Lucasfilm In Disarray?

Something is not right with Lucasfilm. It can be seen by the behind-the-scenes drama going on with the film studio once owned by George Lucas before he sold it to The Walt Disney Company nearly a decade ago. Another sign is the lack of solid information about their upcoming films and TV shows.

Lucasfilm has been mired in controversy for several years despite its early Disney-era success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. What is often overlooked with the latter film is that it had significant re-shoots which ultimately made the film a success. After that dilemma followed the film studio.

There was the heated reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi which sharply split Star Wars fans. Then the saga of revolving directors plagued Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. With those two films the original directors were removed from the projects. Solo suffered greatly as the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired when filming was nearly complete and forced the film to be essentially redone from scratch.

Now that the final Sequel Saga Star Wars films have concluded nearly two years ago, there is little sign of new Star Wars films coming up. Of course, there are many Star Wars TV shows slated to stream on Disney+ and they are eagerly awaited. In fact, many rightly argue that the TV shows are what is keeping the franchise alive thanks to The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Bad Batch and hopefully The Book of Boba Fett, which debuts next month.

The upcoming TV projects such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the new season of The Mandalorian, Andor, and Ahsoka are eagerly anticipated, but we have little news about those shows. The recent Disney+ Day event which revealed many exciting Disney, Pixar and Marvel projects failed to deliver anything significant that was Star Wars related. Only a documentary about Boba Fett, cast interviews of the upcoming Willow TV show, and a sizzle reel for Obi-Wan Kenobi streamed on Disney+ while other studios rewareded subscribers with first looks at upcoming projects. What is confounding are rumors that there were Star Wars trailers and footage planned to be unveiled, but for some reason this did not happen. In the end, while the sneak peaks at other Disney properties were impressive, Star Wars looked threadbare on the streaming platform.

As for the films, there are more signs of trouble. The next Indiana Jones film was filmed and expected to come out next year, but has been bumped to 2023 with rumors of extensive re-shoots and revisions of the plot pending. This is alarming given the age of the film’s star Harrison Ford and declining interest in the film.

But the most disconcerting news came recently that director Patti Jenkins’ pet film project Rogue Squadron has been put on indefinite hold. Originally, the film was supposed to come out in 2023, but supposedly creative differences between the director and Lucasfilm derailed the project. Now, it is doubtful Rogue Squadron will ever be made. This is embarrassing for the film studio after all the hoopla they created last year when they released a video promoting Rogue Squadron that featured Patti Jenkins passionately talking about the film as she was shown next to a full-scale mock up of an X-Wing fighter. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

That is not all, ballyhooed announcements of Star Wars films from director Rian Johnson and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have led nowhere. What is next? Will the announced Kevin Feige-produced Star Wars film be shelved as well?

Many have pointed fingers and blame on Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. She has proven to be a somewhat controversial film executive who has enraged some fans and members of the alt-right. Despite the overreaction from some, she should accept the blame for the issues with the directors and the delays these events are causing because it is damaging the brand of Lucasfilm and its properties.

Given the image of Lucasfilm being in disarray, several fans have called for Kathleen Kennedy to be replaced by someone else, such as Jon Favreau, the showrunner of The Mandalorian. However, news has come out that Disney extended Kennedy’s contract for another three years. Surely, this demonstrates that the Disney executives have faith in Kathleen Kennedy, but can she turn things around? What convinced Disney that she deserved to continue running Lucasfilm? We have to hope that Disney’s continued faith in Kennedy is warranted because Star Wars as a film property sorely needs a win and there isn’t anything on the horizon. More importantly, Lucasfilm and Kennedy have to prove to fans that they can still deliver quality films and TV shows and time is running short.

Handling FOMO During The Comic Book Speculator Boom

Comic books have risen recently in popularity thanks to their crossover appeal in live-action media. What is spurring the boom is that as mainstream properties from Marvel Comics and DC Comics are being shown on screen, film and TV studios are mining other comic book properties, not just obscure Marvel and DC characters but those from independent comic book properties.

As properties like The Walking Dead, Invincible, Sweet Tooth, Locke & Key, The Umbrella Academy and The Boys have captured the imagination of television and streaming audiences (along with lower-tier mainstream characters like Scarlet Witch or Black Lightning), these studios have found a treasure trove of characters and stories to adapt. This in turn has made many of these titles increase in value among comic book collectors and speculators. Meaning the prices for key issues have exploded.

A good example of this situation is with Boom! Studios’ Something is Killing the Children, a horror title that only debuted in 2019, yet its first issue commands a price of roughly $1,000 for a near-mint copy. Other hot titles which are increasing in value include The Department of Truth and Saga.

The value of previously insignificant mainstream titles or issues increased significantly as characters or storylines were adapted. A recent example is with The West Coast Avengers, particularly its original middle run by John Byrne that introduced a white version of Vision and a dark version of Scarlet Witch. Both of whom wound up on the hit TV show, WandaVision. That TV show also led to a huge price increase for Fantastic Four #94, which was the first appearance of Agatha Harkness, the major villain of WandaVision.

For collectors who wish to pick up newly important issues or speculators looking to buy low and sell high, this has created a mad scramble to find these books and it’s a textbook example of FOMO. Among collectors that stands for Fear of Missing Out on obtaining an issue before it becomes too expensive. Many collectors have horror stories of passing up titles then regretting their decision as those books too off in value.

Thanks to the speculator boom and relevance of live-action comic book properties, FOMO has gripped the comic book community hard. But fans should not give in to FOMO. How important is it to have that particular title unless you want to make a quick profit? Those sold-out issues always get reprinted or are available for downloading, so for a true fan who wants to complete a run, these are alternatives.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the value of these titles often has peaks and valleys. Sure, some titles like The Walking Dead still command high prices, but the average costs for the first issue these days is only a couple thousand dollars. Back during the heyday of the title and the TV show, the first issue of The Walking Dead often sold for nearly five figures. That is enough to help pay for a new car!

As seen with the above example, once the hype dies down so will the prices and many times tey plummet to the point that the key issue becomes affordable. Consider The Avengers #55, which was the first appearance of Ultron. Back when Avengers: Age of Ultron premiered that issue was unobtainable for the average collector. Today, it can be bought for under $100, and that is for a decent copy. Another example is Marvel Premiere #15, the first introduction of Iron Fist, which was undervalued for a few years because of how poorly the Iron Fist TV show was received. Now is a good time to buy that issue and it should be soon as speculation has reared its head that the character will re-appear again in live action some time in the future.

A more recent and glaring example is Jupiter’s Legacy. There was some hype and speculation with that title since it was going to be adapted into a TV show, but that show was not well received and cancelled after one season. Right now, anyone trying to sell their copy of Jupiter’s Legacy #1 is lucky to sell it for cover price.

So, there is no reason to give in to FOMO. If a title like Something is Killing the Children becomes too expensive, let it go and stop obssessing over it. If you have to read the story get the trade paperback, read it online or borrow a friend’s copy. The key is to be patient, eventually the prices will settle and if you’re lucky you will find a copy you can afford to buy. More importantly, just enjoy the hobby.

DC FanDome Brings The DC Universe To Fans

 

We were robbed of Comic-Con this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic (the less said about their virtual convention, the better). However, comic book and DC fans were entreated to the virtual event DC FanDome which showcase all that is going on with the DC Universe in comics, film, TV, video games and much more.

There were many highlights in the virtual event and many avenues for fans to explore. Visiting the website, one could see there were different sections to view such as the Hall of Heroes, WatchVerse, KidsVerse, InsiderVerse, and so on. The most talked about highlights of course were the exclusive looks at the upcoming DC films and TV shows seen in the Hall of Heroes. For example, we were treated with a new trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 and a glimpse at Wonder Woman’s chief villain, the Cheetah (a bit too CGish but that’s fine). Other clicks revealed the first look at the re-designed Flash suit for the upcoming film of the Scarlet Speedster. Looking at the sleeker suit, it is obvious the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) version of the Flash was clearly inspired by his brief encounter with The CW version of the Flash as seen in his cameo in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” TV crossover event. Frankly, the new suit is a great improvement as it looks more aerodynamic and befitting of the character.

There also was a lively panel of The Suicide Squad hosted by the film’s director, James Gunn. For the first time the roster of supervillains was revealed and what a motley crew! Leave it to Gunn to pick some of the most obscure and goofy villains for The Suicide Squad. Comic book speculators and collectors will have their hands full trying to hunt down the comics that debuted the likes of the Polka-Dot Man or the Weasel. The panel itself was quite funny and gives fans who were disappointed by the previous Suicide Squad that the sequel will be injected with James Gunn’s humor and be reverant to the original comic book as he promised in the panel.

The suicide squad panel

Director Zack Snyder presided over a presentation of his original vision for Justice League. Featuring appearances from the film’s stars like Ben Affleck (who made news recently when it was revealed he would reprise his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming film, The Flash) and Henry Cavill, who looked really buffed out–a hint that he will return to the DCEU as Superman? After taking questions from fans who championed for his original cut, Zack Snyder unveiled a teaser trailer for Justice League. What stood out is the huge amount of original footage including a new and better version of Steppenwolf, Darkseid and Superman in his black suit. With a running time of four hours, the original vision of Justice League promises to be a true superhero epic.

The other big movie news was the premiere trailer for next year’s film The Batman. What can be said that has not already been written online about this first look at the new Batman film? As it has been said everywhere, this film looks awesome. Easily one of the most anticipated films next year, The Batman seems to be a spiritual successor to the Christopher Nolan Batman films, especially Batman Begins. The film looks gritty and promises to be more of a crime thriller peppered with intimidating scenes with the Caped Crusader.

Aside from giving us previews and first looks at upcoming property, DC FanDome was a celebration of all things DC. The event showcased brilliant and imaginative fan art and cosplayers, which captured the spirit of past conventions. Visitors got to see how influential and widespread DC was as videos showcased fans and creators from all over the globe. The Celebration of DC Pets was really cute, by the way. It was impressive to see how DC captured our imagination. DC FanDome also took time to celebrate the rich and vast history of DC with clips and images from past incarnations of its superheroes and villains.

On a technical level, there were the usual technical glitches that we are all experiencing these days with our Zoom meetings and other video calls, but for the most part, the event went off smoothly and was slickly produced. Their online store, there should have had more variety of merchandise because the only thing on sale were different kinds of t-shirts. But fans were able to read online comics and check out all the things related to DC, whether it be the latest with the DCEU or the thrilling video game Gotham Knights.

The DC FanDome was a great success and was actually better than what could have been done at Comic-Con. For a long while, Comic-Con was too exclusive as tickets to the yearly event were rare and expensive and frustrated nearly all of the fan community who were not privy to view first looks at trailers or concept art. We were forced to scour online for amateur videos taken at Hall H for just a glimpse or an upcoming film. The way DC FanDome was done should be continued in the future and can be done by other companies (hint, hint Marvel) as a way to better reach fans.

The Current State And Future Of Comic Books, Part I

It was well known by fans that the comic book industry faced declining sales in the past few years. Then this pandemic struck. Now, comic book shops all over are closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Major comic book companies like Marvel and DC will not release comic books digitally, and this has resulted in the entire industry coming to a standstill. We have not had any released comic books for several weeks and this has cascaded to lost jobs, revenue and products. On top of that, the San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions have been cancelled.

This crisis will pass at some point. But will its damage be too much for the comic book industry? Even without this pandemic the industry had many challenges and was running on inertia and good will from other media, notably the films and TV shows based on their comic book characters. It was in a fragile place and it may only take an outside factor like the coronavirus to be the kill the industry.

So, what happened to the comic book industry and where does its future go? If it even has one.

Modern State

When the American comic book first came into existence back in the 1930s they were aimed at children and at first reprinted newspaper strips. This changed with Action Comics #1 in 1938 as it introduced Superman, the first genuine superhero. After a lull in the 1950s superheroes dominated the medium to this day. However, comic books continued to change as new styles and ideas were introduced, and readers’ tastes changed, as well.

Currently, we are in the Modern Age and just as in the 1990s it is defined by an overreliance on speculators and comic books geared to please them. There are differences between the two time periods. The speculators during the Copper Age in the 1990s were mostly outside investors who hoped to retire by buying comic books with gimmick incentives like hologram covers, inserted trading cards, and numerous guest appearances by popular characters like Wolverine or Venom. This period was infamous for the Great Comics Crash of 1996 as investors were unable to sell their comics and left. Sales dropped so hard that comic books’ continued existence was in doubt.

Exclusive Variants

While those investors are long gone, today many hardcore collectors are encouraged to seek out very expensive variant comics. These are issues of certain key titles with different covers that are given out to retailers as incentives by distributors like Diamond Comics and publishers to encourage retailers to buy large volumes of comics. The retailers in turn sell these exclusive variants at premium prices, but are stuck with too many comics that will not sell. That is one of the reasons why comic book stores have so many sales with comics selling for $1 or so.

A new type of variants are blank cover comics that can be used for signatures or sketches by artists. This means that these comic books become unique pieces of art and thus more valuable. On average an individual title will have roughly eight to ten variant covers released. It can be hard to discern which is the regular cover for a title for a collector not interested in the variants.

These days collectors submit their coveted titles for grading to the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). This company uses experts who thoroughly examine comics and assigned a number grade before the comics are sealed in hard plastic cases. This has led to collectors with large wallets to chase after these high-value items. Lately, CGC is selling comic books that are exclusives with black and white sketch variant covers of regular issues.

While some can profit handsomely with these graded comics, one has to wonder about the future of this niche market. After all, the average collector cannot afford to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars for these CGC exclusives, let alone the fee to have their precious comics graded.

Higher & Higher Prices

The current prices of comic books is an important reason why sales are declining. Let’s put aside the CGC comics. Those are a niche market for collectors with deep pockets and the average collector is not missing anything if he or she is just trying to keep up with a collection.

Anyone buying and collecting comic books will confirm that they cost too much money. This complaint has existed ever since the Silver Age when prices increased from 10 cents up to 20 cents. As publishing, printing and distribution costs went up so did the prices. Now, the average comic book costs about $3.99.

Lately, publishers released special anniversary issues that cost anywhere from 8 to 12 dollars. These particular comics are meant to celebrate the anniversaries of long-running successful characters. These special issues which feature assorted stories by many writers and artists sold extremely well, and is why more are coming out. The latest celebrant is The Joker who will have his own special 80th anniversary comic book that will ship directly later this month. Unlike the CGC comics, the average collector will seek these out even though they are expensive.

Where does this end? Think about it, where once a comic book cost only 10 cents now on average is nearly five dollars. Then multiply that with all the individual comics a collector will buy on any given month and what is left is an expensive hobby. Surely, most comic books today are not oriented to young children and publishers have correctly figured that the average buyers are adults who can afford their product. With that said, where does it end? It is easy to see comic books in the future costing ten dollars, even twenty dollars for an average issue. Will the average collector be willing to pay that much on a monthly basis?

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The Greatest Sci-Fi Hallmark Ornaments

While Hallmark’s Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments are well known holiday merchandise, we cannot forget the other related Hallmark genre ornaments. No, not the Harry Potter stuff, though those ornaments are great, but the ornaments based on popular science fiction films and TV shows. Although they’re not as numerous as Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments, they’re just as well-crafted. It’s too bad more aren’t produced because these sci-fi Hallmark ornaments are great gifts and additions to any fan’s Christmas tree. These are the best ones created to date, hopefully more will come in the future.

avatar ornament

10. Avatar Jake Sully (Avatar, 2010):

Fans can easily imagine that the tatted-up warrior hero from Avatar is protecting a giant mother tree with this dynamically posed ornament.

9. Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 2011):

The miniature version of Captain Nemo’s steampunk sub is a faithful recreation of the Disney’s 1950s adaptation.

rocketeer ornament

8. High Flying Hero (The Rocketeer, 2014):

This was one of those limited-edition Hallmark ornaments that is hard to find, even when it was released. It would make a fine gift for any fan of the underrated gem of a film.

7. Alien (Alien, 2014):

One would think this kind of ornament would never work. Seriously, this alien creature is the stuff of nightmares. But it works thanks to its meticulous detailing and organic exo-skeletal look that somehow fits within a tree.

6. Cylon Centurion (Battlestar Galactica, 2011):

The sound effects of the distinctive robotic Cylon voice (“By your command”) is the highlight of this sci-fi Hallmark ornament. If only Hallmark would make more ornaments of either version of Battlestar Galactica, including the ships. “Sigh”

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