partake of the action ended up blowing the doors off the Neosho Civic Center. Fans of all ages came – and kept coming – all day long. I talked with enough people that I ended up with my usual “con hoarse voice” after just the one day, rather than the usual two, and Kevin and I managed to push quite a few books along the way.

And there were food trucks. Brisket. Food trucks and brisket. Oh, my…..

Related – Joplin Globe: Neosho ArtCon Draws Local Fans

It was a great day all around, and I offer my sincere thanks to Sarah Serio and the Neosho Arts Council for inviting us to join them in the fun. Maybe we can do it again some time!

L-R: Me, Kevin Dilmore, Ande Parks, Megan Levens, Jeremy Haun
photo credit: Sarah Serio

Kevin and I are at ArtCon today!

Thanks to the wonder that is scheduled posting, by the time this goes live Kevin and I will already be on the road and heading south from Kansas City, on our way to picturesque Neosho, Missouri and the Neosho Art Council’s first-ever ArtCon!

As indicated above, this is a new venture for Neosho, but they seem to be attracting some attention from the local media outlets. In addition to Kevin and myself, comics aces Megan Levens, Jeremy Haun, and Ande Parks will also be on hand. All of us have ties to the Kansas-Missouri region, which is what the ArtCon folks were looking for when they started inviting guests.

(For those who might be wondering, Kansas City and the surrounding area is home to a veritable plethora of creators, from prose to comics to art and sculpture and other crafting goodness, cosplay and re-enactors, and the performing arts. We’ve got some game here, yo. Shit! Games! Game peeps call this place home, too.)

FunFact #1: When I was still in the Corps, we would travel to Camp Crowder, the National Guard base located there (it was somewhat larger than it is these days), for our annually required “infantry skills” training shenanigans. This will be my first return visit to the area since 1996 or so.

FunFact #2: Camp Crowder served as the inspiration for “Camp Growding,” a National Guard base located pretty much where the real Camp Crowder sits/sat, for the opening encounters and skirmishes featured in The Last World War.

Anyway….

We’ll be at the Neosho Civic Center from 11am to 7pm. Kevin and I will have a selection of books and such for sale, so if you’re in the area, come see us!

Happy 52nd Birthday, “Arena!”

On January 19th, 1967, Captain James T. Kirk faced off against a formidable foe. Trapped on a barren planetoid, he has no choice but to find some way to defeat his enemy in a battle for the ages.

I have many favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series, but “Arena,” the 18th episode of the show’s first season, is at the top of my list. When I was a kid, the draw was Captain Kirk being a badass, facing off against a scary enemy that’s as cunning as he is while outmatching him in strength and ferocity. As I grew older and started to see the different layers baked into various episodes, I gained a new appreciation for this particular story.

Written by Gene L. Coon, one of the original series’ tragically underappreciated contributors, “Arena” is also based on a short story written by Frederic Brown. It’s a prime example of what’s become a classic Star Trek trope, with our heroes encountering something mysterious, misunderstood, and perhaps dangerous only to learn something new about themselves while discovering the truth. The episode opens with a terrific action sequence and proceeds from there as Kirk turns almost obsessive in his desire to hunt down the alien ship which has just destroyed a Federation colony. The pursuit runs the Enterprise afoul of a previously unknown and very powerful alien race, the Metrons, who don’t like this confrontation that’s now on their doorstep. In response, they deposit Kirk and the captain of the alien ship, a reptilian Gorn, on the surface of a small planet and force them to fight one another to the death:

METRON: We are the Metrons. You are one of two crafts which have come into our space on a mission of violence. This is not permissible. Yet we have analyzed you and have learned that your violent tendencies are inherent. So be it. We will control them. We will resolve your conflict in the way most suited to your limited mentalities. Captain James Kirk.

KIRK: This is Kirk. 

METRON: We have prepared a planet with a suitable atmosphere. You will be taken there, as will the Captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing. There you will settle your dispute.

KIRK: I don’t understand.

METRON: You will be provided with a recording-translating device, in hopes that a chronicle of this contest will serve to dissuade others of your kind from entering our system, but you will not be permitted to communicate with your ship. You will each be totally alone.

KIRK: What makes you think you can interfere with–

METRON: It is you who are interfering. We are simply putting a stop to it. The place we have prepared for you contains sufficient elements for either of you to construct weapons lethal enough to destroy the other, which seems to be your intention. The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace. The contest will be one of ingenuity against ingenuity, brute strength against brute strength. The results will be final. 

Oh, it’s on now.

Pretty much everyone knows how this story ends, with Kirk figuring out how to rig a crude bamboo cannon while fashioning gunpowder from the “sufficient elements” provided by the Metrons. He blasts the Gorn but doesn’t kill him, and at the last moment decides to spare the alien captain’s life. This is enough to impress the Metron and spare the crews of both ships:

METRON: By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore, you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized.

KIRK: What happened to the Gorn? 

GORN: I sent him back to his ship. If you like, I shall destroy him for you.

KIRK: No. That won’t be necessary. We can talk. Maybe reach an agreement.

METRON: Very good, Captain. There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready.

So, Kirk has that going for him, which is nice.

Yes, you can tell me that by modern production standards, “Arena” – like much of the series itself – looks hopelessly dated, but I don’t care. The strength of the story carries the day, here, triumphing over skimpy budgets and the limitations in costuming, prosthetic make-up, and physical and visual effects of the era in which it was made. I still love this episode, and it’s one of the those I list off whenever somebody is new to the show and wants to see what makes it tick. In so many ways, it is quintessentially Star Trek.

KIRK: We’re a most promising species, Mister Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?

SPOCK: I’ve frequently had my doubts. 

KIRK: I don’t. Not anymore. And maybe in a thousand years or so, we’ll be able to prove it. Never mind, Mister Spock. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. Take us back to where we’re supposed to be, Mister Sulu. Warp factor one.

SULU: Warp factor one.

SPOCK: A thousand years, Captain?

KIRK: Well, that gives us a little time.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Superman: The Movie!

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed, but always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.

They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all–their capacity for good–I have sent them you, my only son.

December, 1978: I was eleven, and my perception of Superman was as a guy from comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, and reruns of a 25-year old television show.

Then the lights in the theater dimmed, and I got schooled.

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Opening nationwide on December 15th, 1978, Superman (marketed as Superman: The Movie) was the first time a comic book character was given a serious, big-budget treatment for film or television. Until that point and beyond the comics which had featured Superman for four decades, the public’s perception of the Man of Steel largely was limited to Super Friends cartoons and the 1950s Adventures of Superman television show.

While the first two seasons of the George Reeves series attempted to tell stories aimed as much at adults as children, that faded as the show grew more popular with younger kids. Still, there are some who would argue that Superman had it better than his comics colleague, Batman, who also was a fixture of Saturday morning cartoons as well as the classic 1960s campy TV series starring Adam West.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the cartoons and TV shows as a kid, and in some ways George Reeves is still “the” Superman of my youth, but all of that got knocked down a notch with the arrival of this new retelling of his classic origin story, which continues to influence Superman tales in comics, television and film 40 years after its premiere. Further, it remains a benchmark by which most other superhero films are judged.

Directed by Richard Donner (The Omen, and who later would help to refine the whole “renegade cop on the ragged edge” trope with the Lethal Weapon films) and working from a story by the great Mario Puzo (The Godfather) and a screenplay by Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz, Superman is a sweeping coming of age tale in the true sense. The film takes its damned sweet time unspooling its version of how baby Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara, is launched in a spaceship from the doomed planet Krypton and sent to Earth.

There, he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Growing up in Smallville, Kansas, it is this upbringing which will provide him with his moral and ethical foundation as he learns of his true heritage and the immense power he possesses, until one fateful night in the great city of Metropolis when he reveals himself to the world and becomes known as Superman.

(And yes, if you think you’re noticing any Christ-like parallels, go with that feeling. Dialogue spoken by Jor-El might have you reaching for your Bible. And if you think it’s overt here, try 2006’s Superman Returns or 2013’s Man of Steel. Boy, howdy.)

Superman‘s cast is big and filled to overflowing with all sorts of names you know or should have at least heard of at some point if you’re any sort of movie fan, starting with Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and including solid supporting turns from the likes of Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine and Marc McClure just to name the first bunch. Margot Kidder is the sassy, self-made reporter Lois Lane, but the whole smash would rest on the shoulders of the man cast to portray Kal-El and his Earth alter-ego, Clark Kent. It was the selection of a relatively unknown actor that would provide future movie and comics fans the Superman against which all others are still measured: Christopher Reeve.

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Simply put, Reeve is Superman. More importantly, he also is Clark Kent, a wholly separate character acting as a counterbalance to the larger than life hero who is his “true identity.” Reeve infuses the perfect blend of humanity, compassion, determination and even anger into his portrayal of the Man of Steel, then offsets it with the gentler, more humble and more than slightly bumbling facade of the “mild-mannered reporter.” It is this dual performance that grounds the entire film and gives it just the right amount of realism to help the viewer “believe a man can fly.”

Costing more than $50 million dollars–an enormous sum in those days–Superman spared little expense when it came to bringing its story to life. Extravagant sets, gorgeous location shooting, all manner of model and miniature effects and, of course, the numerous flying sequences which (for the most part) really do hold up rather well when compared to modern-day CGI-stuffed FX techniques. Legendary film composer John Williams provides a wondrous score, including a main theme which I’m fairly certain just about anyone can name in three notes.

Superman would be followed by three sequels: 1981’s Superman II, Superman III in 1983, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987. The production of the first sequel is a tale known to many a movie buff, as the film was shot largely in tandem with Superman, and that director Richard Donner was fired before the second film could be completed. A large portion of the sequel was reshot by another director, Richard Lester, who changed the film’s overall tone away from what Donner had intended. A version of the film which attempted to showcase Donner’s original vision, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on home video in 2006.

Elsewhere, Superman also paved the way for other projects tying into at least some aspects of its mythos: 1984’s Supergirl starring Helen Slater, and the syndicated Superboy television series which ran from 1988-1992. Superman Returns, released in 2006, is a sequel as well as something of a tribute to the 1978 film and–to a much lesser degree–Superman II while discarding the events of Superman III and IV. Personally, while I think the “tribute” aspects of the film ended up working against it, there was a lot of potential in this updated version of what Donner gave us. I would’ve liked to see another film (or two) showcasing the best of what the setting had to offer without getting bogged down in sending too many valentines to the original movie. However, the Superman franchise has since been rebooted (again) with the aforementioned Man of Steel. It and the “DC Universe” movies which have followed it have charted a completely different direction for the character while leaving us to wonder what might’ve been.

Meanwhile, the family and I attended a screening of Superman here in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, and I have to tell you: 40 years after that awesome December afternoon in 1978, I still got goosebumps when John Williams’ music blew through the speakers and that big red “S” warped onto the screen. Movies like this exist to be seen this way. All things considered, the film holds up remarkably well and remains one of my very favorite movies.

40 years old, and still looking good. Happy Anniversary, Superman.

My 2019 convention calendar begins to take shape.

Previously, on the Fog of Ward:

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been neglecting this space in recent days, but the honest answer for that is I just didn’t have anything to say that I felt was worth polluting the blogosphere over.

However, as we head into the last turn of the track that is 2018, I’m starting to look ahead to the new year with respect to the work I hope to be doing and projects that excite me. Part of that is figuring out which conventions I’ll attend in my role as “Guy Who Writes Things.”

On that front, a couple of events are pretty much locked in as they are every year. First, there’s the Starfest Convention held annually in Denver. Kevin and I make a point never to miss this one, and 2019 will mark our 16th consecutive appearance as guests of the show. This year it’s set for the weekend of April 26-28, and of course Kevin and I are already keen to start that drive west.

Later in the year is Shore Leave, the other con I try to never miss. This year it’s the weekend of July 12-14, which means it’s once again right in the thick of things so far as competing for space on Kevin’s work schedule with Comic-Con International and the big Star Trek con in Las Vegas. This means I’ll likely be attending this one stag again.

Closer to home, Planet Comicon is celebrating its 20th anniversary with what is shaping up to be their biggest and best show yet. It’s going on the weekend of March 29-31, and they’ve graciously invited Kevin and me to come join the party.

New for this year is a smaller show that’s popped up on our radar: the Neosho Art Council’s first-ever ArtCon, will take place on Saturday, February 9th and spend the day celebrating all the coolness and awesomesauce that is pop culture. Several creators from the region have been invited to attend, including Kevin and moi. Readers with sharp, long memories may think Neosho rings a bell, that’s because a significant chunk of The Last World War takes place there. How ’bout them apples?

Meanwhile, Kevin’s work at Hallmark sees to it that he attends several shows I likely won’t get to, such as the aforementioned Comic-Con and Vegas Trek con as well as New York Comic Con. Circumstances may see to it that I end up at a couple of these, and I’ve also been invited to attend a couple of new shows later in the year. More on those as details firm up.

As is always the case, you can keep tabs on our con schedule by visiting my Appearances page. Stay tuned for more updates!