Kid Dungeon Master’s Neighborhood Reign: Nostalgic Confession Inspired by “Die”

Die 1!

Teen RPG fan Solomon brings foreboding gameplay setup to Die #1. Art by Stephanie Hans, words by Kieron Gillen, letters by Clayton Cowles.

1. A Long-expected Party.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my annual comic book reviews included a promise of a future entry inspired by Die, the new Image Comics series by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that I encapsulated like so:

What if you took the structure of Stephen King’s It, but instead of fighting a murderous super-clown, the kids and adults in their respective eras were reliving the ’80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as a horror story, and the Big Bad was Tom Hanks from Mazes and Monsters turned into a truly mystical, manipulative interdimensional overlord?

Painted art by Stephanie Hans is like a high-end gallery showing on every page, while writer Kieron Gillen is engaging in ambitious, phenomenally detailed world-building, worrisome in its six-digit word count and rising. He’s exploring fantasy tropes and toying with them from within, but he’s also designed an entire RPG from the ground up to facilitate his vision, one that’s dredging up so many childhood memories for me — some I would dare label “definitive” in regard to my personal backstory — that I’ll need to devote a separate entry to this series in the near future. I have a lot of baggage to unpack here, and I blame Gillen for wheeling the baggage cart right up next to me.

I had the pleasure of meeting painter Stephanie Hans at this year’s C2E2, where I gave her the elevator-pitch version of this entry and she encouraged me to share it. I got a kick out of meeting Kieron Gillen at C2E2 2013, where we briefly chatted about his Britpop-magic fantasy Phonogram and he asked me which character I identified with most. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to it and was ashamed to have no answer, either prepared or improvised. I’m not used to pros at a con asking me a question beyond “Where are you from?”

(Having had time to think later, my answer came to me, obvious if twofold. As a young adult from 1989 to 2000 I imagined myself Seth Bingo, self-anointed tastemaker and DJ, bringing my boom-box and tapes/CDs to entertain at work after-hours — no requests allowed, sharing my collection with peers who just didn’t get me or my nightly playlist. For my life 2000-present I’ve been closer to Lloyd, engaging with music intellectually via long thinkpieces written only for the audiences in my head, but rarely physically and never socially, thus arguably denying its greatest powers. If only I could’ve written all that on an index card before approaching Gillen’s table. Or narrowed my answer down to just one of those two alienating dudes.)

The farther I’ve read into Die, the more I’ve found myself reflecting on my own experiences with Dungeons and Dragons, an integral part of my preteen years. It was a compelling confluence of entertainment and imagination. It was a big hit with the other kids who joined in. It also ushered in the end of my circle of childhood friends.

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My Favorite Steve Ditko Comic, According to Me at Age 7

Killjoy!

If you only know Steve Ditko from Spider-Man movie credits, there’s a lot you don’t know.

Comic book fans are in mourning tonight over the news that legendary artist Steve Ditko was discovered dead in his apartment on June 29th. To the majority he’s known for a variety of creations and co-creations to his name — not just Spider-Man, but Dr. Strange, Squirrel Girl, DC’s the Question, the Creeper, and a long list of lesser-known quirky, oddly dressed champions of justice.

If anyone asks what the quintessential Ditko comic is, the correct answer is Amazing Spider-Man #33, an unconventional story then and now. Our Hero spends nearly the entire issue trapped under several tons of wreckage, unable to free himself easily, despondent that this may be his last hurrah, but slowly, surely, convincing himself he can find some way to save the day.

When I heard of Ditko’s passing, Spidey #33 wasn’t the first comic that popped into my head. As my brain is wont to do, it went obscure and reached farther back in time to a comic I hadn’t thought about in years.

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Adam West 1928-2017

Adam West and Burt Ward!

That time two Dynamic Duos met at Awesome Con Indy 2014.

Saturday morning, Anne and I were at a major event waiting to meet TV’s Dean Cain when news broke that the Adam West had passed away at 88 from leukemia. At first we didn’t believe it. Whether we’re in a small town or a big city, whether we’re among fellow geeks or ordinary folks, that’s the kind of allegation we don’t accept at face value.

“To the phones!” I half-jokingly shouted as we both clicked to our most trusted sources for confirmation. Alas, it was true. The moment was depressing yet sublimely absurd — here we are in line for Superman only to have someone tell us Batman is dead.

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Cowboy Bob, 1942-2016

Cowboy Bob!

Until I was in high school, the only TV our family could afford was a 13-inch black-and-white set. This, to me, is how Cowboy Bob always looked and always will look. Except much squarer, because this image is cropped in the wrong shape.

For once the worst news of my entire day had nothing to do with deaths or Presidential election. Any Indianapolis native over the age of 30 was saddened today to hear about the passing of local TV legend Cowboy Bob, a kiddie-show host and super-friendly personality who played a major role in so many childhoods during his illustrious career on the air, along with his dog Tumbleweed and his greatest puppet, Sourdough the Singing Biscuit, who was as deformed and low-budget as you’d imagine. But he was our deformed low-budget singing biscuit puppet and Cowboy Bob made him happen.

(All the professional news sources insist his name was Bob Glaze. This information is injurious to my rare moment of nostalgia. These journalists were clearly children at the wrong time. His name was Cowboy Bob. SAY HIS NAME.)

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Portrait of the Writer as a One-Time Two-Parent Kid

Golden!

Me at seven months old. My grandma’s caption written on the back of the photo begins, “Mommie had to take him. Daddy was in too big a hurry + didn’t give him time to look at him first.”

The annual MCC year-in-review clipfest and stats party will be coming later this week, but before we get to the fun stuff, perhaps a separate epilogue is due for one of the most (ostensibly) significant events that happened within any of my circles in 2015.

Back in September my father passed away after years of illness and decades of questionable choices. The week that followed was unlike any I’d experienced before — leaving me at a loss for words for a few days, engendering a wellspring of condolences from family and friends, creating no small number of moments both heartfelt and awkward and rife with flawed, generous assumptions.

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The MCC Swag Box! As Seen on TV in My Head!

MCC Swag Box!

When your humble Midlife Crisis Crossover narrator was a kid, Hickory Farms ruled the gift-set market with their carefully arranged and packaged snack assortments that were perfect for holidays, birthdays, and weddings for couples who forgot to register anywhere. The big HF put presents inside their presents so you could gift while you gift. They’re still in business today, but their marketing is more selective than it used to be in those halcyon shopping days when we could drive to the nearest mall and stock up on summer sausage anytime we felt like it.

In recent years the burgeoning geek-demographic market has taken the idea in a different direction. For those who’d rather buy hodgepodges for themselves and keep them rolling in like clockwork, Loot Crate offers a monthly subscription service that fills fans’ mailboxes with bobbleheads, remaindered toys, unpopular overstock, weird reading matter, and more bobbleheads. Sensing a possible fad in the offing, Wizard World launched its own copycat club called ComicConBox, which does much the same for more than twice the price. If you want your house filled with random knickknacks and characters you’ve never heard of, either service is a fine way to accumulate future Goodwill donations.

I recently exchanged words with a rep at a company called Man Crates, which returns the gift-set idea to its roots as a single-package special event, but expands the paradigm beyond the old meats-and-cheeses domain. Mind you, those are still on the table, in sets with names like “Cow-pocalypse”, “Pit-Master”, and one that sells itself with the one-word name “Bacon” (kinda like “Madonna” or “Thunderlips”). As befitting the name, several Man Crate options focus on other manly-man pursuits such as golfing, grilling, tools, shaving, large dogs, hot sauce, and zombie defense (because YOU NEVER KNOW).

For other not-manly-man folks like me, they have gift sets for gaming, coffee, baby care, and Asian snacks (my son would love this). When thinking of me, the Man Crate rep thought of their nostalgia-riffic “Old School” crate, which teams up classic playthings like Rubik’s Cubes and Pez dispensers with an array of candies as seen in the drive-ins, drugstores, and corner convenience stores of my youth. If you or your loved ones have the means to open an actual wooden crate, they have a Man Crate in mind.

The rep posed a question to me: what would I pack in an “Old School” crate?

That brings us to a little spinoff invention I’d have to call…the MCC Swag Box!

Right this way for my idea of what made the ’80s!

MCC 2014 Pilot Binge #8: “Scorpion”

Scorpion!

Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Scorpion the Best New Series on TV!

That’s my honest assessment based purely on how its pilot stacked up against the nine others I’ve watched so far in my ongoing marathon. When I first read about the premise — the short version is, our government pays wacky hackers to save the world every week — my initial impression was a CSI: Big Bang Theory that would have depressing things in store for me. I feared the limited plot possibilities that would be solved every episode with some combination of “Let’s Enhance!” zooms and frenetic compute-offs in which Our Heroes must TYPE FASTER OR ELSE THINGS EXPLODE, all while we point and laugh at their personal defects. The first twenty minutes of the pilot saw my prophecy fulfilled for the benefit of CBS viewers who prefer that their shows look exactly like other CBS shows.

Then a strange thing happened during the back half of the premiere. This time, things got personal for me.

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Every Father’s Day is a Fixed Point in Time

Father and SonThe photo at left was taken by my mom back in 2002. The original is surely stuck inside one of her many photo albums. All I have is this poorly scanned, cropped version that I once used as my LiveJournal profile pic. My son was seven, maybe eight years old. To this day it’s one of my favorite pics of the two of us, despite the distance and the low-res haze. Something about our shadowy faces and that sunbeam between us strikes a certain poignancy for me.

Like most all-purpose bloggers, I’ve written about various holidays at length in the past. Father’s Day is one of those for which I wish I could present you with something warm, fuzzy, life-affirming, and role-model-ish. Truth is, he and I play the day so low-key that I imagine some relatives probably worry about us. He’s not the most expressive or enthusiastic when it comes to holidays, family gatherings, or mushy moments, and I’m not one to force hugs and pleasantries from others. That’s my wife’s zealous area of expertise.

For us Father’s Day typically means dining out, doing something fun together (either video games or a movie, typically), and calling it a day. He’s now living up at college year-round, but this year’s get-together will look similar, a benign combination of food and entertainment. I love him and I always look forward to spending time with him, but cards and presents aren’t a part of the process. I wouldn’t turn down free stuff if he offered it, but I’m not the kind of Dudley Dursley to demand it.

As for how my Father’s Days work in the other direction…

Thoughts That Never Occurred to Me During My Lonely “Nice Guy” Years

Yearbook signature, Class of Long Ago.

Sample message from a classmate written in one of my old yearbooks. Somehow I read platonic well-wishing like this and did not convince myself they were subliminally asking me to ravish them.

I’ve never understood normal men, let alone the broken ones. Let’s get that out of the way up front.

Maybe it’s because I read the right books and lucked into the right role models. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a sufficiently damaged home life. Maybe I’m lucky that my father wasn’t an active part of my life. Maybe it’s a good thing I never kept too many macho friends for long, or belonged to any particularly masculine cliques. Maybe it’s because I figured out a way for logic and empathy to share harmonic coexistence in my brain. I’m funny that way, maybe.

My first date wasn’t till age 19. My age at the time of you-know-what was years beyond that. In junior high and high school, I never bothered asking any girls out. I knew my odds were slim for a variety of reasons, some but not all of them related to appearance. I wasn’t happy with it. I had my bouts of depression and crushed self-esteem. Eighth grade in particular remains a mental and emotional nadir in my life. I couldn’t figure a way out of it on my own, other than to hope that “This, too, shall pass” would apply to my situation someday before I died.

And yet…for all my dissatisfaction with my lot in life back then, for all my innocuous interactions with the ladies in my young-stupid-male years, none of the following sentences ever popped into my head:

* “That girl was nice to me. I expect sex from her now.”
* “The world owes me a chick.”
* “I know I’m perfect, so it’s clearly not my fault.”
* “Top-40 songs about love and sex are most wise.”
* “Maybe if I insult all women a lot, one will step forward and claim me.”
* “The world owes me a hot chick.”
* “Without sex I’m nothing.”
* “Women love a guy who’s bitter and snarling.”
* “Killing will solve anything.”

…and I’m grateful to the Lord every day that I never adopted anything from this list as my personal catchphrase.

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Farewell, My Creepy-Looking But Beloved Childhood Home

childhood home, moving out

Last night around 12:30 in the morning was the last time I’ll ever step foot in the home where I grew up. After forty-one years my mother finally made the tough decision to downscale to a smaller, more affordable place for the sake of long-term retirement planning and easier living space management.

My wife, my son, and I spent six hours Saturday helping her pack and fifteen hours Sunday helping her move. With just the four of us working on it, and with her unable to lift anything heavier than a bag of groceries, it was extremely slow going. By the time I called it a night around 1 a.m., I could hardly stand to look at my old bedroom anymore. That was partly because I was tired of being there, partly because I was just plain tired, and partly because by the time we hollowed it out…well, as my son put it while we stood there surveying the room one last time, it looked like the set of a disturbing horror film.

This way for memories and such…

The Last Stand of the Drive-In Theater: Upgrade or Perish

Tibbs Drive-In, Indianapolis

The drive-in nearest our house is the Tibbs, still standing after 46 years. For now. (Photo from our 2008 personal archives. To date I’ve seen only two of these timeless non-classics…)

In my early childhood years, I had only two options for seeing movies: squinting at them on my family’s thirteen-inch black-‘n’-white TV (and I was rarely allowed to choose what channels we watched); or seeing them writ large on the giant-sized, outdoor screen down at the drive-in theater. In a world where limited technology narrowed our choices, this competition was a no-brainer to me.

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The Thrill of the Easter Egg Hunt, or Complete Lack Thereof

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown

Sally and Linus, humbly accepting food from a dog.

When I was a kid growing up in a household where God and church were never discussed, Easter meant next to nothing.

I was brought up to observe the standard annual rites. We bought a Paas egg-coloring kit at the grocery that came with all the paraphernalia you needed for starters: color-coded aspirin to toss in cups of water and turn it Crayola-colored and undrinkable; a wire hook to rescue submerged eggs from their watery prisons after a dozen tries; non-stick stickers, most of which would later be thrown away still attached to their original release paper; a wax crayon for drawing gunky, invisible shapes on the eggshell for no one to see and the dye to soak through anyway; decorative paper collars to use as Easter egg stands, as if the results would be museum-worthy; and the box that contained it all, designed with the punch-out holes to transform into an egg-drying rack that would collapse under the weight of three or more eggs.

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The Scooby-Doo/Captain Caveman Crossover That Changed My Life

Scooby-Doo 9, February 1978One of the commonest ice-breaker questions between comic book fans getting to know each other or merely shooting the breeze between major-event discussions is, “What was your first comic book?” I have faint memories of having a handful of comics before first grade, but none of them survived the innocent ravages that come with being owned by a child, even one who learned to read at preschool age.

My official answer to that question, barring those ancient entrants disqualified due to loss of existence, is the oldest surviving comic from that era remaining in my collection to this day. Pictured at left is my personal copy of Scooby-Doo #9, dated February 1979, purchased for me when I was six years old. I found a mint-condition copy posted online, CGC-rated 9.6, if you want to view the original cover in all its undamaged glory for art appreciation purposes, but the image posted here (click to enlarge!) has one unbeatable advantage: this one is mine.

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