If you happen to spot a Power Ranger or Sailor Scout in the days ahead, do not be alarmed. It’s simply that special time of year again, when fanboys and girls of all ages gather at the Palais de Congres for three days of celebrities, cosplay and comic books. Yes, the Montreal Comic Con is back in full swing this weekend and expecting some 60 000 visitors with a passion for all things sci-fi and spandex.

Those who’ve frequented local cons since the early 2000s have seen these gatherings grow from modest affairs in hotel ballrooms to an annual event proudly featuring the likes of Patrick Stewart and Nathan Fillion. But while Hollywood heavy-hitters are sure to draw in the crowds, it’s important not to overlook the ones who do the actual…well, drawing.

Yes, there was once a time – back before geekdom went mainstream – when comic book conventions were focused more on actual comic books than comic adaptations. Of course, those were the days when superheroes rarely made the transition to television let alone the big screen. Now, we can watch the adventures of Supergirl and Preacher from our living-rooms while Wonder Woman and the Guardians of the Galaxy battle at the multiplex for box office supremacy.

It’s impossible not to be excited about that, but as films like Batman V Superman have shown, adaptations can often pale in comparison to the source material. Why not then seize this opportunity to spend some time with the creative minds who’ve been fueling these franchises for decades and truly understand what makes these characters great?

Case in point: Ty Templeton. This Ontario-based Renaissance Man has worked in just about every area of the entertainment industry – and has the hilarious anecdotes to prove it – but is probably best known for helping to adapt the Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series for comics. The celebrated tie-in book, The Batman Adventures, debuted in 1992 and proved so popular DC kept it going for another twelve years, long after the animated series concluded its run in 1999.

Templeton provided scripts, covers and interior art for the all-ages book, which won several Eisner Awards during its run and is widely considered to feature some of the best Batman stories of all time. He’s also written for Bongo Comics’ Simpsons books and provided art for DC’s recent Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet series.

Templeton’s sense of humor and passion for comics is evident in all his work, but especially his weekly online comic strip Bun Toons, which cleverly comments on comic book culture and even politics in as few as six panels. If you happen upon his booth, don’t be surprised to see him regaling a group fans with one of his rousing stories. He’s an entertaining one to be sure.

…not that he’s the only one with stories to tell. Comics legend Neal Adams will also be in attendance and hosting a panel called The Sordid History of Comic Books. Having worked on characters as diverse as Tarzan, the X-Men, Green Lantern and Batman, he has a wealth of knowledge to share with both readers and aspiring comic artists.

In addition to having drawn Superman’s famous boxing match against Muhammad Ali and co-created the villain Ra’s Al Ghul, Adams is especially well regarded within the artistic community for having stood up to the big publishers in the 1970s to ensure creator’s rights were being respected. His efforts saw Avengers creator Jack Kirby and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get long-overdue credit for their contributions to the medium, and helped ensure today’s crop of comic book artists aren’t at the mercy of their employers. If anyone can speak to the industry’s sordid past and possibly brighter future, it’s him.

Archie Comics’ artists Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz, meanwhile, will be present to reflect on the adventures of the world’s oldest teenager, who just so happens to also have a new hit series on the CW network. If you haven’t checked out an Archie comic since your last visit to summer camp, rest assured that little has changed in his neck of the woods, except perhaps the variety of representation now featured.

Parent ushered Kevin Keller – Riverdale’s first openly gay resident – into the pages of Archie back in 2012. The character has since made the transition to all corners of the world of Archie after weathering an initial storm of controversy. Now, Parent and Ruiz are focused on their first creator-owned collaboration: a saucy series called Die Kitty Die! which came about through a successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign and sees their typically kid-friendly style take a walk on the wilder side.

Perhaps most fittingly, given Canada’s recent 150th birthday, attendees can get to know a bit about our own somewhat forgotten national superhero Captain Canuck, whose latest adventures are being scripted in part by Jay Baruchel. The former Montreal-based actor has invested in Chapterhouse Comics to help chart the course for this character, originally created in 1975.

These are but a few of the comic book writers and artists attending this weekend’s festivities. Walking through Artist’s Alley will also offer an opportunity to familiarize oneself with the work of local independent artists whose unique perspectives and enthusiasm for comics could very well lead them to success and fame down the road.

In short, great as the temptation may be to spend those hard-earned savings on autographed photos with the host of talented actors and actresses present, celebrating the creative minds at the hearts of these larger-than-life franchises is really what a comic book convention is all about.

Full guest and schedule details for the Montreal Comic Con, which runs through Sunday July 9th, is available at MontrealComicCon.com

* Featured image: The 2011 Montreal Comic Con main room, via WikiMedia Commons

With the Comicon caravan passing through Montreal last weekend, I started thinking about the best comic book blogs around. If these are an introduction into the comic book world, then prepare to have your mind blown with high amounts of gamma radiation.

These blogs mostly engage readers with some form of fanatical nerdy views and criticism from your average collector. Even though many of years ago this may have seemed obnoxious, today this type of critique is becoming more and more popular for the average internet browser; there’ s a reason why the San Diego Comic-con is one of the most influential events for film, music and Hollywood, because comic culture is mainstream pop culture!

Here are a few blogs that really do an outstanding job of making comic book collecting understandable:

Comics in crisis
Is this the end of the age of comics? Comics in Crisis works well because of its bitterness towards modern day comics. This is where you’ll find adult thought on comic books, and some of it isn’t very pretty.

Is Superman’s death a reflection of Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement: “God is dead!”?This is where you’ll see this kind of pop culture meets scholastic research. Some of the material is grossly entertaining.
Is not just your ordinary blog about comic books. This blog is pure comic book deconstruction with comical integrity.

A Comicbook blog

I think what makes this site particularly great is the super hero battle royal. Who would win in hand to hand combat? The green lantern vs. Superman?

Dc Woman Kicking Ass

This site gives new meaning to the feminist effect on comics, more specifically D.C. Comics.

The great thing about heroines is they can kick ass while looking great. If you want to keep updated on what is transpiring in the DC world as it pertains to women, then this is the right place to look. This tumblr is pretty awesome. It even keeps you updated on novelizations, graphic novels and animation.

Woman with super powers fighting the evil in the world fulfill many fantasies of many men. And while I know that I will never be held in the arms of Supergirl as she rescues me from a burning Metropolis, this Tumbr is the next best thing.

Golden Age Comics

Do you like old-timey comic books from the golden age. Alas, t’was an age of comic book innocence and bliss, it was also short lived.

Do you want to see old comics? I mean really, really old comics?
I don’t think you understand I mean really old like 1800s early 20th century comic books. If you do, then look no further Golden Age Comics is the blog for you!

The Weekly Crisis

Ever fell the need to read something that totally rips comic books to shreds? Well, now you can with The Weekly Crisis.
Tearing apart the newest release of comics and in depth analysis of the latest comic book releases gives this site the cutting edge.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about comics. I’ve seen the movies and read some of the more popular titles (Archie and Watchmen included), but that’s the extent of my comic knowledge.

So when the cover for Marvel’s latest “Astonishing X-Men” issue, featuring a same-sex couple kissing at the altar, made the rounds on gay blogs last week, I did a double-take. Not to be outdone, DC Comics also announced they would be outing one of their long-standing popular characters. Since when had comics become so explicitly, instead of implicitly, gay?

Originally, I wasn’t going to write this piece—I don’t know nearly enough about the topic, and the people who do are savage in their passion. But comics are important to more than just the people who read them. They have the power to influence the mindsets of children and to change the attitudes of adults. And with the barrage of superhero films in the last decade, comic book characters have been reaching a wider audience than ever before, thus increasing their potential for impact.

This impact is not lost on One Million Moms, an offshoot of the American “Family” Association, which opposes gay rights, pornography, and workers’ rights, among other fabulous things. Advocating a boycott of the two comic publishers, OMM released a statement saying,

“This is ridiculous! Why do adult gay men need comic superheroes as role models? They don’t but do want to indoctrinate impressionable young minds by placing these gay characters on pedestals in a positive light. These companies are heavily influencing our youth by using children’s superheroes to desensitize and brainwash them in thinking that a gay lifestyle choice is normal and desirable. As Christians, we know that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27).”


Of course, like recent boycotts of gay-related products, this will likely be a boon for both DC and Marvel who will revel in the spoils of their sinful ways—and so they should. Just look at what happened to sales at Starbucks after they took a pro-gay stance. Cha-ching!

One Million Moms does make at least one good point, though. Introducing gay people (superheroes and non-superheroes alike) into the lives of children and teens probably affects their future respective attitudes toward gays. But whereas OMM sees this as an affront to all that is holy, I see this as a healthy acknowledgement of the diversity in our society—a diversity that is only growing. It goes without saying that this is not “brainwashing”, but is, in fact, educational. As for convincing children that there’s a magical man in the sky who judges them for touching themselves…

Anyways, back to the action. These latest steps by Marvel and DC, while significant in the grand scheme of things, are not the first to be taken. The X-Man Northstar—the superhero who marries his fiancé in the latest Marvel comic—smashed out of his closet in 1992, and in 2006, Batwoman came out as a lesbian, an event that was voted the number one most important gay moment in comic book history.

Northstar’s wedding to his non-superhero boyfriend, it should be noted, is not the first same-sex ceremony to take place in the world of comics. Earlier this year, Archie Comics’ newcomer Kevin Keller married his boyfriend. (I, myself, was more surprised to know that people still read Archie. To each their own, I suppose.)

Of course, the best thing to come from these developments is the potential for gay superheroes to appear on the silver screen. The steps taken by the comic world giants thus far are important in their own right, but bringing them to life on the silver screen will have the greatest effect on changing the attitudes of bigoted people while telling youth that even gay people can be heroes.

This seems unlikely, though, given that these films are heavily marketed toward the “bro” market, members of which I imagine would be put-off at the sight of their male superhero passionately kissing his boyfriend as the dust settles after an epic battle. (If it were Batwoman and her girlfriend, well, that’d be a different story.)

I guess we’ll just need to wait to let the gay-brainwashing take effect before we can expect to see these characters 50 feet tall and in full 3D glory. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the fact that superheroes are busting out of closets to let kids know that it’s okay to be gay (and pissing off conservatives in the process).

Super (2010)
Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page and Kevin Bacon
Released by IFC Films

I was sad to find a lot of mediocrity of films at this years’ Fantasia Film Fest. More often than not I left the theatre somewhat unsatisfied. I was even underwhelmed by the highly anticipated Attack the Block.

One film however, was different. One film had me alternating between an ear-to-ear smile and an expression of anguished sympathy for the entirety of its runtime. I left the theatre with my faith in cinema renewed and a warm, satisfied feeling in my soul, like after I go to that place off St. Catherine Street on Friday nights which is frankly none of your business Mr. Noseypants. That film was Super, an independent superhero comedy starring Rain Wilson (The Office) Ellen Page (Juno and my future wife) and a host of others.

The plot may strike some familiar chords. Wilson plays Frank, a depressed middle-aged man whose wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a skuzzy drug dealer (Kevin Bacon of too many noteworthy films to count). Inspired by a bible-themed TV superhero (Nathan Fillion of Firefly and my current man-crush) he becomes The Crimson Bolt, a red-clad vigilante who wangs wrongdoers in the head with a pipe wrench with a triumphant cry of “Shut up, crime!”. Before long he’s joined by Ellen Page as Libby, a comic store employee who becomes his teen sidekick Bolty and quickly proves herself to be crazier than a bag of ferrets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (I do, actually. And you’ve got some issues, buddy) “Thomas, you stallion of a man, you. This sounds a lot like Kick-Ass or Defendor, what makes it so special?” “Well”, I would reply “Almost everything.”. To start, the film finds an almost perfect balance between comedy and heart wrenching drama. While Kick-Ass  quickly became an out and out spoof, and Defendor abandoned any pretense of comedy after about 20 minutes, Super manages to segue between the two so seamlessly you barely notice. One minute you’re cackling at the brutally visceral pipe wrench beatings, the next you find yourself thinking “Wait a minute…. Frank, that ain’t cool, man. You’re losing it!”. Frank’s slow transformation from dealer of righteous, cathartic justice to violent, unhinged vigilante is so well executed, and the character so sympathetic and tragic, that when he starts to slip and attacks people for only minor crimes or annoyances we feel a sense of real dread at what he is becoming. We can see him starting to lose it and genuinely don’t want to see this sad, sweet guy basically turn into Travis Bickle in red underoos.

That of course leads me to the strongest point of the movie, the characterization. Frank’s transformation into The Crimson Bolt is not motivated by power, sexual thrills, glamour or the license to beat people up. He’s never read a comic book in his life, he isn’t part of that world of fanboy superhero-worship. What Frank is really interested in is reducing the world to stark principles. Light and dark, crime and justice, good and evil. He can’t fathom the idea that maybe, just maybe, his wife left him by choice, and isn’t a damsel in distress kidnapped by an evil villain, or that this perceived injustice will go unpunished. He becomes The Crimson Bolt so he can reduce the world to ideas he can understand and cope with, a four-color comic book world where good is good, evil is evil and crime is always punished. Enter Libby, the polar opposite of this mindset, who IS in it for the thrills, sexuality and violence. Frank’s interactions with Libby gives gives him the chance to make it through this without completely losing touch with reality.

Wilson’s performance as Frank is fantastic, showing yet again how comedic actors can take to dramatic acting like a duck to water, though he’s given enough comedic moments that we don’t forget his roots. Ellen Page brings an appropriate energy and enthusiasm to contrast to Frank’s dour awkwardness, and seems to be returning to her roots after her seeming career misstep with  Inception.. The supporting players are pulling their weight admirably, with Bacon providing a suitably hate-able villain and Michael Rooker (Would you like a chocolate covered pretzel?) as his subtly conflicted croney. Keep an eye out for some other familiar faces like Linda Cardellini and Andre Royo.

Super is easily in my top five movies for this year, and my favorite of the movies I saw at Fantasia. It has heart, comedy, fantastic characterization, an awesome animated opening sequence and some of the most wonderfully bizarre scenes I’ve seen at the movies in a while (the scene where Frank receives his great inspiration has to be seen to be believed). The movie is on DVD and Blu-Ray now and will be enjoying a place of honor in my collection shortly. Not checking this movie out would be a crime. And you know what crime needs to do.