The Horrors We Can Contain

Arkham Horror!

Sometimes systems that look like unmitigated chaos from the outside are easier to navigate once you’re fully on the inside. Or they can consume you whole.

If now is not the time for a tortured metaphor involving a convoluted board game set in a fictional universe created by a flagrant racist, I don’t know when is.

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Old Guy with a PS3: Year 5 Results

Borderlands Handsome Jack!

One day I’ll have to murder Handsome Jack after he turns into an intergalactic madman, but in our shared past he’s just tipped me $22 for saving his life. What a guy.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, at the beginning of 2016:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures…

…and it’s been a minor MCC annual tradition ever since. Last year’s entry covered a banner year in which I made time during my limited gaming sessions (three times a week at most, 90-120 minutes/sesh) to plow through five different games, winning four of them and infuriated at the other one. In 2019, I managed…um, not many. Very, very not-many. But I have excuses!

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Dragon Con 2019 Photos #5: Still More Cosplay on Parade Continued

Big Brother and Little Sister!

Big Brother and Little Sister from the Bioshock trilogy.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’ve been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we’re aiming for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness…

…such as that Saturday morning parade through downtown Atlanta. In this installment we focus on characters from the world of gaming — those that I could identify or half-identify — plus a mini-gallery of folks from a certain old HBO series.

Same cautions apply as last time: we’re pros, not fans; corrections are very welcome if we misname anyone; we do take requests, but can’t guarantee we photographed every parade participant; enjoy!

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Gen Con 2009: The Lost Photo Parade

Yu-Gi-Oh-ize me!

It is I, Token the White Guy, rarer than a Blue Eyes White Dragon and yet far less in demand!

Every August since 2003 our hometown of Indianapolis has hosted the Wonder of the World that is Gen Con, one of America’s oldest and largest gaming conventions. Whether your gaming mode is RPGs, tabletop games, TCGs, dice games, family board games, or video games, Gen Con has its sights aimed in your direction. Try a new game, pick up supplies for your current campaigns, network with gamers from faraway lands, or just wander the premises and gaze upon the wonders. Attendance over the past two years has topped 60,000 and shows no signs of slowing down. On the occasion of their 50th celebration in 2017, as phenomenal as it was by all accounts, I’m surprised a squad of fire marshals didn’t simply shut the whole city down.

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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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C2E2 2019 Photos, Part 5 of 8: Last Call for Cosplay

Calvin and Hobbes!

Calvin and Hobbes, complete with Watterson-accurate expression.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! My wife Anne and I just got home from the tenth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″), another three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking. Each year C2E2 keeps inching ever closer to its goal of becoming the Midwest’s answer to the legendary San Diego Comic Con and other famous conventions in larger, more popular states. We missed the first year, but have attended every year since 2011 as a team…

…and sooner or later we run out of cosplay photos as a team. It’s time to share all the cosplay that’s fit to print and left to post. Same disclaimers apply as in Part Two. Enjoy! Some more!

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Old Guy with a PS3: Year 4 Results

Red Dead Redemption!

This throwaway exchange in the original Red Dead Redemption turned into foreshadowing for me. I see what you did there, grizzled frontier helper guy.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, at the beginning of 2016:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures…

…and it’s been a minor MCC annual tradition ever since. Last year’s entry covered how I spent literally all my gaming time in 2017 on Borderlands 2, which fascinated me on all the right guilty-pleasure levels. 2018 was a bit more varied, though not vastly so. I found myself skipping more gaming sessions than usual as other hobbies, responsibilities, and conventions overtook my schedule and kept the ol’ PS3 waiting. The following is a rundown of my retro gaming in that busy year, in two or three short sessions per week, in the order played and with my trophy percentages included to reinforce the fact that I’m neither a gaming wizard nor a helpless grandpa:

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Wizard World Chicago 2018 Photos, Part 3 of 6: Last Call for Cosplay!

Is This a Pigeon?

Yutaro Katori from The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird. Or if you’re on Twitter a lot, the “IS THIS A PIGEON?” meme, live and in 3-D!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! This weekend my wife and I made another journey up to Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we found ample enjoyment and new purchases alongside peers and aficionados of comics and genre entertainment. Once again we lead off a new convention miniseries with the mandatory cosplay galleries. We captured whoever we could while wandering the show floor Friday and Saturday…

…and here are all the rest, all the other cosplayers whose works we appreciated and whose souls we captured. We apologize sincerely for the hundreds of other great cosplayers we didn’t photograph, but: (a) we were trapped in lines a lot; (b) we’re getting older and recognizing fewer costumes; (c) Deadpool variants notwithstanding, we tend to sidestep characters that show up in packs of fifty; (d) I’m getting less excited every year about competing with roving herds of Instagrammers who don’t even bother to learn the names of the characters they photograph; (e) we don’t do costume contests anymore; (f) no ever runs up to us and demands we take and post their pic, which would be most welcome and super convenient for us if they did; and (g) by 5 p.m. Saturday we’d accomplished all our goals and lost our wills to walk.

If you don’t see yourself here, I’m really sorry, but I do hope you get to see a few other fellow cosplayers that you missed this weekend. We saw a lot of fine efforts all around the Stephens Center, breathing new life into favorite characters and generally enriching the WWC experience. Enjoy!

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“Ready Player One”: The Movie Based on the Book Based on the Lists Based on the Collections

Ready Player Cyclops!

A grimdark timeline in which the only survivor of X-Men: Apocalypse was Cyclops.

Everyone loves crossovers! Who doesn’t get excited every time two to 10,000 pop culture characters of varying degrees of familiarity get stuffed into the same frames or panels and generate mechanical synergy for the amusement of fans and the enrichment of corporations? As a young teen collector of both Marvel and DC Comics I was bedazzled by the one-two punch of Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, each of which tossed piles of IPs into dogpiles and let them take turns teaming up and punching each other into oblivion. This brilliant concept in apocalyptic storytelling wowed me at the time, but began losing steam over the decades as all the other annual Marvel and DC crossover events kept (and keep) producing diminishing returns for increasingly transparent financial cravings. Meanwhile in other media, we had the innovative novelty of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and mash-ups like Kingdom Hearts, Soul Calibur, and Super Smash Bros. We had obscurities like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, while the previous generation arguably had their own predecessor in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Despite the amount of behind-the-scenes wrangling involved, the method is simple: pick lots of famous faces that each have had tons of stories and years of character development dedicated to them, cultivated by their creators and successors with some combination of time and care; strip away everything from them but their outer shell and a one-line descriptor of their most superficial traits; throw everyone into an arbitrary arena; make them fight and fight and fight; then, profit. Hurray! It’s a crossover!

To those who love crossovers and other spectacles a la Battle of the Network Stars, by all means keep loving what you love. After a couple decades or more of them, they’re not an automatic draw for me.

And don’t get me started on the crossover’s close cousin, the whole “Easter egg” fetish that’s become a mandatory element of every geek-related product ever, to the point that viewers spend so much time expecting recognizable tokens and high-fiving each other for spotting them that they become the point of purchase and the only reason to pay attention. Some works are so oversaturated with Easter eggs, they’re less like a narrative and more like an extended Highlight for Children “Hidden Pictures” puzzle.

That brings us to Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, adapting the novel by Ernest Cline that I couldn’t bring myself to touch after reading a lacerating review of its nostalgic self-indulgence that gave me more than enough signifiers to tell me it was Not My Thing. As if that weren’t enough, someone on Twitter (I wish I could remember who or in which recent month) shared numerous excerpts from the novel that confirmed it’s entirelty about the hero name-checking, listing, and pumping himself up with his never-ending stream of collector callback consciousness. Unless someone wants to pay me to bypass my gut reaction, count me among the viewers who saw the movie but didn’t and won’t read the book.

Frankly, I only saw the movie because I knew friends or family would ask me about it. In their defense and to my surprise, I’ll give them this: Ready Player One was a lot less anathematic to me than The Big Bang Theory.

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C2E2 2018 Photos, Part 7 of 7: Random Acts of Pop Culture

Cards Against Humanity!

We don’t play Cards Against Humanity, but their advertising is always the best.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! The ninth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″) just wrapped another three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking. Each year C2E2 keeps inching ever closer to its goal of becoming the Midwest’s answer to the legendary San Diego Comic Con and other famous cons in larger, more popular states. My wife Anne and I missed the first year, but have attended every year since 2011 as a team.

In this special miniseries I’ll be sharing memories and photos from our own C2E2 experience and its plethora of pizzazz…

…and it all comes down to this: photos of stuff and things around the exhibit hall. If you’ve never attended a comics or entertainment convention, or if you missed this year’s C2E2, or if you just really like photos of stuff and things, please enjoy this gallery of geek sights and eye-catching outtakes, guaranteed to have 65% fewer words than Part Five and 85% fewer words than Part Six. Yay pictures!

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C2E2 2018 Photos, Part 3: More Cosplay!

Luke Skywalker and green milk!

Jedi Retiree Luke Skywalker swigging green milk, a nutritious part of every space breakfast.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! The ninth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″) just wrapped another three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking. Each year C2E2 keeps inching ever closer to its goal of becoming the Midwest’s answer to the legendary San Diego Comic Con and other famous cons in larger, more popular states. My wife Anne and I missed the first year, but have attended every year since 2011 as a team.

In this special miniseries I’ll be sharing memories and photos from our own C2E2 experience and its plethora of pizzazz. If it’s a convention, that means it’s time for more cosplay photos! Anne and I are fans of costumes and try to keep an eye out for heroes, villains, antiheroes, supporting casts, and various oddities that look impressive and/or we haven’t seen at other cons…

Part Two featured the majority of Marvel characters we met. This time around, the arbitrary chapter divisions bring us to the amazing world of DC Comics, including a handful of Marvel/DC team-ups. As a value-added bonus, also on deck are heroes and villains from the Star Wars universe plus a selection of video game personalities, just because. Same disclaimers apply as in Part Two. Enjoy! Again!

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Indiana Comic Con 2018 Photos, Part 2 of 3: More Cosplay!

Bunny Fett!

Happy Easter from MCC and the Easter Boba!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! This weekend my wife Anne and I attended the fifth annual Indiana Comic Con at the Indiana Convention Center in scenic downtown Indianapolis. It was another opportunity to dive into comic boxes, meet people who make comics, boggle at toy displays, make way for the youngsters who can’t get enough of anime merchandise, and find space to breathe in those cheerfully ever-growing crowds. To be honest, we were surprised how many of the actors on hand were folks we’d met at previous cons, but Anne and I found a few new intriguing names on the guest list and decided to drop by once more.

While we recuperate and wait for our feet to forgive us for their punishment, please enjoy this collection of cosplayers who brightened the day around the show floor. The actors and comics creators will be shared at the end of this special miniseries because everyone loves costumes. In all we took over three dozen pics of varying degrees of tailoring talent and photo quality. We regret we can only represent a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the total cosplay wonderment that was on display this weekend. We’re just an aging couple doing what we can for happy sharing fun…

…and in Part Two, it’s time for all the remaining cosplay that’s fit to print from the worlds of TV, animation, gaming, Netflix, and more. Enjoy! Again!

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My Life in Concerts, Part 3 of 3: Classical Geeks

Ewoks at Conseco!

That time Conseco Fieldhouse hosted grotesque samples of Ewok taxidermy.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Over the past few days, live performances have been on my mind for a couple of reasons I’ll get to at the end of this miniseries — to wit: my life at concerts over the past 25 years, mostly but not entirely rock-based, including a smattering of stand-up comedy and a pair of classical orchestras in more recent times. That number of years might sound impressive if I were a 30-year-old roadie and if the results were novella-length. As a 45-year-old introvert, I’m surprised they add up to as much as they do.

The next two concerts in my timeline shared quite a few traits. Both were at the same venue in downtown Indianapolis. My wife and son accompanied me for a change. Both featured large orchestras, multimedia displays, and original scores from entertainment media.

One of these presentations differed from all the other shows in this miniseries in a very noticeable way: we took photos!

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Old Guy with a PS3, Year 3: The Never-Ending “Borderlands 2”

Face McShooty!

In Borderlands 2, some missions are harder and more meaningful than others. The showdown with Face McShooty is not one of them.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover two years ago:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures…

…which brings us to our third annual round-up of how I spent my retro-gaming time this year. In previous entries I would list all the games I played that year in the order I played them and with my trophy percentages included, whether impressive or embarrassing.

This year, it’s a short list, he understated:

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Wizard World Chicago 2017 Photos, Part 3: Last Call for Cosplay

Hands of Blue!

The mysterious Hands of Blue from Firefly, on the hunt for WWC guests River Tam and River Song. Their next target after that: possibly Melissa Rivers.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time once more! This weekend my wife and I made another journey up to Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we found much enjoyment and new purchases alongside peers and aficionados of comics and genre entertainment. Friday night left us near death by the end of our day, after a few miles’ worth of walking up and down the aisles and hallways, with breaks to go stand in lines of varying lengths and value. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

…I know, I know, less typing, more costume photo galleries. While you enjoy I’ll just be sitting over here in a musty corner, waiting to get back to writing paragraphs at some point. ‘sokay, I ain’t jealous.

So: cosplay! From gaming, movies, TV, and cereal!

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C2E2 2017 Photos, Part 2 of 4: More Cosplay!

Thrawn!

Straight from the pages of my wife’s Star Wars Expanded Universe bookshelves and into the world of Star Wars Rebels, it’s that master planner Grand Admiral Thrawn and an Ysalamir.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! The eighth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″) just wrapped another three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking…

…and cosplay. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of cosplay. Of course we took photos, but we missed much impressive handiwork, partly because we spent a lot of time in lines and partly because we hadn’t rested yet from the previous weekend’s Indiana Comic Con and feared overextending ourselves to the point of burnout.

But! These are the costumes we’re glad we didn’t miss from the worlds of animation, gaming, movies, and what I’m being told is one extremely popular webcomic. (Special thanks to my son for naming assistance with a few of these.)

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Old Guy with a PS3: Year 2 Results

Bioshock Infinite!

Pushing the boundaries of dark science fiction gaming: the dramatic Parisian cheese-shopping scene from Bioshock Infinite‘s DLC finale, “Burial at Sea – Episode 2”. Mmmm, brie.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, this time last year:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures…

So this was my 2016 in retro gaming, in two or three short sessions per week, in the order played and with my trophy percentages included to reinforce the fact that I’m neither a gaming wizard nor a helpless grandpa:

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Wizard World Chicago 2016 Photos, Part 5: Last Call for Cosplay!

Aku Aku and Uka Uka!

Your greeters for today: Uka Uka and Aku Aku, the sentient floating voodoo power masks from ye olde Crash Bandicoot series.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time of year again! Anne and I spent this weekend at Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we generally had a blast surrounded by fellow fans of comics and genre TV/movies even though parts of it resemble hard work and our feet feel battle-damaged after three days of endless walking, standing, lining up, shuffling forward in cattle-call formation, and scurrying toward exciting people and things.

In this episode: all the cosplay that’s fit to post. One last round of WWC 2016 costumes before we move on to other aspects of the con and site traffic resumes its normal levels once I stop mentioning cosplay. And now, we rejoin cosplay, already in progress — from the worlds of animation, video games, movies, TV, and Cool-Looking Characters We Don’t Recognize.

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Pokemon in All the Wrong Places

Rattata!

Teaser image of Rattata from Eli Roth’s next horror film I Catch Pokemon on Your Grave.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: while waiting at Indianapolis International Airport for our (delayed) flight to Manhattan, I downloaded Pokemon Go as an amusing experiment just to see what would happen. Three weeks later, I’m still toying around, curious to see how much longer it’ll take me to get bored with it and move on. Yep, that should happen any week now.

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Old Man Yells at Bulbasaur: My First Day of Pokemon Go

Bulbasaur! Pokemon Go!

It took me 44 years to catch my first Pokemon in the wild, but the goal I never had until today has been achieved at last thanks to rapid advancements in phone technology and Japanese monster-tracking software, whose use was made possible by a slow day at Indianapolis International Airport.

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