Wednesday, June 26, 2013

HeroesCon 2013 - Prologue

Note: This and Episode 4 of the podcast got delayed because I’ve been working a lot and also because I have bronchitis. I’ve felt lousy since we got back from vacation, but haven’t had an opportunity to address it because I had to work four days straight. I went to the doctor on my first day off and got diagnosed, then had one day of rest and now I’m back to work four more twelve hour shifts. I skipped out on Earth Station Who Wednesday night because every time I talk I cough, so I definitely couldn’t record my own podcast. And I really haven’t felt like editing posts, either.
Also, Lil’ Troublemaker has tonsillitis. I’ve been doing my best to try and help out with him and we’ve actually gotten to spend some quality time together. Unfortunately, the asshat doctor we took him to the first time misdiagnosed the little guy with a virus. That means he suffered through a few days with no treatment whatsoever. Mrs. Troublemaker really wants to go and punch that doctor in the face.
So my point is I’ve had concerns other than the site and the podcast.
           Before I get any further I want to thank all of my awesome Guest Posters profusely. Not only did you guys allow me to focus more fully on relaxing and taking time off from everything, you all provided some wonderful articles. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them while I was posting and look forward to more anytime you feel like it. Thanks so much to Beth V, Gnoll, Tara, Beau Brown, Kalan, and Joe Crowe for helping out!
I think I might be done with video reviews. There are a couple more that are pretty much finished that I will probably post, but I just don’t care for them. Oh yeah – they’re also not doing all that well. This isn’t me whining (like it was with Phantom Who), just me recognizing that a fifteen minute video review is not a format I’m really good with. It’s not that I don’t think I’m interesting, but there are so many of them out there and the popular ones are done in a way I do not care to do them. They consist of bland, personality-free voiceovers with still photos and admittedly nice graphics. Not my thing. On top of all that, I still think video toy reviews are an inconvenience to watch.
Okay, business is out of the way – onto the con!
I’m going to take a look back at the past week and relive all of the awesome stuff that happened, as well as the minor disappointments. But don’t get me wrong – the good outweighed the bad by far. 

It’s Thursday June 6, 2013. It is my first actual day off from work. The Troublemaker family have all slept in and are well-rested and excited to be leaving for beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina for what is undoubtedly one of the very best comic book conventions in all the land.
Amazingly, we ended up in exactly the same kind of awful, terrifying weather that harassed us two years ago. But not for nearly as long. That last time we probably spent over two hours in rain that seemed to be emanating from directly in front of the Troublemobile and traveling horizontally at us, like turbolasers. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as driving in terrible conditions with your family in the car. This time around, we probably spent less than an hour in the rough weather, but I had the presence of mind to have Mrs. Troublemaker document the nastiness:
What ended up being much more detrimental to our journey was some kind of glitch with Google Navigator.
We abandoned our Garmin GPS long ago in favor of the excellent Google Navigator in our phones. Pretty much everything about Google’s system was superior to Garmin; up to and including the fact that you do not have to pay nearly $100 a year to keep the damn thing updated. We’ve been using the phone app for over a year now and have come to rely pretty heavily on it (possibly too heavily, but that’s a whole other post). All you have to do is Google your destination and – with a couple of button presses – you have voice-guided directions along with a map and a system that takes things like traffic and road work into consideration.
Of course, about an hour into our trip we had our first problem with Google Navigator. There’s some kind of new, exciting glitch that causes your phone to randomly reboot; usually right before a critical navigational change. And once it happened, it repeated this process every ten minutes or so after that. Since my phone’s navigation seemed to have crapped out we tried Mrs. Troublemaker’s. No good. Hers did the same thing.
Now, if we were morons this might have been a severe problem. Thankfully we are not, so we figured a way around the issue. This really wasn’t that big of a deal since you pretty much just stay on I-85 all the way to Charlotte, but once you actually arrive in a city navigation can be tricky. The Navigator was shot, but we could still use the Maps app, so the missus simply directed me, old school, to our destination – the glorious Westin hotel.
But before our arrival in Charlotte, there was the real disaster of the trek.
We had just stopped at one of those multi-establishment highway operations to get some beverages and so that I could buy some sunglasses. It had been overcast when we left the house, so I had opted to not bring sunglasses. Because obviously the sun wouldn’t shine anywhere we were going to be over the next seven days. I don’t know what I was thinking. Within an hour the sky was bright enough that I was squinting.
Side Note: Ever since I had Lasik my sight is amazing but my eyes are much more sensitive to sunlight. Nothing debilitating, but I do try to wear sunglasses when I’m out during the day. Also, it’s just supposed to be better for your eyes.
This particular building housed a Wendy’s, an ice cream place, a gas station, and a sort of convenience store. I picked up beverages and a nice pair of mirrored shades – very Reno 911 – and got back in the car. And as soon as we got back on the interstate it hit me.
You know that part of your brain that is an Evil Jerk? It’s that part that stores every humiliating, embarrassing, mortifying thing that has ever happened to you. But it doesn’t keep them in your conscious mind. It tucks them away. See, if they were left at the surface the pain would dull and eventually you’d learn to live with those things. But what the Evil Jerk does is store them in a little closet in the back of your brain. And then, one day when you’re having a solid time – you might be driving around, listening to some good music and not on any kind of schedule or anything; no worries – Evil Jerk will jump out of your subconscious and say, “Hey man – remember the time at Dragon*Con where you unexpectedly hit it off with this incredibly hot girl in an extremely small amount of black latex clothing and you hung out with her for most of the day and then went to see the Misfits play and while you were both watching you said the dumbest thing anybody has ever said as an attempt to make out with her and she totally lost all interest and not only ditched you but actually went home?”
And then you pretty much want to set yourself on fire.
Well this time wasn’t quite so bad, but right as we got on the interstate, about an hour and a half away from home, Evil Jerk popped up and said, “Hey, dum-dum – where’s your costume bag?” and I wanted to curse and bang my hands on the steering wheel, but Lil’ Troublemaker was in the car so I could only make stupid grunting noises and I didn’t want to have a fit in front of him so I just sort of thudded my palms against the wheel a few times. Luckily he was occupied with the blue slushie drink I had just bought him, so he didn’t really notice.
I had been so stoked about actually wearing some of my Troublemaker gear at HeroesCon. The last time we were there I had only worn the mask a couple of times, but this year I knew I would be Conducting Business – trying to get interviews and whatnot – so I wanted to be in character. I was furious with myself for forgetting such a crucial thing. And there really wasn’t anything to do about it. Mrs. Troublemaker asked if we knew anybody that would be coming up that could go by the house. I knew Little Pond was coming and that Mike Gordon and Award-Winning Bobby Nash would as well, but I didn’t know anybody’s schedule and really didn’t want to bother them. I absolutely hate asking people for things.
Instead I did what any normal, red-blooded American does in times of crisis and posted about it on the social networks. And I have to say, the social networks worked in my favor that day because within minutes I had a text from Little Pond asking what she could do to help. She and Mrs. Troublemaker coordinated times for pickups and drop-offs and completely saved my day. It must have been a massive inconvenience for Little Pond to go by the house and pick that bag up, so I definitely owe her big time.
I will say that in the time between when I realized I had forgotten my garment bag and when the situation was resolved I had a moment of maturity. I did have the mask that I always keep on hand, and what really mattered was that I was there, not some set of clothes. Yeah, I wouldn’t have my various masks and different color-coordinated costumes, but I could still do my thing. So I calmed down and accepted the situation. Now, of course, I realize that I was totally full of it and wouldn’t have had half as much fun without the purple speed suit. Also, I wouldn’t have gotten yelled at by the entire superhero population of Charlotte, North Carolina. But hang in there. I’ll get to that.
Having weathered the potential costume disaster and the… uh, weather… we made it into Charlotte and got checked in at the Westin.
The Westin is a wonderful hotel. The staff is very nice and helpful, the hotel itself is clean and easy to navigate, and the rooms are fantastic and quite possibly the nicest I have stayed in. There’s plenty of room for a family of three and all of their junk – including two bags full of approximately eight thousand Star Wars Galactic Heroes action figures and all of their related starships. There was this awesome shade that pulled down over the window so you could walk around in your underwear but still have natural light. My only complaints are that their ice bucket was ridiculously tiny and that they had the common hotel problem of a hi-def TV with standard definition channels.
The bathroom was magnificent and was actually much nicer than the ones in our home. Partially because of clever positioning of fixtures, but mostly because of this:
That, my friends, is the first hotel shower head that has ever been tall enough to accommodate my 6’4” self. Not only was it tall enough, it had very good water pressure. Although you had to be careful with the water temperature. If you just used hot on the tap or weren’t careful enough with the shower you would definitely be in need of medical care. And I am not exaggerating one bit about that. The hot water was unbelievably hot. You could brew tea directly from the tap if you were so inclined.
We were all pretty hungry by the time we got unpacked, so I checked the trusty Phantom Phone to see what kinds of eateries were in the area. There were a few places I wasn’t familiar with, but a Wild Wing Café was listed as 500 feet away. The combined walking distance and familiarity made that the best pick. Little did we know the restaurant was a part of the NASCAR Hell of Fame.
You’d think that being connected to such a prestigious institution would have meant a snazzier, more spectacular setting. Not so much. The café resembled nothing so much as a slightly NASCAR-themed amusement park cafeteria. It was all primary colors and rickety tables. The wait staff was a weird cornucopia of individuals who looked like they might be a little too pretty for Waffle House, but not quite attractive enough to work at Chili’s. And our waitress was absolutely terrible. She was very sweet and did a good job of seeming like she was doing a good job. I think there were several occasions where she forgot we were there.
But the food was good and the fancy girl drink I ordered was so good I had two.
After dinner I got the family settled in and then went down to the bar to see if anybody I knew was down there. After meeting Chris Sims at CHIKARA and having an exchange on Twitter about meeting up at HeroesCon, I was eager to run into the guy. I was hoping to get a few minutes with him to discuss – among other things – his unnatural love for Christopher Nolan’s Batman. I still find it baffling that the internet’s foremost Batmanologist finds those things to be as flawless as he does.
But there wasn’t a single familiar face down at the bar. I sat at a table and downed a couple of beers, keeping an eye out for folks. I’m not necessarily down with the scene now or anything, but I definitely know some more people than I did two years ago. None of them were in that bar, so I headed back up to the room to get some sleep. I wanted to be up early and ready to go to the Charlotte Convention Center in the morning.
My whole life is something of a balancing act. I work, I spend time with my family, I maintain this site, and I do Phantom Troublemaker stuff. The first order of business on Friday was family time. I wanted everybody to have a chance to look around and see what was at the con before I started attending to Phantom Business. Plus, none of my gear would be arriving until the afternoon. It actually worked out perfectly.
The con floor was absolutely huge this year. I’ll go ahead and tell you that I never did get to see everything in there. Everything was so well organized it was unbelievable. Every row had huge signs hanging from the ceiling with numbers and letters that designated the various sections. The front blocks of space were for the vendors and exhibitors; the rear portion of the room was for the artists and writers. All it took was a glance at the program and you could easily find whatever you were looking for. We were looking for toys.
More specifically, I was looking for Wun-Dar, Arkham City Robin, and a few various GI Joe and Star Wars figures that I will never own because the only places you can find them are online or at cons and they cost twenty dollars (or more) apiece in those places. I told Mrs. Troublemaker I wanted to hit the toy places quickly because I didn’t want to ask somebody about a Wun-Dar and hear that they had just sold the one they had that morning. So of course the guy at third place we hit told me exactly that.
F**KING SH*T I WANT MY WUN-DAR.
There were, however, Arkham figures all over the place. For cheap, even. Well, relatively cheap. Most places had the clown goons, Talia, and some other recent figures for around $12. Great deals, but I already had everybody but the clown goons and I decided I really didn’t need those. Even though they look fine individually, something about the fact that they are blatant repaints puts me off. After pawing through row after row of clamshelled Bat-figures I finally found a Robin. Marked at $25. Which is more than I am willing to pay for a 6” figure (usually).
It occurred to me at that point to try something that I have rarely, if ever, tried before. Something that is common practice at cons, flea markets, and other open market scenarios. I gave haggling a shot. I don’t like doing that, but I’ve been watching a lot of Toy Hunter lately and it makes me jealous that Jordan is so good at it, regardless of how staged it is. So I picked up the figure and turned to the lady running the booth. I wasn’t wearing my mask, so my naturally handsome and compelling face helped out. I said, “How about twenty bucks for Robin?”
I know I probably could have started with fifteen (and in hindsight I think I could’ve gotten it for that), but I didn’t want to push it on my first attempt. Sure enough, she smiled and said that was fine. I handed over my twenty and marched away with my new figure, much more proudly than I really should have.
The whole reason I wanted Robin was because Lil’ Troublemaker thought I should have him. Robin is his favorite superhero. But I passed on the Arkham Robin when it was offered because I didn’t care for the design and because I thought he was mishandled in the game. It’s supposed to be Tim Drake but the character acts more like Jason Todd. He’s kind of a dick. But my son has always been upset that I had all of the other characters and not his favorite. So I kind of had to get one. And I did get a deal on it. They’re selling for around thirty on eBay.
Lil’ Troublemaker managed to find a ton of Justice League figures that he could not live without (which I can relate to) and Mrs. Troublemaker picked up some prints, because if there’s anything our house needs more than more action figures it’s more unframed artwork. I bought some of both items, so I can’t very well complain.
After a couple of hours I got a message from Little Pond saying they were in town and she was going to leave my bag at the front desk. It was a good time to go back to the room, refresh, and get into uniform.
Which makes this a good time to tell you to be sure and check back tomorrow for Episode 4 of the Needless Things Podcast!
-Phantom

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