Boys Will Be Boys With Enough Comic Books and Toys

The relationship between comic books and toys is like that of peanut butter and jelly. For the unfortunate souls who may suffer from a peanut allergy: take two enjoyable concepts, and then add some honey wheat bread. Both novelties are equally enjoyable and share an eternal link in pop culture continuity.

The life of a comic book shop owner relies on the success comic books and toys respectively obtain with the current consumer market. Just about comic book shop sells them both. The first “action figures” were no doubt inspired by comic books. The movies and television shows inspired the original space explorers and Army Rangers with the “Kung-Fu Grip.” However, without the comic books printed long before a television lived inside every household, there wouldn’t be a Star Trek or G.I. Joe toy in existence. (They would be called something else.)

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Mike Phillips, co-owner of Acme Superstone in Longwood, FL, sets up a display of Superman toys. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

Central Florida acts as the hub of numerous comic book shops. In Longwood, one of the more impressive “superstores” welcomes visitors from all over the world. The Acme Superstore advertises that it houses 1,000,000 items. Between the store’s impressive comic book collection and the aisles and aisles of glass display cases protecting action figures and accessories from the past 50 years. The display cases are a sight to see.

Mike Phillips, co-owner of Acme Superstore, takes the responsibility of making sure the displays are unique. There is a case displaying a snapshot of Masters of the Universe characters battling in front Castle Greyskull and Snake Mountain. The scene depicts nearly all of the “Heroic Warriors” and “Evil Warriors.” A few aisles over a glass case shows off the store’s collection of Batman: Black & White statues, a popular series of many comic book toy and memorabilia collectors. Barbie lives another row down. Acme Superstore has it all.

“It’s about the customers,” Phillips says, “You want everything to look good. You want everything to look nice.” Visitors notice the care Phillips puts into building aisles of memories. They often make their appreciation known to the Acme staff. Despite the store’s location being about a 30-minute drive from Downtown Orlando, any vacationer or Central Floridian who invests in comic books and toys should stop by Acme and give Mike Phillips a shout. His work, as well the rest of the Acme staff, provide a nostalgic emporium that brings smiles to faces every day.

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Gods & Monsters is an Immersive Comic Book Shop Experience

The comic book shops in Orlando, Florida are all unique in different ways. Gods & Monsters, located on 5421 International Drive, provides customers with plethora of merchandise and spirits. Two years ago, this comic shop/bar/comic book community center opened to rave reviews in the, now former, Artegon Marketplace. Over the past few months, G&M has relocated to the Orlando Crossings Plaza—a better fit for the comic book retailer.

Todd Fisher and Anna Young, co-owners of Gods & Monsters, welcome customers new and old into the newly condensed store. In a short period of time, Fisher manages to allow customers to have an immersive experience shopping for memorabilia in the genres of pop culture, comic books, and toys. Young specializes in the orders and visualizing elements of the store coinciding with new comic book events and merchandize on the way. Due to relationships born within the retail industry, Fisher and Young sell original art work from known artists to artists yet-to-be-discovered. G&M takes all of the highlights of “Orlando’s Comic Strip” and rolls them together to present a comic book shop like no other.

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The interior of Gods & Monsters located at 5421 International Drive in Orlando, FL. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

The sales of merchandize to new customers drives Gods & Monsters. The store’s set up separates products just enough to where every inch of the store feels like you’re stepping into a different aspect of genre retail. Some comic shops simply jam everything they offer on shelves and hope customers find what they’re looking for. That’s not the case at Gods & Monsters. The store provides customers with titles both new and old. All publishers’ products neatly line the walls and displays cases so the customers know what publisher’s or designer’s “section” they’re perusing.

Gods & Monsters opens daily at 11AM and closes at 7PM Sunday thru Thursday and 9PM on Fridays and Saturdays. The shop’s bar, “Vault 5421,” opens in the coming months. Check out www.facebook.com/godmonsters for more information on the shop and its merchandize.

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Orlando Public Library’s Comic Book Collection is a Free Read for Locals

During the “Jurassic Era” of civilization, or pre-internet, public libraries operated in the same ways as a Google search or Kindle function today. However, the internet now usurps that first choice of solitary, relaxing research. Libraries now function as just another source for students, professionals, and retirees—a forlorn fact for adults born before 1990. The coolest thing about a public library is its calming effect. There are few places on the planet as peaceful as a public library. Despite a modern public library’s lack of public necessity, a few have started to embrace new media, presenting endless means of popular entertainment with no money down.

Comic books have been a popular source of entertainment since beyond the thrills and chills of 1930’s war comics. However, a public library was one place comic books weren’t readily available. Times have changed. Now, a public library in most large cities nationwide provide visitors the opportunity to unlock the treasures within the pages of a comic book.

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Graphic novels packed within the rows of comics at the Orlando Public Library. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

The Orlando Public Library’s collection of comic books is a site to behold. Located on 101 Central Boulevard in Downtown Orlando, this unique facility holds thousands of graphic novels for local consumers to enjoy within Library Central. Titles from major publishers like Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse pack four massive rows of shelves staring with section 40-B. The comics are in the rear left corner of Library Central, which also houses DVDs, CDs, and other forms of audio/video entertainment on the opposite side.

A stage acts as Library Central’s centerpiece as well as a “curtain” for the wing’s reading area that connects the comic books and the audio/video content. Visitors can snag a book off the shelf, grab a spot on a couch, and relax into an adventure reading in a peaceful environment. The best thing about OPL’s comic book collection is the availability to check out the comics. With a valid driver’s license and proof of residence in Orange County, a visitor can gain a membership card and leave with 100 comics books. Over the course of the next 21 days, there are comics to absorb—free of charge.

The Orlando Public Library is a dream for college students struggling to scrounge extra cash. The inconsistent pricing of comic books from the two major publishers is a common complaint with many comic book readers of the modern age. Many college students don’t have the funds. Why not go to the library and catch up on what everyone else spends “too much” money on? OPL is also a great source of entertainment for kids who test the limits of their parents’ repression each day of the summer. In this modern age of comic books influencing so many films and television series, take the curious kids to the source material. It’s free and fun.

For more information about the Orlando Public Library and others in the Orange County area, please visit: www.ocls.info

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MattyLovesComics 05.10.2017: “The Return of Renato Jones”

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Why, hello friends! I feel like the past months and a half flew by. Maybe it did. (It did.) I’m staying busy down here in sunny Orlando. The weather is starting to heat up. Last week, I planned on dropping a blog but I stayed out by the pool way too long. So long, in fact, that I had not seen that hue of red upon my skin in years. Seriously, I was afraid I really overdid it. Fortunately, the discomfort has subsided and I am now less “ah-peeling.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE:] Oh, you reached for that quip. 

Sit tight, “Ed.” There’s plenty more where that came from.

As some of you may have noticed, articles I’ve written are popping up on the site. These stories are part of my work toward my journalism Master’s degree. (I graduate in Oct.) Expect to see more in the months to come. I’m now in the middle of figuring out my “thesis,” more-or-less. Wish me luck. Surprisingly enough, it’ll revolve around comic books. Somehow.

8-1989-buscema-patchAnd speaking of comics, boy, have I been reading a lot. I often speak of my love for famed X-Men scribe, Chris Claremont. Up until a few weeks ago, I owned, but never read, Claremont’s introduction to Madripoor in the first Wolverine on-going volume (second, technically). Following The Fall of The Mutants, the X-Men were considered dead to everyone on Earth. A TV news station (maybe CNN, I can’t remember, look it up) broadcasted the “death” of the X-Men. The world witnessed it—in reality, the X-Men traveled through the Siege Perilous with help from Roma. The “dead” X-Men scattered all over the world (like Dragon Balls after a wish). Some of them couldn’t remember how they arrived in their new settings (See: Colossus and Callisto). Wolverine, however, was aware of where he’d been.

In Madripoor, to help conceal his identity—no thanks to an encounter with a few nasties including the likes of Roughhouse—Wolverine adopted an eye patch. The locals gave him the nickname “Patch,” so, Logan naturally went with it. I know you’re asking yourself, “How could they NOT tell that “Patch” is actually Wolverine.” Simple. Back then (1988), Wolverine still wasn’t a household name. Not a lot of characters outside of the X-Men universe saw Wolverine without his mask. Besides, the X-Men always used their psychics to create a blur when photographed or videotaped. Trust me, it works.

Since the book’s release, Madripoor Nights had been on my radar. This collection consists of Marvel Comics Presents #1-10, Marvel Age Annual #4, and Wolverine (1988) #1-16. I loved MCP as a kid. That title, as well as Marvel Tales, were essential to me getting a grasp on the Marvel Universe as a kid. MCP usually consisted of three to four 6-10 page stories featuring characters that were: popular, but not enough for their own book, or, unknown characters that needed fleshing out (like Devil-Slayer). Claremont’s Save The Tiger was the set-up for Wolverine’s first ongoing series. In a way, MCP became Wolverine’s “2nd” ongoing series. After the Save The Tiger run, Wolverine would return to the book around issue #39—which is in and around the time I started flipping through comic books in general.

Madripoor is my favorite “fake” city in all of comic books. I find it unfortunate that none of the Wolverine films take place in the most dangerous city in all of Marvel—yes, worse than Hell’s Kitchen. For a better glimpse of “Lowtown,” check out Madripoor Nights. It’s essential Wolverine reading, and no one writes Wolverine better than Claremont—well, Morrison’s is good, but y’know what I mean. It’s not the definitive Wolverine—but it’s a great story.

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Since I’m on the subject of X-Men, I’ve been super-happy with X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue. I had my druthers about ResurreXionI’m still not sure if it’s an event, or—yeah, I dunno. Gold already made waves within the comic book community for all of the wrong reasons, but the story itself is excellent. It’s basically a three-part ruse. Kitty Pryde is well-established as the leader. “Old Man Logan” doesn’t evoke eye rolls. Mesmero returns. It’s fun! For my money, this first story feels like a filler story from Uncanny X-Men’s heyday in the early 80’s.

X-Men Blue is pretty neat as well. The out-of-time, “All-New X-Men” are working out of (where else?) Madripoor. Jean Grey is running the show—not sure how I feel about that with Cyclops playing second fiddle. Cyclops should be the leader. That’s like making Duke from G.I. Joe a grunt. It wouldn’t work. So, I’m interested how long Cyclops will play the wall before he either steps up, or dies. Another interesting caveat to this title is Magneto playing the role of “Professor X” once again. That usually doesn’t end well.

I’ve also read Jean Grey #1, which came out last Wednesday. After one issue, I see what Dennis Hopeless is doing with the character. Hey, it’s tough to be Jean. The previews of the next few solicits see characters like Prestige (Rachel Summers), Hope Summers, and Quentin Quire appearing in the book. It’s no secret what ties all these characters together. With the recent goings on in books like Mighty Thor and Thanos, the Phoenix is soon returning to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. I hope whomever it is that decides the Phoenix’s fate knows that the entity isn’t about “Death and Destruction.” The Phoenix is all about “Birth and Rebirth.” With Marvel Legacy rumored to be Marvel’s “DC Rebirth,” it would make sense if the Phoenix is partially responsible for reshaping the entirety of the Marvel comic book universe.

Ah, with all of this talk about some of the things I’ve read recently, let’s take a look ahead at what’s on the docket for today.

renatojonesseasontwo_01-1PULL LIST FOR 5/10/2017

ACTION COMICS 979

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 27

RENATO JONES SEASON TWO 1

STAR WARS THE SCREAMING CITADEL 1

X-MEN BLUE 3

When I visited Star Wars Celebration weekend, I attended the Marvel Comics panel which featured Charles Soule and Phil Noto. One of the comics they introduced was Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel. They sold it to the crowd as a Star Wars horror comic—an interesting concept. I’m also excited to read this series because it crosses over the Star Wars ongoing title written by Jason Aaron and the Doctor Aphra series written by Kieron Gillen—who writes the Screaming Citadel one-shot. This is the second time Marvel has given the Star Wars comics a crossover event (see: Vader Down). I thought the first one was a successful adventure. Let’s hope Screaming Citadel is a freak show.

Oh, man. Renato Jones: The One% is my favorite series from 2016. Season Two begins today and I’m super-stoked. If you’re a rich scumbag doing stereotypical “rich scumbag” things, Renato Jones will find you at the worst possible time, and then he’ll likely kill you with his sick knife-gun thing. Kaare Andrews’s landscape is a perfect fit for this style of storytelling. The world of Renato Jones is not nice. He’s not necessarily a “good guy.” There are no white hats worn. He’s like the Punisher—but he starts “inside” because, in reality, Jones is a one-percenter much like his victims, and not a war-torn psycho hell bent on seeking vengeance for everything. Check it out.

Two of the steadiest comics in the game currently are Action Comics/all Supes titles and Amazing Spider-Man. Dan Slott’s run on Amazing is like retaining a Netflix/Amazon Prime/WWE Network/CHIKARAtopia subscription. It just rolls over. You don’t think about it, but every month, there it is. No questions asked. These services are a part of life for people in 2017. Slott’s Spidey is the definitive Spider-Man, and thus, a part of my life. He’s taken all of the stories from the past and managed to find a place for them in this age of comics. Sure, some people aren’t a fan of Slott personally, but that shouldn’t discredit the thread, or, web he’s weaved over all of these years.

[ED:] Zing. 

7780485_the-mystery-of-marvels-dead-no-more-solved_t172f9f29The current state of Amazing is as good as it has ever been, in my opinion. I love the Green Goblin. Since the Dark Reign/Siege storyline, we haven’t seen a lot of “Normie” for several years. Leave it to Slott to build up to Osborn returning to make Spidey’s life miserable. Where’s Norman Osborn been? Oh, just leading an Eastern European nation. Where else? Like we really know how many countries have popped up in Eastern Europe for the past 20 years. Silver Sable also just recently returned for the “dead.” I’m usually cool with a “dead is dead” policy, but if a character is returning that I like, I don’t have a problem with it.

Let’s hope Wolverine gets the same treatment. Soon. Please.

Write to you soon.

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Free Comic Book Day 2017

Since 2002, Free Comic Book Day sweeps the globe on the first Saturday each May. Comic book fans, new and old, flock to their favorite comic book shops to pick up what popular publishers offer their readers at no cost. Usually, there is a big-budget comic book film hitting theaters either the Friday before or the Friday (or Thursday) following FCBD. Comic book legend Jim Valentino was the creator who originally suggested that FCBD needed to coincide with whatever popular comic book movie was about to get released. Who would have thought that fifteen years later, Hollywood would still be pumping out comic book films—let alone publishers pumping out free books for the masses.

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A reminder to customers inside A Comic Shop in Orlando during the FCBD festivities. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

One common misconception is that not all the comics are free. Individuals new to the comic book scene often take FCBD at its word. However, shops make sure to let the customers know that only the books marked with the FCBD logo on the cover are the books available to customers free of charge. A Comic Shop in Orlando, Florida is no different. Shop owner Aaron Haaland posts signs in the shop’s displays reminding new customers that certain books are not free, despite similar covers or featured characters.

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A Comic Shop retailer, Shaun Schapira, displays a few of the free comics offered by publishers. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

FCBD isn’t just about the fans. It’s also a big day for comic book retailers. One could look at FCBD as a comic retailer’s “Black Friday.” Not only are the free comics offered by the publishers, the retailers offer their current stock at discount prices. Shaun Schapira, a retailer at A Comic Shop, looks forward to FCBD each year. “It’s a great way for publishers and retailers to get together to bring in new readers and help make comic books as big as they should be,” Schapira says, “Publishers [can] showcase what they’re [currently] putting out and what’s coming [soon].”

FCBD not only acts as a way for publishers to get new eyes on their comics, but also is a way for comic book fans to use the day as way to come together and enjoy the fellowship of the comic book community. In shops all over the world, people can commune and listen to others discuss their personal feelings on the books that are currently on the shelves, or even about the newest comic book films on the minds of many readers. If there was ever a day where the comic book community’s “peanut gallery” reconvenes, it’s Free Comic Book Day.

For more information about comic book shops, please visit Comic Shop Locator to find the nearest retailers.

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Marvel Comics At A Glance

During the C2E2 expo in Chicago, Marvel Comics announced their next attempt at rebranding their comic books. Marvel Legacy is essentially going to be their answer to the successful Rebirth campaign produced by their competitors out west, DC Comics. Over the years, both companies made multiple attempts to “reset” their respective continuities. Some failed, while some were somewhat successful.

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A few of Marvel’s recent changes/additions to character continuity in Iron Man, Thor, and Spider-Man comics. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

Rebranding is a giant risk. Not only is it a risk to the comic book companies, but it’s an even greater risk for retailers. Al Rodriguez is the owner of Epic Comics in Orlando, Florida. He’s experienced the highs and lows that comes with the companies’ bi-annual rebranding or revamping of their respective characters and continuities. Rodriguez says that Marvel “is focusing on more quality and less quality” in the way the creators tell their stories. He further states, “[Legacy] should be a way for Marvel to refresh their characters, get their icons back [to the status quo, and] getting back to basics. You can still tell good stories with iconic heroes.”

Back in the 1980’s, DC made the first bold attempt at rebranding following the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. The origins of DC’s major players like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were all altered to match a more modern era of comic book storytelling. While Batman and Wonder Woman comics improved, the Superman comics’ stories fell off. It’s taken almost 30 years for some of DC’s once-renowned heroes and villains to receive their proper resurgence. Readers currently argue that, as whole, DC Comics in 2016 are better than they’ve ever been thanks to the Rebirth storyline.

The same goes for Marvel. They too tried something different in the 1980’s by introducing an entire new line of comics outside of the then-current continuity. It wasn’t a rebranding, but one could surmise that if lightning had struck with the New Universe, then the other books would follow the same rebranding. Fortunately, Marvel cancelled the NU line of books. At the turn of the millennium, Marvel found the right time to intro a new line in the Marvel Ultimate Universe. These books featured well-known characters, but gave them all a modern feel—like what DC did “post-Crisis.”

The last time Marvel tried to majorly revamp their continuity came during 2005’s House of M series. The main consequence—in the story—came when Scarlet Witch magically took away the powers of 98% of Marvel’s Mutant population. At the time, X-Men books were top-sellers. Since that event, like (most of) the Superman comics of the 90’s through 2015, the “X-titles” haven’t recovered.

While there’s a big risk in rebranding, the cyclical way comic books recover is inevitable. Fans are going to continue to read comic books. Readers can always find another corner of the vast comic book community to roam if the stories they subscribe to are frustrating or too convoluted for whatever reason. Rodriguez is hopeful. “Comic books are [now] the [potential] source for what will become a movie or a TV show… [comics] should be the inspiration for everything.” Hopefully, Marvel Legacy will do just that.

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Orlando’s Comic “Strip”

For comic book enthusiasts, one of the best vacation destinations in the world becomes the land of “so much to do and so little time.” Orlando, Florida is home to, not only internationally known retailers, but home to over a dozen comic book shops all within 30-45 minutes of one another (depending on I-4 traffic). Utilize Google Maps and see that there are definitive “loops” natives and visitors can take in and around Orlando.

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The loop for a proposed  “comic shop crawl.” (Photo/Google Maps)

The “fastest” loop in the city could start at the northern most point and work in a “J-configuration” all the way down to Universal Orlando. Or, make a “loopy J” and end up inside a mall that has an upstairs movie theatre. Look at it this way: each of these comic shops are a 15-minute drive from one another. There aren’t many places on Earth where you have as many comic book shops in such close vicinity. Unless this article is about “Planet Comic Books.” Unfortunately, this little piece of information is not because a planet of only comic book shops could only exist inside of Ready Player One. 

Orlando is really close, though.

The “definitive loop” begins in the city of Winter Park, which is one of Hulk’s incredible leaps away from Orlando-proper. A Comic Shop is located at 114 S Semoran Blvd. This narrow retailer provides its customers with the most recent issues of comics and memorabilia. It’s located across the street from Full Sail University and proves to be an excellent retailer for the school’s on-campus students and faculty.

About three miles south is Sci-Fi City. This store focuses more on tabletop gaming and all of the different games’ components. The store also provides customers with new comics as well as a heavy stock of back issues and out-of-print graphic novels.

Geographically, this is where the adventurist must make a crucial decision. Either go back a little way from which the adventurer came, or, head toward downtown Orlando. The latter could possibly be a bit monotonous, or a better word: monopolized. For the sake of making the tightest loop possible, the adventurer takes the road back from which he or she came.

Another two-mile trek from Sci-Fi City rests Hudson’s Comics, located at 200 N Semoran Blvd in Orlando. Here, customers will find new and old comics and toys. This store also specializes in the sale of rare statues from companies like Sideshow Collectibles and Bowen Designs. The store’s best feature is its inventory of Funko Pop vinyl figurines.

Next, a few miles back up Florida State Road 40 is Orlando Fashion Square. Inside is one of six locations for Coliseum of Comics in the central to southwestern region of Florida. (Hence: “monopolized.”) If you’re someone who reads the more recent comics and nothing years before, A Comic Shop is the choice retailer for new readers, and reader of weekly comics. “CoC” is for everyone else. It’s hard to argue that another store in this loop, or in the entire Central Florida area, has more to offer for comic book enthusiasts new and old.

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A wall inside Coliseum of Comics (Mall at Millenia) covered in hot-selling, classic comic books. (Photo/Matt de Simone)

Comics, games, models, toys, posters, and t-shirts are just a few of the items that Coliseum of Comics sells. The store inside of Fashion Square Mall features a gaming station in the rear corner of the shop of tabletop gamers. Resting on the tables are massive, intricately designed 3-D maps to give the gamers the most realistic scenarios as possible.

The CoC sitting a couple hundred yards from the Mall at Millenia specializes in their assortment of statues that range from varying degrees of height and detail (and price). This store also displays many classic back issues that are going up in price, or older, lesser-known books that have somehow found a way to climb back up in value—usually due to the book’s story or characters tied to the most recent comic book film.

This brings this loop to somewhat of a close. Orlando also features Living Dead Comics, Mike’s Comics, Epic Comics, Gods & Monsters, and the massive Acme Superstore in Longwood. A comic book fan could spend an entire day driving around Orlando and it’s small, neighboring communities visiting comic shop after comic shop. For comic book enthusiasts visiting Orlando for the first time, be sure to plan ahead. There are comics, shops, and diverse showrooms to be seen.

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