FanExpo Toronto 2018 – Creator Spotlight on John Byrne


FAN EXPO Canada is the largest Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada and the 3rd largest Pop Culture event in North America.

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

Everything you wanted to know about comic-book icon John Byrne… as long as you’re not afraid to ask! John rarely does conventions so we’ll make sure everyone who has a question or comment for him has plenty of time to be heard. No question is out of bounds (but if it is, you can expect John to tell you so!)



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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – Movie Review

fantastic four silver surfer

When I was very young, my Mom bought my comics when she did the weekly grocery shopping. One day, mixed in with “The Flash”, “Superman”, “World’s Finest”, and “Action Comics”, was this weird thing called “Fantastic Four” # 35. She somehow bought it by mistake, and it changed my life. The Kirby art, the bickering between the heroes, the romance between Reed and Sue…I had never read anything like it in DC. A few months later, I was making my own weekly trips to the local drugstore, buying Spider-man, FF, and Sgt. Fury off the spinner rack for 12 cents each. Slowly, Supes and Batman faded away for me, they just could not compete with the Marvel stories.

Fast forward: we live in a post-Image Comics age. Fanboys raised on steroid freaks and chicks in thongs. Yet, somehow, these two FF movies are NOT cynical, they are NOT dark, the heroes are NOT blood-thirsty maniacs, they are ordinary people. The Urban Dictionary defines “cheesy” as: ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. Well, guess what? The old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four WAS ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. I liked FF1, I LOVE FF2. Why? Because the SPIRIT of the comics is right there, right up on screen.

I am going to be very specific when discussing “FF:RotSS”, so what follows will contain SPOILERS. All issue references concern the original run of the comic, which began in 1961.

The movie adapts the events of two famous story arcs from the period (1965-1968) considered to be the pinnacle of the collaboration between Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist). Those stories are in issues #48-50 (known as ‘the Galactus trilogy’), and #57-60 (Dr. Doom steals the Surfer’s power).

Tim Story and crew have made a much better movie this time out. The team members themselves are now very comfortable with their powers, and that translates on-screen into them having FUN. The FF always has featured bickering and corny jokes, and that is highlighted early on, without getting too over-the-top. The action really kicks in once we get to the wedding, and the Surfer appears.

All of the FF’s power effects are very, very well done, most notably Sue’s invisibility. The Surfer looks just outstanding, his visualization is believable in the way that Gollum from LOTR was: we forget quickly that this is a special effect, and engage with the character. His backstory is presented intact, and he slowly starts to reclaim his lost humanity. Sue is presented as the catalyst for his change of heart, in a way that Alicia was used in the comics.

A note about Chris Evans: he is the swaggering, exuberant heart of these ‘FF’ movies. Johnny has a definite character arc in this movie, and Evans has a good time showing us the more aware side of the Torch, along with the bravado and self-promotion that is the source of much humor. He never allows Johnny to be anything less than likable, and he gets some of the best scenes, including a very satisfying, Super-Skrull style trashing of Dr. Doom late in the movie.

Galactus…the original “Galactus trilogy” was a 3-issue meditation on the meaning of “Evil”, moral relativism, and the significance of Life itself. The events pivoted around a character called The Watcher, who is cosmically powerful, but sworn to non-interference. Stan Lee had spent 4 years slowly creating the “Marvel Universe” that the FF inhabited, and FF #48-50 was an expansion of various concepts he had already touched on previously. A feature film introducing THREE humanoid all-powerful cosmic beings (Watcher, Galactus, Silver Surfer), and prominently theorizing about the absolute value of life in the cosmos might be labeled “pretentious” by some, especially when the source material is a comic book. I would love to see that story myself, but I am critiquing “FF:RotSS” based on what it IS, not what it IS NOT. What we get is a streamlined story of global destruction that builds tension to a decent payoff. Galactus DOES appear at the very end, but his headpiece is engulfed in the film’s equivalent of “Kirby dots”, which were the artist’s trademark way of illustrating random, seething energy.

The movie quotes numerous scenes and images from the books of 1961-1967, too many to list completely here. Notable examples of this are:

> FF #60 p. 5: Doom uses the power cosmic to create a cyclone, just like in the film;

> FF #49 p. 10 pnl 1-2: visualization of a world destroyed by Galactus, similar to the movie’s opening shot;

> FF Annual #3 (1965) p. 23 pnl 4-6: Stan and Jack are barred from Reed/Sue’s wedding reception, and Stan is kept out in the movie;

> FF #59 p. 14 pnl 1: Doom deliberately causes freezing weather while flying overhead, in the movie the Surfer does the same thing unintentionally.

My one serious criticism of “FF:RotSS” is the total absence of Kirby’s signature crazy machinery. The FF comic book became stuffed full of elaborate gadgets and vehicles early on in the series, and the movie lags far behind. We get the Fantasti-car, but there is no Pogo Plane, Jet-cycle, etc.

I take issue with those who decry “FF:RotSS” for its PG rating. I read these very stories when I was 10 years old, and I just do not understand people complaining about a comic book being made into a family movie. The jokes are not adolescent gross-out humor like “Shrek”. The scene in the disco early on is typical, where the script has fun with the iconic image of Reed as a stuffed-shirt. This is done playfully, and is not a betrayal of the character. In fact, Reed declares a “Nerd Manifesto” later on that should warm the hearts of brainy, socially awkward teenage boys everywhere. The important thing, to me, is that THE MOVIE WORKS on its own terms, and remains terrifically entertaining from start to finish.


7 out of 10 stars


Fantastic Four (2005) – Movie Review

fantastic four 2005

Fantastic Four is one of the superhero films from the 2000’s, that I can recall, which wasn’t insufferably bleak or incredibly serious to a point where any shred of humor was seen as obtuse to the film’s narrative. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an indisputable breakthrough in superhero films, but it also made the seriousness of superhero films standard, something that would follow into the late 2000’s and early 2010’s as Marvel built up The Avengers. Fantastic Four reminds of the quirkiness superhero films were once predicated upon, and while it may get a bit too corny at times, and its focus can never really settle, it’s also a very commercial film that satisfies on some level of entertainment when it gives every card in its deck a fair time to shine.

We open by looking at a physicist named Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), who is convinced evolution was triggered millions of years ago by stray elements of cosmic energy in space, some of which will pass near Earth very soon. His pal, astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), works by his side on this potentially revolutionary discovery by helping him convince their old classmate Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), the CEO of Von Doom Industries, to allow both of them access to his private space station to further experiment with the effects of these cosmic energy particles. While Doom agrees, he winds up walking away with most of the profits that this experiment will bring, affirming Reed’s desperation to make his project work.

Still, he persists on and brings his close friends Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) along for the ride. However, when a trip to outer space goes awry, exposure with the cosmic energy results in the four receiving deformities and enhanced human abilities that have never before been seen: Reed possesses the ability to stretch every limb of his body, Susan has the ability to disappear and reappear at will, Johnny can engulf himself in flames, and Ben turns into a hideous, orange rock monster.

Following the four’s mutations, writers Michael France and Mark Frost focus a great deal of their time on the agony that these mutations bring, particularly The Thing, who experiences his wife leaving him shortly after revealing his deformity. While this agony is a solid angle (one I’d argue is necessary in most superhero films), too much of the time is spent profiling The Thing and not enough on the remaining characters of the film. Reed and Ben, who are ultimately the film’s main focus, wind up monopolizing too much of the picture, and any time we see Johnny it’s when he’s right in the middle of making a smug comment or being his typical, flirtatious self.

The action in Fantastic Four has a colorful commercial look to it, brilliantly bold and very vibrant in a way that makes many of the scenes pop with life. It manages to achieve a comic book aesthetic without resorting to picture-in-picture editing. One particularly involving scene takes place on a suspension bridge, where The Thing is seen pummeling everything in his sight and the remaining three members of the team must resort to either relaxing him or protecting drivers and innocent bystanders.

The goofiness in Fantastic Four, however, in an age of dark superhero films that come with slick aesthetics and brooding characters, is a delightful change of pace. Yes, there is a point when one wishes director Tim Story, France, and Frost would command a tighter grip on the seriousness of the writing, but the pulpy fun of Fantastic Four, in addition to the effects and the neatly choreographed action, keep it a moving, satisfying spectacle that is more than just colors flying around on screen, trying to find their place.


7 out of 10 stars


Fantastic Four (2015) – Movie Review

I never liked the 2005 version of “Fantastic Four.” I’ve always considered it a disappointing superhero film. Amazingly, I found myself actually longing for it when I saw the new, rebooted version. Yes, this film is so bad that it almost makes the original seem like a good film. It’s the type of movie that just gets worse and worse and drags on more and more with each passing second.

The picture introduces us to Reed Richards (Miles Teller), a young boy-genius who builds a small teleportation machine in his parents’ garage (Might I add that the film already lost me at this point; seriously, a twelve-year-old builds a TELEPORTATION MACHINE.) After befriending Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) at the junkyard, the two enter an updated machine at the high school science fair seven years down the road. It is here that Reed is noticed by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), who offer him a scholarship at an institute attempting to create a device that can teleport human life to another dimension. Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and former colleague Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) get forced into the plot and help build the machine.

On a drunken night, Reed, Johnny, Victor, and Ben (who randomly gets invited by Reed) decide to up and travel to a planet in another dimension, breaking every rule in the book. Bad things happen, Doom gets left behind, and the others have outstanding abilities when they return. Oh, and Sue gets powers too, but instead of just having her travel with the guys, the screenwriters decided to leave her behind and give her powers when the teleportation machine explodes for some reason…don’t ask why. A year passes with our heroes held in a maximum security location, and then all of a sudden they’re battling Victor (now Dr. Doom presumably) who wants to take over the world without any given motive. Yep, that’s pretty much it…

Director Josh Trank claims that Fox Studios took control of the film from his hands, then took his great product and turned it into this piece of trash. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but it’s pretty evident that he didn’t have control of this picture. The story is nearly unwatchable when put on screen. Nothing exciting, interesting, or intriguing happens for most of the film, then everything happens at once in the last fifteen minutes. Even worse, what does finally happen is nowhere near worth the wait and falls short of anything that can be described as “epic” or “fun.”

The terrible script does not offer much to the actors, but it’s not like they make the most of what they are given. Teller tries much too hard to fit into his character and fix something that just cannot be fixed. Mara and Bell seem like they do not really care at all most of the time. Jordan and Kebbell are really the only ones who “almost” make the most of what they are given, but it’s not enough to save the picture.

The sad truth is that these characters, like the story, are ill-conceived and undeveloped. The filmmakers completely wasted would-be-great characters like The Thing and Dr. Doom (who is only on screen for those last, awful fifteen minutes.) It’s not enough to make the scenes between the Fantastic Four extremely corny (especially during an absolutely unwatchable scene where they attempt to come up with a name); it also gives them no time to develop into a team. These people are barely likable and still seem like strangers when they are finally called into action.

The cinematography was the one aspect of the film that was done right in the first hour. Then, when the need for strong special effects came, the film seemed almost as cartoonish as “The Green Lantern.” In this day and age, where great special effects rule cinema, audiences should not be subjected to the simple, effortless effects seen here.

“Fantastic Four” might have been watchable if it seemed as though those involved actually tried to create an acceptable product. When watching this film, I wondered if the filmmakers even watched the final picture. Then I wondered if they had any idea what they were doing while making the film, because it seems as though they just threw it together like a crappy collage. Apparently, there is already a sequel in the works. It may be a terrible idea, but at least Fox has put the sequel in a situation where it can’t possibly be worse than the first installment. Then again, I never say never. Perhaps it’s best for the Fantastic Four to pack their bags and follow Spider-Man over to Marvel Studios.


1 out of 10 stars