11 Random Pieces of Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher!

Excerpt from the Tigerland extras.

Once upon a time the phrase “director Joel Schumacher” was a handy punchline and/or an unpleasant flashback trigger in many geek circles. Y’know, after what happened with the one (1) film. Never mind that he amassed over three dozen other credits over the course of his career, quite a few of which were eminently watchable and in some cases even respectable. Granted, that most notorious failure derailed a beloved film franchise for several years, hobbled a zillion-dollar merchandising machine for about ten minutes, and was a ludicrous betrayal to those of us who were perhaps a bit too unyielding in our stoic allegiance to Super Serious Super-Heroes.

I let that go years ago. Sooner or later all punchlines gets tired upon incessant repetition, most grudges get pointless as time passes, and some axes don’t need any more grinding.

I was sorry to hear of Schumacher’s passing on June 15th at age 80 after a year-long battle with cancer. Cancer sucks. Much as I’d love to write a definitive summation of his career, that’s best left to professional websites who underpay collaborative teams to compile such listicles from their combined viewing experiences. The following is a personal recollection of my encounters with his works from my teenage years to two months ago. It’s not a long list, or a logically organized or comprehensive one, but it’s mine.

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Our Superman Celebration 2008 Experience: The Mostly Remastered Edition

Anne & Superman!

It’s virtually Metropolis town ordinance: every Superman Celebration photo gallery must include a shot of the world-famous Superman statue.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

At the southern tip of Illinois and across the Ohio River from Paducah, KY, the small town of Metropolis devotes the second weekend of every June to their world-famous Superman Celebration. More than just a carnival acknowledging their local heritage and history, the Celebration invites tourists from all walks to come join in their festivities. Their Main Street’s center of attention is the also-world-famous Superman Museum, dedicated to their most important fictional resident, the great and powerful Superman. Also major draws: the special guests from various Superman movies, TV shows, and other related Super-works who drop by for autographs and Q&As.

At least, that’s how it normally works. That means this year’s Celebration would be this coming weekend. Regrettably here in 2020 Anno Diaboli, the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce announced the show’s cancellation back in mid-March, when pre-planning should have commenced if not for the writing on the wall. We hadn’t yet committed to the 2020 edition, but it sucked to hear they pulled the plug. We understood and lamented…

We’ve attended the Superman Celebration six times. Previous MCC entries covered our other five experiences and meet-ups with the following special guests from the multimedia world of the Man of Steel:

  • 2001 (three chapters): Valerie Perrine and Jeff East from Superman: The Movie, and Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, two of the Phantom Zone Villains from Superman II
  • 2006 (a single, 4500-word long-read): Michael Rosenbaum and the teen Clark Kent from Superman Returns
  • 2012 (one chapter of modest size): John Glover and Cassidy Freeman from Smallville, and Gerard Christopher from The New Adventures of Superboy
  • 2016 (five chapters): a special Crisis on Infinite Jimmy Olsens starring Mehcad Brooks and Peter Facinelli from The CW’s Supergirl; Marc McClure from all four Christopher Reeve Superman films as well as Helen Slater’s Supergirl; and Michael Landes from Lois and Clark
  • 2017 (four chapters): the Margot Kidder from the Reeve Superman films, who then passed away in May 2018; an encore with Sarah Douglas; Dean Cain from Lois and Clark; and James Marsters, relevantly a.k.a. Brainiac from Smallville

And now we complete the set at long last for MCC readers, despite a couple of hiccups.

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Our Superman Celebration 2006 Experience: The Partially Remastered Edition

Rosenbaum + Superman!

Posing in front of the world-famous Superman statue are an unrecognizable Michael Rosenbaum and some lucky kid who’s 14 years older today.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

At the southern tip of Illinois and across the Ohio River from Paducah, KY, the small town of Metropolis devotes the second weekend of every June to their world-famous Superman Celebration. More than just a carnival acknowledging their local heritage and history, the Celebration invites tourists from all walks to come join in their festivities. Their Main Street’s center of attention is the also-world-famous Superman Museum, dedicated to their most important fictional resident, the great and powerful Superman. Also major draws: the special guests from various Superman movies, TV shows, and other related Super-works who drop by for autographs and Q&As.

At least, that’s how it normally works. That means this year’s Celebration would be this coming weekend. Regrettably here in 2020 Anno Diaboli, the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce announced the show’s cancellation back in mid-March, when pre-planning should have commenced if not for the writing on the wall. We hadn’t yet committed to the 2020 edition, but it sucked to hear they pulled the plug. We understood and lamented.

We’ve attended the Celebration six times, but only posted about it four times. MCC launched in April 2012, which allowed me to post timely reports about our experiences in 2012, in 2016, and in 2017. As it happens, our first time in Metropolis was our 2001 vacation and was shared as part of our annual road trip collection.

That leaves two Superman Celebrations as yet undocumented here on MCC. This week, I aim to complete the set despite some problems.

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Indiana State Fair 2011 Photos, Part 4 of 4: The Year in Soybeans and So On

Bennie the Bean!

Me and Bennie the Bean. Soys will be soys.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides, cooking demos, concerts by musicians either nearly or formerly popular, and farm animals competing for cash prizes without their knowledge. My wife Anne and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context. As if our dwindling downtime to-do list for 2020 weren’t already small enough to fit on a Post-It, Anne and I are still reeling from Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the 2020 Indiana State Fair has been canceled after too many vendors kept backing out, painfully aware that crowds and super-powered viruses remain a volatile mix.

Recounts of our State Fair experiences have been among MCC’s annual traditions ever since I launched the site in April 2012. But it’s not as though our lives began in April 2012. We have quite a few stories not yet shared here from pre-MCC days. We may not be able to make new State Fair memories this year, but we can wallow in the older ones we haven’t revisited in a while.

Hence this previously unshared flashback to our 2011 experience. We tried to make the most of our day in this, the Year of Soybeans.

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Indiana State Fair 2011 Photos, Part 2 of 4: The Year in Lego and Canned Food Art

Cans Hulk!

Who makes a Hulk out of canned food but doesn’t use Green Giant vegetables?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides, cooking demos, concerts by musicians either nearly or formerly popular, and farm animals competing for cash prizes without their knowledge. My wife Anne and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context. As if our dwindling downtime to-do list for 2020 weren’t already small enough to fit on a Post-It, Anne and I are still reeling from Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the 2020 Indiana State Fair has been canceled after too many vendors kept backing out, painfully aware that crowds and super-powered viruses remain a volatile mix.

Recounts of our State Fair experiences have been among MCC’s annual traditions ever since I launched the site in April 2012. But it’s not as though our lives began in April 2012. We have quite a few stories not yet shared here from pre-MCC days. We may not be able to make new State Fair memories this year, but we can wallow in the older ones we haven’t revisited in a while.

Hence this previously unshared flashback to our 2011 experience, which featured some of the same staples that longtime MCC readers should know by now. Prime example: super fun art installations!

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Indiana State Fair 2011 Photos, Part 1 of 4: The Year in Food

Ice Cream Burger!

Join us in a bit of nostalgia for the good ol’ days of eating out and mingling in crowds with impunity, won’t you?

You, the Viewers at Home, don’t need me to tell you 2020 is The Worst. And the hits just keep on coming, great and small. While more important people address the great, someone ought to tend to the small. Might as well be me, the Most Irrelevant Man in the World.

As if our dwindling downtime to-do list for 2020 weren’t already small enough to fit on a Post-It, Anne and I are still reeling from Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the 2020 Indiana State Fair has been canceled after too many vendors kept backing out, painfully aware that crowds and super-powered viruses remain a volatile mix. Recounts of our State Fair experiences have been among MCC’s annual traditions ever since I launched the site in April 2012. It isn’t the first tradition thrown off-track this year, and it may not be the last.

But it’s not as though our lives began in April 2012. We have quite a few stories not yet shared here from pre-MCC days. We may not be able to make new State Fair memories this year, but we can wallow in the older ones we haven’t revisited in a while.

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“McMillions” and McMemories

McDonald's pins!

Just a few of the souvenirs we still have from our years with the Golden Arches. All of these are from Anne’s old pin collection.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our family doesn’t subscribe to HBO, but from time to time our cable provider will offer free preview weekends that let us watch all we can within 72 hours that are meant to entice us to add it to our already overstuffed lineup. Instead we save up our HBO watch-lists, pace back and forth waiting for those rare weekends, then see how much we can speed through whenever we’re granted the opportunity. It’s a bit like composing lunches entirely from free samples handed out at the grocery, but in the proper frame of mind, satisfaction can be found in limited quantities.

At least, all that had been our usual approach. Among the more recent developments in the interim normal is both Hulu and our cable provider are now offering access to the HBO libraries for a nonspecific “limited time”, presumably with an end date their corporate overlords can shift back and forth as the winds change. Until then, we plan to see what we can work in while we’re busy catching up on other watch-list materials.

Naturally for us, priority #1 was a recent show that brought back memories of our old jobs.

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Restaurants In Memoriam: A Pre-Virus Retrospective

Mediterranean Grill!

Loukoumadis (fried dough), our final dessert at the Mediterranean Grill in Avon, Indiana. Taken in April 2017 on their final weekend in business. If only we’d shared more meals from there…

Midlife Crisis Crossover isn’t an official foodie blog, but restaurants are among the many and varied subjects we touch upon as we refuse to focus on a singular topic. Whether they’ve enlivened our annual road trips, featured in our wedding anniversary celebrations, given us something to do on Super Bowl Sunday instead of watching ads or sports, or simply welcomed us in for one-time tryouts, restaurants are a treasured aspect of our travel experiences, in other states as well as around our own hometown of Indianapolis. As you can imagine, my wife Anne and I are missing a lot of them right now rather intensely.

We’ve shared photos and warm feelings from dozens of eateries over the past eight years. Not all of them lived to see 2020, which in some cases may not be such a bad thing. Regardless, in this moment of wistful nostalgia, here’s a fond look back at some of the places that are no longer with us, who shut their doors after we visited them and didn’t even call us to say goodbye, because that’s not how it works.

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Pictionary Mysteries

Basketball Pirate!

Most likely guesses: basketball court, one of the Dippers, first aid kit, and…uhh, Rooster Cogburn?

It’s fun to dig through old possessions containing still older possessions — shoe boxes, plastic tubs, photo albums, and other stashes — and discover treasure troves of unrecorded history and lost secrets. Objects that would’ve evoked nostalgic memories if only you’d exhumed them sooner eventually turn meaningless when removed from their once-contemporary context and forgotten by their original buyers or creators.

Some families are more assiduous in their note-taking practices and and fully dedicated in passing on their stories to future generations. Other families have piles of letters and images filled with mementos of strangers they’ll never know, occasions no one can recall, anecdotes never to be retold, and feelings the descendants will never share.

Sometimes such surprises are sprung on you from the unlikeliest hiding places. This past Saturday night we found one inside an old board game.

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My 2020 Reading Stacks #2: The Horror and Heroism of “Becoming Superman”

Becoming Superman!

A highly recommended read, from the introduction by onetime Babylon 5 writer Neil Gaiman to all those other pages not written by Gaiman.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year, each and every squarebound work of qualifying length that I’ve read gets a capsule review apiece. I refrain from devoting entries to full-length book reviews because 999 times out of 1000 I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it. As time permits and the finished books pile up, I’ll be charting my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections in a staggered, exclusive manner here, for all that’s worth to the outside world. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text. Novels and non-pictographic nonfiction will still pop up here and there, albeit in an outnumbered capacity…

And now, we rejoin reading time already in progress…though this time with a single memoir that hit me on numerous levels.

7. J. Michael Straczynski, Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood. The sub-subtitle on the cover of the celebrated writer’s 2019 autobiography pulls no punches and tells no lies: With Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War Crimes. Those diverse, potentially lurid topics are by no means a complete list. He left more than a few surprises between the covers, where they await discovery as each is torn out of his family’s deep, dark closets and brought to light.

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Best CDs of 2019 According to an Old Guy Who Bought 4

2019 compact discs!

Biggest trends of 2019 in album covers in my outlier dimension: no names, no faces, and lots of black.

It’s that time again! The annual entry where I look back at the previous year as one of six people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance.

I’m also not among the trendier listeners collecting vinyl…yet. One of my most underrated achievements in 2019 was acquiring my first new record player in over twenty years. I haven’t rushed out to stock up on new LPs yet because, honestly, I have a large stack of oldies and accumulated oddities I’d rather go through first before I go overboard. We’ll see where the future takes me. For now, it’s CDs all the way.

Well…not counting the two cassettes I bought this year. Talk about unexpected. Alas, both are disqualified from inclusion here because neither was a 2019 release.

The following list, then, comprises all the CDs — and only the CDs — that I acquired last year that were 2019 releases. None were bad, but we’re not into 4-way ties here on MCC, so somebody has to give. On with the countdown:

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“Downton Abbey”: For Fans and Country

Downton Abbey!

Perhaps a bit smaller than stately Wayne Manor, but it’ll have to do.

We thought we’d seen the last of our favorite early-20th-century British property owners, their splendidly ornate possessions, their struggle to maintain their lifestyle even as all their peers fail in droves, and the working-class employees who were more like us. Even though the series finale brought closure and a happy ending — without the doom and gloom that traumatized us in earlier years, no less — leave it to writer/creator Julian Fellowes to confound those expectations and serve one last course of fan service for Anglophiles.

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“IT Chapter 2”: That Previous Evil Clown Movie Before the Next Evil Clown Movie

IT CHAPTER 2!

No, I am not ready to let go our our Dragon Con 2019 memories or souvenirs yet, thanks for asking.

My Stephen King phase lasted from roughly 1986 to 1993, and began when a late-night cable viewing of Christine spooked me so much that I checked out the novel from my junior high school’s library. Having consumed that, I resolved to catch ’em all. To an extent I inherited the fixation from my mom, whose all-time favorite novel is The Stand. I proceeded to read every novel from Carrie through Gerald’s Game, skipping only The Dark Tower series because the first one was impossible to find when my King spree began. (Drifting away from King’s work wasn’t his fault exactly. 1993 was among my darkest years.)

Though I do have my favorites among them, I have a particularly fond memory of the It reading experience. I sat down one evening with the 1000-page paperback edition and proceeded to devour the first 500 in one go. At 6 a.m. my grandma got up for breakfast and was quite surprised to see I hadn’t gone to bed yet. I haven’t done that in ages and would dearly love to have the free time and concentration power to devote to any task for that many hours in a row at my age. I blame the internet.

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Random Spoiler-y Thoughts on “Stranger Things” Season 3

Stranger Things!

Scoops Troop: they sling ice cream, do maths, and fight Commies. As you do.

Judging by my Twitter feed over the past week, America’s biggest July 4th sensation this year was Netflix’s release of Stranger Things‘s third season for a massive fan base eagerly waiting to follow the further adventures of the pluckiest teens ever to come out of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of pre-release coverage, articles, and advertisement here in the good Hoosier state. I’m getting better at finishing new seasons of streaming series as they’re dropped and had this one wrapped up Saturday afternoon. My thoughts didn’t quite streamline themselves into a narrative, but I did have a few.

Most of them are SPOILERS AHEAD, so there’s that. Some of this also won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched it, especially if they’ve never seen an episode. This is virtually stream-of-consciousness, not a pro recap. It’s faster and more fun for me to get it out of my system this way.

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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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I Have a Miyazaki Poster?

Nausicaa!

Yep, that’s art by Hayao Miyazaki.

I spent tonight diving into my own personal archives (by which I mean piles of old stuff) to research a potentially epic-length entry involving childhood memories, games, and psychological damage. A particular magazine box proved to contain only one of two items relevant to the search, but I stumbled across a small stack of posters I forgot I owned. I flip through a few of them and, lo and behold, find myself staring at a beauteous work of art by the Hayao Miyazaki, nearly the entire length of our card table.

I don’t remember owning this, but here it is.

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The Culling of a Comics Collection, Chapter 1

Comics Culling...

Indiana as a state has an abysmal track record when it comes to encouraging recycling efforts, but options do exist if you know where to look.

I’ve heard a lot of chatter about Marie Kondo, the lady with the Netflix show who, if I understand all of last year’s internet squabbling correctly, recommends everyone throw away all their possessions except their Top 10, keep only one pet and release the rest into the wilderness, stuff half their food in the garbage disposal, raffle off any jewelry that weren’t featured in magazine articles, or something like that. For the record, I haven’t watched a single episode, so I’ve not been hypnotized and chanting, “I must give away all my possessions and join the KondoMinimizers,” or whatever.

No, I’ve been planning the act in the above photo for a few months now — consciously, at least. Subconsciously, maybe a lot longer.

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Best CDs of 2018 According to an Old Guy Who Bought 6

2018 cds!

Pretty sure that paltry number still puts me in the upper 10% of American physical media shoppers.

It’s that time again! The annual entry where I look back at the previous year as one of seven people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I’d probably also count myself among the trendier listeners still collecting vinyl if my last record player hadn’t given up the ghost about twenty years ago. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance.

The following list, then, comprises every CD I acquired in 2018 that was also released in 2018. On with the countdown in all its lack of diversity, from the kinda-not-for-me to the unexpectedly inspirational.

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“Bumblebee”: Bay Ban Breeds Better Bug-Bot Battle Ballet

bumblebee!

Not quite life-size, but close.

“Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Bumblebee the Greatest Transformers Film of All Time!” is how I expected to lead off this entry. With Michael Bay out of the director’s chair (though still credited as an executive producer) and replaced by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), it couldn’t possibly be another empty failure.

After seeing the film, which was fine, I’m not yet feeling the “Greatest” superlative.

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“Mary Poppins Returns”: Sequel Gal a Frabjous Mystic, Extra Braggadocious

Mary Poppins Returns!

Meanwhile in the evil Mirror Universe, a misbegotten Mary Poppins reboot rues its poor box office and looks upon our universe’s sequel in envy.

Anne and I haven’t watched the original Mary Poppins in 35-40 years. We had considered revisiting it before lining up for director Rob Marshall’s showy happy sequel, but all the legal streaming services wanted twelve bucks or more for one (1) showing of one (1) 54-year-old film. We moved on without it.

I remember very little of the plot, but the songs have haunted me ever since. Credit goes mostly to the legendary songwriting team of Robert and Richard Sherman, and partly to my grade-school music teacher Mrs. Quebbeman, later Mrs. Surdi when she remarried. She taught us songs we never wanted to know (“Up with People”), didn’t notice when a few of us discovered the new fad called “lip-syncing” in sixth grade, assigned me solos in three consecutive Christmas programs while I still had a stable singing voice, and blessedly introduced us to the wonders of wooden percussion, “The Rainbow Connection”, “Danse Macabre”, and at least half the Mary Poppins soundtrack. For me the film may have faded, but the tunes remain etched into my brain. Long after all the useful parts have shut down, I’ll be in my bed humming the chorus from “Step in Time” till the end of days.

Sadly, Mrs. Surdi passed away about a month ago. She was firmly in my thoughts as Mary Poppins Returns played on. Thanks to her, I knew ahead of time there’s no way I’d like the sequel more than the original. But sometimes it’s nice to sit back, be patient, listen closely, and wait to be surprised at what sticks.

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