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SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON / JULY 2016 / DENOFGEEK.COM

EXCLUSIVE

STAR TREK

BEYOND How Simon Pegg plans to bring the franchise out of darkness Also HOLLYWOOD'S

ALIEN OBSESSION RUSSIA'S

COMICS REVOLUTION INSIDE THE WRITERS' ROOM

LAST MAN ON EARTH UNCENSORED Q+A WITH

NIKKI GLASER DEN OF GEEK â– WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2016

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR F

or all the grumbling about how San Diego Comic-Con has lost its way over the last few years, by becoming a more mainstream and ever more elaborate general pop culture destination, it’s still the highlight of the entertainment calendar. And how could it not be? The internet now allows fans to get news as it breaks out of San Diego almost instantaneously, which means that comic book companies, TV networks, movie studios, toy manufacturers, and everyone else who descends on the San Diego Convention Center has to work harder than ever to make sure that it’s a special experience for the legion of super fans who make the trek to sunny southern California. And this year, just like last year and the year before that, is expected to be bigger than ever. The superhero movie arms race is in full effect, and Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. are going to try and outdo each other with surprises. There are more sci-fi, horror, and genre shows making their presence felt this year than we even thought imaginable five years ago. You can take in an IMAX screening of our cover story, Star Trek Beyond, with a live orchestra performing Michael Giacchino’s score. You can camp out on the line for the big events in Hall H, where you might get a surprise late night visit from sympathetic celebrities who want to pay tribute to their most dedicated fans. Or you can just do what the show was created for in the first place, prowl the show floor to hunt for cool swag, fill in gaps in your collection, and get to know some of your favorite comic book creators. Whether you’ve been coming to SDCC for years or this is your first time attending, there’s always something to celebrate when this many fans get together. And make no mistake, you should celebrate. Put 160,000 people with similar interests together and the result is sometimes magical. You don’t have to be a purist or an old school fan, you just have to revel in the genuine love and weirdness in an atmosphere that’s like the longest, wildest Halloween party you’ve ever been to. So don’t worry about the fact that SDCC isn’t a niche destination only for the most hardcore fans anymore. Think of it as a badge of honor that for a few days in July, the entire entertainment industry sets its watch by what you love. As for Den of Geek? Well, we figured five days with no sleep in the middle of SDCC wasn’t enough. No, we started the party early in order to compile this magazine, our second ever print edition, which you can only find right here at the big show. Well, there’s a digital version that you can find on the website, so you can send that to your friends. But maybe you can score some autographs in this one — something you can’t do with the digital version! If you see any of the Den of Geek team hanging around at the Convention Center or the parties, come up and say hi. And if you spot something we should know about, whether it’s some cool news or brilliant cosplays, throw a tweet @denofgeekus or tag us on Instagram: @denofgeek.

PRINT EDITION EDITOR

Chris Longo CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Kaitlyn Richert ASSISTANT PRINT EDITORS

David Crow John Saavedra Nick Harley DESIGNERS

Olivia Reaney Rachel Keaveny ILLUSTRATORS

Emily Miller Sophie Erb COPY EDITOR

Sarah Litt

DEN OF GEEK.COM CEO

Jennifer Bartner Indeck PUBLISHER

Matthew Sullivan-Pond EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Mike Cecchini DEPUTY EDITOR

Chris Longo

SAN DIEGO COMIC CON 2016

CONTENTS

FILM EDITOR

David Crow John Saavedra

FEATURES

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS

Tony Sokol Don Kaye Kayti Burt

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FOUNDER & UK EDITOR

MOVIES

HOW THE APOCALYPSE IS MADE Enter the writers' room of Fox’s hit comedy, The Last Man on Earth.

28

SET REPORT: JUSTICE LEAGUE Are blockbusters being rewarded for conformity?

COVER STORY: STAR TREK BEYOND Out of the darkness and now beyond, the Star Trek franchise looks to steer the ship in the right direction.

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A MASTERCLASS IN ACTING Check out this amazing display of acting — it will only take a second.

Simon Brew Adam McDonnell

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CONTACT US

MUSIC

EDITORIAL tips@denofgeek.us

WANT MORE GEEK? FIND US ON SOCIAL @ DENOFGEEKUS SOUNDCLOUD.COM/ DENOFGEEK

CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS

msullivan@denofgeek.us 646.717.9555

@ DENOFGEEKUS

@ DENOFGEEK

DENOFGEEKUS.TUMBLR.COM

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You can become an eSports pro, if you’ve got cash to spare.

GAMES EDITOR

ADVERTISING DIRECTOR

Mike Cecchini

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LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

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THE RUSSIAN COMIC REVOLUTION Russia’s comic and convention industry is booming after a decades-long slumber.

DoGTech LLC

601 Heritage Drive, Suite 484 Jupiter, FL 33458 561.656.2377

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COMIC-CON MUSIC PLAYLIST Set the mood with our official SDCC music suggestions.

HOLLYWOOD'S ALIEN OBSESSION NASA and Hollywood have been intertwined for years, trying to turn science fiction into fact.

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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GUIDE TO THE STAR WARS EXPANDED UNIVERSE

The Star Wars universe extends beyond the films. We have a guide to expand your canon knowledge.

COMICS

TELEVISION SON OF ZORN Fox's live-action animation is like nothing ever seen on TV.

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BEST STREAMING ANIME Find out where the best anime are streaming online.

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THE SEXPERT Things get hot and steamy in our Q&A with comedian Nikki Glaser.

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BEHIND THE SCREEN Learn how Shade VFX brings your favorite heroes to life.

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QUARRY Cinemax enters the story of a reluctant criminal to TV this fall.

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THE SPECTRUM Get a peek at what the TV section at DenofGeek.com has to offer.

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF FANDOM CHARITY These charitable actors are more than just heroes on TV.

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EISNER AWARDS The Eisner Awards are here and we picked some of our favorite nominees. FROM COMICS PANELS TO TV PANELS There have never been so many comic book adaptations on TV. Here’s a guide to what to catch at SDCC.

CULTURE 40

WHERE NO FANDOM HAS GONE Meet the unsung heroes of the Star Trek empire.

GAMES 58

LAST MAN ON EARTH

CLIFFY B INTERVIEW Read our chat with rockstar game developer Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski.

ONE LAST THOUGHT 66

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ALEX ROSS Q+A We go one-on-one with the “Norman Rockwell" of Comics.

AVA IL A B L E WIN T ER 2017

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THE NEW STUDIO SYSTEM Repackaging intellectual property is Hollywood’s new method of mass production.

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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TOR-FORGE.COM


What's YOUR fantasy?

MUSIC

THE ULTIMATE

COMIC-CON PLAYLIST BY CHRIS CUMMINS

DENOFGEEK.COM/US/SPOTIFY

C

omic-Con may be highlighted by the revelation of news stories that set the hearts of geeks a-fluttering, but the dirty little secret about conventions is just how much downtime there is. Ask anyone who has ever waited to get into a panel at Hall H and they’ll be quick to reference Tom Petty, and tell you that the waiting is the hardest part.

We feel your pain. Which is why we’ve put together a playlist crammed with tracks both familiar and obscure that will musically enhance your con-going experience. Whether you listen to this while idling away the hours until you hear what the future holds for your favorite genre show, or simply want to enjoy some great tunes while walking the convention floor, the Den of Geek Comic-Con Playlist has you covered.

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ET PHONE HOME | Kitty Terry Think Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight” was the only song ever written about E.T.? Then you obviously haven’t heard this new wave obscurity that will have you both dancing and shaking your head at the insanity of the universe.

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SPACE ODDITY | David Bowie

WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO | Tina Turner

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE WESTWORLD? | Theatre of Hate HBO’s Westworld is more than likely going to be a smash hit. Might we suggest this banger from UK post-punk act Theatre of Hate as the series’ opening theme?

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DOCTORIN THE TARDIS | The Timelords Because songs that feature Dalek interludes never, ever get tiresome.

The fight for humanity’s survival in an epic global hunt for three keys.

A new series full of dark magic, chilling threats, and a revenge plot to take down an evil king.

WHERE’S CAPTAIN KIRK? | SpizzEnergi

MEN IN BLACK | Frank Black

Lirael is back on 10.4.16

On sale 9.20.16

The Pixies’ frontman’s ode to mysterious government forces deserves a second listen, especially after this year’s X-Files revival reminded us all that the truth is still out there. 8

SUPERMAN’S SONG | Crash Test Dummies This haunting tribute to the secret pain that Superman carries around somehow wasn’t featured in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which strikes us as rather tragic, really.

Point to ponder: Could an Aunt Entity cameo have made Mad Max: Fury Road even cooler?

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A world divided by blood that’s full of superpowers and massive betrayal.

A bit of British punk bombast inspired by Star Trek with an unexpected lyrical twist at the end worthy of M. Night Shyamalan (in his glory days).

It’s not yet a law that this hugely influential pop epic be played at all sci-fi gatherings in the same way that “The National Anthem” is at sporting events, but in light of Bowie’s untimely passing earlier this year, it should be. 3

An action-packed, romantic trilogy that’s Graceling with a side of Game of Thrones.

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Three sisters, three kingdoms, three special powers— but only one can be queen.

A twisty urban fantasy with violence, corruption, and monsters, lots of monsters.

The long-awaited fifth installment in the classic Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix. Enough said.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK MEDLEY | Meco Meco Monardo made a living crafting disco versions out of John Williams’ themes from the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s no surprise then that just as Empire is the best of the movies, this track remains Meco’s crowning achievement.

10 MOVIN’ RIGHT ALONG | The Muppets Taking a road trip while in town for the con? Here’s the perfect companion.

Grab some swag and sneak peeks at HarperCollins Booth #1029 www.epicreads.com • www.hc.com

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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TELEVISION

I STREAM, YOU STREAM

We outline the top anime available to stream at your fingertips, as well as the best places to find it all!

David and Goliath has never been so trippy with Funimation’s Attack on Titan.

HOW LONG IS IT?

SUBTITLES?

ENGLISH DUB?

ALSO APPEARS ON?

N

ot long ago, there was a clear barrier for anime to air on U.S. television, which limited the genre’s accessibility to the masses. While programming blocks like Toonami and Adult Swim helped give anime a home stateside, the selection was still fairly limited. Throughout the years, streaming behemoths Netflix and Hulu have added more anime to their catalogs while including both subtitled and dubbed options. Both services have gone the extra mile to feature impressive lineups of sought-after anime. Other big streaming services like Funimation or Crunchyroll offer even more thorough libraries. As soon as shows are released in Japan, these services simulcast them for your viewing pleasure. You’re not getting an English dub, but you are getting new anime as soon as humanly possible. To an outsider, it might seem intimidating to track down your new favorite series, but it doesn’t need to be. We’ve assembled an easy-to-follow guide that outlines some incredible, mustsee anime, and exactly where you can find them.

ATTACK ON TITAN

M*A*S*H* meets Wayward Pines

25 Episodes + OVAs

Yes

Yes

Hulu Plus, Funimation

DEATH NOTE

Elephant meets Zodiac

37 Episodes

Yes

Yes

Hulu Plus

KILL LA KILL

Mortal Kombat meets Project Runway

24 Episodes

Yes

Yes

Hulu Plus, Funimation

SAMURAI CHAMPLOO

Kill Bill meets Soul Train

26 Episodes

Yes

Yes

Hulu Plus, Funimation

ATTACK ON TITAN JUNIOR HIGH

Independence Day meets Saved by the Bell

12 Episodes

Yes

No

Funimation

EXCEL SAGA

Community meets Adaptation

26 Episodes

Yes

Yes

Funimation

SPACE DANDY

Rick and Morty meets Star Trek

26 Episodes

Yes

No

Funimation

TOKYO GHOUL/ TOKYO GHOUL ROOT A

True Blood meets Hannibal

12 Episodes Each

Yes

No

Funimation

ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM

Muppet Babies meets Arrow

Ongoing (Season 1 is 22 Episodes)

Yes

No

Hulu (Season 1 Only)

COWBOY BEBOP

Mr. Robot meets Kung Fu

26 Episodes

Yes

Yes

--

*Netflix is available from $7.99/month and up

DEATH PARADE

In Treatment meets Tales From the Crypt

*While Hulu Plus requires a fee, all of these anime are available without subscription; simply type their name into the URL to find them.

12 Episodes

Yes

Yes

Hulu Plus

*Funimation.com’s streaming service is free, albeit with ads, and available ad-free from $4.99/month

TRIGUN

Into the Badlands meets The Prisoner

26 Episodes

Yes

Yes

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IMAGE: FUNIMATION ENTERTAINMENT

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

BY DANIEL KURLAND

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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TELEVISION

THE

BEHIND THE SCREEN In a superhero universe full of gods and aliens, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage make the street-level stuff look real.

W

BY DANIELLA BONDAR

The most intriguing thing about Not Safe is that you make those closest to you do really uncomfortable things, like hook your friends up to polygraphs and ask if they want to have sex with you. How did you decide that was going to be part of the show? NG: Well, I was having a talk with my boyfriend about some of my male friends, and he was like, “You can deny it all you want, but they want to have sex with you.” And I was like, “I don’t think so. Some of them are really just my friends.” So I thought that was an interesting topic, and we were talking about that, and I thought what if I put on a lie detector and found out if it was true or not. So that was the first thing we did. That was so successful, and we were thinking about what we could do next that would raise the stakes, and my parents were the likely next step. Obvious choice. Do you wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Hey! I’d like to sit on a vibrator in the middle of a coffee shop! That sounds like something I’d do!” NG: I mean, we have writers on the show, and we just sit around and brainstorm, and they’re my closest friends. So, it is a lot of that. With the vibrator thing: That is my favorite vibrator, and I want everyone to know about it. So I was just like, “What can we do with it that would be interesting?” Then there’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and we thought we should spoof that and we will just sit on these things because that will be funny. There are a lot of videos online of girls sitting on the Sybian and singing a song or whatever. It’s always funny, and I thought, “How can we do that in a way that hasn’t already been done?” That is hard because a lot of stuff has been done regarding sex.

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"WHERE YOU JUST SEE WOMEN BEING THEMSELVES, IT’S FEMINISM AT ITS BEST FOR ME AS A VIEWER. " – NIKKI GLASER There wasn’t a comedy sex show. It’s just like women sipping wine being like, “Oh can you believe that dental dams” or something like that. It’s always women around tables or comfy couches. Love Line was a big inspiration, so that is kind of what inspired it. My boyfriend just saying, “You are good at talking about sex and you are interested in it, so what about that?” And I was like, “You are right. Thank you for pointing that out!” [Laughs] The show is not just about sex. It talks about women’s issues and things like men not being able to name a woman over 40 who isn’t Hillary Clinton. Other than laughs, is that something you want people to get out of Not Safe? NG: Yes. It is a goal of mine to have less Brock [Turners] in the world. Less of those douches, and educate men about women and about consent. I think if we talk about these things and laugh about them, there is a way to learn through laughter. I have seen Amy Schumer do it. I have seen [Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Broad City] do it. Where you just see women being themselves, it’s feminism at its best for me as a viewer. It is not a goal of mine to really shove this stuff in people’s faces, but it just is what I care about, and I get to do whatever I want on my show, because it is my show. Stuff that I would be interested in seeing if I were a teenage girl. We try to cater it to men as well. We have to take a couple of steps back sometimes and say, “Don't have too much period talk in this one.” Guys aren’t that dumb that they see a woman talking and think, “This can’t be funny.” Most guys nowadays can make the link and they love it.

IMAGE: COMEDY CENTRAL

Is there an untapped aspect of the sex/dating/fetish world that you would like to explore? For instance, we are a geek-oriented publication, so any interest in Hentai or cosplay, or porn parody? NG: We were thinking of doing a Hentai, like having someone draw me in a Hentai porn. But I didn’t want to see that. It would just be me getting shoved with huge dicks. Like being split open by dicks. I don’t need to see that. We were really obsessed with [Virtual Reality] Porn and so we are doing something with that this season. We are going to make our own, and I’m hopefully going to have my first lesbian experience in the VR.

You have spoken before about people labeling a female comic who talks about sex as a “sex-comic.” Did you decide that you wanted to do Not Safe because women talking frankly about sex was missing from the market, or is it just something that pulled you? NG: I don’t have much censorship when it comes to talking about sex. I am interested in it. There wasn’t a sex show like the one that I would want to do.

IMAGES: SHADE VFX

S

SAYS..

BY MIKE CECCHINI

We dish with Nikki Glaser on the feminist aspirations of her comedy show, tapping new taboos for inspiration, and, duh, SEX.

peaking with Nikki Glaser is like talking to your gal pal at the bar. You know, the one who can recommend the best vibrator. Women are kicking ass in comedy these days and few are doing it better than Glaser. Her Comedy Central show, Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, is probably the best education you are ever going to get when it comes to everything from dick-pics and talking dirty to feminism and absurdity. We called up the comedian to chat about the inspiration for Not Safe, her firm belief that folks should not shy away from things that make them uncomfortable, and some insight into season two’s raunchiest scenes.

BRYAN GODWIN Shade VFX CEO

hen you think of Marvel superheroes onscreen, you probably think of brightly-colored costumes, city-destroying action sequences, and eye-popping special effects. But Marvel’s Jessica Jones ditched the costumes and the codenames to keep the action at a more grounded, realistic level. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of special effects work getting done, but very little of it involved what you would ordinarily associate with superhero TV. One of Jessica Jones’ most overtly superheroic moments came in episode 11, “AKA I’ve Got the Blues,” when Luke Cage, the man with unbreakable skin, casually strolls out of a bar that had just been firebombed. Well, he strolls out about as casually as a man on fire can possibly do anything. Jessica Jones is a 13-hour drama, and this sequence, which lasts something on the order of a minute, seems almost incidental after what was already one of the more action-packed episodes of the series. The destruction of Luke’s bar, and his dramatic emergence from the flames, comes when you might be forgiven for thinking we were done with violence until the next episode. But making this moment impactful meant making it look both real and dangerous, without feeling like you suddenly crossed a line into blockbuster movie territory. The studio in charge of keeping the spectacular real is Shade VFX, whose work has graced high-profile movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Wolverine, as well as small screen projects like Black Sails, Vinyl, and, of course, Jessica Jones’ predecessor, Marvel’s Daredevil. Shade VFX CEO Bryan Godwin took us through the process of making sure this powerful scene looked as good, and as real, as it possibly could.

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MIKE COLTER AS LUKE CAGE, BEFORE THE FIRE IS ADDED DIGITALLY “This scene called for an incredible amount of visual effects, from set extensions and explosions to, of course, a man with impenetrable skin on fire; full-frame, at 4k, for an entire sequence. To truly make the scene’s danger resonate with the audience, we had to believe that Mike Colter was really on fire. That meant no stunt double, no active burn, and getting right up close to see the performance on his face as he stumbles out of his demolished bar.”

2 SCAN OF MIKE COLTER AND HIS SURROUNDINGS

“To create the effects, LIDAR scanning and a detailed survey was done of the set and bar. This was used to accurately add flames, debris, and explosions as the bar was engulfed in flames, but also to create the basis for set extensions and proper collisions. A wide variety of simulation tools and techniques were used to create the explosions, keeping believability and in-camera exposure at the forefront of the art direction.”

3 LUKE CAGE STRUTS OUT OF

THE BAR AT 48FPS IN 4K RESOLUTION, EMERGING FROM THE INFERNO “A fully rigged cyber scan of Mike Colter was used to match his performance, which was the basis for our combination of high-res, simulated fire, specifically shot elements, CG embers, smoke, and even smoldering patches of fabric.”

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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AMAZING SPECIALS AT TITAN COMICS BOOTH #5537

TELEVISION

THE RELUCTANT HITMAN Post-Vietnam disillusionment forces a traumatized Marine into a life of crime in Cinemax’s new series Quarry.

GET YOUR COPY SIGNED BY KAREEM ABDUL- JABBAR!

BY MICHAEL AHR

GET YOUR SPECIAL EDITION SIGNED BY JOHN BARROWMAN AND CAROLE BARROWMAN!

STAND ALONE CONVENTION SPECIAL WITH TWO COVERS!

ject matter,” Gordy explains, “we were trying to make a lot of these supporting characters and hopefully, more and more, show their light side as well as their dark.” That’s how you get characters like a drug dealer distributing heroin from an amusement park and other colorful Dixie Mafia and Memphis soul characters. Damon Herriman (Justified) plays another such character named Buddy, who is part of The Broker’s network but who seems fairly comfortable in his violent role. “He thinks he has a grasp on what it is he does and who he is,” Fuller says, “and I think that really gives him an endearing quality. So if you see him doing terrible things or talking about people in such a way, you’re still engaged with him, which I think is crucial.” “We may find somebody offensive or we may find them annoying, and then we hear their personal story, and all of a sudden — we may not love them, but we get them,” Gordy agrees. “That’s what we're trying to do as much as possible with this group of misfit toys that are part of The Broker’s team.” Quarry premieres on Cinemax on Sept. 9 at 10 p.m.

SPECIAL COVER BY JAMIE HEWLETT!

GET YOUR COPY SIGNED BY LOUIE DE MARTINIS

CONVENTION SPECIAL COVER! IMAGES: CINEMAX/HBO

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and the time we’re living in… would probably resonate all the more.” Quarry stars Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) as Mac, the reluctant assassin dubbed “Quarry” by his employers. The reason for his nickname ultimately becomes clear in the premiere, but with only eight episodes in its first season, the show wastes no time bringing Mac from disillusioned vet to demoralized killer. “The thing that Logan brings is just he’s phenomenally gifted,” Fuller says. “He’s a really intelligent actor who really tries to dig in and not just understand his character but the story as a whole, and he brings an intensity that you need for someone who’s been through what he’s been through.” The criminal element is not without its appeal, however, and like Breaking Bad and Fargo before it, Quarry introduces some quirky personalities under the leadership of a man simply referred to as The Broker, played by Peter Mullan. “The Broker is someone who we’ve always talked about as kind of bringing a big-box sensibility of criminality to a small-time endeavor,” Fuller elaborates. “Because we’re dealing with such dark sub-

Dark Souls: Dark Souls TM & © BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc. /©FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved.

T

his September, Cinemax will finally premiere Quarry, a gritty ‘70s crime drama that tells the story of a Marine home from the Vietnam War. Upon his return, he discovers an ungrateful public and few employment opportunities, which leads directly to his forced recruitment into a criminal organization operating along the Mississippi River. The show comes from the Rectify writing team of Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy, who adapted from a series of hard-boiled novels by Max Allan Collins. With the books having been written in the ‘70s, Fuller and Gordy decided to keep the show in that era. “If you modernize the story,” Fuller explains, “then trying to speak to the things that are going on now... you’re hanging a lantern on it too much, and you don’t want that immediate commentary.” The story does have certain elements in common with today’s post-war mentality. “The first thing we talked about was, ‘Do we need to update this? Do we need to bring this into 2016? Does this guy need to be returning from Afghanistan or Iraq?’” Gordy admits, “But when we started doing the research about the era, we realized that the parallels between that time

CONVENTION SPECIAL COVER!

DON’T MISS:

WARHAMMER 40,000 PANEL THU: 2:30PM ROOM: 4

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR’S MYCROFT PANEL THU: 12:00PM ROOM: 5AB

DOCTOR WHO AND TORCHWOOD COMICS PANEL SAT: 3:30PM ROOM: 5AB

Dark Souls: Dark Souls ™ & © BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc. /©FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved. Doctor Who:BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 1996. Dalek image © BBC/ Terry Nation 1963. Cyberman image © BBC/Kit Pedler/Gerry Davis 1966. K-9 image © BBC/Bob Baker/ Dave Martin 1977. Licensed by BBC Worldwide Limited. Mycroft: Copyright © 2015 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld & Joshua Cassara. All Rights Reserved.Penny Dreadful: Penny Dreadful © Showtime Networks Inc. All rights reserved. SHOWTIME is a registered trademark of Showtime Networks Inc., a CBS Company. Sherlock:© Hartswood Films. Torchwood: BBC, ‘TORCHWOOD’ and the Torchwood word marks, logos and devices are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under license. Tank Girl:Tank Girl Copyright © 2015 Hewlett & Martin.


TELEVISION FRIDAY, JULY 22 FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

THE WALKING DEAD

POWERLESS

Kick off Friday with back-to-back zombie panels moderated by Chris Hardwick. While you wait for Fear The Walking Dead to return in August, let talent like Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Frank Dillane, along with executive producers David Erickson, Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, and others, fill you in on what to expect!

They probably won’t reveal that last mystery death from the season finale, but with a panel that includes Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (and more cast members!), plus Scott M. Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Greg Nicotero, and David Alpert, there’s sure to be some big revelations.

WHERE: HALL H WHEN: 12:00 - 1:00 PM

WHERE: HALL H WHEN: 1:00 - 2:00 PM

Ever wonder how nightmarish the lives of insurance agents must be in a world where superheroes exist? NBC’s Powerless is a comedy set in the DC Universe starring Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, and Alan Tudyk, who will answer questions along with executive producers Ben Queen and Michael Patrick Jann, right after they screen the pilot for attendees!

WHERE: ROOM 6BCF WHEN: 2:30 - 3:15 PM

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD

IZOMBIE

PREACHER

Get ready for season four with Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Ming-Na Wen, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain de Caestecker, and Henry Simmons, who will be joined by producers and writers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeff Bell, and Jeph Loeb.

If zombie rom-coms are your thing, the CW’s iZombie, now heading into its third season, has a special video presentation and Q&A with series stars and executive producers.

When a brand-new series gets a plum slot in Hall H, you know things are going well. This one is moderated by Kevin Smith and features stars Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Ian Colletti, and Graham McTavish, as well as producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and Preacher comics co-creator Garth Ennis.

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 3:00 - 4:00 PM

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 5:30 - 6:15 PM

WHERE: HALL H WHEN: 6:30 - 8:30 PM

SATURDAY, JULY 23

FROM COMICS PANELS TO TV PANELS Here's a handy guide to where you can find your favorite comic book TV shows at SDCC. Note: Time and talent are subject to change

THURSDAY, JULY 21 JUSTICE LEAGUE ACTION

LUKE CAGE

Beloved animated series Teen Titans Go! celebrates its upcoming season with a screening and Q&A with cast members Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Khary Payton, and Tara Strong.

Justice League Action is a new animated series that promises “lightning-paced action and heroics.” It features legendary Batman Kevin Conroy as part of the voice cast, and he’s one of the guests on the panel, too.

Get your first look at Marvel’s Luke Cage Netflix series! Expect a good cross-section of cast and creative to show up, and maybe a sneak preview of the show.

WHERE: ROOM 6DE WHEN: 10:15 - 11:15 AM

WHERE: ROOM 25ABC WHEN: 12:00 - 1:00 PM

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 5:45 - 6:45 PM

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IMAGE: LEWIS JACOBS/SONY PICTURES TELEVISION

TEEN TITANS GO!

MARVEL ANIMATION PRESENTS

LUCIFER

GOTHAM

Go behind the scenes of Marvel’s animated series with a panel presentation.

Get a sneak peek at season two followed by a Q&A with stars and executive producers.

WHERE: ROOM 6A WHEN: 12:30 - 1:30 PM

WHERE: INDIGO BALLROOM WHEN: 1:30 - 2:05 PM

The Batman prequel promises to give fans their first insights into season three with a video presentation and a Q&A with the cast.

SUPERGIRL

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW

THE FLASH

The cast and creative team of Supergirl will be on hand for a special video presentation and Q&A. They probably won’t give you a definitive answer about that season one cliffhanger, but maybe we’ll get some clues about Superman coming to the show.

Wondering about the significance of Rex Tyler and the Justice Society of America from the end of season one? There are lots of new team members on the way this season, and we might hear about a few of them here.

Barry Allen changed the past at the end of season two, and season three is promising to adapt the Flashpoint storyline from the comics. Expect lots of big revelations from cast and crew!

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 4:15 - 5:00 PM

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 5:00 - 5:45 PM

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 3:30 - 4:15 PM

WHERE: INDIGO BALLROOM WHEN: 2:10 - 3:00 PM

OUTCAST

ARROW

RIVERDALE

Need even more supernatural drama? Cinemax's Outcast brings Robert Kirkman, Chris Black, Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, Reg E. Cathey, and Brent Spiner to a panel moderated by Scott Aukerman.

In the past, the Arrow panel has stolen the show at SDCC, so don’t sleep on this one. There’s a new villain to meet, Oliver Queen has a new career as Mayor of Star City, and there are some new vigilantes coming to town.

WHERE: ROOM 6BCF WHEN: 5:15 - 6:00 PM

WHERE: BALLROOM 20 WHEN: 5:45 - 6:30 PM

Catch a screening of the first episode of Riverdale, the moody new take on the iconic Archie Comics characters. Riverdale isn’t arriving until midseason, so you’ll get to see this much anticipated pilot months before anybody else. A Q&A with stars and executive producers will follow.

WHERE: ROOM 6BCF WHEN: 6:30 - 7:20 PM

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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T H E

TELEVISION

S P E C T R U M S PA N N IN G T H E D IA L IN T H E WO RL D O F T E L E V IS IO N

GAME OF THRONES WINNERS & LOSERS

RISE OF THE MACHINES The increased presence of androids on TV poses questions about the nature of sentience, emotion, and human nature. BY MICHAEL AHR

BY NICK HARLEY

From family sitcoms like Small Wonder and Not Quite Human, in which android characters were passed off as human, to space dramas like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Andromeda, where the androids helped with ship operations, television has a rich history of these artificial companions. Whether completely lifelike as on Battlestar Galactica or deceptively robotic as on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, androids help explore how humans experience emotion and what constitutes sentient life. Just in the past three years, we’ve seen several examples of this type of character.

MAKING OLD NEW AGAIN

Live-action animation hybrids have created many iconic moments in film, and now Fox is taking a stab at innovating it for television with Son of Zorn.

Director Eric Appel

BY NICK HARLEY

T

18 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

County, California. The 13-episode series is executive produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and it’s evidence of Fox’s continued commitment to producing creative comedy. “[Son of Zorn] was something that I think was in development for a couple of years,” says Eric Appel, executive producer and director. “It’s such a complicated show to make but Fox was really behind it from the get go. When it got picked up we were all like ‘Fox feels like the only place, the only network this show could exist on.’” In interviews, Miller compared creating Son of Zorn to doing two shows for the price of one, and it’s a sentiment that Appel echoes. “As of right now, there’s three episodes that are in animation, so it’s almost like shooting the live-action part of the show has ended, and we’re just beginning the second part of the show, which is putting Zorn in,” says Appel. “So definitely, the length of time that it takes to make it is one of the challenges.” Zorn’s animated presence undoubtedly makes the show different, but his story is deeply rooted in traditional situational comedy. Coming from the fictional badlands of Zephyria, Zorn is a fish out of water in our world, and the show gets a lot of mileage out of Zorn reacting to the minutiae of daily life, like working an unglamorous office job or trying to maintain a relationship with his

ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hinds) and their son Alangulon, aka Alan ( Johnny Pemberton). “We try to look at everything like, what are the real world situations that this character and his family would be put in and how do we see that in a realistic way through Zorn’s very specific lens? How would this barbarian handle these situations that we all get into,” questions Appel. “And usually it’s with violence.” As the title of the show suggests, the father-son relationship is also integral to the heart of the show. “Zorn’s whole reason for coming back to Orange County is to reconnect with the son that he doesn’t really know,” explains Appel. “They’re definitely not on the same page. Zorn isn’t the only animated character that will show up during season one, as it’s already been confirmed that Nick Offerman and Olivia Wilde will be voicing Zephyrians as well. Son of Zorn will fit snugly in Fox’s Sunday Night Animation lineup while standing out. “Nothing like this on television has really been done with this level of integration, with the live-action and animation,” says Appel. “There are shows that have done both, but this is like Roger Rabbit-level integration.” After more than a century, TV might finally be ready for its own landmark foray into this timeless art form.

THE ANDROID - DARK MATTER

2013-2014

2015-PRESENT

Whether it’s Holmes & Yoyo in 1976, Future Cop in 1977, Mann & Machine in 1992, or Total Recall 2070 in 1999, shows that include human police officers with android partners only seem to last for one season. Such was the case with Almost Human. In the short-lived series, Michael Ealy played Dorian, an emotionally-programmed but possibly unstable android who partners with a tech-hating detective.

Dark Matter brought Zoie Palmer’s no-name Android to a new spacefaring adventure. In season one, she began analyzing an anomaly in her programming that appeared to be creating an emotional response, and much like the lost memories of her crewmates, her increasingly human actions make viewers hopeful that a journey of discovery is impending.

ETHAN - EXTANT 2014-2015

ANITA/MIA - HUMANS

Extant’s Ethan was presented to be a lifelike android known as a “Humanich.” Played by Pierce Gagnon, he was raised as his inventor’s son specifically so that he could learn and self-program his own human experience. The idea is that the ups and downs of life create a much more moral being: one worthy of sentience, as opposed to the product of a quick, but probably incomplete, coding experiment gone awry.

2015-PRESENT

The robotic meets the lifelike in the British import Humans, the AMC/Channel 4 series where Gemma Chan plays Anita, aka Mia. Anita (the name given to her by her owning family) is a robot servant performing household duties, and her mothering nature in those tasks provides a stark contrast to the cruel discrimination and objectification that synths experience in a world where people are being replaced by machines.

Jokes Per Procedural

MVP DAENERYS TARGARYEN Queen D reminded us all season just why she’s got so many goddamn titles. Season six could be recut into one long Dany hype video.

ULTIMATE LOSER RAMSAY BOLTON From bastard to Beggin' Strips, Ramsay Bolton got what he deserved and reminded us all to feed our pets.

Angie Tribeca is reinventing the buddy cop comedy and smashing jokes per minute records in the process.

BY ALEC BOJALAD

A

IMAGES: FOX

he first use of live-action animation goes all the way back to the year 1900 when J. Stuart Blackton, a cartoonist for New York Evening World, used stop-motion to create "The Enchanted Drawing." In Blackton’s short, a man draws a bottle of wine, a glass, and a cigar onto an easel, and then using movie magic, plucks them off the canvas and starts interacting with the objects. Since then, Gene Kelly has cut a rug with Jerry Mouse, Dick Van Dyke has boogied with penguins, and Michael Jordan has balled with Bugs Bunny. Over a century later, live-action animation still feels like a medium made for adults and children alike. While kids will always flock to cartoons, adults tend to marvel at the technical wizardry and get swept up in the nostalgia and novelty. Go back and read Roger Ebert’s review of the genre-defining classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit; the unflappable critic geeks out over the effort it took to seamlessly integrate cartoons into ‘40s film noir-inspired live-action sets. Network television has never attempted a live-action animation project as ambitious as Roger Rabbit, but that will change in September when Fox debuts Son of Zorn, a new sitcom from Wilfred creators Reed Agnew and Eli Jorne that stars an animated He-Man-like warrior named Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) trying to assimilate in Orange

DORIAN - ALMOST HUMAN

The Game of Thrones is a deadly one. We’ve been keeping tabs on your favorite characters all season long, and here’s our MVP and Ultimate Loser of season six:

s a species we’ve been writing TV comedy from the moment we had the technology to broadcast Lucille Ball into family rooms – and it only makes sense that we’d continually get better at it. Or at the very least, TV writers are finding a way to cram more jokes into 22-minute increments. That’s the conclusion we at Den of Geek are drawing from our ongoing, wildly unscientific “Jokes Per Minute (JPM)” series, in which we attempt to calculate just how many jokes select TV sitcoms contain. Our most recent object of study is TBS’ procedural cop show parody Angie Tribeca, which happens to feature the highest JPM season average we have on record as it leaves absolutely no pun unturned.

ANGIE TRIBECA

JPM

DISHONORABLE MENTION

SEASON 1 AVERAGE

6.17

WALDER FREY The crusty old coot got his just desserts in the form of a highly accurate Sweeny Todd tribute.

HIGHEST EPISODE AVERAGE "Inside Man"

6.89

LOWEST EPISODE AVERAGE "The Wedding Planner Did It"

5.49

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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TELEVISION

HOW THE APOCALYPSE IS MADE We went inside the writers’ room for Fox’s end-of-the-world sitcom, The Last Man on Earth. BY DANIEL KURLAND

R

ight from its isolating opening moments, Fox’s The Last Man on Earth has been unpredictable television, the kind that rejuvenates the sitcom format. The series, masterminded by its star Will Forte, looks at a group of misfit survivors trying to get by in a broken, empty world. Now in its second season, the show continues to find new ways to play with an off-kilter concept that has taken viewers to

the corners of outer space and back again. Andy Bobrow, executive producer and writer for the series, took Den of Geek through an unprecedented tour of the show’s second season, an exclusive journey into the writers’ room of a major network sitcom. With the crew’s full episodic account available on DenofGeek.com, here’s a small taste of how such a unique sitcom comes together. Episode 1

EPISODE 1 – "IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?" “Carol quickly learns of how wrong her decision was to accompany Phil on his new journey away from Tuscon.” How much of a plan did you guys have for the second season when you ended the first one? ANDY BOBROW, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: There was no plan at all at the end of season one, except that we knew we had Tandy and Carol off on their own. And we liked how that gave us an opportunity to get back to basics with them. There was some criticism in season one that we expanded the cast too quickly, and in hindsight we agreed. So we thought of this as a way to give ourselves a little do-over and get back to the OG’s, Tandy and Carol. We would have gone longer, but there’s a financial reality to deal with. The actors’ contracts were in place since season one, and it’s standard for series regulars to get paid whether they are in an episode or not. The network promotion model is very much a game of “remember that thing you like? Well it’s right here and it’s just how you like it.” They wanted the cast on the billboards, and we wanted people not even to know that the cast was coming back.

EPISODE 2 – "THE BOO"

ALL IMAGES: FOX

“Phil goes on a search for Carol after he accidentally leaves her in a gas station in Oklahoma.”

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Tandy himself becomes a much more empathetic character after his antagonistic run during the first season. Can you talk a bit on that new re-positioning for the character? AB: Yeah, it was definitely a conscious decision. Tandy’s personality last year became polarizing. Not at first, but around episode six, some people started saying, “fuck this guy.” And the truth is we pretty much corrected ourselves before we heard any feedback, because you know we shot all 13 episodes of season one before they aired. But even in the room, some of us were very worried that, for example, scenes like the “don’t trust fats” scene would push viewers too far. Will

knows what’s funny and he knows that he is particularly funny when he is selfish, inappropriate, scheming, horny, and failing. Some of us who come from a traditional sitcom background were like, “Those things are well and good, but Tandy is the lead character. Kramer could be those things, but Jerry had to be more likeable.” And Will was like, “This is funny.” And it took many of us out of our comfort zone, just like it did for the audience. And I’m proud that we went there because it’s yet another reason why this is not a typical network show.

EPISODE 4 – "C TO THE T" “Phil is welcomed back into the group, but he must face consequences for how he acted in Tuscon. This episode more than any other feels like a showcase of Forte’s physical comedy ability. Did this sort of just fall together this way, or was it intentionally engineered as a physical piece for Will? AB: It just fell together that way. I mean, the first assignment was now that he’s in the stocks, how does he get out, and how does he redeem himself? I think the main flow of logic was just realizing, okay, at some point, they have to let him out of the stocks, but would they just forgive him? Probably not. And would he screw something else up? Probably would. Will wanted the main comic engine of the story to be the way Tandy keeps offering up his own punishments and then screwing them up and then punishing himself harder to compensate. The way Will thinks, he really can’t like an idea until he can picture how he’s going to play it, and how he’ll make it funny as an actor. He thinks in set pieces. So I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but we were talking in the area of punishments, and someone said shock collar. The point is it was one of those things that just bubbled up and quickly took root. That episode was ridiculous fun. Not terribly fun to shoot, though. It was ridiculously hot that week, and we had a ton of outdoor scenes. So when you watch Will doing all that physical stuff outdoors, keep in mind it was 100 degrees the whole time.

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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EPISODE 6 – "A REAL LIVE WIRE" “Phil and Todd rejuvenate their old friendship from Tucson after doing time together.” Gas expiring — much like food expiring — is my jam here. It’s a solid premise and obstacle for an episode, but it’s also just another example of these characters learning that they’re slowly running out of time. I assume this building dread was all part of the plan? AB: Building dread I guess, but in my mind it’s a great way to frame the situation for these knuckleheads. They’re on the Titanic and refuse to do anything about it. “Broken World” is a phrase we end up saying a lot. It comes up in production meetings all the time, like when a script calls for a prop or a location and someone says, “How do you want it to look?” and we say, “Well, just keep in mind it’s a broken world. Nothing works great, nothing looks great, everything’s janky, everything’s duct-taped.” Our writers’ assistant, Max Kessler, took it upon himself to be our source for end-of-the world wisdom. He reads up on this stuff. Most of the time, he’ll say something like, “The weeds would be waist-high by now and there’d be vegetation infiltrating buildings.” And we’ll go, “Okay, yeah, sure, excellent point, but is it plausible that the virus slowed down vegetation?” And we end up fudging a lot of stuff that way.

EPISODE 9 – "SECRET SANTA" “Along with most human life, the virus wiped out normal traditions and holidays. As Christmas approaches, Carol spearheads a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange to spread some festive cheer.” Were Carol’s Christmas decorations your production designers' dream come true, or a nightmare? AB: It should have been a dream come true, but I’m afraid it ended up being more of a nightmare. We had said in the script that Carol overdid the decorations, but what no one really counted on was just how vast that space is. Our set decorators went out and bought a ton of Episode 6

stuff, but when we came in on the Monday of shoot week, it was clear that it wasn’t making a big enough impression. It wasn’t overwhelming the house. Kira [Kalush] came to me with a sick look on her face. “Don’t we need a lot more stuff?” She was right though, so we had to go talk to the director and our set decoration people and it was tense. The clock is ticking and we can’t slow down the schedule, and we’re telling them we need way more stuff. They bought more stuff, and they dragged all the stuff from other rooms, and they had to get creative with moving things around from room to room without anyone picking up on it. Shout out to Erin Boyd, Zach Kramer, and their whole team who busted their humps to decorate that huge house in a matter of hours.

EPISODE 11 – "PITCH BLACK" “Mike Miller’s space capsule careens through the sky toward Earth, finally putting him on the same planet as his big brother, Phil/Tandy.” This is such a big return with a huge decision that kicks it off. Did you guys circle a lot of ideas before deciding that Mike should land in the ocean? AB: Yeah we weighed all the options – land, sea, desert, jungle. We talked about doing a joke where he crashes on land and gets up and walks a bit and sees these wooden signs written in Swahili. And he’s like “Oh crap, Africa?” And then he walks a bit further and finds out he’s in Disney World. All we really knew was that if he landed anywhere near the gang, it would be too much of a coincidence. We knew he had to have his own journey on Earth before finding the others. Ocean seemed like a good start. The first thought was he splashes down and floats in a life raft and then miraculously finds a cruise ship, and he screws around there like Phil would have done. Drinking all the booze and basically having a pleasure cruise by himself. That was cost prohibitive. And John and Dave came up with that really cool bit where he crashes right into the boat. That was a great solution. The kind of coincidence you buy because it’s hardly good news.

EPISODE 13 – “FISH IN THE DISH” “Carol is back on the campaign for repopulation with Phil, and Todd’s juggling act finally puts him over the edge.” Tandy’s infertility had been hinted at before, which obviously shows some foresight on your part. You mentioned that the topic of childbirth on the show really caused a divide in the writers’ room between sexes. What was it like reopening the topic here, especially with Carol being so adamant about it? AB: Yeah, the fertility thing was a big discussion in the first season, as we felt like it was dominating Carol’s personality and it had the potential to turn her into a flat character – just being too baby crazy. So that’s why we felt the need to ease up on the baby stuff. But by the time this episode came along, we had laid off the subject for several episodes in a row, and the relationship between Carol and Tandy had grown into something way deeper, so we all felt it was time to talk about the baby thing again. It was especially worth it this time around because it wasn’t an episode about Carol being obsessed; it was more about Carol being very practical and smart about this task. Plus, you know, it was mostly about jacking off, so we knew we were in our wheelhouse.

EPISODE 16 – "FALLING SLOWLY" “Todd has a lot to think about when Tandy and Carol ask a major favor of him. Meanwhile, Gail’s wine consumption has become an issue.” This episode introduces a lot. Do you like when your show extends its boundaries and pushes the larger story forward in some way? Or are you happy focusing on the core that you’ve already built? AB: I think we’ve settled into our pace, which is nice and slow. We linger in small moments and petty desires. So I think the big things we do are always going to be in service of those little human stories. Even Mike splashing down from space quickly turned into a story about a lonely guy on a boat who wanted a tennis partner. So I guess I’m saying we get as excited as anyone about drones and government conspiracies, but we’ll probably always bring it back to the dummies on the ground hiding bacon. Do not hold me to this, though. We’ll turn on a dime and introduce Martians if it’s funny.

EPISODE 18 – “30 YEARS OF SCIENCE DOWN THE TUBES” “Tandy and Mike grow closer than ever and the whole Malibu group gets a big friggin’ surprise.” The DeLorean as Tandy’s vehicle is a perfect background detail. You guys can take something as simple as a car and turn it into this amazing visual gag that’s so purely you. AB: Thanks! We have a steady drumbeat here of people saying, "But what’s the wish-fulfillment thing? We need more wish-fulfillment.” It was such a big part of the pilot — the car bowling and the artwork and all the shit you can only do in an empty world. Viewers loved it and certainly the network and studio jumped on that right away. So we are always looking for DeLoreans. You can find the full episode-by-episode walkthrough of The Last Man on Earth season two on DenofGeek.com.

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TWO OF THE LAST WOMEN ON EARTH.. We touched base with Cleopatra Coleman (Erica) and Mary Steenburgen (Gail) to chat about the evolution of the show and their characters.

Season two covers so much ground and really goes all over the place. But do both of you have a favorite scene or moment from the year? CLEOPATRA COLEMAN: I’m going to have to say — and a lot of people choose this moment — but Will’s “Closure” song. I mean there are so many insane moments on-set with Will. You never know what’s going to happen. And to not screw up the take by laughing. MARY STEENBURGEN: He really did it to us that day though! That was tough. Some of us did better than others. I had to be written out of that scene because I couldn’t control myself. It was so — watching him painstakingly tune that that guitar, and then sing the whole song without playing the guitar. Just beating the side of it. Oh my God, it’s the most I’ve needed to laugh in my whole life. I couldn’t believe it when Will and Mel both shaved half of their bodies for the show. What was that experience like? Did either of you eventually get desensitized to it all? CC: It’s so weird! At first it’s so jarring and you can’t get past it. Will would just be coming on-set trying to have a regular workday and have conversations, but I can’t focus at all. And then like after a week I’d forget about it! MS: I will say, it was pretty hilarious to go to an award show with them like that. We’re all sitting at a table together — oh there’s Helen Mirren, there’s blah blah blah — and Will is just sitting there happy as a clam with only half of his hair on his face. The end of season two again shatters the status quo of the series. What were both of your reactions when you first saw that the year was going out on that note? CC: We were in the room doing a table read, and we were just reading it for the first time, like usual. And I remember being like, “Wow... What’s going to happen?” I was curious as a fan, you know? I want to know what’s going to happen to us! MS: You know, Mike Schur, who did Parks and Recreation. He’s just created a new show that my husband’s [Ted Danson] on, called The Good Place. He came up to me, when they were doing the pilot, and said that he was a huge fan of Last Man and said, “I want you to know, I might not be doing the show that I’m doing if I wasn’t inspired by Last Man.” And he said, “I know other people have said the same thing, but you’re taking ideas that we previously thought that nobody could do. It’s going too far.” He said, “You guys have created a world that’s never been created before,” and that’s what I felt when I saw that ending. It’s so unique. So in terms of next season, all that Cleo and I know is that it’s going to be some crazy, wonderful ride coming from such great writers. DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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ever underestimate the power of collective effervescence.” Rifling through the jumble of articulately-worded sentences, that phrase, for whatever reason, stands out. Maybe it’s because of its simplicity. Perhaps there's too much candor packed into such a short sentence. Even after I've worked with Supernatural actor Misha Collins and his nonprofit Random Acts for a few years, his candidness and the cerebral method with which he approaches his experiences within the Supernatural fandom can still come as a refreshing surprise. There’s a method to his madness, however silly it may sound. After messaging Collins earlier in the week to discuss the topic of fandom mobilization within the “geek” community — the idea that celebrities can and should channel the cumulative driving force behind each of their respective niche groups toward the greater good — he explains to me how and why, in his opinion, fan-based philanthropy is able to thrive. “World domination was definitely one of my main objectives in founding Random Acts — in a totally altruistic way, of course,” he jokes, referring to the organization he helped to co-found with a group of Supernatural fans in 2009. Back then, they referred to themselves as Minion Stimulus and were dedicated to obtaining U.S. stimulus money to fund different humanitarian causes. “The idea of celebrity is completely nonsensical to me,” he adds, “but I’m on a TV show that people care about, [and] I was initially looking for a way to lever-

TELEVISION

THE PHILOSOPHY OF

FANDOM CHARITY Your favorite genre TV heroes are putting their star power to good use when they’re not on camera. BY MELANIE SCHMITZ | ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY MILLER

Supernatural actor Misha Collins works with a local construction crew to weld beams together for San Juan del Sur’s new campus.

Acts has raised enough to fund a number of charitable efforts, including a children’s home in Jacmel, Haiti, a community farm in Uganda, and a new campus for one of Nicaragua’s free city high school programs. Collins has also established an annual international scavenger hunt called GISHWHES, which gives back generously to charity by charging a comparatively small registration fee. “Supernatural fans reaffirm my belief in the Random Acts mission, to change the world with kindness, all the time,” he notes. Then, characteristically, he switches pace, pitching a

“WORLD DOMINATION WAS DEFINITELY ONE OF MY MAIN OBJECTIVES IN FOUNDING RANDOM ACTS— IN A TOTALLY ALTRUISTIC WAY, OF COURSE.” –MISHA COLLINS

IMAGES: SAM/TYLER GARNER

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age that audience. Random Acts, which aims to change the world one act of kindness at a time, became a natural extension of that.” The group got its start during a particularly trying time. In the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti — a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 event that left the coastal capital city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions devastated — Collins tweeted a call to action that, over the subsequent weeks, outgrew its own ambitions. Within a few months, his nearly 300,000 Twitter followers (he now has over 2 million) managed to raise some $30,000, all of which was funneled to relief efforts in the region. Since then, the Supernatural actor and his crew of supporters have built what amounts to an empire in the geek world: Random

humorous afterthought. “So long as [Supernatural alum] Matt Cohen is willing to take his shirt off for charity at our fan conventions, and so long as the fans are willing to pay him to do that….” he writes. A few weeks after our initial email conversation, Collins and the Supernatural team headed down to Sydney and Melbourne for the Australian “All Hell Breaks Loose” convention. At the end of the weekend, a troupe of altruistic fans drops off two giant checks to the Random Acts table. Together, they total $10,000. In the memo line, the organizer has written cheekily, “For: Matt Cohen keeping his shirt on.” Collins isn’t the only one turning enthusiasm into activism, but he and the CW family as a whole have been setting the standard as

of late. Collins’ Supernatural colleague Jared Padalecki, who has battled depression himself in the past, has dutifully been powering the mental health awareness campaign, Always Keep Fighting. There’s Arrow star Stephen Amell (F--- Cancer), Supernatural co-star Jensen Ackles (You Are Not Alone, Team Levi),The Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder (the Ian Somerhalder Foundation), and Jane the Virgin’s breakout star, Gina Rodriguez (We Will), all of whom have made massive efforts to give back and have encouraged fans to do the same. Fellow Supernatural and 2012 actor Osric Chau has set his own pace in the world of charity. The sunny 29-year-old has spent the greater part of the past few years fundraising for several nonprofit initiatives, including Random Acts. In 2015, Chau traveled with the nonprofit to help out with construction efforts on the aforementioned free high school campus, and to assemble eco-friendly stoves and water filtration systems in one of San Juan del Sur’s rural villages. In part because of his involvement, the organization was able to recruit dozens more volunteer fundraisers, several of them eager to work alongside him in Nicaragua. By year’s end, the group managed to raise a mammoth $179,000. After being asked what he thinks makes the power of fandom so distinct, Chau says, “I think the key element in this type of excitement is the community. Whether it be a fandom, a school, a neighborhood. When you have a group of people in a shared situation with shared concerns, that kind of excitement to address those concerns is possible.” CW aside, celebrity-fandom activism has blossomed within the past 10 years: Robert Downey Jr.’s recent Best Night Ever; Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Doctors Without Borders advocacy; Chris Hardwick’s annual Course of the Force Star Wars run, which benefits the Make-a-Wish Foundation; Community DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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FANDOM FUNDRAI ING by the numbers Supernatural actor Osric Chau onsite at the new campus of the Free High School of San Juan del Sur.

RANDOM ACTS

(Misha Collins, Supernatural)

actress Yvette Nicole Brown’s work with Lollipop Theater; and Chuck star Zachary Levi’s work for Operation Smile. Levi has all but made charity activism a lifestyle. Each summer, the actor puts on the celebrated Nerd HQ festivities, a free event across from San Diego Comic-Con. Ticket sales from celebrity panels, and the auctions that are held alongside them, all benefit the previously mentioned Operation Smile nonprofit, which provides life-changing surgery to children across the globe with cleft-palates. Since 2011, Levi’s Nerd HQ — and more importantly, the fan-base that supports it — has managed to raise almost $800,000 for the charity. Brown, too, has made sure that fans know exactly which causes she backs: On the front page of her official website, the actress has included a link to each and every charitable group with which she proudly associates, and for the past few years, she’s made appearances at a number of fan-related fundraising events, including Levi’s own Nerd HQ. One of her favorites among those is the Lollipop Theatre, a group that brings entertainment opportunities to hospitalized children who might otherwise miss out. It’s not all heartstrings and tearful montages, though. Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Dax Shepard, and Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick recently got together to pull off a star-studded Red Nose Day special alongside the cast of The Walking Dead, to huge acclaim. In the end, the Red Nose Day special and the people who participated managed to raise some $30 million. Not everyone can raise millions of dollars in one day (Red Nose Day has NBC to thank for that). Equally impressive fan efforts pop up on a regular basis in the geek world, many of them fostered and nurtured into existence by public figures, actors, writers, and production crews of niche shows and webseries alike. Whether they’re crowdfunding for a dire cause or throwing their weight behind an established effort, each one works with their respective fandom to recast the bulk of their collective 26 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

power into something bigger and better. Geek and Sundry founder Felicia Day, who’s had recurring roles in The Guild and Supernatural, has dedicated herself to working in tandem with the fanbase that has propelled her various projects over the years. Most recently, that same open-line, philanthropic relationship led Day to collaborate with tee-shirt company Represent on her “Embrace Your Weird” campaign, which urged followers to take pride in their unique quirks while simultaneously raising money for the anti-bullying charity Stomp Out Bullying. “Embracing who I am and the weirdnesses of my life got me to where I am today. And that’s what I want people to take away from it,” Day told a crowd of fans at last year’s VidCon. “Embrace your weirdness, because that’s what makes you special in life… the more you can love all the weirdness inside you, the more you’ll succeed.” With a fanbase that includes impressionable youngsters and open-minded grown-ups alike, taking on a campaign that benefits both isn’t just smart, it’s a model that other big names eager to dive into the charity pool will likely follow for years to come. Mobilizing fan efforts into a much larger charity initiative can be difficult to master. “I work on a TV show and do fan conventions and have two small kids and work on art projects and work on Random Acts and run GISHWHES … and sometimes I feel i just don’t have enough time or brain cells to go around,” Collins says. “Fortunately, I have an amazing staff of truly dedicated and brilliant volunteers… and these various projects I’m working on tend to support one another, which helps.” It’s a busy life, helming a public image while simultaneously transforming energy from an excited fanbase into something tangible. Eventually, Collins answers the big question: What does he hope to achieve with all this do-gooder business? “As far as an end game goes? That first thing wasn’t a joke,” he says, referring to his earlier comments. “World domination, absolutely.”

$1.5 MILLION (approx.)**

NERD HQ FOR OPERATION SMILE

(Zachary Levi, Chuck, Thor)

$444,640

IAN SOMERHALDER FOUNDATION (Ian Somerhalder, The Vampire Diaries)

$2 MILLION (approx.)**

HOLLYWOOD CHARITY HORSE SHOW FOR VARIOUS NONPROFITS

(William Shatner, Star Trek)

$1.6 MILLION (approx.)**

COURSE OF THE FORCE FOR MAKE-A-WISH (Nerdist/Chris Hardwick)

$300,000+ ***

Totals calculated using Crowdrise numbers and Guidestar year-end revenue information **Numbers collected via Form 990, total revenue/annually ***Estimate based on 2013 totals


MOVIES

T

NO JUSTICE IN CONFORMITY BY DAVID CROW

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INSIDE SCOOP

IMAGES: MARVEL STUDIOS/20TH CENTURY FOX/WARNER BROS.

Are blockbusters being rewarded for wearing the same uniforms?

he Batmobile is resting behind me, more spectacular and tricked out than ever before. Just as tantalizing on the other side of the room is a cache of props whose sum total represents Bruce Wayne’s latest obsession (hint: he’s chasing sea monsters now, at least according to ancient texts about Atlantis). Yet, I and a handful of other journalists touring the Justice League set are paying no attention to any of that at this exact moment. Despite being in the colossal hangar which will serve as the base of operations for Ben Affleck’s Batman in the new movie, the most interesting thing in the space is what producer Deborah Snyder has to say. Snyder, who has served as producer or executive producer on all of husband Zack Snyder’s movies since 300, is fielding questions about the infamously negative reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and how it is informing Justice League as well the game plan for Warner Bros.' DC superhero films going forward. “I think the main thing we learned is that people don’t like to see their heroes deconstructed,” Snyder says, pausing to allow a small laugh at the vitriol with which her film was welcomed into this world. “I think that’s hard, because it’s people we’ve grown up with and care about, and they like seeing them in all their glory.” Indeed, she might be more right than she knows. For however much the critical reception of Batman v Superman is arguably deserved, increasingly within the realm of blockbuster cinema, global audiences appear to be embracing a hegemonic sameness that is not only preferred, it’s demanded. When Batman v Superman opened in theaters this spring, its record-breaking debut for March with $166 million did little to change the perception of a disappointment when it grossed what should have been considered a staggering total of $872.7 million worldwide. Still, it would be one of the rosier box office stories for blockbuster cinema in 2016 after this summer turned into a franchise body heap higher than the carnage piles seen in any given episode of Game of Thrones. Warcraft, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Independence Day, and Tarzan all saw their boffo (and sequel) aspirations dim over a shockingly brutal season for live-action spectacles. As of press time, the second most successful PG-13 crowd-pleaser is X-Men: Apocalypse, wich currently rests at just over $153 million in the U.S. Hence throughout the industry, whispers are again rising to a slow, yet steady hiss about the prophetic powers of Steven Spielberg. Considered the father of the modern blockbuster ever since he directed a little movie about three

men gone fishing, the Jaws filmmaker infamously became Tinseltown’s disagreeable Cassandra by suggesting that superheroes, and mega-budgeted tentpoles by extension, might be a generational bubble in the early 21st century, such as the western or musical was in the mid-20th. In fact, when I attended a press conference for Bridge of Spies with the director last year, he addressed that very issue with words that are fairly prescient today. “I didn’t ever predict the implosion of the industry at all,” Spielberg reflected during a year that saw his Jurassic World production gross $1.6 billion. “I simply predicted a number of blockbusters in one summer – those big sort of tentpole superhero movies – there was going to come a time where two or three, or four of them in a row wouldn’t work.” However, the solitary quid pro quo for this prognostication is not that superhero movies aren’t working – it’s that they’re the only things that seem to be. Particularly when their rigidity and likenesses are more unapologetically adopted. As aforementioned, X-Men is doing passable if disappointing numbers (like Batman v Superman on a less expensive scale). Meanwhile, the biggest non-animated movie of the year is one that offers international audiences consistency and familiarity both in terms of quality and tone. As of this writing, Captain America: Civil War has domestically earned $405.7 million. To be certain, Civil War is an excellent film from Marvel that might even represent one of the highpoints in the studio’s entire oeuvre. Taut and less reliant on the precise formula of previous movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it squares superheroes off against one another while being blessedly free from a villain who seeks world domination and/or destruction. But also, unlike Batman v Superman, it maintains the qualities that audiences increasingly expect from the genre, rendering the eponymous squabble as less a war than a friendly group sparring match that, until the third act, is every bit as affable as when Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans are slinging tête-à-tête punchlines, as opposed to punches, in the earlier films. Through intense quality control, Marvel has earned the audience’s trust. So folks show up at the multiplex rain or shine (or for known quantities like Iron Man and unknown ones like Guardians of the Galaxy), expecting

“I THINK THE MAIN THING WE LEARNED IS THAT PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO SEE THEIR HEROES DECONSTRUCTED.” they’ll get a marked consistency in style, tenor, and humor. The directors may change, the characters may change, even the intergalactic setting may change, but the approach is similar to the appeal broadcasters had during the height of network television. If it’s on Thursday nights, it must be must-see, so tune in! At least in terms of blockbusters, that sense of comforting reliability might be changing the way audiences perceive popcorn entertainment, even amongst the vastly popular superhero genre. Instead of seeing a diversification of storytelling techniques and influences that emphasize their differences, audiences appear to be rewarding the attention paid to highlighting their similarities. And with theatrical tickets ever inflating faster than currencies, the further you are from the leader, the more of a risk your studio’s annual tentpole sure-thing becomes for the consumer, who has specific expectations for his popcorn. Ergo, whatever legitimate criticisms you or I have for a film as confused as Batman v Superman, Deborah and Zack Snyder are on-point to highlight the new tone that accompanies their New Gods-focused Justice League. Later that very day, Zack Snyder shared a drink with reporters (he had a mojito), as well as the first glimpse of a scene from his film. In it, Ben Affleck’s weary Bruce Wayne – apparently having endured several rejections up to this point – shows up in the home of Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, aka the Flash. A downtrodden Bruce is braced for resistance from the young motor mouth about joining the team. Barry even tries to dismiss the crimson Flash costume hanging on his wall. “Yeah, I do competitive ice dancing,” Barry demurs when the billionaire admires his costumed handiwork. Bruce points out that it’s made of the same material NASA uses to protect astronauts from burning up on re-entry. “I do very competitive ice dancing.” The scene, and everything else we’ve witnessed of Ezra Miller’s Flash (especially when bouncing off an extra-broody Affleck), is funny, quick-witted, and delightful. Clearly, the heroes of Justice League have learned their lesson well. DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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BEYOND BEYOND STAR TREK

EMERGING FROM THE DARKNESS BY DON KAYE

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up — Sept. 8, to be precise, the date in 1966 on which the original series made its network debut on NBC — Paramount clearly meant for the fan event to kick off a summer of celebration for its crown jewel, culminating with the opening of the new movie (and its world premiere on July 20 at San Diego Comic-Con, where you might very well be holding and reading this). But there was another agenda at work as well, which was simply to reassure the Trek faithful that the film franchise was undergoing something of a course correction after 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness left fans bitterly divided. Getting past the hard feelings and sometimes angry debates that marked the release of Into Darkness — with its half-baked reboot of a classic villain, the reworking of scenes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and other canon-straining transgressions — must have been deemed a tough, but necessary,

path to take. Thus with Abrams off directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the studio recruited director Justin Lin, a huge Trek fan and a filmmaker known for both explosive action and his successful reset of the Fast & Furious series. Meanwhile, a script overseen by producer/writer Roberto Orci, who had hoped to direct the Into Darkness follow-up himself at one point, was jettisoned in favor of starting from scratch. In the realm of Star Trek, who do you call upon when something needs a bit of fixing? Why, Scotty, of course. Although he wasn’t at the fan event due to filming commitments elsewhere, British actor Simon Pegg (who played the U.S.S. Enterprise’s chief engineer in the previous two Star Trek films) was still a presence, and not just because of his always welcome appearance onscreen. It was Pegg — a noted screenwriter in his own right — working and co-scripter Doug Jung, who were

ALL IMAGES: PARAMOUNT PICTURES/KIMBERLY FRENCH

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ack in May, there was what was described as a Star Trek “fan event” on the lot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California. It consisted of a Q&A with stars Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), and Karl Urban (McCoy), along with a series of video testimonials from other cast members, appearances by former Trek director J.J. Abrams and current Trek helmer Justin Lin, and a moving tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy that included the naming of a street on the lot in his honor. Last, but far from least, they welcomed the premiere of a new trailer and several extra minutes of footage from Star Trek Beyond, the latest film in the franchise, arriving on July 22. With the 50th anniversary of Trek coming

tasked with writing Star Trek Beyond and delivering a script that was both continuous in tone with the previous two films while also respectful of the Trek universe and its history. What emerged is… still a closely kept secret as this goes to print. But here’s what we do know: The crew of the Enterprise is well into their first five-year mission as the film begins, with a little bit of ennui beginning to creep in. Kirk is having doubts about why he signed up with Starfleet in the first place. Was it because he wanted to or because he needed to live up to the ideals of his late father? Nevertheless, the ship heads out on its next diplomatic assignment to recruit a new race to join the Federation when it is aggressively confronted and threatened by an alien named Krall (Idris Elba) who wants nothing to do with that galactic governing body — and in fact may want to bring about its destruction. The idea of Pegg getting involved with

“IT WAS JUST A CASE OF WRITING THE STAR TREK MOVIE WE WANTED TO WRITE.” –SIMON PEGG

writing the film was suggested to him by producer Bryan Burk. “We were just sort of talking over ideas about where the story could go. It was this sort of hypothetical thing, really,” says Pegg when we reach him by phone in Budapest (he’s on location for a different movie). “And then Burk sort of sprung it on me… I actually can’t remember if it was on the set of Mission Impossible or Star Wars. I think it was Star Wars, and he took me around the back. [Laughs] Like up the alleyway where Christopher Reeve pulled open his shirt in the original Superman. He said, ‘So, do you want to write it?’ I just sort of agreed because saying no just seemed like the wrong thing to do.”

Pegg and Jung elected to start fresh and not look at the screenplay completed by Orci, Patrick McKay, and John D. Payne. “It was a frightening blank page,” Pegg admits. “I’ve looked at many blank pages in my life, and that one was particularly daunting.” But hitting it off with Jung, whom he had never met before, and consulting with both Lin and executive producer Lindsey Weber (from Abrams’ Bad Robot company), Pegg felt creatively supported. “It was just a case of kind of writing the Star Trek movie we wanted to write,” he continues. “We had the whole canon and 50 years of history. But also, at the same time, we had an alternative timeline in which we weren’t banned by the destinies of any of the [Star Trek Prime] cast. So we knew that we were able to do pretty much anything we wanted within the realms of Star Trek credibility.” That surreal moment of realizing you’re boldly going to be penning the next adventure

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WHERE NO FANDOM HAS GONE BEFORE Bjo and John Trimble are the reason you’re a Trekkie today. BY ELIZABETH RAYNE If you’ve ever tried to speak Klingon, wanted a pet Tribble, or made the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign your official greeting, you already know you have Gene Roddenberry to thank. But you must not forget Bjo and John Trimble. Without them, the Starship Enterprise might not have explored the final frontier for more than two seasons. Bjo (Betty Jo) Trimble ended up on board the Enterprise by accident. She was running a Futuristic Fashion Show at Tricon 1966 when at the last minute she was told by the con committee that a Hollywood producer was desperate to fit three of his show’s costumes into the event. He was debuting a trio of episodes from his not-yet-aired sci-fi TV series at the con and needed the exposure. Trimble made a late exception for him. That producer was Gene Roddenberry. From that moment, Trimble’s involvement with Star Trek zoomed forward at warp 9. Two years later, rumor had it that NBC was ready to cancel the series after its second season due to poor ratings. So Bjo and her husband, John, aimed their phasers at NBC and unleashed a letter-writing campaign upon the network. In 1968, the internet was as much a fantasy as the Enterprise’s transport deck, yet the Trimbles still managed to mobilize legions of fans. With just a typewriter and a mimeograph machine, they sent out newsletters that urged devoted Trekkies to write letters to NBC and pass the information on to at least ten more people. Together, fans sent thousands of letters in defense of Star Trek. NBC finally made a primetime voiceover plea for the asteroid shower of letters to stop. Star Trek was not being blasted. Bjo and John Trimble’s efforts managed to keep the Enterprise airborne for another season — but the far-reaching effects of their success proved to be astronomical. Only shows that had run for at least three seasons were shown in reruns back in the '60s. Sci-fi junkies who tuned in to the reruns saw the fandom’s popularity skyrocket, which led to movies starring members of the original cast, and later The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, which led to the more recent J.J. Abrams films. After securing the fate of Star Trek: TOS, the Trimbles went on to campaign for the first U.S. space shuttle to be called Enterprise (which it was). Bjo also had a cameo in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and wrote On the Good Ship Enterprise, which recounted her experiences with Gene Roddenberry and The Original Series, and Star Trek Concordance, which was the only Star Trek reference guide that existed for years. Whether you’re roaming the galaxy in Starfleet cosplay or even jeans and a t-shirt, watching the first season on Netflix between panels, or adjusting your Spock ears for a photo op, pay a visit to Bjo and John Trimble, who are special guests at San Diego Comic Con this year. They made your fandom live long and prosper.

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in the Trek universe is also a feeling Jung shared. “If you had said to me, ‘You are going to get to write a Star Trek movie,’ I would have said you’re crazy,” Jung says. “Like a lot of people, Star Trek has been a part of my life probably more than I even realized before the job.” Growing up in New Jersey, Jung says he remembers catching late-night reruns of the original series on legendary New York City TV channel WPIX. “That was kind of my earliest memory of Star Trek, just having this thing that was waiting for you late at night, which was always great,” he recalls. “And then later, as you get older and smarter, and more capable of viewing things for other reasons than sort of the cool idea of these guys in a spaceship, the meaning of everything and what they tried to do in Star Trek, and what they accomplished just deepens.” Following a number of meetings and conversations, in which Jung says the always-busy Pegg was a “disembodied voice on the phone,” the two writers finally met in a hotel room in London. “Doug came over to stay with me in the UK for a little while,” Pegg says. “Our sort of daily routine would be to work about 12 hours… it was an intensive process. We were really up against it, time-wise. We were delivered a deadline schedule that was terrifying. It was like, ‘Can we have Act One by Friday, Act Two by Saturday, script by Sunday?’ [Laughs] It was crazy.” “[Simon’s] a fantastic guy to work with,” says Jung. “He’s just a real creative person. He’s just as smart and funny as you would imagine him to be. The times that I enjoyed the most were when it was just he and I sort of geeking out as writers alone in a room. I so distinctly remember being in his guest house, and we would be working all day. It was great because we were pounding out pages without really editing ourselves, just riffing on what we thought would be fun and tense, and clever, and whatever it was. Those were the most fun for me.” While neither man was interested in borrowing plot elements from the original series or films with the classic cast, as had been done with Into Darkness, they nevertheless found a way to tap into the mindset and flavor of the show while also unwinding at the same time. “When we felt like we really put the hours in and came up with good stuff, we’d treat ourselves to episodes of the original series,” Pegg says. “It was mostly out of recreation, but also we’d take our notepads and jot down names and places. It’s always good to have a sort of reference library, particularly for ancillary characters like redshirts or crew members, and tie those into the original series, because they are just as much part of the crew, even though we don’t follow their stories.”

“IN ORDER TO TEST THE CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN ALL THE CREW.. WE HAD TO TAKE AWAY THE THING THAT PHYSICALLY HOLDS THEM TOGETHER, WHICH IS THE SHIP, AND SEE IF THEY STAY TOGETHER AFTER THAT WAS GONE.” –SIMON PEGG Pegg says that hardcore Trekkers might recognize names like Tomlinson, Martine, and Romaine among the crew members, although they might not have made the final cut. “I don’t know how many times we were like, ‘we’ve got to get that name in there somehow or that redshirt’s name in there,’” agrees Jung. “Even if they didn’t survive, we were sort of pulling these little things out just to go, ‘Oh, that’d be great!’ We were always trying to work in Spock’s musical instrument and stuff. It didn’t happen, but that was kind of a really fun way to end the day.” But even as they were watching the old show for fun, relaxation, and a little research, Pegg and Jung were also casting a somewhat critical eye on one of its core tenets as a way to create a dramatic new conflict for their film. “We wanted to challenge a bit the idea of this [Gene] Roddenberry universe,” Jung says. “The idea of the Federation, Starfleet, this utopia that’s presented in this world, and question a little bit of this idea of, ‘Well, how can that re-

ally exist and what’s the sort of price of that?’” Pegg concurs with this sentiment about exploring the protagonists’ cultural morality. “We definitely started to look at ideas of good guys and bad guys in terms of the good guys assuming that their way of doing things is the right way of doing things… this whole idea of integration, whether that wasn’t just colonization.” But Pegg is quick to add that the Federation is not painted with the brush of villainy as Starfleet was in Into Darkness: “It wasn’t a kind of way to darken Star Trek or to throw down. It was a way to reaffirm that the Federation was a force of good, and it was about integration and not about assimilation. That’s a whole other species.” Questioning the ideals and purpose of the Federation is not as shocking as it might sound: Episodes addressing that theme have popped up not just in the original series (“Errand of Mercy” and “A Private Little War” come to mind), but also in succeeding shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Still to that end, it was important for Pegg and Jung to create a wholly new and original adversary for this film and not reactivate someone from the past as had been done — and not very well — in Star Trek Into Darkness. “I think one thing we learned from Into Darkness is that you can possibly try and please the fans too much, in a way, and end up doing the reverse,” admits Pegg. “I think a lot of people took issue with Into Darkness because it essentially retread certain ideas from The Wrath

of Khan. And maybe, and I’m sure that certainly everyone involved would agree, slightly too early… It was very well meaning and I really liked Into Darkness. I’m proud of it, and it’s something I would defend. But, at the same time, I know what’s wrong with it and I think so does everyone else. We wanted to make sure we didn’t make that mistake again and be too sort of inside baseball.” “Finding a villain is incredibly hard,” offers Jung. “So we wanted to capitalize on someone like Idris, who just has amazing acting chops and can do so many things. And we just wanted to infuse him with a lot of mystery. I don’t want to give away too much, but we had a villain that really slotted into kind of the larger things that we began with — the themes and issues that we wanted to talk about. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. And hopefully, he’ll go down as a very memorable villain and a worthy adversary to Kirk, the Federation, and Starfleet, and a guy who challenges everything about those beliefs.” Equally important to the writing team was examining more of the interpersonal relationships among the crew members, beyond the Kirk-Spock dynamic and the Spock-Uhura romance that were established in the first two films of this new universe. “Doug and I both felt like the Kirk/Spock thing has been explored extensively, and perhaps prematurely,” Pegg says. “So we felt like, ‘Let’s refresh their relationship a little bit and separate them and have them learn things about each other by

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the very fact that they’re not together.’ It felt like the obvious thing to put Bones and Spock together as the sort of angel and devil on Kirk’s shoulder. It was funny to see them hanging out with each other and getting to the bottom of what their relationship means, and what they really think of each other.” Indeed, the footage screened at the Paramount fan event showcased a scene where Kirk confides in Dr. McCoy over drinks, which could have been right out of the classic canon, while another sequence hinted that Spock and McCoy would be thrown together in a dangerous situation as they have been many times before, with their logic versus emotion debate brought front and center as a result. “One of the first things I remember Simon and I talked about were adjustments, teaming up different characters,” says Jung. “The first two did lean so heavily on the sort of bromance between Kirk and Spock. In a way, by separating those two, we’re commenting on their relationship as a much more deepened connection. But it was just great fun to put them together with different characters. Spock and Bones, we could have written a whole movie just about those two, because it was just endlessly fun with those guys. Seeing the sort of two sides of Kirk, but without having to buffer between the balance of the two was great.” The “holy trinity” of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was a cornerstone of the original series, a template that was lightly tweaked in the last two films to incorporate a female viewpoint in Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. But the writers wanted to make sure that Star Trek Beyond was a full ensemble piece. “I remember one of the first

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discussions with Simon I had, we asked, ‘Have some of these characters ever had onscreen conversations with each other?’” recalls Jung. “A lot of them hadn’t in the last two movies. Like Chekov and Sulu. We just thought, ‘Have you ever heard them say anything to each other, other than sort of moving in tandem with the larger crew?’ You really hadn’t.” The different combinations of crew members find themselves stranded together on an alien planet after Krall stages a devastating attack — seen in the trailers for the film — that makes it pretty clear that the Enterprise is going to go down for the third time in its film history, following Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek: Generations. Pegg admits to “raised voice fights” in the early stages of writing the film about scuttling the ship once again, but says that Justin Lin pushed for it and he eventually came around to the idea. “It became very apparent that in order to test the connectivity between all the crew, what keeps them together, we had to take away the thing that physically holds them together, which is the ship, and see if they stay together after that was gone,” says Pegg. “Plus Justin had this extraordinary idea, and Krall’s kind of method of attack is so, so devastating and not something we’ve ever seen before. So I really came around to the idea. A few people have said to me, ‘Why did the Enterprise have to be destroyed again?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! I was exactly the same! I was asking the same thing of Justin.’ But as a symbolic kind of representation of what keeps that crew in one place, the film asks the question: If you take that all away, what do they do, and how strong is the connection

“WE WANTED TO CHALLENGE THE IDEA OF THE FEDERATION, STARFLEET, THIS UTOPIA THAT’S PRESENTED IN THIS WORLD." –DOUG JUNG between them all? It just felt like the right thing to do.” How far does Star Trek Beyond go in testing those relationships, which have lasted in one form or another on television, in movies, and in print, for decades? Many of you reading this will find out within days or even hours as the movie premieres at Comic-Con just ahead of its worldwide release. But with Star Trek celebrating 50 years of adventure and exploration and wonder, it seems reasonable to assume that the crew (and some version of the Enterprise) will return for a fourth big screen mission. Would Scotty be interested in building the engine — i.e. writing the script — for that one? “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be brought back as a writer,” Pegg says. “That’s not even been discussed. But obviously in the excitement of seeing the movie, because I’ve seen cuts of it, I’m obviously sort of pitching ideas [Laughs]. I hope we do make more. I really do. It’s such an enjoyable project whenever we do it. It’s a great team of people. And as long as people want to see it, I hope we get to do it.” Author’s note: The above interviews were conducted before the untimely and tragic death of cast member Anton Yelchin (Chekov), to whom this article is respectfully dedicated.

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HOLLYWOOD, ASTRONOMY, & THE

AlIen QUESTIon

What do astronomers expect from aliens? Ask them what movies they’ve been watching lately. BY JIM KNIPFEL | ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY MILLER

I

t’s probably no big surprise to learn science fiction has had a profound impact on NASA’s programs and policies from its inception. Pioneering rocket scientist and JPL founder Jack Parsons admitted his early dreams of making manned space flight a reality came directly from reading the sci-fi pulp magazines of the 1930s. More recently, take a look at NASA’s proposed contingency plans for dealing with a killer asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and it’s clear they’ve all been lifted directly from assorted asteroid movies (The Day the Sky Exploded, A Fire in the Sky, Asteroid, Meteor, Deep Impact, etc.). It’s even less surprising to hear what kind of profound influence both the prevailing political atmosphere and the overall mood of the country as a whole has had on the space program. NASA’s continued funding is dependent on the enthusiasm of both the federal government and the public at large. The Space Race of the ’50s and ‘60s, after all, was less about pure scientific discovery than it was simply another military and political flank of the Cold War. And look at what’s happened to NASA after everyone got bored with the shuttle. From the Buck Rogers serials to the sci-fi explosion of the ‘50s to the present, Hollywood has played a major role in what turns out to be a complex relationship, both bolstering public enthusiasm for space exploration as well as re-emphasizing the current political agenda. And

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I’m not even going to get into the whole “Kubrick filmed the fake moon landing” business here. Hollywood reflects, distills, and simplifies the current mood of the nation, which is then reabsorbed by the masses, who then reflect it back on the scientific community, which is then expected to make cinematic science fiction a reality if they want to keep their jobs. All that may be clear and obvious, but what is surprising is that the cold, objective science of astronomy itself seems to be as deeply entangled in this same relationship as a federal agency like NASA. The One Big Question at the heart of both space exploration and astronomy, the one that trumps all others, concerns the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The general perception seems to be that since astronomers are essentially on the front lines when it comes to making contact with any aliens who may pop up one of these days, the public expects them to be either diplomats or security guards, depending on how we’re feeling, and how we’re feeling is largely determined by Hollywood. With rare exception, throughout the ’50s, extraterrestrials visiting Earth were malevolent sonsabitches. In Invaders from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Killers from Space, Prince of Space, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, War of the Worlds and hundreds of others, their ultimate goal was to undermine if not straight-out demolish the American Way of Life. Even DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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E.T. 1985

“TAKE A LOOK AROUND THE WORLD WE’VE BUILT... AND IT’S EASY TO CONCLUDE THAT OF COURSE ALIENS, EVEN THE SUPERINTELLIGENT KIND, WOULD BE AS SAVAGE AND BRUTAL AS WE ARE.”

disguise, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind helped change the general perception of visitors from outer space. For the first time in a long time, the film presented a vision of aliens who were not only super intelligent, but gentle and benevolent as well. They weren’t here to kidnap our women to repopulate their dwindling numbers, conquer Earth by force to escape a dying planet, turn us all into mindless slave labor, or even give us a self-righteous tongue-lashing about the dangers of atomic weapons. No, this new breed of aliens just wanted to stop by, wish us all the best, let us know things were cool, and then go home. In 1985, despite a rekindled Cold War, hopes were still running high that whoever or whatever might live out there would at least be wiser and less trigger happy than us. The continuing cultural resonance of Spielberg’s E.T., from three years earlier, may have had something to do with it. Aliens might be ugly, but in a cute plush toy kind of way, plus they liked candy, so we should try to get in touch. Toward the end, on Feb. 1, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute went into operation, beaming coded radio signals into the far reaches of the universe while a team of technicians scanned the skies for any kind of response. Although SETI has experienced some hopeful and promising moments, they have yet to encounter any data they could present as definite proof of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Since then, things have grown a bit more confused and much less optimistic when it came to imagining our potential new neighbors. In 2010, renowned celebrity astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who had in the past been accused of being an alien himself and whose behavior seemed to be growing increasingly erratic, issued a stern and dire warning. Astronomers, he insisted, needed to stop trying to contact aliens given that in all likelihood they would turn out to represent a deadly and wellarmed menace who would destroy us all. For

God’s sakes, people, have you never seen Earth vs. The Flying Saucers? It was an odd and unexpected thing to hear coming from a brilliant scientist who’d devoted his life to uncovering the mysteries of time and space but it was perhaps also an understandable reaction. At that point in history, jihadism replaced communism as the West’s biggest bugaboo, and the U.S. and Europe alike were overwhelmed with a paralyzing fear of inevitable attack by foreign terrorists. The world was a far less optimistic place than it had been in 1977, and comforting movies about kind-hearted aliens were hard to come by. The warm and happy-go-lucky aliens of E.T. and Close Encounters had since been replaced by the rampaging hordes of Independence Day, the scheming devils of District 9, and the ongoing Alien franchise. Even Spielberg traded out his earlier optimism for a remake of War of the Worlds. In mass media the general perception of what might be living out there had apparently shifted back to the paranoia of the ‘50s. There seemed to be an easy and predictable tendency to reflect the reigning fears and paranoias here at home on whatever or whoever might be living in a distant solar system. Take a look around the world we’ve built and the vision created by Hollywood special effects units, and it’s easy to conclude that of course aliens, even the superintelligent kind, would be as savage and brutal as we are. Which is why it was both confounding and perfectly comprehensible when Hawking seemed to have a change of heart while another group of astronomers took xenophobic paranoia to the next logical level. In July 2015, it was announced that Hawking, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to do a feasibility study of what they’re calling the Breakthrough Starshot Project. The project involves building an armada of camera-equipped laser-powered miniature spacecraft (each about the size of a postage stamp)

that could travel at an as-yet-unheard of and astonishing 16 million mph, or roughly onefifth the speed of light. The tiny space drones would be dispatched by the thousands to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, in search of a planet that might conceivably be home to alien life forms. So why the change of heart on Hawking’s part, from trying to stay as far away from aliens as possible to actively seeking them out? One possibility is simple PR. At the present, astronomers have found no evidence at all that the Alpha Centauri system contains any planets that might even remotely sustain life, making

IMAGES: UNIVERSAL PICTURES/PHOTOFEST; AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES/PHOTOFEST

if they weren’t intended to be read this way (though many were), it was easy to interpret alien invasion pictures as a reflection of Cold War paranoia. Extraterrestrials were the ultimate foreigners, after all. They didn’t look like us, talk like us, or think like us, and so were regularly interpreted as little more than insidious bug-eyed communists. (It’s interesting to note that the sci-fi explosion in Hollywood was inspired by the nationwide UFO craze which began in 1947, a craze some researchers are now claiming really was the result of a Stalinist plot to trigger a nationwide panic.) Even those rare well-spoken, erudite, super-intelligent, and well-meaning aliens in the likes of The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Cosmic Man, and even It Came From Outer Space were interpreted by some Right-leaning critics as commie propagandists. Who the hell were they to come down here uninvited and tell us to stop building atomic weapons? Nope, no matter how you sliced it, aliens couldn’t be trusted, and the very idea of trying to deal with them, let alone reach out and contact them on friendly terms, was unheard of. There wasn’t much of a change in attitudes toward would-be alien visitors in the ‘60s, and for much the same reason, but the growing Space Race did lead to a slight change in emphasis — away from alien invaders and toward manned space exploration (and sometimes the two were combined, as in Quatermass 2, Monster Zero, and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster). Then along came 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, a poetic celebration of manned space exploration in which alien intelligence not only wasn’t hostile — it wasn’t even comprehensible to most viewers. It certainly was psychedelic, though, and a distinct step away from simple paranoia. Roughly two decades after the height of the commie alien boom, and just a couple of years after Kubrick’s film, a string of moon landings and the success of the Apollo-Soyuz mission ushered in a major shift in thinking. On Sep. 5, 1977, the Voyager space probe was launched from Cape Canaveral on a mission that would eventually carry it out of the solar system and into the empty reaches of the cosmos beyond. Far more than its scientific payload, Voyager captured the public imagination as the first far-reaching, officially-sanctioned attempt to make friendly contact with alien life. Thanks in no small part to the lobbying of pop astronomer Carl Sagan, Voyager was equipped with not only audio and visual greetings from the people of Earth for whatever form of intelligent extraterrestrial life it might one day encounter, but also a simple and clear map showing them exactly how to get here, should they ever care to pay a visit. It was an optimistic time. Nixon and Vietnam were behind us, Jimmy Carter was in office; the world, for the moment, no longer seemed on the brink of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war, and after three decades of Cold War science fiction featuring cinematic aliens who were either bloodthirsty goblins or commies in

the ultimate success of the project extremely doubtful. But given the star is only 4.5 light years away, the nanocraft, if they work as proposed, would be able to reach the system in about 26 years, and allowing for the additional four years for the data to beam back to Earth, it’s possible we could begin gathering up-close data from another star system within three decades. It’s a major stepping stone in space exploration, and given the chances of actually encountering alien life (hostile or otherwise) are slight at best, Hawking can rest easy while making a show of advancing space research and not sounding like an insane paranoid kook who’d seen too many sci-fi movies. In March 2016, roughly two weeks before the details of Breakthrough Starshot Project were announced, astronomer David Kipping and grad student Alex Teachey, both of Columbia University, published a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describing a method of cloaking the entire planet, making it invisible to any would-be predatory, world-conquering extraterrestrials. Unlike the supposed light-bending techniques developed by Navy scientists in 1943 to cloak U.S. battleships from enemy fleets (with supposedly disastrous results), Kipping and Teachey’s approach is much more straightforward. Since earthly astronomers detect planets orbiting distant stars by noting a slight dip in the star’s brightness as the planet crosses in front of it, the Invasion of the assumption is that any Saucer Men evil marauding aliens in 1957 search of new worlds to

conquer would use the same technique. The trick then is to replace the light from the sun that would be blocked as the Earth passes between it and those prying alien eyes on that evil planet. To achieve this effect, they proposed launching a massive space-based laser, or series of lasers, which would blast intense beams of light at the offending planet, creating the illusion, when seen from a distant vantage point, that there’s nothing here at all. While the paper describes a number of different and subtle angles, and uses for the proposed laser system, that’s essentially what it boils down to. Intriguing an idea as it is, it’s one with a number of troublesome assumptions. First, it assumes any bloodthirsty commie terrorist aliens would use the same method we do to discover distant planets. It also assumes the aliens in question are themselves on a planet and not cruising around the cosmos in a mothership. Since the laser beams coming from earth would be highly focused and unidirectional, the plan’s efficacy depends on the would-be invaders likewise being stationary. If they had the ability to zip a neat light-year to the right or left, the laser cloak would have no effect. Which leads to the biggest problem of all facing the proposed planet cloaking system. Because the laser system would make us invisible to the inhabitants of a single planet, we would need to know in advance that 1. the planet was inhabited and 2. those inhabitants had evil intentions. And by the time we figured that out, wouldn’t it already be too late? Beyond even that, after nearly 80 years of sending a steady stream of radio and television signals out into space in all directions, and some 30 years of coded Hallmark cards from SETI, it seems a little late now to ponder a quick duck behind the bushes. Although our dominant fear and distrust of Middle Easterners will likely remain the politically-mandated rule for quite some time to come, a change in our attitude toward the intentions of any extraterrestrial intelligence may well depend on the release of another Spielberg film about cute and good-natured aliens.

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MOVIES TELEVISION

THE GREATEST SPLIT SECOND OF ACTING IN FILM HISTORY Military whodunit A Soldier’s Story unravels the deepest clues in the space where words fail. BY TONY SOKOL

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the most evocative, emotionally-packed half-second of acting ever caught on celluloid. It happens toward the end of the film, when Pvt. Wilkie, played by Art Evans, gives investigating officer Capt. Richard Davenport, played by the late Howard E. Rollins, Jr., the final clue to the puzzle he has been probing. It’s a pivotal scene in the drama but it’s more important as an encapsulation of the very heart of rage and frustration. A Soldier's Story was a 1984 film directed by Norman Jewison. It was based on Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize-winning Off-Broadway production of the equally great play. A Soldier’s Play was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company at Theatre Four and directed by Fuller. It opened on Nov. 20, 1981, ran for 468 perfor-

IMAGE: COLUMBIA PICTURES/PHOTOFEST

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here are no awards for great small moments in acting: Movements where the artist transcends the art in a performance that goes beyond the reality a scene is trying to portray. There are no small roles, acting teachers say, only small actors. A real artist can steal a movie with a couple of lines. A master thespian can do it when there’s nothing to say. In the recent documentary Marlon and Me, Marlon Brando explains that, in acting, it’s easy to do something, like slapping the singer Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather when he tells the singer he needs to “act like a man.” But doing nothing is hard, such as when he learns that his son was killed in the mob war. There is a moment in A Soldier’s Story that I always thought was

mances, and closed on Jan. 2, 1983. The original cast included many of the actors who would feature in the film, although neither of the screen actors in the scene appeared in the stage version. Both the play and the film rely heavily on flashback as the military detective from Washington D.C. tries to get to the bottom of a homicide on a military base in the deep south. A Soldier's Story is a marvelous film with some of the best emerging talent of its time. The core cast is young, hungry, fearless actors, clearly having a ball just acting. Future acting legend Denzel Washington reprised his role from the play as Pfc. Peterson, but at the time A Soldier's Story came out, Washington may have been best known for his turn in the paternity comedy Carbon Copy with George Segal. It wasn’t a particularly good movie, and Denzel is a little wooden in it; he also might have been upstaged by a tiny scene where attorney Dick Martin sucks down a joint while listening to a client in his office. Sgt. Waters, the central character of A Soldier’s Story, is played by the legendary Adolph Caesar, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role he originated on the stage. Waters is the victim of what might have been a racially-motivated killing in the Jim Crow South of Louisiana near the end of World War II. He also might have brought his death on himself and not by pissing off the Ku Klux Klan. The sergeant, a deeply committed but clearly damaged man, is made even more important because he’s dead throughout the film. It is an amazing character study into a fascinating psyche, and it’s played with everything Caesar has. He acted the shit out of that part. Everyone did. The leads may have peaked in performance even if this was long before the pinnacle of many of their careers. Robert Townsend said he acted in A Soldier’s Story to earn money for his independent minor miracle, Hollywood Shuffle, a no less groundbreaking film just because it was a comedy. But the appreciative look he gives Capt. Davenport is bigger than the hysterical historical thrill he was getting. It comes leaking in from the fun Townsend is having as an actor in a piece of work that is undeniably important, along with actors who are having as much fun as him. Larry Riley plays the prime victim of the sergeant, Pvt. C.J. Memphis, the blues playing backwoods boy with surprising punchlines. The movie is dark and serious but it has great moments of humor because each of the characters is so richly drawn. C.J. was the star player on the unit’s baseball team, a team so good they had a shot at playing the New York Yankees. That is, until he hanged himself in a cell and the team threw their big game in protest. David Alan Grier, who is as comfortable on-stage as he is onscreen, in comedy or in drama, wasn’t in the original cast. Grier plays

Cpl. Bernard Cobb, who visits C.J. while he’s locked up for hitting the sarge. Actor David Harris got Pvt. Smalls out of kitchen patrol by adding a blues flourish to the Sunday morning gospel organ, but he pays for that sin. The movie added Patti LaBelle as Big Mary, who wasn’t in the play. I always think Aretha Franklin has the greatest voice in the world until I hear Patti LaBelle sing anything. The ranking investigative officer was played by an actor who was the most-recognized of any of the cast members at the time: the late Howard E. Rollins, Jr. His Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime is one of my favorite characters in any gangster movie, and I’m a gangster movie nut. Capt. Davenport steps up the emotion by playing both good cop and bad cop until you believe he might spontaneously combust under the pressure. But it all comes back to one supporting player, Art Evans as Pvt. Wilkie, who transcends his moment. In the scene where Wilkie is trying to tell Davenport what kind of crazy the sergeant went, Wilkie runs out of words. He explains himself in something between a gesture and a spasm, but the emotion pours out of him in an understandable

THE SCENE IS VERY MUSICAL. IT IS LESS A SOLILOQUY THAN A GUITAR SOLO. IT IS AN ANGRY LEAD PLAYED SLOPPILY BUT PERFECTLY. EVANS INFUSES EVERY WORD WITH EXACTLY THE RIGHT ELECTRICITY, ATTACKS EACH CHORD AT THE PROPER TRAJECTORY.

explanation. We get it. The audience also feels how much this guy needs to have his captain understand. The scene comes a second after he runs out of words, so this is something that the actor brought to it. It’s not in the script, it’s in the interpretation. Those moments belong to the actors. They are drum fills that make a song memorable. The rest between beats. Bogart did it in Casablanca when he answers an unasked question while dousing the flames in gin and Dooley Wilson’s piano. There’s a part of me that would love to hear if Evans could do it on cue, there’s a part of me that would be devastated if he were able. The entire scene is musical. It’s less a soliloquy than a guitar solo, an angry lead played sloppily but perfectly. There is a flurry of notes that explode in the opening line, “He despised him,” where Evans pulls away from the band the same way David Gilmour might introduce a solo line in a Pink Floyd song. Evans is perfection in every bit of the scene. He is possessed by some acting muse that doesn’t come from lessons. He infuses every word with exactly the right electricity, attacks each chord at the proper trajectory. “A crazy kind of hate. You won't believe it. I mean, sometimes you could just feel it,” Wilkie says. He does runs, stutters, bends the notes on every space between the words, and when the script runs short of words, he acts with the harmonics of a guitar’s feedback. This wouldn’t even be too far a stretch for him. A multi-instrumentalist, Evans played guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson in Leadbelly in 1976. I don’t know how much of the guitar Evans was playing himself, but he knew his way around the frets well enough to make it fit perfectly to the images onscreen, unlike Dooley Wilson in Casablanca, who looks like he’s playing patty cake in a pair of catcher’s mitts with the ivories every time the band strikes up a tune. In music, the space between the notes is as important as the notes. In this scene, Evans gives us an aria of rests with a symphonic buildup and a crashing glissando as a climax. Art Evans started acting on the stage of Frank Silvera's Theater of Being in Los Angeles. He rode the starring role in The Amen Corner to Broadway in 1965. He played Bubba on an episode of the Freddie Prinze TV vehicle Chico and the Man in 1976. He also appeared on TV’s M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Monk, and The X-Files. On film, he’s probably best remembered as the guy who taught Bruce Willis how to land planes in Die Hard 2 but he gives a phenomenally moving performance as the stuttering club worker in Richard Pryor’s Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Evans did have a starring role, in the music video for Stevie Wonder's "Go Home." I remember I went to see A Soldier’s Story because Howard Rollins was in it. Rollins may have had top billing, but Evans was the star.

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There’s an adventure for everyone in the galaxy far, far away… If you're a fan who simply can't stand the long wait between Star Wars movies, you're in luck. There are now dozens of books, comics, and TV episodes that tell the official story of what happens in between the films.

STAR WARS SAGA

Diving into the canon materials is easier than ever now that a clear line has been drawn between Legends (pre-Disney) and new canon (post-Disney) stories. To help new fans better understand the Star Wars timeline, we've put together a list of the stories you shouldn’t miss. Dates are sometimes approximate, and are based on the new canon year system, which pinpoints The Phantom Menace as "Year 0."

A GUIDE TO THE NEW STAR WARS EXPANDED UNIVERSE STORY BY MEGAN CROUSE | GRAPHIC BY OLIVIA REANEY

Movie Comic

Attack of the Clones

The Phantom Menace

TV Short Story

"Orientation"

Dark Disciple What happened to Asajj Ventress after her adventures in The Clone Wars?

Battlefront: Twilight Company*

Lost Stars (21–37)*

Imperial Rae Sloane, a badass recurring character in new canon, is introduced in this story about Darth Vader’s first days in the Empire.

(26–35)* This fantastic new canon novel shows that the fight between the Empire and the Rebellion isn’t so black and white...

This is more than just a romance novel set in the galaxy far, far away. Learn more about the Battle of Jakku here!

Book The Clone Wars

Revenge of the Sith

"Kindred Spirits"

Lords of the Sith

Servants of the Empire

Rebels The Galactic Civil War begins here, as the last of the Jedi take the fight to the Empire!

Marvel's Obi-Wan & Anakin

Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir

Marvel's Kanan 13

10

0 3

12

13 27

10

YEAR

0

12

18

12

18

10

60

21

26

20

50

30

40

60

66

36

32

36

32

60

60

60

66

36

Bloodline

The Force Awakens

This is the beginning of the end for the New Republic.

Before the Awakening What were Rey, Finn, and Poe up to before The Force Awakens? Find out here!

Marvel’s C-3PO The story of how C-3PO got that red arm.

"The Perfect Weapon" (60–66)*

Marvel’s Poe Dameron

35

32

Moving Target Return of the Jedi

Smuggler’s Run The Empire Strikes Back

A New Hope

Aftermath

Marvel's Princess Leia

Heir to the Jedi

The first novel set after Return of the Jedi brings a new cast of characters to the saga!

Princess Leia, mourning the loss of Alderaan, goes on a dangerous mission to reunite her people.

Luke becomes stronger in the Force on a mission to rescue a Rebel codebreaker.

Shattered Empire

Marvel's Lando (32–35)*

Luke, Han, and Leia’s comic book adventures directly after Return of the Jedi!

Before Lando became baronadministrator of Cloud City, he was the galaxy’s greatest thief.

Marvel's Star Wars & Darth Vader

Aftermath: Life Debt

Marvel’s Han Solo (32–35)*

Darth Vader recruits his owN team of supervillains to fight the Rebellion!

* Dates may be approximate 44 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

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THE

RUsSIAN COMIC

REVOLUTION Russia’s comic and convention industry is booming after a decades-long slumber. BY CHRIS LONGO | ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIE ERB

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reaking through a lull of convention inactivity, a teenage girl with an iPhone in hand approaches the BUBBLE Comics booth and proudly boasts, “I found you guys!” I hit pause on my recorder and allow Artem Gabrelyanov and Roman Kotkov, the 29-year-old figureheads of Russia’s only independent (and consistently publishing) comic house, to meet who I assume is an American fan that discovered their comics by way of the internet. I’m proved wrong when she claims she’s never heard of BUBBLE Comics, but is merely taking a break from her San Diego Comic-Con shopping list to be the middleman in a comic purchase for a friend. She nods towards the iPhone and we politely say hi to her friend who’s waving hello from Thailand via FaceTime. Sifting through the neat stacks of both English-translated and Russian comics on the table, the girl and the excited face on the phone find the precise title desired from a world away. Currency and pleasantries are exchanged and the girl departs, leaving Gabrelyanov, the CEO and founder of BUBBLE Comics, to pick up his explanation of how he completed a five-year English program within his first year at university. He fails to finish his thought before Kotkov, BUBBLE’s editor-in-chief, leans across the table for an easy jab: “Still, your accent sounds funny.” His colleague presses on. “I tend to talk with people here with a Russian accent,” says Gabrelyanov before laying on the accent in a comically thicker tone, “come take a look at Russian comics, comrade! 100 percent written and drawn in Russia! When you read our comics you’ll become a communist!” Playing along, Kotkov chimes in, “That’s a joke, of course, but not everyone understands that.” Since the creation of BUBBLE Comics in 2011, it’s been one milestone after another. They started out with original series for the charac-

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ters Demonslayer, Friar, Major Grom, and Red Fury. After two years they added Meteora and Exlibrium, to bring the total to six monthly titles. They’ve launched a multiverse of projects including board games, trading cards, and an ambitious plan to produce a cinematic universe. It’s product creation at a rapid pace, considering Russia’s budding comics industry is comparatively tiny to the U.S. market. BUBBLE sells around 5,000 copies per single issue, which puts it on par with sales of lower-end DC and Marvel comics and smaller indie publishers. DC Universe Rebirth, the top-selling comic of May 2016, sold upwards of 235,000 copies, for example. In a country that brushed off comics for decades, BUBBLE saw an opportunity to be a leader in a wide-open field. “We hopped half-a-century of developing and evolving comics,” Kotkov says. “It was easier for us than for Marvel or DC. The world is fond of superheroes now.” Even if a second-tier costumed anti-hero like Deadpool is now recognizable worldwide, and comic fans around the world are hungrier than ever for new, original heroes, BUBBLE is virtually unknown in America. One guy came up to their booth to question whether Russian President Vladimir Putin supported their comics. “He said ‘If Putin supports your comics then I want nothing to do with it,’” Gabrelyanov says. “Then he just threw our brochure down. We are not into politics. We’re into interesting stories and characters. ” After a long pause, Kotkov cracks, “Does President Obama support Iron Man or Captain America?” Cultural differences aside, most fans that stopped by were receptive to Comic-Con’s newest import. After flying 6,000 miles from Moscow, they posted up in a booth in the San Diego Convention Center, brighteyed and with little expectation: rookies just happy to make it to the big

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tor-in-chief of a fanzine about comics in Russia called Big Name Fan: Weekly, says the "superhero" genre is almost non-existent in Russian comics. “The other publishers that tried to do something like that basically failed to gain any fans,” he says. Kotkov’s earliest comics memory is a Soviet magazine called Murzilka that had a “very unusual main character who looked like a fluffy yellow animal wearing a beret and was hanging out with kids.” From kids’ magazines, he grew fond of comic books, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Batman. Gabrelyanov grew up on American movies and started to read comics after watching the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon. “It inspired me and I thought I could make comics too because I had a lot of ideas in my head,” he remembers. He went to university to study film editing but eventually dropped out. He calls the decision to pivot to comics the “biggest day of my life.” Adds Gabrelyanov: “We didn’t expect it to

T

o understand BUBBLE’s virtually unchallenged rise as an original proprietor of comics, you first have to look back at the history of superheroes in Russia. In describing the state of comic books before and during the Cold War, the news website Russia Behind the Headlines put it: “The official government line was that Soviet people had no need for such a primitive, vulgar, and blatantly American form of entertainment.” Wherever did they get that idea? Was it Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Red Ghost and his Super-Apes racing the good ‘ol USA to space, or the nuclear anxieties of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Cold War-set Watchmen? Maybe it was just Superman as a government operative on the brink of World War III in Frank Miller’s influential bestseller, The Dark Knight Returns? Even if Cold War tensions thawed in U.S. comics (though they haven’t on the big screen

with Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the influx of Russian-made comic publishers never really manifested. Russian comic book fans instead sustained themselves on U.S. translations and graphic novels that Kotkov says were “half legal.” “In the ‘90s, people wanted to eat and not read comics,” Gabrelyanov says. “It was a horrible situation. Businessmen could walk out of their offices and be shot on the street. People don’t think about comics when you should be thinking about saving your life and your family’s life.” Yet by the early 2000s, and as life in postCold War Russia slowly appeared to stabilize, people started looking at entertainment like movies, books, and comics differently. It opened the door for companies to produce Russian-translated manga and American comics. The occasional Russian comic popped up here and there, but the lack of original Russian superheroes in the traditional American understanding of the industry was noticeable. “Before we started, no one wanted to do anything with comics,” Gabrelyanov says. “They thought it was too risky. But after we started the company with four ongoing series, bigger companies thought ‘Hmm, maybe it is really good business after all.’” Kirill "Uncle Sookh" Sukhov, a former comic book store manager and founder/edi-

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF,BUBBLE COMICS

IMAGES: FOTOEZH

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that is ground zero for comic book culture. Still, BUBBLE in San Diego is a blip on the radar, a polar bear tucked into the blanket of an arctic snowstorm. Back home, they’re the only game in town. Crossing over the Pacific and onto foreign soil, they channel their enthusiasm for the industry into a rallying cry for the future of Russian comics.

amongst Russian Airborne Forces to break a glass bottle with your own head while yelling ‘For the Airborne Forces,’” Gabrelyanov says. “Demonslayer, an honored Airborne member, uses that phrase ironically while breaking a bottle on the demon's head. We didn't get a chance to tell our English readers about this Russian tradition, so we went with the closest analogue – ‘Airborne All the Way!’ Not exactly the same effect, but close enough.” Careful to point out specific features of the illustration, he says that none of their superheroes can fly or shoot beams from their eyes. “It’s a part of the Russian mentality that Russians don’t believe some men can fly or acid has been spilled in someone’s eyes and he gets super powers,” Gabrelyanov says. “They won’t believe it now because they know about radiation, and they won’t buy it. They just believe in a person that gets his job done. That person can be really effective.” Public response to BUBBLE has been con-

“WE HOPPED HALF-A-CENTURY OF DEVELOPING AND EVOLVING COMICS. IT WAS EASIER FOR US THAN FOR MARVEL OR DC. THE WORLD IS FOND OF SUPERHEROES NOW.” –ROMAN KOTKOV

BUBBLE editor-in-chief Roman Kotkov makes an announcement at Comic Con Russia 2015.

leagues. They were shocked to find fans seeking out their booth, and taking it to another level; they spotted a few cosplayers dressed as their more popular Russian heroes. Such is the current dichotomy of the comic book convention industry. Like many smaller publishers, they could sit behind their booth doodling, hoping that fans already familiar with their comics will seek them out, yet the BUBBLE team opts to put in the hard work on the show floor. They court cigar-chomping Wolverines who scoff at the invitation to thumb through their glossy book, The Art of BUBBLE, an English-translated hardcover aimed to introduce Russia’s costumed heroes to a transatlantic audience. Even when the sales pitch misses, the duo entertains themselves over four days with several variations of vodka and bear jokes to lure in curious comic fans. “A few guys who walked around said, ‘Oh no, we don’t like Russians,' and we said ‘OK but we like you!’" recalls Kotkov. Anticipating a playful response, they chose to adorn their booth with a large banner that proclaims, “The Russians Are Coming.” They say the Cold War adage is less red scare and more tongue-in-cheek inspiration, but it’s also a testament to the part the company is playing in the booming business of popular culture in Russia. Every sale is a small reassurance that their heroes do have crossover appeal at a convention

be so widely popular. Nowadays it’s easier to get attention through the internet and blogs.” In 2015, BUBBLE became the first Russian publisher to put original English-translated works on the digital comics platform Comixology, and they plan to expand their output of English works and their footprint at upcoming U.S. conventions. BUBBLE's digitalization strategy is at the heart of their plan for the globalization of their product, but that’s a story for another day, as Gabrelyanov is eager to showcase the colorful spread of titles laid out before us. Instead of talking shop about his plan for Demonslayer to become an iconic international hero, the young CEO lights up like a kid as he flips through the issue, explaining how it captures the “Russian spirit,” as well as the challenges of translating it for an English audience. One major issue in translation is finding analogues for Russian idioms and common phrases in the English language. “There is a tradition

The crowd waits to enter Comic Con Russia in Moscow. Upwards of 160,000 attended the show in 2015.

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tentious at times. Before breaking through with the Exlibrium series that silenced most of its critics, Sukhov says the company struggled to combat online vitriol and trolls. “Even I gave them a hard time for some of their rather disappointing books,” says Sukhov. “Overall, their quality went up and they're still the most professional publisher when it comes to Russian-made comics.” BUBBLE, at least for now, is a candidate that runs unopposed. A DC Comics without a Marvel counterpart. “Hopefully their success might get them an equally professional competitor and that way the overall industry will benefit from a conflict that forces both sides to step up their game,” Sukhov says.

A

50 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

working with BUBBLE and working with this geek community and when I saw the last book that [BUBBLE] presented, I finally thought that maybe I should have a look at it. I’m now getting into comics. People are really proud that we have our first publishers of comics in Russia.” The popularity of cosplay in Russia presented an opportunity for BUBBLE to engage new fans. When they started producing comics and attending shows, they paid professional cosplayers to dress up as their characters. “Cosplayers in Russia simply love their job and do their best to become one with the character and so they attract a lot of people acting like comic book heroes and telling them about BUBBLE comics,” says Kotkov. As the fan base grew, they decided they no longer needed to pay cosplayers. Now, people who have costumes of their heroes seek them out to help with their convention activities. “Everyone watches superhero movies but few people read actual comics," Kotkov says. “So the combined might of video game, comic book, movie, and cosplay power brings together more people so that every company could be happy.” Undoubtedly on separate missions while in San Diego, one of fact-finding as opposed to raising brand awareness, Maslov pegged BUBBLE’s Gabrelyanov and Kotkov as the rising stars of an industry that was overlooked in the country for far too long and a key element of the uniquely Russian experience he’s attempting to develop in Moscow. “I think the most important thing that BUBBLE does for us right now is they are showing everybody in the country that a comics company can be a mature business, which can be expanded not only to comics, but also to movies, books, shows, and so on,” Maslov says, while considering BUBBLE’s involvement in Comic Con Russia’s first two installments. “It’s a fun business, but it is a business.”

“THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO HOPEFULLY, IN THE NEAR FUTURE, INVITE PEOPLE TO AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS SIMILAR TO SAN DIEGO WHERE YOU CAN COME TO A SMALL CITY AND YOU WILL SEE THE CITY LIVING ON THE LAWS OF POP CULTURE.” hibition halls that house translated books from DC, Marvel, and Russia’s own, BUBBLE. Add the emergence of Russia as both a home base and destination for the world’s best cosplayers (Team Russia won the 2014 World Cosplay Summit Championship in Nagoya, Japan), and the snowball effect is a more cohesive pop culture community. Nataliya Naboyshchikova, 22, goes by the online cosplay profile name Songbird. She is also active in the European cosplay scene, often attending conventions and participating in photo shoots. The London-born, Moscow native is a gamer, and was first inspired to take up the hobby when she played as the character Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite. She found people to help create a costume and attended the IgroMir Expo in 2014, which coincided with the birth of Comic Con Russia. After returning to the convention in 2015, she says the dual conventions are a chance for those interested solely in cosplay or video games to experience the full scope of what the Russian pop culture scene has to offer. “At Comic Con in St. Petersburg, they turned it into more game stuff, so I think it’s maybe within several years comics will manage to become a separate [con], she says. “But I don't see it now. I think that if you want to create a Comic Con, you will still see it connected to games.” Maslov did notice that cosplay in San Diego was more abundant amongst hardcore and casual fans. At his show, the overwhelming majority of people who arrive in costume are professional cosplayers – and that’s something he wishes to change moving forward. As for whether comic books and cosplay are intertwined in Russia, Naboyshchikova still sees it as just the beginning of its evolution. “I’m not that much of a fan of comics to be honest,” Naboyshchikova confesses. “I’m more interested in games, but I know girls who are

T IMAGES: FOTOEZH; KIRA MITENKOVA

fter failing to produce a lighter for his cigarette, I find myself in conversation with Max Maslov, a towering presence with a soft Russian accent who is leaning up against the railing of the terrace deck of San Diego’s Bayfront Hilton. Two days before San Diego Comic-Con, the swanky waterfront spot adjacent to the convention center is light on patrons while the sound of hammers and last minute preparations drown out whoever’s Spotify is plugged into the speakers. Maslov, 36, introduces himself as the general manager of Comic Con Russia, the largest comic convention in the country, held in Moscow’s Crocus Convention Center. Naturally, the question of comparison comes up and Maslov is quick to distance the size of his show from the experience put on by comic cons in San Diego or New York despite the fact that they’d go on to bring in 162,000 visitors to Moscow over four days in 2015, more than any U.S. comic convention. The one caveat to the massive attendance figures: Comic Con Russia was built into the already existing IgroMir Expo, the country’s largest computer and video game convention, meaning for the price of one ticket, you have access to both shows in the convention space. Pointing out the ongoing work on the parking lots, open grassy areas, and sidewalks surrounding the hotel and convention center, Maslov acknowledges the cohesiveness of the industries that come together to make San Diego Comic-Con an event that can essentially shut down a city for a week. “The ultimate goal [for Comic Con Russia] is to hopefully, in the near future, invite people to an experience that is similar to San Diego where you can come to a small city and you will see the city living on the laws of pop culture,” Maslov says about his aspirations. Attendance may be outpacing American cons, but Comic Con Russia still has a long way to go before it can stand on its own. For starters, they’re still scaling the event for mainstream comic enthusiasts, who are only recently embracing the medium. KomMissia, Moscow’s festival of comics, graphic novels, and manga

has been around since 2001, but Maslov saw an opportunity to create a show experience that would pull in a general audience, not just diehard comic fans. Plans were laid out for a major Comic Con in Moscow before they were ultimately shelved around 2008 due to what’s now called the Great Recession of Russia. Not to be deterred by sinking oil prices, political unrest, and the threat of war with neighboring countries, the idea for a major convention resurfaced after the economy rebounded and Russian pop culture enthusiasts had the disposable income to spend at shows. Even with an improved economy, comics alone couldn’t sustain a show the size that Maslov wanted to pull off. A self-proclaimed video game guy, his team decided the best way to scale Comic Con Russia was to grow it alongside the IgroMir Expo. Recalls Maslov, “We had the resources from the big video games exhibition and we could spend more [money] to invite people to come.” Maslov expressed concern that his biggest challenge in improving the convention was attracting top-flight celebrity talent to fly all the way to Moscow. His hope was that he’d make connections in San Diego that could lead to a stronger lineup. During the show’s first year in 2014, they managed to host Supernatural actor Misha Collins and David Lloyd, an artist who worked on the seminal graphic novel V for Vendetta. With one Comic Con under their belt, they upped their game to attract Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (Firefly), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), Anthony Daniels (Star Wars), cartoonist Trina Robbins, and former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup in 2015. Maslov says they tripled their talent budget from year one to year two. They’ll continue to package IgroMir Expo and Comic Con Russia as dual admission for the price of one, in the hope that it will allow flexibility to bring major pop culture icons to Russia in the coming years. “It was the right decision,” Maslov says of keeping the cons as one entity. “We are not in the situation in Russia where you can afford to do the separate events, and to do it on a big scale, unfortunately. We want to naturally expand.” When it comes to attracting talent or brands, Maslov points to the quality of the overall event as the deciding factor. “The overall scale of the event is much more important than the size of Comic Con Russia or IgroMir separately,” he says. “Of course for any talent it’s much better to come to an established and big event rather than coming to a small convention. I don’t remember anyone, including agents, asking us if there’s big video games taking part in the event or not. The scale of the whole event, stage quality, fans, that’s what really matters.” Having the conventions in the same building is key to sustaining business for now, but it’s a major win for Russia’s nascent comics industry when thousands of fans can wander into the ex-

he future of Russia’s comic industry could very well look like this: A move out of Moscow to a smaller city where Comic Con Russia escapes the confines of a convention center and spreads out into the cityscape. The convention floor is not only filled with professional cosplayers extravagantly honoring their favorite characters across all mediums, but a general audience purchasing Superman capes and Iron Man masks. For BUBBLE Comics, imagine a Hall H-type reveal of their latest film title and premise, the beginning of their own cinematic Phase 2 or Phase 3. Though let’s face it, by the time this hypothetical future rolls around, BUBBLE could be several dozen feature film phases behind Marvel. The dream is a lofty one for now. Nearly a year removed from his excursion to San Diego, Maslov says the limitations of hosting Comic Con in Moscow are preventing him from implementing any immediate changes to his event

Nataliya Naboyshchikova, 22, cosplays as Leliana from Dragon Age Inquusition at Comic Con Russia 2015; BUBBLE Comics CEO and founder Artem Gabrelyanov makes an appearance at Comic Con Russia 2015

based on his SDCC observations. “The way we are right now, we can not do the same stuff that people are doing in San Diego in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or any big city in Russia,” Maslov admits. After speaking with convention organizers across the U.S., he gathered that the government-owned convention centers are three or four times less than he is paying for private Moscow venues of comparable sizes. Still, watching the excitement of crowds funneling into San Diego’s Gaslamp District after a long day on the convention floor gives him a chance to reassess the reason he pursued Comic Con Russia as a major worldwide destination in the first place. “I like uniting people,” he says, “the idea was to share the great experience with all the people doing something unique, and you could not feel it anywhere else.” On a Skype call shortly after Comic Con Russia 2015, Gabrelyanov and Kotkov didn't mince words. “We rocked the house,” they emphatically stated, following their announcements of two new series, a video game, an app that will allow you to read their comics online, and the creation of a movie studio (with the debut of a high-quality trailer). “It’s been a few years since we started making comics, I think everyone would be disappointed if we didn’t announce something like this,” Gabrelyanov says. Not everyone went nuts for the announcements. Gabrelyanov admits some fans and media were unenthusiastic about the company’s decision to use the Marvel Cinematic Universe

as a model. “For them it’s just another movie,” he says, “For Russia’s comic industry it’s the first [adaptation] of a comic book in their lifetime. It’s a small step for cinema studio production but a big step for the geek industry in Russia.” The BUBBLE guys want to keep creative control of their heroes. They passed up offers by outside companies to produce films based on their characters. “I don’t want it to be like Marvel who sold all of those rights to Fox and Sony and now they can’t get them back,” Gabrelyanov says. “I want to keep them to myself. It’s easier now to find money for this project than years ago.” Coming off a Kickstarter campaign this spring that raised over $24,000 on a $10,000 goal to publish an American adaptation of their Exlibrium series, “The Russians Have Landed” might be an appropriate slogan upgrade at their next U.S. convention visit. They’ll be back in San Diego this year to host a panel, and continue to fight the good fight, changing the perception of Russian comics one vodka and bear joke at a time. Back at home, they’re taking an active role in promoting Russian comics, launching a program for the newly opened comic book shops in Russia—every store gets a box of comics for a lowered price—and attending smaller shows in the far corners of Russia. “There are conventions almost everywhere in Russia now as more and more comic book shops open every week,” Kotkov says. “This may be a common thing for the USA, but a few years ago nobody would even think about this happening in our country.”

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COMICS

THE SOARING SUPERHERO ART OF

ALEX ROSS

The acclaimed comic book artist chimes in on Spider-Man's sweet new threads, his detailed creative process, and the state of the comic book industry. BY JEFF SPRY

These past few years you’ve been straddling a creative skyrocket and seem to be relishing the work. What keeps you dialed in? AR: I’m glad to know I’ve got you fooled. Seriously though, I’m always surprised by how many opportunities I get to create art based on properties I never imagined my life would intersect with. You can be a Beatles fan your whole life and never think that you’d be able to illustrate them for the world to see. So many things from TV shows I loved as a kid to my favorite obscure comics and toys have seemed to be things I get to work on. That keeps me excited.

– ALEX ROSS 52 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

Can you describe your timetable and process for completing a new commissioned piece? AR: I might have finished sketching out a design for said cover while you drank that mocha, but that’s about it. Working out designs for covers I do every month usually are all done at the same time. I keep the raw pencil rough process to a day or two in my schedule for three to four covers. Once layouts are approved by whomever they’re for, I take photo reference for all of the separate compositions at once. Sometimes

IMAGE: ALEX ROSS

“MOVIE AND TV ADAPTATION CAN BE A WONDERFUL PART OF HOW THIS ENTERTAINMENT ENGAGES PEOPLE, BUT IT SHOULDN’T BE CONSIDERED THE END GOAL.”

The convention scene is suffering inevitable growing pains and consolidation after a monumental expansion period. Do you see this as a healthy necessity or an indication of a slip in fan interest? AR: Speaking as someone who almost never goes to conventions, I’m not sure if my insight is worth much. What I can tell you is that I never thought the value of reading comics or following pop culture was necessarily intertwined with needing to go to a large public gathering to keep those passions alive. It can be a wonderful experience to go, but when it becomes the major force driving the industry of comics or how everybody makes a living, it seems like a bummer.

IMAGES: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (COPYRIGHT DC COMICS); ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #6 COVER (MARVEL COMICS); DOCTOR STRANGE #2 COVER (MARVEL COMICS); THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #16 COVER (MARVEL COMICS)

A

lex Ross has been burning up the comic book cosmos for over two decades, redefining the way superheroes are portrayed and setting the artistic bar somewhere over the rainbow and beyond the stratosphere. In covering the comics scene, it’s always a revelation to observe a superstar artist ascend to even greater heights of creative expression. Ross entered the comics arena in 1994 with the Marvels miniseries, and followed it up with DC’s Kingdom Come in 1996. His photo-realistic painterly style and dramatic, classical compositions were revolutionary at the time and contrast to the bulging, mega-muscled crimefighters of the mid ‘90s. Recently he’s been the main cover artist for Marvel’s All-New, All-Different Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man. Ross chatted with Den of Geek about keeping his game at such a stellar level, the state of convention madness, his new cover work with Marvel, and pondering the purity of the business as Hollywood comes a-courtin’. Enter the mind of the Midwestern man often cited as the “Norman Rockwell of Comics.”

other models than myself pose for me, sometimes it’s statues and action figures I use, all lit clumsily in my basement. The drawing is done by blowing up my initial tight sketch to trace over with a light table. The guidance of the photos often helps while I’m initially transposing my original drawing. I look at the pictures’ various details and select what I’d like to alter my drawing to reflect, hoping to create a more realistic, grounded image. That process takes likely half a workday of two to four hours, depending on complexity. The painted stage starts after I tape the art paper down to a board to keep it from warping. The process I used to do, of painting everything in black-and-white tones before adding color, has switched up to go with whatever overwhelming colors I expect to have being laid in first, and more rendering occurs in layers. All of the main painting is done in watercolor/gouache paint where the white of the paper is seen through translucent layers. The image can become more opaque, depending on how well I think it’s looking, smooth or appealing, to my eyes. The final painted layer is often an amount of airbrush added to create glow effects, a harmonizing, unifying color, or whole backgrounds. Painting time can range anywhere from four to eight hours, with more time as needed, usually because of extra figures and more elaborate backgrounds. All together the “prolific process" is within a range of one to two days of work for each cover. You seem to be experimenting with a flourish of color palettes I haven’t often seen in your portfolio, like the cosmic, psychedelic tints on the recent Avengers #10 and Amazing Spider-Man #11. What’s your thought process behind these covers? AR: I was looking at images of space nebulae and reflected those colors affecting those figures. I experimented with a lot of other bizarre color effects over my series of covers for the Kirby: Genesis series and countless other things I did for Dynamite. Those space nebulae cover tricks are nothing new for me since I’ve used the effect for 20 years now.

In putting down a frisket film over the whole painting and cutting around each figure, I create a mask over everything I don’t want paint on. Then I can airbrush over the white paper with whatever color I choose, creating a nebula shape by holding down a group of tassels, like what’s on a fez, that gives me some chaotic organic swirls that the airbrush sprays around. There’s a painting I did for the Warner Bros. Studio Stores of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes that I did almost 20 years ago where I began playing with this. How would you sum up the state of the comic book industry and its role in serving as a wellspring of material for Hollywood film and television projects? Is it a blessing or a bane? AR: It can be both at the same time. What I look forward to is a day where the comics have some sense of their own dignity as just works existing in this art form mainly, where every project’s self-worth is not determined by how well it is adapted into another medium. The comic book companies will not have that as their foremost concern. It has to come down to the people making the stuff where they eventually get tired of Hollywood’s view of our work outranking our own. Movie and TV adaptation can be a wonderful part of how this entertainment engages people, but it shouldn’t be considered the end goal. You have an interlocking 5-cover poster for Marvel’s All-New, All-Different Avengers and Avengers Annual #1 that’s being released as a poster this summer. How did that composition come about? AR: Marvel had three covers; they requested me to focus on three solo Avengers members, similar to ones I did for the JSA series at DC. I proposed two additional covers that could cram in the rest of the team and make one big group image people could assemble or get a print of. You have a deep affection for the Sub-Mariner and dreams of someday seeing him on the big screen. With rumors that the rights to Namor might return to Marvel Studios

always surfacing, what’s your recipe for a sensational Sub-Mariner flick? AR: In an ideal world, you would put Zack Snyder’s Justice League on hold and steal Jason Momoa from his Aquaman casting and use him for the character more naturally fits physically of Namor, with his dark hair, propensity for shirtlessness, and his already arched eyebrows. You described yourself as a “colossal pain in the ass” when it comes to drawing costumes you don’t like. You’ve spent considerable effort contributing to the surge of fresh threads for Marvel with your new costume for Spider-Man last year and design for the new Wasp. What other Marvel characters are you dying to visually revamp? AR: Honestly, I don’t want to revamp anyone, except to bring everybody back to what they most classically look like. If you take note of my Spider-Man design, I’m just doing a light revision in the vein of emulating my hero, John Romita, Sr. My added gimmicks of glowing spiders and metallic finish can be and are often ignored by other artists, but the look I was hoping to impart, of John’s influence, seems to be picked up on. As a lifelong fan, I simply want to work with the characters I grew up with, not their replacements. New costumes and conceptual takes are things I got a chance to play with in books like “Kingdom Come” and “Earth X,” and it wasn’t my intention to see everyone changed forever. Stuff will always revert to its original state in comics, and I generally prefer to spend my time working in that space. Besides your work on Marvel’s All-New, All-Different Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man, what other projects are you excited about in the last half of 2016 and launching into 2017? The Universal Monsters are properties I’ve worked with recently as print illustrations and should be coming out by the Halloween season. Maybe if the skies part and peace prevails, I can do a run of covers for the Fantastic Four’s return someday. No fixes needed.

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COMICS

DEN OF GEEK EISNER PICKS

THE EISNER AWARD NOMINEES YOU SHOULDN’T MISS Every year, the best and brightest in comics gather together in San Diego to honor the greatest accomplishments in the medium. We took a look at a handful of headline categories and recommended our favorites.

BY JIM DANDENEAU

BEST CONTINUING SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

Chrononauts by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy

MONKEYBRAIN/COMIXOLOGY

IMAGE

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Silver Surfer by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions by Bob Fingerman IMAGE

Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour IMAGE Treiman, and Sarin’s book has someOUR TAKE Allison, thing for everyone. Look at the first page of

the first issue and you’ll: immediately know what’s going on before reading a line of dialogue, recognize at least one of the characters there as someone from your own life just by the staging of the page, and want to read more as soon as possible.

54 DEN OF GEEK ■ SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

Harrow County by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook DARK HORSE

Fresh Romance edited by Janelle Asselin

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Stokely thrives in creating weird, hostile OUR TAKE Jeff worlds for his characters to live in. Si Spurrier

The Spire

ROSY PRESS/COMIXOLOGY

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Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang IMAGE

These Memories Won’t Last by Stu Campbell

OUR TAKE

BOOM! STUDIOS

MONKEYBRAIN/COMIXOLOGY

IMAGE

Monstress is dense, beautiful, and badass. In many ways it's an extension of Marjorie Liu’s work on X-23, but with a world Takeda gets to create from the ground up. It’s much better because of it.

The Spire by Simon Spurrier & Jeff Stokely

Giant Days

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro IMAGE

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North & Erica Henderson MARVEL

DARK HORSE

is one of the most inventive, creative writers in comics right now, and packs a ton of heart into an action comic filled with fart jokes. The Spire is a deep, intriguing world built around a very sweet love story.

BEST DIGITAL / WEBCOMIC

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IMAGES: GIANT DAYS: LISA TREIMAN, MEREDITH GRAN, BOOM! STUDIOS (BOOTH 2229) THE SPIRE: JEFF STOKELY, BOOM! STUDIOS (BOOTH 2229)

MARVEL

BEST NEW SERIES

Romance is more than just a good OUR TAKE Fresh comic. It’s the revival of a genre integral to

the history of the industry, but had fallen by the wayside until recently. Fresh Romance has an impressive mix of established and new talent, but the fact that Rosy Press (and publisher Janelle Asselin) works not just to promote its own products, but to help its creators is really important, too.

BEST WRITER

BEST REALITY-BASED WORK

Jason Aaron Southern Bastards IMAGE Men of Wrath MARVEL ICON Doctor Strange, Star Wars, Thor MARVEL

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984 by Riad Sattouf

John Allison Giant Days BOOM STUDIOS!/BOOM! BOX Ed Brubaker The Fade Out, Velvet, Criminal Special Edition IMAGE Marjorie Liu Monstress IMAGE G. Willow Wilson Ms. Marvel MARVEL

METROPOLITAN BOOKS

Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley FANTAGRAPHICS Hip Hop Family Tree, Book 3: 1983–1984 by Ed Piskor FANTAGRAPHICS Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist by Bill Griffith FANTAGRAPHICS March, Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell TOP SHELF/IDW The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden TOP SHELF/IDW

OUR TAKE

No other nominee in this category has the range that Jason Aaron does. Even with his Marvel work, he couldn’t be writing three more different comics: Thor is high fantasy, Doctor Strange is weird action, and Star Wars is Star Wars. This is ignoring his other excellent work like Southern Bastards and The Goddamned. Some nominees have broader resumes, but Aaron is the only one who has this many books listed next to his name.

is amazing, and not just because of OUR TAKE March how important it is as a historical document (it

is an exceptional entree into the stories of the civil rights movement, especially for younger readers). It’s also drawn and lettered beautifully, and paced perfectly. It’s the combination of words and art on the page that makes the story connect in a way that prose or a film wouldn’t be able to.

DEN OF GEEK ■ WWW.DENOFGEEK.COM

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with muted colors and heavy shadows, while she’s doing bright pink psychedelia over Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly pencils, or changing her style with literally every issue on Zero. She’s an incredible talent who understands how color art can change the linework under it, and uses that knowledge to make every book she's on uniquely better.

Sexcastle by Kyle Starks IMAGE Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton DRAWN & QUARTERLY

UR by Eric Haven ADHOUSE a competition were judged on how many OUR TAKE Iftimes I sent around a comic strip to make

other people laugh, Kate Beaton’s work would win easily.

Get in on the fu n and subscribe today! GO ONLINE mentalfloss.com/subscribe

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OR CALL 877-717-8931

IMAGE: STEP ASIDE POPS!: FROM KATE BEATON'S STEP ASIDE POPS, AVAILABLE AT DRAWN & QUARTERLY BOOTH 1629.

39%

should be as consistently excellent as OUR TAKE NoJordieoneBellaire. On The X-Files, she’s working

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GAMES

lights up. It’s like James Cameron Avatar-type stuff. That was one of the other experiences, and I was like, we got to figure out a way to get this into the game somehow. So you’re an adventurer then? CB: Not as much as you’d think. The resorts need to be really good. I am a spoiled brat, to be honest. [Arjan Brussee, co-founder of Boss Key,] is like, “You should do this thing in Africa where you live in a tent.” And I’m like, “No.”

Q+itAh w

CLIFF BLESZINSKI

A Chat with the Man with the Golden Chainsaw Gun BY JOHN SAAVEDRA

I

’ve never been part of an entourage before, but this is probably the closest thing to it. I’m following superstar developer Cliff Bleszinski, who’s accompanied by his wife, his partner Arjan Brussee, and his publicist, into a hotel lobby for a chat about his new studio, Boss Key Productions, and his next first-person shooter, LawBreakers. As we enter the lavish hall in search of a quiet place to chat, fans call out to Bleszinski — "Yo, Cliffy B!" — which is not something that happens to game developers often. They usually remain faceless behind their beloved creations. Like writers, artists, and poets, developers might captivate millions of people but they’ll never enjoy (or suffer) the feeling of being recognized on the street. Yet with titles like Unreal Tournament and Gears of War under his belt, Bleszinski has established himself as one of the biggest names in the video game industry, a mastermind of the shooter genre who’s about to go through a bit of a rebirth with LawBreakers, the game that almost never was. You have a great shooter legacy after developing Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. Why was LawBreakers the next logical step for you? CLIFF BLESZINSKI: I was retired and I just got really fucking bored. After six months [of retirement], I was waking up in the middle of the night and just writing down ideas in a notebook. Since Gears was third-person, cover-based, and had a campaign, I wanted to just get back to first-person verbs that lead to moments. That is the goal of the game: to let players craft the combat the way they want to.

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LawBreakers envisions a world full of gravitational anomalies. Did you guys look at any science fiction or real-life science when you were creating the concept for the game? CB: A lot of it. For me personally, as far as the gravity stuff, came eight or nine years ago. I was able to do zero-g on the airplane that does parabolas. It goes up at a 45-degree angle and then down. They call it the “vomit comet.” You get mad sick in the morning, I will leave it at that. The next time we rent out the plane, we will bring you guys. And you rode in that thing? CB: Yeah. It’s a tourist thing. The sensation of zero gravity is something I will never forget. It is kind of like being underwater without any friction. They tell you when we hit zero-g, don’t push up, because there is no water to slow you down. You will hit your head on the ceiling. Basically, the ceiling of this 747 that’s going 400 miles an hour, and I’m walking on it, and water globules are going by and catching in my mouth. It is pretty freaking amazing. It sounds like you did a bit of “method developing” for LawBreakers. CB: Well, it’s like I’m sitting there thinking, “What things am I doing in my life that will affect the game I may work on in a few years if I am still doing this at that time?” My wife and I went to Puerto Rico, and we did the Bioluminescent Bay recently. And we booked it during new moon where it was like, so dark. We’re on the Bio Bay and you’re sticking your hand in the water and you’re throwing it. We had translucent kayaks, so it looked like a star field going beneath us, and you could see the fish beneath us going in the water. Then it rained halfway through and it was just us out there, and the entire thing just

You’ve said that Hideo Kojima asked you to come work with him on Silent Hill, and you said no. I think the quote was something like you felt like you’d fuck it up. Could you elaborate on that? CB: I do love horror. I love horror films. I love good horror. It Follows is one of the best horror films in the last 10 years. Horror is about subtlety, timing, and pacing. Jump scares are easy. Horror games are so hard to make, because I like to say you can’t tickle yourself. What do you think is scary? Are people going to find it scary? I also like to make new worlds and I don’t work in existing stuff. The only IP I would ever consider that’s not ours would be Firefly, because I think that’d be a great game. Doing space combat and the wild west first-person shoot-em-up. I have a lot of respect for Kojima. He’s somehow become a good friend of mine over the years, which is really fucking weird. I actually got to do the speech at PAX a couple of years ago for the 20th anniversary of Metal Gear. I just got roped into it, and I’m like, “Okay, this guy is one of my heroes. This is weird.” He is cool. One of these days, we are going to get around to doing karaoke together. You guys do karaoke together? CB: We haven’t had a chance to yet, but we can do “Bust a Move” by Young MC. I think that would be a good one.

IMAGE: COURTESY OF NEXON

What lessons did you bring from past games to LawBreakers? CB: As much as I do love Gears, you look at where third-person games are going, and they are going increasingly animation-driven, to the point where if you are playing a match and you get killed, you are going to blame

the game and the animation, and not yourself. Whereas in [LawBreakers], we are not going to let the animation drive gameplay.

In a previous interview with Destructoid, you mentioned that you thought you were done with games after leaving Epic. What ultimately made you come back? CB: What is a good way of putting this? It was good for my marriage to go back to work. At the end of the day, we’d have dinner, and my wife would ask, “How was your day?” And we didn’t have anything to talk about. Now, when I get home, I’m like, “Oh my God, you should see this new concept art. Check out this whole thing!” And she’s like, “Oh, you should give her purple hair!” Or she comes in and plays the game with me. We are a big gaming couple. It’s about the camaraderie. Epic seems like they are in a great place now, but a few years ago I could pitch anything there and I’d get some jaded developer in my office with their arms folded saying, “I don’t buy it.” Everything is in the execution. It’s one of those things where I was concerned that people would just do some of my ideas because it’s like, “Gee, please don’t get rid of me! That’s a great idea, dude!” But I have surrounded myself with such brash interesting leads [at Boss Key] that I have to sell them on every idea.

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{

I PAID$50TO MASTER LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

{

Some players will do anything to master their favorite games. We paid a gaming coach to whip us into League of Legends shape. BY CHRISTOPHER GATES | ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIE ERB

L

IMAGE: RIOT GAMES.

eague of Legends could very well be the undisputed king of eSports — the final match of League’s 2015 World Championships attracted more viewers than select World Series games — but it’s also notoriously unwelcoming for newcomers. The MOBA deathmatch has a simple premise (destroy the enemy’s base before they destroy yours) but it’s not a simple game, and while it’s that depth that makes League an excellent spectator sport, it also makes League’s barrier to entry very, very high. Thankfully, there’s help — as long as you’re willing to pay for it. As League has grown in popularity, an entire market has sprung up around it: professional League of Legends coaches who will, for a fee, teach you how to win. Paying money for video game lessons feels

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just as strange as it sounds, and many League players are understandably skeptical of the process. Adam Isles, one of the top-rated coaches on League Coaching, a site that teaches players the ins and outs of League of Legends, gets it. “A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, you got a coach for a video game. That’s very strange,’” he says. “But then again, people get coaches for chess,” Isles continues. “People get coaches for tennis, so what’s the difference? People want to learn their favorite hobby or activity, and the best way to learn is to talk to someone who has more knowledge than you about it.” The kind of one-on-one, private coaching that Isles and his peers offer is a new phenomenon, but there is precedent. Before the internet, magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly

promised to reveal gaming’s deepest secrets for the price of a yearly subscription. In the 1980s and mid ‘90s, Nintendo’s Game Counselors were just a (long-distance and premium-priced) phone call away. Still, professional video game lessons are a hard sell. Can a few bucks and a couple hours of your time really turn you into a League of Legends powerhouse? The numbers seem to say so. Every League player has a rank, which changes based on how he or she plays. Winning games moves you up the ladder; losing knocks you back down. Joshua Hilton, who runs League Coaching, says that on average, players’ ranks rise by 135 League Points (enough to propel users into the next division) after receiving a lesson. Many

League of Legends has become the heart and soul of a multi-million dollar eSports industry.

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that it’s easy to spot a boosted account, but reporting it is a long and tedious process, and Riot rarely takes action. Den of Geek reached out to boosting services and clients who turned down comment for this story. Requests to Riot for comment on its policies went unanswered.

H2K and G2 Esports compete in the EU LCS competition.

claim that they saw immediate and measurable improvement in their game. Some booked additional training sessions right away. Andres Lilly, one of Isles’ clients, reports even more impressive results. From 2014 to 2015, Lilly bought 13 coaching sessions with Isles, and he claims that his game improved dramatically. In terms of skill, Lilly estimates that he started somewhere around the Silver level; by the end of 2015, he says he was Platinum, which is two tiers higher. Lilly tried other League coaches, including one who charged upwards of $200 a session, but claims that Isles was the best, thanks largely to Isles’ comprehensive understanding of the game. League of Legends has over 120 Cham-

but Adam knew exactly how to play those to come out ahead.” That knowledge helped Lilly play better, and that translated into wins. Still, the gamer warns that students need to practice. “If [Isles] were to coach me now, I feel like I would improve way more, simply because I now put in the work, and back then I relied almost only on coaching,” he says. “It’s definitely effective, but only if you put in the effort on your own.” Professional coaching has a dark side, too, however. Many League “coaching” companies are really just fronts for “boosters,” or skilled players who log into other players’ accounts and rack up a string of victories to increase the customer’s rank. Boosting is an easy way for skilled League players to make a quick buck and it lets

“LEAGUE COACHING’S STAFF FOCUSES ON SPREADING KNOWLEDGE, NOT PROVIDING PLAYERS WITH SHORTCUTS.”

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less talented players enjoy the perks of winning without doing any of the actual work. Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian, a popular professional player, once received $1,300 to boost another user’s account. For customers, the allure of boosting is a little more complex. Every year,

IMAGE: RIOT GAMES

pions (that’s what League calls its player-controlled characters), each of whom has unique abilities, and winning means understanding how to both handle your character and counter your opponents’ avatar. Says Lilly, “There were so many match-ups that I had wrongly considered instant losses,

League’s developer Riot Games offers special cosmetic enhancements to players who reachthe Gold rank or higher. According to informal polls and interviews, roughly half of the players who hire boosting services do so because they want those special items but don’t have the time or skill to earn them the traditional way. Other players use boosting because they don’t trust Riot’s ranking system. When League of Legends kicks off a competitive season, every player needs to compete in qualifying matches, which determine his or her initial rank. Some people feel like the qualifiers don’t rate them correctly, and turn to boosters to “fix” their rankings. At higher tiers (Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Challenger), competitors lose League Points if they don’t play regularly. Occasionally, busy players use boosters to maintain their ranks when they don’t have time to log in themselves. According to Riot, boosting is cheating. Boosting devalues the accomplishments of players who rank up the normal way and “endangers account security,” thereby undermining Riot’s finely-tuned matchmaking algorithm and making the overall game unbalanced. The penalties for boosting include two-week suspensions, removal of all special cosmetic items, and permanent bans from the game. However, while Riot occasionally hands out boosting-related punishments (Xian was banned from competitive play for seven months after he admitted to boosting an account), many boosters operate with impunity. Isles says

Joshua Hilton founded League Coaching to create a site that both customers and coaches could trust, and which was free from the stigma of boosting services. As such, League Coaching’s staff focuses on spreading knowledge, not providing players with shortcuts. “The thing that makes a good coach is being able to identify a player’s problems, and then give him tips on how to improve,” Isles says. A real coach doesn’t play for his clients; he just helps them play better. Anyone can sign up as a coach on League Coaching, and the site is designed to police itself. Hilton will step in to resolve billing disputes, but he’s more interested in coding features, such as the site’s free Adopt-a-Newbie program or its upcoming League of Legends analyst competition, than vetting its users. However, this does not mean that there’s no accountability. Prospective students can sort League Coaching’s instructors by user ratings, League of Legends ranks, and their “Coaching XP,” a metric that measures both skill and coaching ability. After a session takes place, students can leave reviews, which help future users know who’s worth hiring and who they should avoid. At $25 an hour, Isles is one of the more expensive coaches on the site, but his experience would seem to justify the price for players. Isles has been coaching League of Legends for about two years. Before that, he was an aspiring eSports athlete. Isles started by playing Blizzard’s real-time strategy game StarCraft, but as that community began to cool down, he started to look for something else. League of Legends, which was growing both in popularity and as a potential revenue stream, was exactly what Isles was looking for. Before long, he was a top-ranked amateur player. While the best League of Legends players earn around $1 million annually, most aren’t that lucky. At the height of his eSports career, Isles was earning about $500 a month at what was moreor-less a full-time job. That wasn’t enough to live off, and Isles started looking for an extra source of income. He signed up for League Coaching, and hasn’t looked back. Coaching League of Legends is enough to pay Isles’ bills, but he still

holds down a part-time job at a local restaurant. Despite Isles’ dedication to the game, he knows that when it’s time to show proof of income — when paying taxes, for example, or while applying for a new apartment — a gig waiting tables looks a lot more legitimate than a job as a video game coach. Signing up for a training session with Isles couldn’t be easier. Registering a League Coaching account and linking it to a League of Legends “Summoner Profile” only takes a couple of minutes. From there, all you need to do is find Isles on the list of coaches and select an open time on his schedule. League Coaching handles the rest. Isles asks students to fill out a brief questionnaire, which he uses to put together a custom lesson plan. Payment is due via PayPal six hours before the lesson begins. Naturally, I had to see what League of Legends training was all about. I’m a beginner, but Isles took me through training as if I were slightly more advanced. To start, Isles asked me if there were any Champions (that’s what League of Legends calls its player-controlled characters) I was particularly interested in learning. Based on my experience with other games, we settled on Lux, a light-wielding mage. A standard League of Legends match pits two teams of five against each other, meaning that there are over 46 quadrillion possible match-ups. That’s more than anyone can conceivably cover in an hour, and Isle’s lesson stuck mostly to the basics: what Lux’s abilities do, the best ways to use them, her strengths, her weaknesses, how she stacks up against other Champions, and that sort of thing. League of Legends characters earn gold as the game progresses, which can be used to buy ability-boosting items, and Isles went on to describe some of Lux’s best options. Along the way, he also dropped some general advice. For example, League characters can hold up to six items at a time, and many players put together builds designed to pay off later. However, most League sessions only last for about half an hour, meaning that most games are decided on three to four items, not a full six. Instead of focusing on an endgame that may never come, Isles recommends buying items that are most applicable to the current situation. After all, if you need to clear inventory space, you can always sell your items back to the vendor. Next, the coach went into an indepth explanation of “Warding,” or the process of putting markers around the map to improve your team’s visibility. This also served as a brief introduction

{

THE GOOD, THE WEIRD, & THE INDIE

{

These upcoming indie games will definitely grab your attention. BY JOHN SAAVEDRA

GHOST SONG

2016 | OLD MOON PC We played Ghost Song at PAX East and were immediately blown away by its visuals — a throwback to the grainy days of VHS tapes — and the quiet synth soundtrack delivers on this game’s surreal state. Fans wishing for a proper Metroid sequel from Nintendo cannot go wrong with this gorgeous indie.

OUTLAST 2

FALL 2016 | RED BARRELS | XBO, PS4, PC We’re still not quite over the trip to Mount Massive Asylum and we’re already being dragged to a whole new nightmare. The demo we played was shockingly gruesome...

PIT PEOPLE

TBA | THE BEHEMOTH | XBO, PC Pit People is a turnbased strategy RPG that allows players to venture into a world unstuck in time due to the radiation from a dead space bear that’s crashed into the planet. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

CUPHEAD

2016 | STUDIO MDHR | XBO, PC Cuphead, an homage to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, is one of the most beautiful games on this list. Our hero, little Cuphead, must use his wits to fight tons of bosses after losing a wager with the cartoon devil.

FURI

JULY 5, 2016 THE GAME BAKERS | PS4, PC Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki created many of the designs for Furi, including all of the bosses. The gameplay relies heavily on one-on-one duels that can quickly turn into precise sword fights or intense bullet hells.

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{

THE GOOD, THE WEIRD, & THE INDIE (continued)

{ to the magazine

HEADLANDER

EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT

JULY 2016 DOUBLE FINE | PC Not only does it boast one of the best titles on this list, but it’s also a massive dose of weird science fiction. Headlander stars a human head in a puzzle-platforming adventure inspired by 1970s sci-fi.

Echofox and Immortals face off at the NA LCS Studio, a new venue dedicated to hosting League of Legends competitions.

taking notes proved too much. Even against computer-controlled opponents, my team was quickly overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that it was my fault. Isles was patient and friendly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would’ve gotten more out of the experience if I’d had a little more practice beforehand. And yet, when I played League later that afternoon, I had my best game ever. I’ve only played a handful of times since then, but I haven’t lost any of them. I’ve had more fun watching League games too. I’ve started thinking about the game differently, and I’m confident that, with time, I can improve — as long as I’m willing to put in the work. Isles didn’t teach me any top-secret strategies or reveal any shortcuts, and everything he covered was fairly elementary. Sometimes, that’s all you need. When asked why people might want to coach a video game — besides the money, of course — Joshua Hilton said that the best way to learn anything is to teach it. When I asked Isles what he’d learned from coaching League of Legends, it all came back to the basics. “I don’t always realize that some of the things that I feel like are very basic are not,” Isles says. “A lot of the times when I’m playing and I’m on a losing streak, I’ll have a coaching session. I’ll have to re-do the basics for someone, and I realize that was my own problem all along.” A League of Legends coaching session won’t make you an eSports superstar — that’s not the point — but all things considered, it’s not a bad place to start.

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TBA | TINIMATIONS | PC Klang uses rhythm controls as the foundation for its loud, rave-inspired platformer gameplay. The game’s titular main character must use the music at his disposal to defeat the Soundlord Sonus and drop some sick beats in the process.

CRYPTARK

EARLY ACCESS ALIENTRAP | PC Cryptark is definitely a contender for best platformer of the year, with its highly-stylized take on a science fiction universe where pillaging giant alien derelicts is the only way make a buck. Players must board hostile ships with their handy space mechs in this 2D platformer that is heavy on the action and jaw-dropping visuals.

BELOW

2016 | CAPYBARA GAMES | XBO, PC This Zelda-inspired dungeon crawler is designed to be a difficult rogue-like experience, as the game’s tiny warrior journeys his way into the depths of a remote island, fighting his way past challenging enemies in brutal combat sequences.

Get in on the fu n and subscribe today!

STRAFE

2017 | PIXEL TITANS | PC Pixel Titan’s Strafe exists as a proper continuation of ‘90s shooters while also moving the genre forward with some excellent improvements, like the procedurally generated maps that give the game tons of replayability.

GO ONLINE mentalfloss.com/subscribe IMAGE: RIOT GAMES.

to Summoner’s Rift, League of Legends' main map. Summoner’s Rift consists of three pathways called “lanes” (top, middle, and bottom), which are separated by a wilderness known as the jungle. Each lane requires a different strategy to control. Lux thrives in the middle lane, which provides the fastest route between the game’s two bases, and Isles spent a lot of time pointing out parts of the map where mid-laners often run into trouble. A brief discussion of Runes (which I hadn’t unlocked yet) closed out the first half of the session — after an hour, we still hadn’t played the game. Isles always splits his lessons into two parts: First, he covers the client’s particular issue in a lecture-like format, and then he asks his students to put their new knowledge into practice. “Most of the time, what a coach does is help someone know what to execute. It’s up to the person to be able to do it,” Isles explains. For the second half of the lesson, I fired up League of Legends and dove into a match while Isles watched via Twitch. As I played, Isles discussed general strategy and offered advice on how to handle situations that came up. After the match ended, Isles launched a private game and demonstrated a few moves that I was having trouble with. He assigned me some homework, sent over the notes he took during our session, and said goodbye. As a new player, the entire process was exhausting. There’s a lot going on in a game of League of Legends, and playing a game while talking on Skype and

KLANG

OR CALL 877-717-8931


ONE LAST THOUGHT

THE NEW HOLLYWOOD GENRE SYSTEM Familiarity and nostalgia are driving Hollywood’s current assembly-line method of producing blockbusters. BY KAYTI BURT

I

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FRANCHISE HAS SUPERSEDED GENRE AS THE WAY HOLLYWOOD COMMUNICATES WITH CONSUMERS. to the 1960s when Hollywood studios used a factory-based mode of production. Studios would often specialize in one specific genre, using a number of rotating contracted casts and crews. In the same way that Robert Downey Jr. signed on for a specific number of MCU films as Tony Stark, stars like Marilyn Monroe or Clark Gable would sign multiyear contracts with specific studios. (Unlike Downey, Jr., however, stars in the classic Hollywood era were not allowed to appear in other studios’ movies unless their parent studio opted to lend them out — for a price — and their careers and social lives were often kept under strict control.)

IMAGES: MARVEL STUDIOS/DISNEY

f you look around San Diego Comic-Con, it’s not difficult to see a pattern in the kinds of cinematic projects being developed: Reboots, remakes, prequels, sequels, adaptations, and shared cinematic universes rule the day. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grossed over $10 billion at the box office alone. Harry Potter is getting a prequel movie series. Universal is set to relaunch its Monsters universe with The Mummy in 2017. In other words, Hollywood studios are betting big on familiarity, nostalgia, and narrative continuity — and, for the most part, it seems to be working. After all, in a media marketplace more competitive than ever, it’s much easier to sell stories, characters, or fictional worlds that viewers are already invested in rather than something wholly original. Emotional investment takes time, and who has time in this era of #PeakContent? It’s much easier to watch a film about a character or world you already care about. Narrative familiarity has always been a Hollywood tool with the use of “genre” as a way for studios to set, communicate, and fulfill (or not) expectations about what kind of story a film is telling. In other words, if you go to the movies to see a western, you know, broadly, what kind of film you’ll get. This was especially true during the classic Hollywood era from the 1920s

This began to change in 1948 when the Supreme Court ruled on United States v. Paramount Pictures Inc., breaking the monopoly that studios had on the theaters and, therefore, changing the way that Hollywood did business. This was generally good news for filmmaking, but bad news for studios, who will always need ways to get moviegoers into those seats for each of the films they produce. Genre is still a draw, as is the star system, and marketing and distribution of course play a role. However, in the last few years, franchise seems to trump all when it comes to getting butts in seats. In some ways, the current franchise-crazy era of Hollywood has a lot in common with the studio system era of classic Hollywood. Rather than relying primarily on genre as the tool to bring moviegoers back again and again, Hollywood studios are relying on established storytelling properties. In other words, Hollywood is getting even more specific with its narrative elements when making and marketing films. Promising certain genre conventions is no longer enough to ensure that people will watch a film. Let’s face it: There are probably countless examples of that genre available to watch on Netflix right now. Instead of simply offering horror, superhero drama, or fantasy, studios are promising Ghostbusters, Captain America, or Middle-earth. It's all of the genre conventions you love, with none of the time-consuming business of working up an emotional investment. Franchise has superseded genre as the way Hollywood communicates with consumers. This might seem like a depressing statement, but it doesn't have to be. Franchise is a more evolved language than genre, which still obviously exists as a tool in our consumerist culture. Resist ringing the death knell of creativity in this age of Hollywood remakes, reboots, adaptations, prequels, and sequels. Films based on non-original source material are not inherently less creative, and the shared cinematic universe structure especially challenges the relatively inflexible blockbuster-making studios in Hollywood to try harder. Sure, sometimes they fail, but sometimes they develop complex worlds of character and continuity that inspire our imaginations, and challenge our understanding of what a Hollywood blockbuster can and should be.


JULY 21-24 / Located at Convention Way & 5th Ave Pier behind the Convention Center

San Diego Comic-Con Special Edition 2016  

Den of Geek presents our special edition San Diego Comic-Con magazine.

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