PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

If the “geek shall inherit the Earth” then PAX is where they divvy up the loot.

As an expo, it is a huge opportunity to try new games, find new talent, and “mingle with your people.” Trust me—I have plenty of new finds to +1 your geek status.

But as a social hub? It’s a whole other level.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

Who Needs a Hero?

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

A series of strange conversations prompted me to write this article about heroes: discussions of superheroes, jerks, and yes, even underpants.

I was told pretty plainly by a couple of people that any girl would be a fool to turn down Superman over Batman, or Captain America over Iron Man. Iron Man’s a jerk, isn’t he? Batman is tortured, and who wants a guy with all those issues? Why not go for a REAL hero? The nice, polite guys who would treat you like a princess?

This got me thinking, quite a bit, actually. Didn’t I deserve to be treated like… well, all I can think of is a “damsel.” Shouldn’t men behave in a chivalrous way toward me? Be my protector, be my rock? I suppose that’s nice for some people. I suppose some women like men to open doors for them, and carry the groceries, and tell them they are beautiful all the time.

But I find I’m just not one of those women. I find all those things kind of condescending. Sure it’s nice, if my hands are full and I’m having a hard time, for someone to get the door. But I am perfectly capable of doing things for myself too. Yes, I’ve stood and waited for guys to open the car door, but to tell you the truth, it gets old after a while. It’s much faster if I just get the door for myself. But I *get* the whole chivalry thing, really I do. I’m not saying that guys shouldn’t woo a woman in that way. It’s just not what I find attractive.

As the conversations about heroes went on in their various venues, I started to wonder—why is it that I am attracted to the tortured heroes, the anti-heroes, and the guys that some consider to be self-centered jerks? I mean, my mom was worried about me when I was younger, because I always went for the cold, calculating types, the selfish guys bordering on the obnoxious: the Professor Snapes, the Darth Vaders, the Batmen, and the Iron Men. I’d even go for the kind of villainous Lokis and Goblin Kings. The dark, the slightly mad.

As someone pointed out, these guys certainly aren’t easy to love. Well, maybe, for me, that’s part of it. There’s a challenge to these guys. I have to be more than just a pretty face, more than just an ordinary girl. I have to be my best me (and even a little wicked…). And I LOVE a guy who can bring out the best in me (the same with the wickedness). Working to impress these men won’t work. A woman has to be something special to get through to these guys, something real. And who doesn’t love to think that maybe they are that something special?

This wasn’t enough, however, to really explain why I dug these types of “heroes.” It wasn’t until someone said something along the lines of, “Heroes fill the need you have. That’s what makes them your hero,” then finally, it clicked.

I don’t need a superhero, some invincible hunk of a man. I need someone I can be on more even ground with. I don’t just want a hero. I want to be someone else’s hero, too. I want to rescue him even as he might rescue me. I’m strong enough to be his rock. I’m strong enough to handle his vulnerabilities, just as he can help me with my own.

I’m not saying someone should be codependent, or get involved in an unhealthy relationship so that they can “save” someone. But don’t sell yourself short. Don’t just settle for being a hero’s rescue toy. Show them that you are a hero, too. Even Superman has his vulnerabilities. They need a strong woman to listen, to understand, and to be there for them.

No, I don’t need a hero to rescue me. But maybe I do need one to make me be all the woman I can be. I need my personal hero, the one who is right for me.

How about you? Do you have a hero? Spill it—who is he? Would you rather rescue him, or be rescued by him? Do you like an all-good guy, or a guy with a bit of the devil to him?

The Ultimate Avengers Playlist

Image © Disney, 2012.

Recently, I realized just how far behind I am with my Avengers universe watching. I only stuck with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few episodes during the first season, and I haven’t seen the most recent installments of Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America. So I decided that I need to catch up on all of it in time for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron (especially after seeing that second trailer).

Then, I decided I wanted to re-watch all of it—the movies and TV—in the right order. I’ve forgotten a lot, and I like an excuse to binge-watch pretty much anything.

But, what’s the right order?

This was a hard question. Marvel’s Agent Carter has started, but I kind of want to watch it all after Captain America: The First Avenger—to see what Peggy Carter gets up to without the boys. I also want to re-watch Ang Lee’s Hulk, which I haven’t seen in 10 years. I know Marvel Studios likes to pretend it never happened, but that seemed like the most sensible place to start. And from there, my ultimate Avengers playlist took shape.

Hulk (2003): Again, I know the first Hulk movie never gets mentioned alongside the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After Universal put out Ang Lee’s version to all kinds of mixed feelings, Marvel got the rights back and completely reworked the story for the reboot in 2008. But, it’s still where it all started. Remember Eric Bana?

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes.

Iron Man (2008): The first “real” movie in the Avengers franchise, and the movie that made Robert Downey, Jr. an action hero.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video rental), iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, PlayStation Store.

The Incredible Hulk (2008): Edward Norton’s portrayal of Hulk is really fun, and I like anything with Tim Roth. Wow, I’d forgotten all about Roth’s Blonsky until starting this list. And Robert Downey, Jr.’s first (very brief) crossover appearance as Tony Stark. Must hurry up and get through the first two movies on my playlist.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox.

Iron Man 2 (2010): Mickey Rourke, more Robert Downey, Jr., and continuing the tradition of little crossover nuggets at the end.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox.

Thor (2011): Introducing the third Avenger, a straight-up god.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): Chris Evans’ transformation into Captain America is my favorite origin story so far. And hello, Peggy Carter!

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox.

Marvel’s Agent Carter (2015): I’m saving my episodes of Agent Carter for when I’ve made it this far in my playlist. Because I love what I’m hearing about the miniseries, and I really want to revisit her in Captain America first to refresh my memory.

Where to get it: ABC.comAmazon (Instant Video purchase), Google Play, VUDUPlayStation Store, XBox.

The Avengers (2012): This is the movie I’ve seen the most times already, thanks to Netflix (and now it’s gone, ugh). But I’m looking forward to getting a refresher on everything that came before.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), Google Play, VUDU, YouTube, XBox.

Iron Man 3 (2013): This is where I hit my franchise wall. I have not seen this one yet, or any of the remaining movies in the Avengers universe.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video purchase), iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox, Starz streaming.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One episodes 1-7 (2013): I made it through the first six episodes of the show when it first aired, and then I lost interest. But then everyone told me it really picked up a couple of episodes later, after Thor: The Dark World was released. So, I was *thisclose* to getting hooked. I will try again.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, VUDUPlayStation Store, XBox.

Thor: The Dark World (2013): 2013 was the year that I was apparently in a movie bubble. How could I miss more Loki?

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video purchase), iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, PlayStation Store, XBox.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One episodes 8-16 (2013-2014): I’ll be picking up the show from here, with the aftermath of whatever happens in Thor: Dark World

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, VUDUPlayStation Store, XBox.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): So many GeekMoms had this at the top of their best movies of 2014 lists. Must. Watch.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video purchase), iTunes, Google Play, PlayStation Store, XBox, Redbox.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One episodes 17-22 (2013-2014): GeekMom Corrina told me major Winter Soldier spoilers abound at the end of the first season, so this is where I will pick up the series after watching the latest Avengers universe movie.

Where to get it: Amazon (DVD, Blu-ray, Instant Video), Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, VUDUPlayStation Store, XBox.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two (2014-2015): I’m hoping to squeeze in the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the big event in May, but obviously, I don’t know yet if the show will wrap around the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since the movie’s release is May 1, I’m guessing at least the last couple of episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. may pick up after the movie.

Where to get it: (only the five most recent episodes), Amazon (Instant Video purchase), Google Play, VUDUPlayStation Store, XBox.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) My playlist endgame.

How would your Avengers playlist look?

Avengers Assemble for Marvel Universe Live!–Show Review

Avengers Assemble \ Image courtesy of Field Entertainment
Avengers Assemble \ Image courtesy of Field Entertainment

With 25 heroes and villains taking the arena floor to battle it out for the ultimate power (the Tesseract), you can bet I wanted in on some of the viewing action for Marvel Universe Live. I’m fortunate enough to have had a chance to check out everything the tour has to offer, from the show, to the souvenirs, to the food during a show at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

There was the good, the bad, and the really expensive.

My first stops at any show are the souvenir and food stands. They had some really cool looking items including a show prequel comic book, a hoodie, and several toys. However, I walked home with none of it because of high pricing. The comic book cost $20 (the sticker price “justified” due to the comic also containing a program), the hoodie cost $50, and the toys ranged from $10 and up.

The show food (like snow cones and popcorn) ranged from $8 (popcorn in a box) to $15 for a snow cone in a souvenir cup. There was quite a bit of snow cone in that cup, but not $15 worth. I originally bought the “fresh” popcorn ($12.50 in a souvenir bag) and returned it because it tasted horrible.

After giving in to a snow cone, we started on our quest to find our seat. On our way, we stumbled on a green screen photo opportunity, but the $19.95 price tag didn’t entice me enough to stop walking.

Our seats were looking straight down the stage and I couldn’t have asked for a better view, which was funny because our seats were the cheaper of the seat priced in the lower bowl.

The show starts with a neat introduction of the Marvel Universe on the main screen of the stage and the fun begins.

The story begins as Loki starts up trouble by discovering that mutant DNA (he uses Storm, Cyclops, and Wolverine as his unwilling DNA sources) can be used to create a new Tesseract. Wolverine escapes thanks to Iron Man and S.H.E.I.L.D, but Loki gets away with Storm and Cyclops. From here we are introduced to our leading cast: Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Falcon, Wolverine, and Bruce Banner/Hulk.  In order to defeat Loki, they need to put the Tesseract back together and use it against him and break up into three teams.  Wolverine is his usual self and goes rogue, and Banner goes with him just in case he runs into trouble.

With the hero teams formed, the main villains are revealed. They are Loki, Green Goblin, Rhino, The Lizard, Killian, Red Skull, and Madam Hydra. There are also a few smaller roles thrown in to fill things out, including Hydra Agents, Chitauri, Extremis soldiers, Electro, and Black Cat.

First, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Captain Marvel fought Dr. Aldrick Killian and his Extremis soldiers. This fight was pretty interesting in terms of the special effects used. My son didn’t take his eyes off the stage during the final moments thanks to Killian walking out on fire.

The second team-up was Thor and Spider-Man against the Green Goblin, Rhino, Doc Oc, and The Lizard. This was by far my favorite scene because it had all of the elements of the web-crawler and Thor that I love. Spider-Man’s sense of humor and Goblin’s reactions were right on target each time. This scene included a nice mix of stunt work and hand-to-hand combat. Black Cat and Electro both made brief appearances and I’m a bit surprised that Electro was wearing a modification of his comic book costume rather than the more recent version from the movie.

The final team-up was Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon against Red Skull and Madam Hydra. This was the most disappointing part of the show because 95% of it was done on motorcycles versus using other effects to even it out. Falcon was in his comic book costume and stretched his wings a bit, but he was mostly there to deal with the Hydra Agents. Black Widow was pitted up against Madam Hydra while Cap took on Red Skull.

It felt like they over-saturated the scene and diluted the audience’s attention too much. I missed a really cool motorcycle stunt by Captain America and Red Skull because I was looking at Black Widow.

In between the fight scenes, Wolverine and Hulk came out to do small bit-parts while the tech crew set up the next major fight. These might have been smaller scenes for the characters, but the creators did them justice. It was hard to pay attention to the set change when Wolverine and Bruce were exchanging funny dialogue and stunts.

The finale battle brought everyone from all of the fights back out on the main floor. Captain America and his team were late to the fight and while the character said they had a reason, I couldn’t pick up on it in their previous fight scene. The final battle is also where we finally get to see Banner go all green with anger and Hulk-out.

At the end of the show, I thought back on the characters they included and what I would have changed.

For starters, I would have given Storm a stronger part or used one of the weaker X-Men in her place. Her presence demands respect and at least a few special effects, neither of which she was given. Cyclops was a good choice for the part he played, but he was also underused in the special effects and combat choreography department. I would have replaced Falcon with Black Panther and added Vision in to the mix. I understand that neither of these characters are as well-known as the rest of the team, but hey—let’s educate the kids in the audience.

On my way to the car, I talked about the show with my 9-year-old son and my brother. My son couldn’t say enough about it. He loved it from beginning to end. Captain America was his favorite part because of the motorcycle stunts. My brother decided that it wasn’t as cheesy as he originally thought it would be. While there were some cheesy  moments, there was a nice balance of corny and really awesome moments.

I’m happy to have had my two hours with the Avengers and hope they make this a regular tour with different story-lines in the future.

Tip to our readers: If you are planning on buying tickets for the show, try to get tickets from the angle you see in my videos. As you can tell from the footage, quite a bit of the show is dark (meaning you won’t be able to see key parts) in certain areas of the arena. 

This event is appropriate for all ages, but will probably be more enjoyed by younger fans. For ticket prices and show dates, check out Marvel Universe Live.

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Disclaimer: GeekMom received tickets for this event.


Eight Geeky Crochet and Knitting Patterns to Get Started On

Living in the southern U.S., it’s hard to get interested in balls of yarn during the heat of summer. But when fall kicks in, I always want to start crocheting or knitting. Here are patterns (many of them free!) for eight projects to kick start your cool-weather crafting:


Fingerless Iron Man gloves

Image by Louie’s Loops

Baby Groot

Image by Twinkie Chan

Ewok hood cowl

Image by Amber Flowers on Ravelry


Image by April Draven Designs

Bonus—your crochet projects will be even more fun if you’re doing them with a sonic screwdriver or light saber.


Baby Dalek dress

Image by Allison Bitter on Ravelry

One Ring Scarf

Image by Samako on Ravelry

Sherlock wallpaper pillow

Image by Andrea “Trooperschaf” on Ravelry

Bat’leth scarf

Image by Kimberly Gintar on Ravelry


The Mysterious Energy Source of My Children

Image: Sarah Pinault. After being bitten by a radioactive spider, my son gets energy tips from Steampunk Iron (Wo)Man.

My children, two and five, believe that mealtimes are an unnecessary interruption to their busy lives. My youngest will happily chow down on a handful of Cheerios as he’s bouncing off the walls, but sit him down for a meal and we have a battle ahead of us. My eldest doesn’t even want the Cheerios! Occasionally he will eat a dinosaur tree (broccoli), but most of the time he will even refuse a big plate of spaghetti if it stands between him and his toys.

Whilst they have decided that their intake is not an important part of daily life, their output has not decreased. They have just as much energy, just as much get up and go, as they did while eating seconds and thirds at every meal. I must therefore hypothesize that my boys derive their energy not from food, but from some alternative energy source. I have narrowed it down as follows:

1. They have Kryptonian blood coursing through their veins and derive strength from the yellow Sun.

2. The plastic ring that was given to my eldest by a nice lady at the grocery store actually contains a piece of Starheart and has him encased in a life-supporting force field.

3. They are not merely my sons, but are the avatars of some long forgotten god such as Khonshu.

4. They have a genetic mutation, a la Hank McCoy, that will only fully appear upon reaching puberty. Heaven help me!

5. They were caught in a nuclear explosion while at daycare, and now have the ability to create identical duplicates. What I am seeing is not one active little boy, but several more sedate ones.

6. They are able to convert impact energy into raw strength. Therefore the more active they are, the more things they crash into, the stronger they become.

7. Their energy is linked to their environment, and somehow increases as parental energy levels decrease.

8. Their natural physiology was enhanced by immersion into an electrical field conducted by a chemical compound.

9. They were bitten by radioactive spiders.

That’s why they have more energy than I do 99.9% of the time, surely.

*Musings on my superhero children were originally posted at

The Cliffs of Insanity: Honor the Past & Press Play, Not Pause

John Stewart Green Lantern
Green Lantern John Stewart in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. He’s  my kids’  favorite Green Lantern. Copyright DC Comics.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Today, we honor two pioneering comic creators, one of whom can still be helped. Check at the bottom of the column for how you can be a hero for the creator of Rocket Raccoon, currently appearing in the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer.

First, I wanted to talk about a comic creator, Dwayne McDuffie, who is sadly not with us any longer. Still, we can carry on his work.

I’ve talked a great deal about issues facing women in comics, particularly the lack of female writers at the big two publishers, Marvel and DC Comics. But the myriad issues facing minorities, particularly African-Americans, about breaking into comics also deserve the light shined on them as well.

“There are less writers of color in the combined creative pool of the top two publishers of comic books then there were at Milestone in 1993.” 

Yesterday marked the birthday of the late Dwayne McDuffie, who left behind a body of work that includes co-founding Milestone Media. Milestone led to McDuffie writing and story-editing episodes of  the popular Static Shock animated show. From there, McDuffie became a staff writer for the Justice League animated series and story editor and producer of Justice League Unlimited. During his time with both shows, McDuffie wrote, produced, or story-edited 69 out of the 91 episodes of the series.

If you came to a love of superheroes via the animated universe, you owe a great deal to McDuffie. He’s largely shaped the image of DC heroes to the public-at-large.

Unfortunately, McDuffie didn’t get nearly enough comic writing work during his lifetime, even from DC Comics, and there currently are no signs that either DC or Marvel is committed to providing work to minority writers of talent.

The quote above is from a column at by creator Joseph Illidge, a former Milestone editor and currently the head writer for Verge Entertainment. Illidge’s column it part of a month-long series running on CBR, The Color Barrier, which is spotlighting a number of minority creators. 

When DC or Marvel asks who they should hire, they should immediately check out the creators from this CBR series and also this list of Quality Black Produce Independent Comic Titles from the foolscrusade tumblr.

Why is representation so important, for women, for minorities, and for others currently locked out of the mainstream superhero world?

Because, superheroes have moved beyond the realm of comics and become pop culture icons. The stories our society tells about itself is our present-day mythology. If the only people who can be heroes are straight white men and the only people who can create these heroes are straight white men, what does that say about us as a society?

Nothing good.

And speaking of honoring storytellers….

Bill Mantlo needs your help.

This is your chance to be a hero by helping a storyteller from Marvel’s history. I knew Mantlo’s work first from Iron Man and collected his runs on Micronauts, Rom: Spaceknight, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. He’s entered the news this week for two reasons.

One is that he created Rocket Raccoon. Two,  he was struck by a car in 1992 and suffered catastrophic head injuries. He’s required full-time medical care ever since.

Rocket Raccoon
Rocket Raccoon as written by Bill Mantlo, copyright Marvel Comics

As his work for Marvel was work-for-hire, Mantlo and his caretakers get absolutely nothing in compensation from The Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This isn’t the time or place to debate the merits of work-for-hire but it is the time and place to ask Marvel Entertainment to consider making a gesture to someone who contributed so much to a property likely to make them millions of dollars in profits this year.

But you can be a hero too, either by directly donating funds to Mantlo’s family by using these buttons provided by comic writer Greg Pak or by donating to The Hero Initiative, a charity that specializes in helping out comic creators in serious financial need.

We’re living in a golden age of geekdom where it’s now popular to love superheroes and show off our geek pride. Let’s remember those that provided the imagination and the stories on which the framework of the current day success is built.

And let’s also remember that the framework will be stronger if it includes everyone, on the page and behind the scenes, rather than being restricted to only one segment of our society.

Rocket Raccoon in The Guardians of the Galaxy, image Marvel Entertainment

Phineas and Ferb‘s Creators on Marvel, Dressing Like Stan Lee and More

A shot of “Phineas and Ferb” creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh outside of the Waffle-inator Interactive Video Game at last week’s D23 Expo. Image: Disney.

It hasn’t quite been 104 days of summer vacation, but it has been four years for Disney’s hit series, Phineas and Ferb. In other words, it’s time for a crossover show!

These days, the House of Mouse has a slew of super-cool guest stars to choose from. However, the network’s dynamic duo has decided to invite Marvel to pay a little visit to the Tri-State area. Can you blame them? They’ve got all of the best superheroes!

Well, sort of.

In the one-hour special, “Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel,” an encounter with Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s power-draining “inator” leaves superheroes Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor not feeling all that super. It sounds like Phineas and Ferb know what they’re going to do today.

Tonight, Disney will air the long-awaited episode — which is downright hilarious. It’s also musical and has several special guest voices, including Drake Bell, Adrian Pasdar, Travis Willingham, Fred Tatasciore, Liam O’Brien, Charlie Adler, Peter Stormare, Danny Trejo, Chi McBride and Stan Lee.

I got the chance to chat with creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh about the special, their superpowers of choice, and what it’s like to use waffles as a weapon.

GeekMom [Rachel]: I know this is the show’s fourth season. Is this the first crossover episode?

Dan: I believe this is.

Swampy: Indeed it is; it’s the first one and it’s also the first Disney Channel show that’s done a Marvel crossover since the merger.

GeekMom: So why are you doing a crossover episode? Why now?

Swampy: Because it’s fun! [Laughs]

Dan: Because they’re letting us. They said, ok — sure.

GeekMom: I think you’re letting them.

Dan: Actually, it was something that we didn’t even think to ask, because we didn’t think we’d be able to do it. Then Disney asked us if we’d be willing to do it and we were like, “Um… yesss. We would love to do that.”

Swampy: The Marvel superheroes? We’ve been dying to play with those toys!

Dan: We have been playing with those guys in our brains for years, but we just never had any outlet for it.

GeekMom: The episode is funny — like, really funny. Besides the voices, how much input did the Marvel people have in this episode?

Dan: We wrote it and pitched it to them at several different points in the process and they sort of kept us on track of what you can and can’t do in the Marvel universe. That whole conversation [in the episode] between Iron Man and Thor about how you hold the hammer; it came from us originally having Iron Man pick up the hammer and they said, “Actually, you can’t do that because that’s about worthiness. It’s not about power.” We had a whole conversation with them and we were like:

“Well… what can we do? Can we have him fly?”

“He can fly, but only with the hammer.”

That’s almost word for word our conversation with the Marvel execs. We put it in and they thought it was hilarious.

“Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel” is the show’s first crossover episode, which features Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. Image: Disney XD.

GeekMom: I remember a lot of crossover episodes as a kid, like the Harlem Globetrotters meeting Scooby Doo and even the Laff-A-Lympics. Some collaborations definitely work better than others. Is it harder to write for characters that are not your own creation?

Dan: Oh yeah, even though we’re all familiar with them. Like, I was never so far into Thor that I understood all of the workings there. As much as I collected Spider-Man comics, it’s suddenly a new muscle that you have to sort of work with to try to figure out how to write in this character’s voice and still keep it funny and still keep the characters true to who they are.

Swampy: You have to think differently and you have to solve problems differently. We have our toolbox full of tools that help us solve issues and things with our characters.

Dan: He means that literally. We a plot screwdriver and a gag wrench. [Group laughs.]

Swampy: It’s weird, you have a lot more moments where you’re staring off blankly into space for two or three minutes going, “uuuhhh.”

Dan: Swampy already has a lot of those, as you can imagine.

GeekMom: [Laughs] So, how did Stan Lee get involved?

Dan: We just said that we had to have Stan do a cameo, because he’s done a cameo in all of the Marvel movies. It’s something that, as comic book fans, when you go to the Marvel movies now, you look for Stan’s cameo. You’re waiting for it and when it comes on, there’s always like 10 percent of the audience that cheers. And everybody looks at them and says, “Why are they cheering for that old man?”

Swampy: Doing a Marvel thing without Stan, I think, is a crime in many states.

Dan: It’s not a capital crime. We only would have had a little bit of jail time.

Swampy: He’s cool.

Dan: He’s fun and he was wearing the same outfit that Swampy was when he came in. Swampy likes to brag about it, but I always say, he is like 80 years old. [Stan Lee is actually 90!]

Swampy: Yeah, but he’s Stan Lee. I’ve got a picture of me dressed the same as Stan.

GeekMom: What was the outfit?

Swampy: White shoes and white pants with a blue shirt. Color coordinated, perfectly!

Dan: I know it’s before Labor Day, but yeah, white shoes?

GeekMom: [Laughs] You mentioned comic books, you guys have been reading since you were kids?

Dan: I had a whole great collection of Spider-Man stuff when I was 10 or something that my mom threw away once when she was cleaning my room. She was like, “Well, he’s read all of this.”

Swampy: He’s never forgiven her. She no longer gets Christmas cards from Dan just for that.

Dan: I haven’t spoken to my mom in 30 years.

Stan Lee joins Jeff “Swampy” Marsh for a recording session for “Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel.” Image: Disney XD/Rick Rowell.

GeekMom: So are you still reading today? Did you feel like you needed to study up for this episode?

Dan: Well, no. I’m fairly familiar with all that stuff, but I do still read. I’ve been collecting — well, not collecting, but I buy the “collections of.” I don’t get them every month, but when they put together the bound collections. There’s a whole new series called Ultimate Spider-Man that has taken Spider-Man back to the very beginning and sort of re-told the whole arc and I’ve been getting those as they come out. I think it’s really nicely written and the art is fantastic.

Swampy: I’m going through the joy now of my son, who’s 12 and discovering comics. Thanks to giving all of my comics to my little brother at one point in my life, I now have all of those old comics coming back into my life, because every time my son visits him, he gives him some of my old comics. So this has been really cool: I’m sitting here, reading my old comics with my son. It’s been great.

GeekMom: So, you’re both familiar with all of the various superheroes. If you could swipe someone’s superpowers, who would it be and why?

Dan: I think I’d want to fly. I am ambivalent about carrying around a large, heavy hammer during that flight.

Swampy: Just the possibility, though. I don’t know, I think I like just the fact that Tony Stark is just incredibly smart and he can invent ways to do lots of things. I found that I actually have a superpower, it’s just a really, really stupid one.

Dan: It’s absolutely useless.

Swampy: It’s completely useless.

GeekMom: And that’s what exactly?

Swampy: I am immune to ice cream headaches. So if I can find a way to fight crime by not getting ice cream headache, I could really be a superhero.

GeekMom: I wonder if you could somehow manipulate that into a Mr. Freeze situation.

Dan: That’s right; you could fight Mr. Freeze.

Swampy: But then I’d have to eat him. [Laughs.]

Dan: It would take some doing. You probably couldn’t do it in one sitting. [Group laughs.]

GeekMom: I just have one more question and I hope I’m not giving away anything in the episode by asking this… but what is it like to be pelted by waffles?

Dan: [In Doofenshmirtz’s voice] It’s delicious! Absolutely delicious.

Swampy: I certainly wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

Dan: It gets sticky after a while. [In Doofenshmirtz’s voice] What doesn’t kill you, makes you stickier. That’s what Doofenshmirtz would say.

Expect all of the series regulars to appear in “Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel,” which airs tonight on the Disney Channel. Image: Disney XD.

Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel” premieres tonight at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on the Disney Channel.

The Cliffs of Insanity: What’s the Point of Superhero Movies?

I’m going to mix it up this week and only focus on one subject because it seems appropriate for the opening weekend of Man of Steel—a movie already creating controversy—and it’s a topic I’ve thought about a great deal:

Why do we love superheroes?

I consider the question important enough that “Why Superheroes Matter,” became the opening essay in the first chapter of GeekMom: Projects, Tips and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st Century Families.

Naturally, when I read “Does Hollywood Need Saving From Superhero Movies by movie commentator Joe Queenan for The Guardian,” I knew I had to respond, because Queenan completely misses the core of the appeal of superheroes. He claims the current crop of superhero movies are beloved only because they offer a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

He could not not be more wrong.

Some of his assertions and my responses:

“The Avengers (Iron Man 2½) an aimless hodgepodge and The Dark Knight Rises a pretentious, incoherent mess.”

An interesting way to begin, by slamming the best live action superhero movie ever made. It’s not a “hodgepodge.”

Act One, gather heroes; Act Two, the heroes are uneasy and threatened by the villain and each other; Act Three, they work together to save the world from the overall threat foreshadowed in Act One. It’s a classic movie structure.

What this quote says to me is that Queenan flat-out doesn’t like the superhero genre. And that’s cool. I don’t like horror and go out of my way to avoid it but I’m not going to claim Hollywood needs saving from horror movies.

Maybe he and I could agree Hollywood needs saving from bad movies?

I agree that Dark Knight Rises is a pretentious, incoherent mess. It has plot holes upon plot holes. However, it does have two elements that make it worthwhile, elements that Queenan later says in his essay don’t exist in current superhero movies, so I object to his overall logic.

“As Steven Soderbergh recently complained, these films are sucking the life out of motion pictures, diverting virtually all of the industry’s resources into insanely expensive ‘tentpole’ films that supposedly prop up other projects.”

It is valid to say that superhero movies require huge resources in actors, writers, directors, special effects, and marketing. They take up a studio’s time, energy, and, most of all, money. But this isn’t unique to superhero movies nor is it new. Hollywood has always relied on blockbusters, all the way back to Gone With the Wind.

Also, you can make a superhero movie with a low budget. Chronicle was made for $12 million and according to the 2012 box office figures, it’s made $64 million so far.

“It is a genre dominated by the thoroughly unoriginal notion that you cannot trust the government. Even when you can trust the government, you cannot trust all of it. And even the branches you can trust aren’t much help, because they are incompetent. To save humanity, one must rely on a bootstrap operation headed by a dedicated go-getter and self-starter. At heart, all superheroes are Republicans.”

Queenan is putting the tropes of the larger action movie genre at the feet of only superhero movies. In Die Hard, perhaps the most iconic action movie ever, the hero has to combat a squad of villains all by himself (without shoes!) and is helped only by one lone cop and hindered by the supposed good guys, the incompetent FBI.

“Can’t trust the government” is a thriller staple, from The Manchurian Candidate to the Bourne films.

Yet no one’s calling for the end of thrillers.

“In superhero movies, women are almost always accessories. This is true even if they themselves are superheroines. The men do the heavy lifting; the women serve an ornamental function. This is why we are all the way up to Iron Man 3 and Batman 7, but have not seen a Supergirl film since 1984, or a Wonder Woman film ever (supposedly, it is coming this year). The 12-year-old boys for whom superhero movies are made are not interested in women. They may not even be interested in girls. They are certainly not interested in girls with superpowers.”

Hey, no one’s more sensitive about the roles of women in these superhero films than me. Last year, I even wrote an open letter to Joss Whedon, asking him to give us our heroines!  (Whedon, with a freer hand on television than in movies, has a much more varied cast in the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show.)

It’s a crime that a Wonder Woman film seemingly can’t get made or that Scarlett Johansson says she’d have to wear pasties to get a Black Widow movie approved or that we’re getting an Ant-Man movie before one starring Johansson as the Widow.

But after slamming Dark Knight Rises above, Queenan fails to note that the best part of Dark Knight Rises was Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. She practically walks off with the movie. Even the main driving force behind all the events in this film is another woman. Absolutely, the first two Batman movies are seriously lacking in estrogen (Martha Wayne has maybe one line while Thomas Wayne gets a nice role) and Lois Lane in Superman Returns? Don’t talk to me about how bad that was. So it’s obviously a problem.

The Marvel movies have made somewhat of an effort.

There are prominent female roles in all the X-Men movies. There’s also Peggy Carter in Captain America, Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films, and Sif and Jane Foster in Thor. Okay, only supporting roles. There needs to be some serious improvement, agreed. Very much with him on that.

However, Queenan’s also slamming the superhero audience and his facts aren’t correct.

Forty percent of the audience for The Avengers consisted of women, so his swipe at the superhero-watching audience is way off base. That he perpetuates this stereotype of the superhero movie fan only muddles the truth. In reality, the facts show a female audience eager to see female heroes and not an audience of cellar-dwelling sweaty fanboys.

“Superhero films increasingly rely on a structure where the hero thinks he is fighting one villain when he is actually fighting another.”

Again, another thriller/mystery staple. And, besides, Loki was obviously working for someone in The Avengers. And the Red Skull wasn’t a surprise in Captain America. The Joker was pretty up front in The Dark Knight. Magneto’s turn to the dark side was widely telegraphed throughout all his appearances in the X-Men movies. I have to wonder if Queenan’s attention wandered away while he was watching these movies.

Then we get to the point that shows an utter lack of comprehension of the current superhero movies:

“You wake up awesome. Not because you did something special like beat Hitler or cure polio. All you did was wake up. And suddenly you were awesome. It is the dream of the fame-hungry X Factor generation.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” is Spider-Man’s defining philosophy.

Peter Parker isn’t a hero because he accidentally received powers. He’s a hero because he uses those abilities to fight for those who can’t defend themselves. Steve Rogers was already a hero before he received the super-soldier serum. The moment I saw the Captain America movie trailer in which scrawny Steve jumps on a grenade to save others, I knew the movie was in the hands of  filmmakers who understood this. Steve’s a good man given a chance to do greater good because of his powers but also because of his need to help others. Powers don’t make the man. They’re just a tool.

Similarly, Thor isn’t a hero because he has godlike powers. He’s a hero because, unpowered and in a strange place, he’s willing to give up his life to save his friends. It’s only after he’s proved his selflessness that he receives back the power of Thor. Bruce Wayne isn’t a hero because he has gadgets, he’s a hero because he’s Gotham’s protector when no one else has stepped up to the role. He also trained long and hard to achieve his skills.

The supporting characters in the superhero movies also emphasize that ordinary heroism is important. Jim Gordon in the Nolan Batman movies is a hero without special abilities beyond a thirst for justice and the theme of anyone being able to be a hero is all over this trilogy.

Sure, people love seeing some epic fights. But in superhero movies, they’re not rooting for the biggest or the strongest. They’re rooting for those who use their wits and skills to help people.

That’s why people cheer when the good guys win. Not because they received instant powers but because they fought the right fight. Because they’re good men, as Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine states so eloquently in Captain America.

Ordinary people can are capable of extraordinary things.

That’s the message of the superhero movie.

The world doesn’t need saving from that. The world needs more of it.


Iron Man 3: Stark is Back and Utterly Compelling

Iron Man 3 © Marvel
Iron Man 3 © Marvel

Unlike the rest of my GeekMom colleagues, my wait for Iron Man 3 is over. The film was released here in the UK yesterday. Tony Stark had a lot to live up to in headlining the first Avengers universe outing since last year’s phenomenally successful The Avengers but, really, was that ego ever going to let us down?

Here’s my look at Iron Man 3 with advice for parents. It is as non-spoilery as possible but plot points revealed in the trailers and in interviews with the cast and crew are mentioned. Continue reading Iron Man 3: Stark is Back and Utterly Compelling