Screenshots of the Unboxing of the New “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” X-Wing Fighter

The pieces are said to me much sturdier and less likely to break. The X-Wing has a pop-up droid that, when pushed, releases the wings from the locked position to form the X-position. Attachments are set up differently than previous toys, in that they only fit the slot for which they are designed, meaning that each wing’s attachment will only fit the correct wing.

 

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Fall Television Preview

Summer goes by fast. Warm weather and short sleeves are almost over for another year and flip flops, normally reserved for feet in the sand, will revert back to what we refer to when a politician changes position on an issue.

Truthfully, the only lengthy thing about summer is the wait for fall television shows to return and this season is going to be quite an array of fun. There are some favorites coming back and some new programs that will quickly find an audience.

SUNDAY

“The Simpsons” on FOX is returning with the voice-cast IN PLACE. This is big news, since negotiations seemed to have fallen apart over the last year. This animated series is back, starting Sunday, September 27, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

Homer Simpson

My wife loves “Once Upon A Time.” The series is brilliantly cast, the story is ever-changing and the characters are masters of developing, from good to evil and back. Now, we are seeing Merida coming to the series, as well as dark Emma, changing the entire idea of what we’ve seen the first four seasons! “Once Upon A Time” returns for Season 5 Sunday, September 27, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

If you were a fan of “Dallas” on TNT, you definitely have a hole in your heart since the series was prematurely cancelled by the network (which I still haven’t forgiven) last year. Thankfully, ABC has a similar program, starring Don Johnson and Chase Crawford called “Blood & Oil” that is set in North Dakota, where a family faces off against a cruel oil tycoon. The series is set to premiere on Sunday, September 27, at 9 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

MONDAY

“The Voice” makes its return with a different lineup (again) with Gwen Stefani returning to join Pharrell Williams, Adam Levine and the newly single Blake Shelton. You can catch the returning NBC singing competition on Monday, September 21, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

One of the most watched shows on television is “The Big Bang Theory.” The geek-friendly show has lost some of its shine, but the cast is good and the opportunity is there to bring the story back to the premise that originally made the show great. This year, the boys with be making a road trip to Mexico. Hopefully, CBS won’t be moving the show to a different night again, which also didn’t help. The series returns Monday, September 21 with TWO NEW episodes, back-to-back, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

“Gotham” wasn’t what I expected, therefore, I gave up on it early on. I regretted that decision and had to go back and catch up on what I had missed. The show really picked up the pace late in the season and captured a vibe all its own. The new season gives us a more sinister Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), as well as a now crazy E. Nygma/Riddler (Cory Michael Smith). The Bat-Cave is now in play, the Joker is on his way, Detective Gordon is angry and the city of Gotham is witnessing the birth of villains with the worst of intentions. “Gotham” returns Monday, September 21, 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

TUESDAY

The Muppets

“The Muppets” on ABC isn’t quite the same as you remember. Miss Piggy has moved on from her relationship with Kermit and is now (possibly) dating Liam Hemsworth, while Kermit is dating another pig. He definitely has a type. The structure of the show is set up more like ‘Modern Family,’ in that it has cut-aways to an interview-type of camera work. This means that we can see our Muppet friends break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera. Watch the ABC premiere on Tuesday, September 22, at 8PM Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back for a third season on ABC and some major changes. Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) are searching for more people with powers. Inhumans will have a part in keeping them from finding those people. The new season starts Tuesday, September 29, at 9PM. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

Everything old is new again! Fred Savage from “The Wonder Years” is back on television, opposite Rob Lowe from “Parks and Rec”, in FOX’s new series, “The Grinder.” Savage is an attorney, while Lowe is an actor who plays an attorney, in an all-star comedic cast. Look for Christina Applegate later in the season! FOX’s “The Grinder” premieres Tuesday, September 29, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

“Fresh Off the Boat” also returns on Tuesdays, this fall. Though it had a slow start last year, the ’90’s throwback series, following the Huang family, is above average and deserves to find a solid audience. Based somewhat loosely on the memoir of famed chef, Eddie Huang, the series a great representation of the life of a preteen immigrant and how he deals with moving to a new state. A great use of ’90’s hiphop music sets this show apart. ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” returns Tuesday, September 22, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

The CW is a booming network! They’ve found quite the support with their new shows and will continue to build on it this season. “The Flash” is one that really surprised fans because, even though there were cliffhangers, events actually played out and jaw dropping surprises were present in nearly every episode. Since last season’s S.T.A.R. Labs team no longer has a leader, look for The Flash to try to go solo, in an effort to avoid hurting the ones he loves. This fresh, exciting series comes back Tuesday, October 6, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

If you were a fan of zombies and a fan of “Veronica Mars” and a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” then “iZombie” is probably already on your watch list. It’s a detective style comedy/action mystery series that breathes fresh air into a saturated zombie market. The CW series returns for its second season on Tuesday, October 6, at 9 p.m.Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

WEDNESDAY

“The Mysteries of Laura” was on the chopping block last year with ratings that seemed to lead many to believe it wouldn’t see a second season. It’s back, though and may potentially find its footing with a new year. Speculation of guest stars, like last season’s Melissa Joan Hart, may add to the enthusiasm NBC had for this cross-over comedy/action/drama. The return date is Wednesday, September 23, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

“Arrow” is another “DC Comics” series that the CW airs, along the same lines as “The Flash.” Arrow is based on the “Green Arrow” comic book and has an incredible social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. Don’t expect it to make a lot of sense, unless you start from the beginning of the series. It’s a good time for you to go back and watch last season online, before the new season starts on Wednesday, October 7, at 8 p.m.Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

Wednesday night comedy belongs to ABC, so grab the popcorn, a soda, sit back and prop your feet up with the family. From 8PM until 10PM, there’s no reason to turn the channel.
Starting at 8 p.m., “The Middle” is back with a seventh season! Who doesn’t love Sue Heck? It’s the middle of the United States, during the middle of the week and middle child, Sue (Eden Sher) is starting college and Axl (Charlie McDermott) has to deal with having his sister even closer than before. That means Frankie (2 time Emmy winner Patricia Heaton) and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) are home with one child, Brick (Atticus Shaffer). Wednesday, September 23, at 8 p.m. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

 

The Goldbergs

If you’re not watching “The Goldbergs,” we probably wouldn’t get along. It’s the funniest show since “Arrested Development” and the entire cast is perfectly cast for this ’80’s stroll down Memory Lane. Set in Pennsylvania, the series is narrated by Patton Oswalt and is seen through the eyes of young teen, Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone). It’s like an more modern version of “The Wonder Years,” only funny. The series returns Wednesday, September 23, at 8:30 p.m.on ABC. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

“Modern Family” has become a staple of ABC’s comedy lineup. We’ve watched the kids grow up, been a part of the weddings and taken vacations with the family. It was a groundbreaking way to present a comedy series, almost like a documentary comedy, with interviews and asides. Now that another Alex Dunphy (Ariel Winter) has graduated high school and her sister, Haley (Sarah Hyland) has a job, the audience gets to see a new direction for “Modern Family,” which should open doors of opportunity to see new guest stars. The series returns Wednesday, September 23, at 9 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

“Black-ish” was a hit in its opening season, last year and returns this season with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross. This fun series tackles tons of hard issues, from racism to dating, with a mix of old school and modern parenting. This is one of the funniest ensemble casts on television! This season, rumor has it that the show will be tackling “The N-Word.” The series returns Wednesday, September 23, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

Comedy Central has a long-running animated series you may have heard of. It seems the seasons of “South Park” get shorter every year, but the anticipation is always high and they don’t disappoint. The new season begins Wednesday, September 16, at 10 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: DVR

The hottest show of last year is returning for a second season. While I couldn’t get into it at all, “Empire” is undoubtedly the biggest hit FOX has ever had. The season premiere for “Empire” is Wednesday, September 23, at 9 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: (If you’re already a fan) WATCH

THURSDAY

NBC had a potentially exciting premise for a television show several years ago called “Heroes.” There was an amazing cast, a solid fanbase going in and a good time slot. The problem was, nothing happened. It dragged on, without mercy, until it vanished. For whatever reason, NBC is bringing it back in the form of “Heroes Reborn,” only without the biggest stars and the fanbase. The premiere of this NBC series is Thursday, September 24, at 8 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: SKIP

In keeping with its decline in caring, NBC doesn’t have much to offer this fall. One bright spot will be a favorite, “The Blacklist.” We’ll see a different attitude from Liz this year, as she has just discovered that she was the one responsible for the death of her father. Now she is the prey instead of the hunter. You can follow Raymond “Red” Reddington starting Thursday, September 24, at 9 p.m.  Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

FRIDAY

NBC used to be the go-to for comedies, particularly sitcoms. “Undateable,” unfortunately doesn’t hit the mark. The series is on Friday nights, which is a great timeslot for a show that is slowly sliding off the radar. Never fear, the cast is good enough to land other shows very quickly. If you’re hoping to see this show, catch it while you can. “Undateable” returns Friday, October 16, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: SKIP

“Grimm” has a supportive fanbase that has kept it alive and an online community that rivals most other shows on network TV. It’s not for everyone’s taste, so a wide audience isn’t going to be reached, but a loyal one will. “Grimm” returns Friday, October 30, at 9 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: (die hard fans) WATCH

“Community” fans rejoice! Ken Jeong is returning to network television in a new ABC comedy, “Dr. Ken.” The doc has absolutely zero bedside manner, but he’s fortunate to have married a therapist, who might keep him from surgically sewing his foot in his mouth. “Kids In the Hall” and “The Middle” star, Dave Foley will also star in the series, along with Suzy Nakamura from “According to Jim” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The premiere is Friday, October 2, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. WATCH, DVR, or SKIP? VERDICT: WATCH

The Name Behind Your Childhood

If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with his work, even though you may not know his name and have never seen his face. You’ve probably doodled or sketched the characters he made famous, or maybe had their likeness on your pillowcases. The toys you grew up playing with were based on the characters he had a part in bringing to life.

His name is Tom Cook. No? Doesn’t ring a bell?

Tom animated and directed some of the most incredibly popular animated cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s. His work includes everything from “He-Man” and “She-Ra” to “Brave Starr” and “Ghostbusters.” Now retired, Cook was a recent media guest at Pittsburgh’s “Steel-City Con,” where he was welcomed by thousands of happy fans, excited to finally put a face to the name they saw on every closing credit of their youthful Saturdays and weekday afternoons.

Tom Cook discusses his animation during a panel at Pittsburgh's "Steel-City Con"

Tom Cook discusses his animation during a panel at Pittsburgh’s “Steel-City Con”

Cook was a bus driver, content with his job, before he became an animator. He saw an ad for a college art course at a local school and thought he would like to expand his talent for sketching into something a little more substantial. In a short time, the teacher told him that they were looking for animation assistants for cartoons that were being developed for network television. Cook kept his bus route, but decided to take the step of faith into following his passion, or at least an attempt to test the waters.

Cook’s first animated sample was “The Flintstones.” Prior to his career change, he would draw Fred Flintstone from different angles, seeing how the positioning and movement would look. He began familiarizing himself with how muscles and bone structure can look by studying the work of Jack Kirby and the characters created by Stan Lee in various comic books. He saw that animating could show a level of human realism and still work as a cartoon-type of character.

Because he wanted to be a full-time animator and work as much as possible, he went to Filmation Studios, which supplied us with his most well-known years of work. He did the animation for “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “Heathcliff,” as well as most of the Saturday Morning cartoons that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. He says the most difficult to animate was “The Smurfs,” because there were so many of them in every scene. “It’s not that I disliked them,” he said, “you just always had to draw so many.”

Cook worked on movies, like “The Cunning Little Vixen” and the “Roger Rabbit Short: Tummy Trouble,” which was associated with the movie, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” He says his favorite character to animate was always “Thundarr the Barbarian,” which aired on both, NBC and ABC. Cook enjoyed the realistic look and movement of the character.

Cook has made appearances at conventions all across the country, sometimes appearing with the actors who gave voices to the characters he animated. Although he misses 2-dimensional animation, when it made way for the digital animation we see today, Cook was able to transition smoothly, because he was familiar with computer animation programs and was able to help in the training of other artists and animators.

“Many of the animators,” Cook said, “ignored the change and went from making more than $100K a year to having to take jobs as security guards because they were unable to learn to adapt.”

Since retiring, he began playing drums for a worship team at his local church and got married. His wife knew he was an artist, but wasn’t married to him during the time he was animating. She was surprised when she attended a convention with him recently and a fan came up to tell him he was a legend. He has since used that to his advantage with her in saying, “Legends shouldn’t have to take out the garbage around the house.”

Travel Options Offer Affordable Alternative in Some States

Recently, my wife and I were in San Diego, California. The public transportation there is among the best in the country, so our plans for downtown included taking a trolley or a bus, rather than driving and trying to find parking. We had heard of Uber, but really had very little idea as to what it was, other than some sort of taxi service.

We stopped by an information station, which was set up just outside of Petco Park, to ask which trolley or bus would be the best to get us back to the house we were renting. The lady at the counter asked, “Have you tried Uber?”

We had previously used taxi services around our home region, but were dissatisfied with the outdated, overpriced and slow service. We weren’t too enthused to even hear about an alternative, but we were immediately interested when she told us our first ride would be free, thanks to a referral system that the company has.

We signed up for the app and hailed our first Uber ride. The car was not only clean, the driver was extremely friendly, offering us bottled water and arriving to pick us up within 2 minutes. Uber drivers usually don’t even accept tips, as everything is done via credit card on your mobile app. We were hooked!

We decided to forgo public transportation for the remainder of our trip, using Uber and the alternative company, Lyft (which works the exact same way) for every trip we needed during vacation. The average cost of a 20 minute trip was $11, but since we both had the app, we had 2 free trips with Uber and 2 free trips with Lyft, saving us nearly $50.

I thought, “Surely there are some drivers who are not as professional, or have dirty cars, or not as courteous.” After ten trips via the services of Uber and Lyft, we didn’t encounter a single issue. The longest we had to wait for a driver was seven minutes and that was because they encountered traffic on their way.

When we arrived back at the airport, we called a cab to take us to our car, which we parked in a garage about five minutes away. The cab took more than 15 minutes to arrive at the airport, the door didn’t work, the trunk was not clean when we put our baggage in, the car had an odd smell and there was no bottled water waiting for us. The worst part of it was, the cost for this quick trip – including tip – was $18.

Charleston and Huntington are two of the most populated cities in the state of West Virginia. Having an Uber or Lyft service could possibly offer a viable alternative for consumers who want a fast, affordable option for transportation, particularly with some KRT routes being removed and gas prices higher than surrounding states.

ABC Brings Back Familiar Fuzzy Faces

ABC Network has a strong history of creating family comedies. The TGIF era of shows are what many of us grew up watching. Friday nights with the Tanners, Steve Urkel and Balki and Cousin Larry made for some great memories. In recent years, they’ve had shows offering nostalgia from the ’60s (“The Wonder Years”) and the ’80s (“The Goldbergs”), as well as giving us families like The Dunphys of “Modern Family”, the Huangs of “Fresh off the Boat” and the Hecks of “The Middle”.

When I heard there was going to be a revival of “The Muppets”, but that it would be completely different from the original, I was optimistic, but suspicious. That is, until I got to San Diego Comic-Con, where the Jim Henson creations had pretty much taken over ABC’s booth.

The new Muppets series is set up more like “Modern Family” in that it breaks the fourth wall by having the characters interact with the camera via short asides, like a documentary. The comedy gives viewers a chance to revisit the characters they loved from the old series and films, but also has a modern take on where they are now and their relationships and spats.

The series will have some very familiar faces, including Topher Grace, Elizabeth Banks and others, but will focus on the stars we love, like Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzy and Piggy. You’ll also recognize The Big Bang Theory’s Bill Prady as one of the show’s writers and “Wilfred” director, Randall Einhorn behind the camera.

The Muppets premieres on ABC Tuesdays this fall, beginning September 22.

Charleston Street-Fest Brings the Eighties Back to Life

The streets of Charleston were filled with food, hula-hoops, chalk art and music Saturday evening as Street Fest took place on Capitol Street. Hundreds attended the event, filling the block with everything from an area for children and family activities to costumed attendees available for photos and restaurants filled with food and drink on their patios.

One of the highlights to this eighties themed evening was a band from Clarksburg called Eighties Enough. They played every genre of retro music from the decade that brought us shoulderpads and stonewashed jeans. They crossed the gamut of musicians from Michael Jackson to Devo to the ballads of Bon Jovi and REO Speedwagon. Best of all, they did it well! Too often, events such as these draw bands who lack the ability to hold the interest of a crowd, but Eighties Enough, with their vocalist Eric Lewis, truly made the evening memorable.

It was interesting to see a band’s setlist go from the rock and roll sounds of Poison to Run DMC so seamlessly, but they kept it fun and upbeat for the crowd, who were hoping to find shade from a nearly 90 degree afternoon in the sun. The band includes Lewis on keyboard, guitar and lead vocals, Jim Poling on lead guitar and vocals, Rick Martin on bass and Jason Lantz on drums and vocals. Lewis said that this was their first time playing in Charleston, WV, but they enjoyed their visit. With the impression they left on those in attendance, it certainly won’t be their last!

For more on the band, visit their website at http://eightiesenough.com or their facebook page at http://facebook.com/pages/Eighties-Enough/243379560555.

Another Charleston Street-Fest is planned in August with activities for all ages.

Ant-Man Overshadowed by Humor

Ant-Man promotion covered each city street lamp in San Diego this past weekend. Though Marvel had very little presence themselves at the San Diego Comic-Con, they did send symbols of their featured movie premiering this weekend across the globe. After seeing the movie, I understand why they were hesitant to show up.

Comic book movies are meant to be a heroic journey of discovery with a nemesis who the audience comes to hate. This was Marvel’s journey into comedic, over the top sarcasm and cute pleasantries. Mind you, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t their best effort.

The movie follows an out of work ex-con, just released from prison, for a Robin Hood type of crime against a large corporation. He has a daughter with his ex-wife, played by the incredible Judy Greer. The step father, of course, has a vendetta against Paul Rudd’s character, which leads to a second incarceration.

Not to give anything away to those who are looking forward to seeing this film, Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) recruits Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) to stop his former company, now controlled by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using a shrinking ray that minimizes the space between atoms from falling into the wrong hands (Hydra). The problem isn’t that the storyline is just weak compared to other Marvel properties, it’s that it tries too hard to be cute. The humor goes too far and becomes almost a parody of itself. Scott’s daughter becomes a pivotal character, which would be fine, except the language in this movie makes it unacceptable for children. So who is the target audience?

There is a pretty impressive performance given by Michael Douglas. He is a redeeming quality of an otherwise mediocre (for Marvel) movie. Evangeline Lilly plays his daughter, Hope. She has been distanced from her father because of the death of her mother, the former Wasp character from the Avengers comics. Lilly plays a tough, hard-nosed character who works to eventually attempt to double-cross the bad guys.

As with any Avengers movie, there are cross overs. Be sure to stay past the closing credits for a view, albeit a small one, of Captain America’s next project. You’ll also recognize ABC’s Agent Carter and Tony Stark’s father early on in the movie.

Overall, I’d guess that most people will like this film more than I did. Personally, I will give it a solid B-, but you be the judge for yourself. Ant-Man is rated PG-13 for strong language, action and violence.

How Conan O’Brien Won Comic-Con

San Diego was brimming with the core target audience of late night talk shows last week. 18 to 30 year olds who are looking for entertainment value and willing to spend money to get what they want. Comic-Con is a pharos for the men and women who venerate entertainment of all sorts. It was only a matter of time before one of our modern day late night hosts willingly gave the fans what they were asking for.

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PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan O’Brien looks over notes between segments.

Conan O’Brien announced earlier this year that he would be taking his show on the road, as he did in Texas the previous year, to San Diego. This notion was brilliant, as the convention would be filled with casts, writers and directors promoting their films and television shows. The Hunger Games final entry, “The Mockingjay: Part II” and the latest installment in the X-Men franchise, along with the Batman vs. Superman release were highly visible productions all over town, adorning the cover of magazines and the side of trollies and cabs. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead adorned the side of buildings and bus stops, as zombies were about the convention floor, scaring guests and giving fans photo opportunities.

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PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan and the cast of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II pose for a photo during commercial break.

What Conan did made sense. He traveled a couple of hours away from his regular locale to one of the most pleasant cities on earth, to 1,600 fans per night the convenience of a smaller version of what those who had waited in line for 12 hours at Hall H – Comic-Con’s largest panel -had seen. He also brought his A game when it came to his comedy. His monologue perfectly paralleled the week, allowing the audience at home to ascertain and get an impression of what those lucky enough to get attendance badges were able to see. He covered the gauntlet with his banter, satirizing everyone from fans of anime to Star Wars, without ridicule.

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PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – An awkward hug between Liam Hemsworth and Andy Richter is one of the best things you’ll ever see.

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PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan O’Brien, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson take time for a few dance moves during the break.

As if attendees weren’t fortuitous enough to get into the historic Spreckles Theater, where Conan’s show was recorded, Conan and the toy company, Funko gave each individual in attendance a free, exclusive Conan toy. They varied each night, from a Batman Conan to a zombie Conan, along with others, but it was SWAG that people were happy to receive. Throughout the city, Conan would stop and talk to fans, taking photos and telling jokes. Politicians couldn’t have done it better. Conan won over the entire convention, from celebrities to each genre of fandom.

We were fortunate enough to meet Conan a couple of times on Thursday. Even after the show, he came into the audience and hugged my wife and me. It was genuine appreciation for the fans he certainly had gained from the week of shows. He had created, through his week of “Conan-Con” shows, a way to give back to the audience. That’s something that is unusual in any media market, or at least on this level.

Besides the cast members of the highlighted shows, guests dropped by each night, unannounced. The unofficial mayor of San Diego Comic-Con, Seth Green, had a light saber duel, Chris Parnell dropped by to sign his fictitious book, saying that it was the least expensive booth to rent at the convention and Wolverine auditions took place, with everyone from Nick Offerman to SDCC favorite, Patton Oswalt.

In all honesty, there was no one who could have done it better than Conan. His approach was palpable and natural and the fans at SDCC would be the first to know if it was anything but. The only way to improve on Conan’s 2015 visit to San Diego’s 46th year of Comic-Con would be if he made it a yearly event for his show.

Seeing the X-Men in a New Light

The Reading Theater in San Diego is steeped in history and beauty. When the sun hits the marquee just right, the colors change and its nearly like a transposition of seasons instead of a sunset. During San Diego Comic-Con, it’s hard to notice this as you are hustling by trying to get to your next panel destination, but while we stood in line for the “X-Men: Days of Future Past – Rogue Cut” for what will be its only cinematic airing, I noticed the marquee and realized I was in for something unique.

We were there with the initial intent of covering the release as press, so we were first in the door and quickly nestled on the back row of theater 8 with a popcorn and a Coke, waiting beside other photographers with valuable camera equipment they were using as pillows after a long day of convention walking. Other members of our media line were simply hoping to catch a glimpse of director, Bryan Singer and see what he had to say about the film’s purpose, since it was a simple 15 minutes of added story.

The director of the X-Men film discusses the changes he made to this new cut of his film.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY The director of the X-Men film discusses the changes he made to this new cut of his film.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY Cosplayers filled the street during San Diego Comic-Con just a block down from where the Rogue Cut would be showing.

For me, this was a chance to see the movie in a different light, much like the marquee in front of the theater.

Singer came in to a standing ovation. Rightly so, he created a masterpiece with this film. 20th Century Fox has done something extraordinary with this classic Marvel Comics tale. Singer said, for him, it was a chance to show how just a few changes in perception, camera angles and added minutes could greatly alter a film. It gave editors a chance to replace some clips they loved and the audience to see Anna Paquin’s beloved character, Rogue in a very heroic, yet distressed, volatile and somewhat tired state.

For most of the movie, there aren’t any changes and shouldn’t be, but the changes you’ll notice come late in the film. Not giving anything away, Rogue is needed. Her powers of soaking in the power of other mutants is the only thing that can serve the X-Men on their quest to “fix” the past. This cut gives us a chance to see more of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X character and Ian McKellen’s Magneto in action sequences that are amazing. The dynamic of the movie is changed without hurting the original intent.

For true fans of the film, it is worth the X-tra purchase. There are tons of bonus features and the blu-ray makes your purchase a good one. We were fortunate to get it early from the Fox booth at Comic-Con, but you can pick it up anywhere today. If you’re a casual fan, you may not be impressed enough with the changes to spend the money on this, however, you’re probably not reading a review of the Rogue Cut if you’re a casual fan.

As we left the theater, it was dark and the street lights and night life had replaced the convention goers from earlier. The marquee was bright, but the light only blended with other bright lights, blue and red police lights, and headlights from traffic as they waited for mass crowds to cross the street. The theater’s ominous presence faded into the background of an evening of animated reality.

The Art of A Movement

When I was in the fifth grade, I drew a picture on a sheet of notebook paper during my free time after our lesson. A cranky substitute teacher, Mr. Ball, walked around the class and saw that I was using my time to draw. He crumpled the paper in his wrinkled hand and threw it in the waste basket by his desk. I don’t remember what his lesson was on, but to this day, I remember that moment. I remember it every time I start work on a painting that someone is paying me to do, or whenever I finish designing art for a musician’s album.

Art and music programs are often considered expendable when it comes to school budgets. For years, they’ve been cut, trimmed, downsized, or left for dead by bureaucracy and politics.

Flash forward to a beautiful 70 degree July morning in California, 2015.

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 held a large panel, teeming with a crowd of educators, children, cosplayers and people of all ages, with Congressman John Lewis. Lewis is a civil rights icon who actually cosplayed as himself to the convention, only himself 50 years ago as he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He wore a replica of his trench coat, a backpack with the same contents he had that day and the same style of khaki pants he had worn when he made his historic and march and was met with violence and hatred.

Congressman Lewis, along with artist Nate Powell and co-author Andrew Aydin, has written a series of graphic novels depicting his unbelievably powerful life story and a first hand telling of the civil rights movement. The books are being used in schools as a way to allow students to see more than just the few talking points that the civil rights era is generally given. The stories cross a broad range of emotions and time periods, from his childhood and beyond. Powell’s art delivers a first-person view in the second book, from a point of view of the ones who were throwing the punches. The art is driving, the stories are powerful, the history comes alive.

“You can’t sugarcoat history, or the way people were treated. White people were arrested right beside me and put in a separate jail. You have to tell that.” Lewis went on to say the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired him to get into trouble in a good way. “Good trouble” as he called it.

Co-author, Andrew Aydin, approached Lewis about a graphic novel of his life in passing in 2008. Other members of congress laughed at the idea, but Lewis saw it as a great way to reach young people, offering hope. Aydin said that this was actually not the first time the civil rights movement was addressed in the form of a comic book. In 1957, Martin Luther King was a part of editing a comic book of his own life.

The March books are already being used in 40 schools and colleges. The books are breaking barriers and opening doors of opportunity for teachers to address the decades of change that the movement has brought about in a way that is very unique. A teacher from San Diego mentioned during the panel that she is struggling to teach the second book because it is so powerful and emotional. She asked for advice on how to approach the book with her students. Powell said, “The second book is ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ It’s darker, but it’s necessary to the story.” That resonated with the crowd. There has to be a struggle for there to be an outcome.

Lewis was asked what the most pressing point of struggle is today and how can we address it. He said that there are several, but he saw student loans and education as something that demands our attention. “People are spending a fortune on education in this country, only to graduate and have to work just to cover the costs of that education. Martin Luther King’s dream has not been realized. We also need to raise the minimum wage.” The solution, from Lewis’s perspective, is that people must “continue to cause trouble in a good way.”

This took me back to the story of Mister Ball, the cantankerous old substitute who threw my artwork into his trash can, with no regard for the work I had put into it, or how I would grow up to work in the art field as a professional. Congressman Lewis had his own versions of mean ol’ Mister Ball. Lewis caused trouble, in a good way. Disturbing the status quo can break the chains of traditional hypocrisy, bigotry, or malevolence in any form. It occurred to me that Congressman Lewis prioritized education as one of the most important struggles today. The cost of furthering an education, the educators themselves and the approach to education all were key elements in the panel discussion and a dynamic allocation to the answer of causing trouble is through art.

Art will find a way to live on in schools, as will music and creativity, in spite of cutbacks and budget adjustments. The Mister Balls of the world will come and go, but there will always be a student causing trouble, in a good way.