Monday, April 3, 2017

Thank You Undertaker- The End of a Phenomenal Era

Words, possibly one of my most loyal and effective tools I've ever come to use, almost fail me at this exact moment... I ask that you please bear with me, as I feel like my mind is still floating from what I have just witnessed. There are without a doubt a metric ton of thoughts and emotions swirling in my skull right this instant as I desperately struggle to find the correct locutions to write in the following paragraphs.

While I could type at a severely in-depth length about the respective highs and lows of Wrestlemania 33, the big take-away (and what's sure to be the talk of the town for easily the next month in the wrestling world) is how at this year's major pay-per-view event, The Undertaker, a veritable living legend, an icon of the sports entertainment industry, a monolithic fixture of which there is no equal, and one of my all-time favorite wrestlers ever just symbolically announced his retirement less than a mere twenty four hours of me writing this very post.

A legend stands tall one final time.
As my friends and I watched the near eight hour long show come to a close, we were all racked with frustration on some level or another as Undertaker lost the main event match he had with Roman Reigns.

It was far from a great bout on any level for sure (seeing how there were at least two botched spots that derailed a good deal of the fight's momentum) but as that final three count was made, and the cameras lingered, I think we all knew deep down in our guts that something else was about to happen. Something we didn't really want to see...

Undertaker stood up, dawned his iconic black hat/coat attire, and stood solemnly in the ring for a solid three minutes as the audience cheered over his 'Graveyard Symphony' theme music. As he began his slow exit from the squared circle, all seemed to go as normal, like Undertaker would carry his loss like a man, and come back ready for combat another day.

The Undertaker leaves it all behind.
That is until Taker stopped his exit mid-stride and returned to the center of the ring. He unwrapped his gloves and lay them on the canvas. He shed his long coat, folding it small, and placed it on top of the gloves. Then with a solitary deep breath, he discarded his hat, setting it atop the pile.

We all watched in a nearly stunned silence as Undertaker was quietly performing the classic (as well as traditional) ritual of a in-ring retirement.

They say that when your career is coming to a close, you go out putting another person over, and that you leave your gimmick in the ring. Taker did the job by putting Reigns over in the match, and as is per tradition, left the character of The Undertaker in the ring where he belongs. In that last moment as he stepped through the ropes, he wasn't the phenom, the embodiment of Wrestlmania, or even THE UNDERTAKER anymore.

He was simply just Mark William Calaway now, and as Mr. Calaway took that crowning look from the grandest of all stages, it was clear that perhaps the greatest of superstars in all of professional wrestling's history was officially done. The emotions painted on his face said all there was that could ever need to be said without saying a single damn word. As he walked with a tired and haggard gait, he kissed his wife (former wrestler) Michelle McCool, who was sitting in the front row, while gently patting their young daughter Kala Faith Calaway's head.

The somewhat comically elongated ramp-way that we spent most of the night making in fun of, seemed that much more lengthened as the former seven-time world champion made his concluding walk amidst the ceaselessly cheering 75,000 fans. The copious chants of "Thank you Taker!" "Please don't go!" and "One more match!" echoed throughout the sold-out arena. With a protracted glance over his shoulder, one could tell that this alone could be up there as one of hardest things this man has ever done, but it didn't stop him from raising his fist.

Not as a sign of a personal victory, but as a sign of a legacy. This was a salute to us, the passionate fans who made him one of the truly greatest names to ever grace a card over the course of his amazing twenty five plus year career. This was a salute to an industry that has enriched so many people's lives, and it's something we all built together with him. This ultimate gesture was just as much ours as it was his.

This was a shared legacy. One that will never be repeated.

Do please pardon my long winded recounting of events there, as I feel I needed to write it down, so as to make it real in my own mind.

The Undertaker (as I mentioned earlier) is my all-time favorite pro-wrestler, and it's with a heavy heart I bid farewell to someone who (I never had the honor of meeting in person, or seeing live) has been so immensely influential in my life. I don't type these words lightly either. I truly do mean it when I say that The Undertaker is right up there for me with the likes of Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, and a select handful of other things that defined not only my childhood, but would affect my own personal development as a human being.

When I first started watching wrestling, I was just five years old. As my brother and I saw The Undertaker's debut at the 1990 Survivor Series, where he was introduced by Ted Dibiase, I recall how I immediately gravitated to Undertaker for (to be blunt) shallow reasons. At first I didn't really understand who Undertaker was. There was no concept in my head with regards to faces and heels, good guys and bad guys. All my young mind could fathom was that he looked somewhat like my dad (mostly because of the intimidating size and long dark hair) so I just liked him for that reason alone. The Undertaker reminded me of my father, and that was enough to get me cheering for him.

The many faces of one man.
As time went on, and I grew into my adolescence, I came to appreciate all the subtle little nuances of Taker's work far more due in part to his totally awesome, yet incredibly versatile "Dead Man" gimmick. From his glorious ring attire and entrances, to his campy over-the-top promos, to his mind-game shenanigans, there wasn't a single time I didn't enjoy Taker to the absolute fullest.

What can I say? He was like witnessing a dark-hero type comic book character come to life before my very eyes! What's not to love?

I can still vividly recollect some of my favorite Undertaker moments from the past quarter century as if they were still yesterday. The sensation of a chill running up my spine, along with my hands trembling when he made his triumphant return to face Kane at Wrestlemania for the first time (all the way back in '98) remains as one of the best promos I've ever had the privilege of watching on a live Monday Night Raw. I couldn't sleep the night that one happened, or all the following Monday nights leading up to that Mania.

That original feud with Kane (along with pro-wrestling as a whole) is what taught me the fundamentals on how to write characters.

Even when the gimmick jumped over to a far more realistic tinge with the "American Badass" and "Big Evil" monikers I remained a fan through and through. Despite the dreadful Limp Bizkit entrance music, the somewhat lame motorcycle riding, and the talk of "big dogs" and "yards" and shouts to "old-school" and such. It was nice, if not refreshing to see Taker become more akin to his real-life self.

I'll openly concede that despite my love for the more campy, comic style silliness of old-school wrestling, the more realistic edge to the gimmick did add a certain degree of authenticity to his actions, but at heart I knew eventually not only I, but everyone else wanted to see him do a return to being the proper reaper of men.

High time to get back to diggin' holes and takin' souls.

I have no shame in admitting that there are inarguable visual ques and aspects I've taken directly from the Dead Man himself. I wear a long black trench coat with a black wide-rimmed fedora, purely because it makes me feel somewhat like The Undertaker whenever I adorn them. Hell, I even make it a point to grow my hair long with a goatee, just so I could emulate him and my father as much as I can.

It's a regular part of my fashion that I joyously indulge presently, and will continue to do so until I no longer can.

My love doesn't stop there either, as I honestly do have characters that I've created in my past (as well as current) fiction who were deliberately pulled from my adoration of this lone character. The very first fanfiction work I ever attempted to write was an Undertaker comic book that would chronicle his feud with his kayfabe brother Kane. It was in a much more supernatural setting, but one that would stay true to the emotional essence of the phenomenal story line that was being told in the ring every Monday night on Raw.

I still have all those original notes and sketches for the idea to this very day...

Amusingly enough, practically less than a year later Chaos comics would legitimately kick out an actual Undertaker comic book, and it was (oddly enough) not too far off from what my immature mind had concocted. This comic was easily one of the coolest, yet dumbest bits of 90's era comic schlock I ever did read, and I absolutely loved it. Taker was the ruler of a Stygian Hell Prison, he had awesome lightning powers, fought demons disguised as wrestlers, and even had his rivalry with Kane recreated (along with Mankind for good measure) so that they could have superpowered brawls. I did so many extra chores around the house during those days, just so that I could get the allowance necessary to buy the special edition of Wizard Magazine that had the issue zero to that series attached, not mention the rest of the issues.

All because of my undying fandom for The Undertaker.

It can never truly be understated how much of a cornerstone Undertaker has been not only in my life, but that of my friends, and family too. We're all Taker fans at the core, and just over the course of dealing with the wake of this announcement, my best friend/roommate Matt and I were driven to near tears reflecting on our love for this man and his performances.

Having the likes of Jim Ross (a damn good legend in his own right) return to commentate on Taker's last match hit us both right in the feels. There was no better man than J.R. to convincingly pull off the job, and getting to hear one last "By Gawd!" from the BBQ man was enough to get us waxing nostalgic. Never mind that simply us stepping back (while taking a few shot of liquor in honor of Taker's career) and reflecting for a moment, had us really contemplating on the long term affects Undertaker's career has had. From his influence resulting in tons of cross-pollinated gimmicks, to so many other legends he's helped make by his own hand, it's downright awe inspiring at the least.

As surviving 90's kids this truly is the end of an era, but proof positive that we lived through one of the best periods in wrestling ever.

I can almost hear the future generations of fans asking about The Undertaker. Who was he? How did his goofy gimmick ever work? I'm sure to them he'll almost seem like a fairy tail when we recount the stories, like something we made up to lord over them about "The good 'ol days of when we were young" or some such, but deep down I think we all know what The Undertaker ultimately is. He IS wrestling. He's the spirit of wrestling made flesh, and only once in a lifetime can someone bear witness to the majesty of something that intensely pure.

There will never been another Undertaker in this lifetime, or any lifetime for that matter.

In this closing statement I want to take one last opportunity to simply say Thank You Taker directly to the man myself. I don't think I'll ever truly be able to articulate all the sentiments I wish to share, or could ever impart. It's just too surreal right now, but if it's all the same...

Thank you Undertaker/Mr. Calaway for all the long nights you spent on the road, for well over two decades of your life. Thank you for pushing through the near countless injuries, only to come back and put on a spectacular show for us all to see and remember. Thank you for inspiring an entire generation of new wrestlers, as well as an entire generation of fans. Thank you for being exactly what wrestling needed when it needed you. Thank you for all the moments of blood, sweat, and tears that will last with us for a lifetime. Thank you above all else for being there for me, that one lonely kid, who had that dark, yet noble hero I could always look up to, and aspire to be like one day.


"The spirit of The Undertaker lives within the soul of all mankind. The eternal flame of life that cannot be extinguished. The origin which cannot be explained. The answer lies in the everlasting spirit. Soon all mankind will witness the rebirth of The Undertaker. I will not Rest... In... Peace..."

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Memoriam- R.I.P. Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson: October 27, 1948 - March 18, 2017
On March 18, 2017 prolific comicbook artist and character creator Bernie Wrightson (at the age of 68) tragically lost his battle with brain cancer after retiring this past January. He is survived by his second wife Liz Wrightson, and his two sons.

It is with a solemn and heavy heart that I write these following words today. For with this post we are bidding farewell to one of the comic industry's most influential, inspiring, and downright incredible artists to have ever lived.

Inspired by the likes of fellow iconic artists Frank Frezetta and Graham Ingels, Wrightson started out his career as a quiet and humble illustrator working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper. Despite those small beginnings, it can never be understated how much Mr. Wrightson was without a singular doubt, a veritable legend in the comics industry himself.

Having co-created some of superhero comics more notable creature characters, such as the likes of Swamp Thing and Abby Holland (w/writer Len Wein) as well as Destiny (w/writer Marv Wolfman) for DC Comics, Wrightson was also known of his near metric ton of illustrative work for the horror comics genre. Working with such notable authors like Stephen King, Wrightson's efforts can be seen with such titles as Cycle of the Werewolf, the comic adaptation of King's anthology horror film Creepshow, and even The Dark Tower series. Wrightson has even been featured on the front of Meatloaf album covers, and is perhaps best known for his immaculate black and white penned images on Frankenstein.

Regardless of how one may be aware of Bernie Wrightson, his flawlessly fantastic works have more than certainly made his presence known for not only an entire genre of entertainment, but perhaps even more so to an entire generation of fans, and the generations yet to come.

Even after all these long years, I still remember my initial encounter with Bernie Wrightson's material. Back when I was just but a wee-aspiring artist at the age of seven, I found myself absolutely enamored by Wrightson's sublime pen and ink work on the illustrated version he did of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein novel. When I checked it out of my local library, and got home to read it proper, the images in that book were like nothing I had ever seen before. His poetic use of light and shadow blew my impressionable mind, and his meticulous hatching work on those pages still inspire me, to this very day, to create as much light, volume and texture into my own drawings as I can.

Upon taking note of Wrightson's name (and becoming a fan for life) I made it a point to start collecting his work in other mediums wherever I could. This inevitably lead me to his sequentials on the Swamp Thing series, as well as his issues on The Shadow. While those comics may have been way prior to my generational type of fan, it didn't stop me from diving headlong into those floppies.

That right there is the true beauty and testament to Wrightson's body of art over the years. His efforts bridged the gaps that existed between the generations. Here I was, a kid in the 90's, reading Swap Thing and Shadow issues from the 70's. How does that one happen?

I think it's safe to say that Mr. Bernie Wrightson's phenomenal works helped me (as well as countless other fans and other artists the world over) to acquire and shape a life-long love for all things pulp and creature feature in some way, shape, or form.

In these last words I simply wish to say thank you to Bernie Wrightson. Thank you for all the long nights you stayed up trying to hit a deadline. Thank you for staying true to yourself during the times when the comics industry didn't appreciate you like it should have in its early and formative years. Thank you for forming "The Studio" with Jeff Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Mike Kaluta, so that you could create art free of the rampant commercialism plaguing comics. Thank you for creating such magnificently macabre masterpieces for us all to indulge. Thank you for teaching me in your video lectures how important it was to create an image in your mind, before you create an image on paper. Thank you most of all for being a hometown Baltimore hero and shaking my hand all the way back at Baltimore Comic Con '08. You looked over my art, said you loved the sense of volume my characters had, and above all, you told me to never stop drawing...

Well Bernie, I'm still here, and I'm going to keep on drawing!

Here's to you Mr. Wrightson! God Speed sir! God Speed! 

The very image that made me love Wrightson's work forever.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Logan- Review

The last in line.
This can be a somewhat sobering and semi-surreal thought for sure, but one that essentially permeates everything in a sense. Time is the apex predator of all things, and is always moving towards the inevitable pounce upon its prey. People we love will be lost, fixtures in our lives will crumble, and eventually we, the individuals reading these very words, will one day no longer be here. Our efforts, our achievements, and even our very memories are but transient elements destined to be a faded forgotten fraction of a moment in the cosmos.

I've wrestled with this existential thought on many a solemn night for almost over tens years, but no matter how I try to turn it, or rationalize it in my mind, nothing can change the fact that we're all eventually victims of time at one point or another. The question has never been a matter of "if" only "when" and did you value the time that you had? This notion holds true, even in the realm of fiction, and especially for the likes of the immortal mutant Wolverine.

Created 45 years ago by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Romita Sr. in 1974, Wolverine (a.k.a. Logan/James Howlett) has been a mainstay cornerstone within the genre of superhero comics. For many fans the world over, Wolverine exists as a veritable comicbook legend among his contemporary peers like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman, consistently being listed as one of the greatest characters in superhero fiction of all time.

Be it his tragic past, his charmingly gruff demeanor, or his ruthless fighting prowess, viewers have their reasons for loving the character as much as they do, for as long as they have. I'll admit that even I am a bit of a Wolverine fan at heart, but despite his immense popularity, and his seemingly timeless nature (due to his uncanny ability to heal from any wound) Logan isn't completely immune to the affects of entropy. Time has finally come to claim Wolverine.

In the year 2029, mutankind is on the verge of total extinction. For reasons unknown mutants begin to no longer have children and the once prolific species quickly, and suddenly dies off. One of the few remaining X-Men, Logan (going by his birth name James Howlett) manages to survive the mysterious mutant plague, and maintains a low profile in southern Texas, by working as a chauffeur. Together with the mutant Calaban, Logan provides care for a senile and ailing Professor Charles Xavier, just south of the Mexican border.

Life is dismal and difficult for the trio, as Xavier suffers from memory loss and incredibly powerful/dangerous psychic seizures in his old age. After a particularly violent episode of seizures, Xavier claims to feel the presence of a new mutant somewhere in the world. Logan dismisses this as nothing more than the wandering thoughts of a frail and demented mind, until Gabriella (a nurse working for Transigen Corp.) seeks out his aid to escort an eleven year old mutant girl (Laura) north to Canada, to a supposed safe haven called "Eden."

Reluctantly taking the job, Logan gathers what little he can, and sets out for the Canadian border. Time isn't on his side though, as the ominous Transigen corporation seems dead-set on capturing Laura by any means necessary, and follows in hot pursuit. All the while, Logan is slowly succumbing to the affects of aging himself. The healing abilities that made him nearly invincible seem to be faltering, as his once mighty frame is now racked with scars and wounds. Does Logan have enough strength, humanity, and time left in his haggard soul to survive one last desperate mission? Can the last X-Man see to it that the young mutant Laura is safely delivered across into Eden?   

Before I go any further, I think I should let this one factoid gestate in the skull for a moment. It has been a whole seventeen years, nearly two entire decades, since Hugh Jackman first brandished those iconic adamantium claws of Wolverine. Despite the notably huge gap from back then til now, I can still vividly remember when I first saw Jackman in the initial X-Men trailer. I felt a literal chill run up my spine when he sublimely snikted! out those three classic claws, unveiling them for all the world to see. All that I could process at that moment was that it was real, X-Men as a live-action movie was finally happening. Cut to July 14th, of 2000, and as an early birthday present, I'm given tickets to go see X-Men opening weekend. As I went in to watch the first installment to what would become a full-blown film franchise, I could see there were tons of five year old children in the audience, all just as excited as me to witness this hallmark event. Those very same five year olds who watched that flick with me that night, are all now old enough to legally purchase alcohol, and are probably well into college.

What I'm trying to drive at here is that there's a lot of history and investment when it comes to the X-Men film series, let alone Jackman's storied run with the character of Wolverine. Despite the failures and missteps that have been taken in the past, it's undeniable that people have literally grown up, knowing/accepting Jackman as one of the most pervasive faces of superhero cinema for the majority of their young lives. Even for an older fan like me, Jackman and the X-Men films have (for lack of a better term) been a pillar to the comicbook movie empire that's been constructed over the better part of the last twenty years. It's quite frankly because of the critical and financial success of X-Men (as well as Blade in 1999) that comic-to-film adaptations even became a major priority for Hollywood during the early 2000's. 

Having to carry that heavily weighted history of essentially an entire genre on its back, and possessing the meta-context that Logan was set to be Hugh Jackman's final portrayal of what's been without a doubt his most recognized role (along with the indelible Patrick Stewart leaving the part of Xavier behind as well) I think it was a safe assumption on my end to make that everyone in the audience wanted/needed this last installment to be more than just your average comicbook movie. Logan needed to excel in every facet of its execution in order to please the long-time fans. It needed to be bold, to have heart, and to be a definitive statement on the character of Wolverine.

Did it do it? Did Logan manage to exceed expectations and reinvigorate the comicbook movie genre? I'll say that it did just that...mostly.

Gritty and bloody, but deeply character driven.
I without a doubt enjoyed Logan in its totality quite a bit, and I do honestly feel that it's a fairly solid send-off to a much vaunted actor's body of work that lasted well over his prime years, but the flick does unfortunately suffer from a few hiccups along the way to its conclusion.

But let's dive in to what Logan does right first. Up front, the biggest and best thing I can say about the picture is that it does manage to surpass a lot of the typical comic-based stylings we've come to expect these days. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe films, but they're not exactly scoring home-runs with every one that comes out. There is a certain mediocrity to some of Marvel's movies, and I'd be remiss if I didn't call them out on it at least a little bit. We all know both Thor films weren't very well executed, and Doctor Strange was your bog-standard origin story we've seen far too often.

While I can agree with some critics in the regard that Logan lacks a complex plot, I personally feel the simplicity of the plot is gloriously deceptive of the meta-narrative depths of not only the genre, but the perception of comicbook characters as a whole. This is easily one of the best bits of doing a subversive study right in a story, while simultaneously embracing the defining tropes of genre film-making.  

Logan is for, all intents and purposes, what Unforgiven was for the wild-west genre, except for comicbook movies, and that's definitely not a bad thing. Much like how Unforgiven represented a send-off for Clint Eastwood's career in wild-west films, it also serves as an introspective dissertation on the wild-west genre. Logan does much the same, because if I had to be quite honest, Logan exists as not only a film marking the end of an era for the X-Men franchise going forward, it also exists as a semi-introspective meditation on the whole comic-film genre, and where it may be going in the very near future. Much like the world that's set up in Logan, the landscape of superhero cinema itself is potentially on the cusp of a major paradigm shift, or even an eventual/possible collapse. With pieces like Deadpool, Logan itself, and even the success of Marvel's own Daredevil netflix (and sister) series, we could be seeing changes with how these intellectual properties are approached creatively sooner rather than later.

What is that change you ask? That change could be a far more staunch focus on making comic adaptations Rated-R, or at least making a notable shift into the direction of tackling more mature tones/subject matters. Sure, the enormous, bombastic, action scenes that have come to define the genre are nice and all, but as time has worn on, I think fans are developing a more complex palette for stories. Logan provides a more character rich depiction than we're used to getting from this ilk, and all of the film's best parts work in service to its tone, which leads into why Logan had to be Rated-R. If this movie was moved to PG13, it just wouldn't have had the same impact with its tone.

Any semi-savvy film buffs can see that Logan wears its influences on its sleeve with pride, and James Mangold (reprising his position as director from his previous X-Men effort The Wolverine which I previously reviewed here) comes at the material of the story with a much more emotionally nuanced take on the characters and the world they inhabit. There is a tone and texture to Logan that we haven't really seen before (or at least often) in the slew of comic-based predecessors of the modern era (outside of Marvel's Daredevil) and the somewhat risky nature still associated with those sort of decisions actually lends itself well to the overall vibe of the feature. This movie manages to feel both fresh and distinguished among the ocean of its more risk-aversion peers, and while some may scoff at Logan, calling it nothing more than a unapologetic ripoff of the videogame The Last of Us, or proclaim that it's merely a shallow/cheap cash grab on a floundering film franchise, I'd say to those people that they didn't really watch the same movie I did.

Hugh Jackman turns in what is more than likely going to go down as one of his best performances of not only the Wolverine character, but perhaps of his career. Despite still cutting an impressive physique for the role, you can tell that Jackman is channeling all the hard years he's put into portraying the immortal mutant. There is a clear, yet still subtle injection of world-weary weight with every scene he's in, that plays into not only how exhausted Logan is in the story, but also how exhausted Jackman has become over the years from embodying Logan.

Unfortunately, I can't really pierce the depths of the character performances much more without fundamentally spoiling the film, so I'll simply state that the on-screen chemistry Jackman has with the likes of fellow leads in Patrick Stewart's Xavier, Steve Merchant's Calaban, or Dafnee Keen's Laura is palpable from start to finish. There is an authenticity to the character drama, and even when the interactions take on a more comedic nature (mostly to provide a small degree of levity) they're quick, with no performance ever feeling irrespective of Logan's overall tone. This is easily one of the most consistently well acted of the X-Men films, and it'll be a downright crying shame if the academy award shows out there (I'm looking at you Oscars) don't put their biases aside, and acknowledge the fantastic work on offer here.

One last snikted! One last time.

Visually, Logan is hands-down resplendent with some of the strongest cinematography the X-Men franchise has probably ever seen. The dry yellows and oranges of the desert shots, juxtaposed with the washed-out cool greens of the cold north sequences compliment beautifully. From the opening frame of Logan stepping out of his limo, into a parking lot saturated by inky blacks and neon pinks, one can easily tell that Logan's is different from its predecessors. While this is ultimately a comicbook movie at heart, this has all the hallmarks and visual language ques of a modern western. Solid camera work is something the X films have noticeably lacked for a long while now, and Logan even addresses that by keeping all of the action in frame and easy to follow. There is a notable lack of quick cuts, and an emphasis on longer takes, more than likely meant to ground the events, while also showcasing the strong performances from the cast. Thankfully this also means that by the time the blood-soaked climax hits, we get to see Wolverine doing his Wolverine thing in full cinematic glory.

Make no mistake, this is the violent depiction of Logan we've all been waiting for. While I highly appreciated the truly awesome cameo of Weapon X in X-Men: Apocalypse (and it's rage fueled magnificence) this film goes above and beyond full-bore with its brutality. Displaying some of the most nasty, yet righteous kills to Wolverine's name, every blow feels wet and meaty. Knowing that Logan's healing powers are dwindling makes even the act of Logan's claws coming out look extremely painful, and it makes for some excellent tension throughout the action beats. The only shame I would say is that we never got Jackman in a proper Wolverine costume doing this caliber of carnage.

Marco Beltrami reprises his role as composer for Logan, and once again he infuses the score with splendid spaghetti western overtones, albeit with a much more controlled hand. The twangs on a lone, almost out of tune acoustic guitar punctuates much of Logan's respective scenes, and emphasizes the haggard state of his character excellently. Thankfully Beltrami and Mangold both know when to dial back and just let the ambiance of a scene build with little to no music at all, making for when the tracks do kick in, they add style and flare.

Now while I have been showering Logan with tons of praise, I do feel that it suffers from two major issues and that is almost the entirety of the second act, and its lackluster villains. Without going too deep into spoilers, our crew ends up on a farm for a somewhat protracted amount of time that (while serving as a somewhat decent character building moment) ultimately goes on for far too long in my eyes. A family is introduced that ultimately goes nowhere and does little to add to the main cast of characters, let alone to the stakes of the narrative. While it does lead to one powerful scene in its wake, it unfortunately breaks up what was otherwise a nearly flawless experience. Had the sequence been shortened or perhaps even cut, I think we would have had a film that moved along at an otherwise fantastic pace. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it does stand as a noticeable blemish on an otherwise immaculately paced piece of work.

Despite the immense strength of the main cast, the villains (a.k.a. The Reavers working for the Transigen corp.) are severely underdeveloped, and lack any sense of presence beyond being fodder for a Wolverine slaughter. The head of Transigen is your typical evil dude who only wants to see mutant-kind destroyed, and comes off as painfully cliche' at points. Donald Pierce does have some charm to him, but has little screen-time to really unfurl his character and make him truly memorable. I don't want to say that any one performance is necessarily bad, but they are somewhat bland in the end.   

Overall, Logan is a must see for not only X-Men movie fans, but comicbook movie fans in general. This is more than likely going to go down as a veritable classic in the annals of superhero cinema, as it may be marking a touchstone for where the genre could be going in the very near future. As a send-off to Jackman's portrayal of the iconic Wolverine, I thinks it's one of the best good-byes we could honestly ask for, as the man gives one of the best performances of his whole career. After all the bloody conflicts are said and done, come the credits you may potentially find yourself fighting back some tears. Knowing that this is the end for such an influential character that has helped to lay the foundations of the comic-film smorgasbord we're enjoying today is a heavy sensation, but one that feels gratifying in its closure.

The only thing I can say now is thank you Hugh Jackman for all the years and all the memories. God speed with your future en devours sir!

Postive Factors

  • Perhaps one of the strongest solo outings for the Wolverine films. Emotionally textured, layered and nuanced.
  • Jackman gives one of the best performances he's ever done with the character. 
  • Supporting main cast is consistently solid, with excellent on-screen chemistry between the leads.
  • Fantastic cinematography that's both stylish and comprehensive.
  • Rated-R action that compliments the tone of the picture wonderfully. Some of Logan's most glorious kills are on feature.
  • Music is rustic and ambient, knowing exactly when to kick into high gear.
  • This is the end of an era, and stands as on hell of a good-bye from Jackman to the role of Wolverine.

Negative Factors

  • The entire second act feels like it could have been substantially cut down or removed altogether. Worse part of the movie.
  • Villains have little to no presence within the narrative and lack any substantial development or nuance.

Final Rating: Splenderiffic! (Blenderiffic! if you're into some gloriously gory Wolverine wreckage!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Blood Code Radio- Broadcast 5

Greetings once again DA faithful!

The latest installment to BCR (Blood Code Radio) has just gone live. I'm joined by my good friends Clear Skies, and Geoff 'Zilof' Stoop for an at length discussion about the latest release in the Shantae videogame series, along with the current resurgence we're seeing in regards to 2-D style gaming in the mainstream/independent game markets.

Before tuning in though, I'd like to disclose that Geoff and I were backers to the Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero kickstarter.

I'd also like to extend an advanced apology for the somewhat garbled sound quality on this broadcast. We were at Magfest at the time of the recording, and there was a ton of background noise due to an entire convention going on around us. Maybe next time we'll try to find a more quiet corner of the venue...

All the same, I hope you all enjoy the conversation, which you can find here. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

You have just entered the Blood Code!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Katt o' Nine Tails- Fanart

Here's a quick piece of gift art I did for my good friend Krazy Krow, the creator of the amazingly fun webcomic Spinnerette. Katt o' Nine Tails has always been a favorite of mine, simply because I'm a sucker for her French-Canadian design. While I like the overall expression/composition of the piece, I do wish that I that had a bit more time to put toward detailing the hair on her head and tails.

All the same, Krow really seemed to like it, so I guess all's well that ends well...

As for materials used, I used a XS, S, and M, Faber pen for the inks, and Copic Markers for the colors. The paper is custom, and is on 5x7 in. card-stock boards.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Death Race 2050- Review

The immortal Frankenstein rides again!
Move over Mad Max: Fury Road, take a hike Fast and the Furious franchise, blow it out your rear Snowpiercer, because a new post-apocalyptic bad boy filled to the brim with high-octane, over-the-top automobile action and scathing social commentary is on the mean streets, and its name is none other than Death Race 2050 from Roger Corman!

For those not in the know, producer Roger Corman is perhaps one of the most prolific producers in cinema history, whose influence on the medium can truly never be understated. Corman practically invented the whole idea of the independent genre film, and once more he returns (at the age of 90 no less) to reclaim his rightful title as King of the Cult Classics. Having been responsible for the creation of hundreds of influential movies worldwide, tons of directors and actors all owe a certain debt of gratitude to Corman in one way or another.

Despite being a fan of Corman's seminal bloodbath original, Death Race 2000 (probably one of his best known and most beloved works) and having access to the internet, I feel somewhat ashamed in admitting that this flick almost went completely under my radar. Thankfully I was able to make good on watching this cacophonous chorus of carnage recently, and I can't honestly think of a better film to open 2017 with. 

In today's day and age we simply just don't get films like this anymore. As a child of the mid 80's to early 90's, I grew up in a time when B-movies ruled the airwaves and cable networks like Sci-Fi and Cinemax. Sure they were schlocky and hokey, but they were also inspired and creative. While a shamefully small handful of them are still around today (such as Sharknado) I've gotta be frank and say that they just don't make them like they used to.

The year is 2050, and the civilized world as we know it is in complete shambles. Overpopulation has lead to widespread famine, and automation of labor has created a massive 99% unemployment rate. As the global economy collapses, the once mighty USA is reformed as the UCA (United Corporations of America) and it is lead by a lone leader known only as "The Chairman". As a means of population control, the Death Race is formed. An overtly sexualized, ultra-violent, cross-country race where the competitors gain points by killing pedestrians.

Of all the drivers, none are more popular than Frankenstein, the reigning champion, and this year's race looks to be an especially brutal one for him. New racers such as Jed Perfectus (a genetically grown super athlete) A.B.E. (an A.I. controled car) Tammy the Terrorist (a zealous cult leader) and Minerva Jefferson (a famous rap artist) all enter the fray, looking to claim Frankenstein's title. To make matters worse, seeds of a rising resistance to the current corporate power structure is making its first move to take back the country. With the odds stacked against him, can Frankenstein win the race, or is he set to become the next name on the long list of latest victims?

To be fair, this doesn't seem that far off from actually happening.

Written by the duo of G.J. Echternkamp (who also directed the film) and Matt Yamashita, Death Race 2050 stands as a beautiful example of not only how to properly remake a cult classic, but also how to effectively mix elements like black comedy with unapologetic social commentary. As much as I enjoyed the 2008 Death Race remake featuring Jason Stathom, I felt that version lacked the distinct bite of the original. A substantial amount of the humor was missing, and the narrative was devoid of the commentary that defined the original.

With this installment, there's a clear and obvious effort being made to have this flick actually be about something over the somewhat shallow action set-pieces of the 2008 version. Much like its predecessor, this spiritual sequel/remake takes more than its fair share of pot-shots at the mundanity of popular culture and its consumption. Be it the drivel of modern music, to the corporate media at large, to the rampant celebrity/idol worship, there almost isn't a single area Death Race 2050 doesn't touch upon in gloriously crass fashion, and I'm all the more glad for it. But it doesn't stop there, as it also retains themes from the original such as the conscious sedation and somnolence of society to the likes of becoming numb to violence, mass surveillance, and blatant political corruption. While it's far from the definition of subtle, and I'm sure there are those who will more than likely perceive it as being a way too on the nose jab at modern culture, I think it's also fair to point out that subtlety is not exactly a stated goal for this movie, nor is it in the style/method of a Corman piece.

Frankenstein enters the race.
In terms of casting, I would dare to say that Death Race 2050 is pretty damn solid all around, if not one of the best casting lists I've seen in years. Every part fits the actors chosen, making no one feel remotely out of place, and all of the archetypes they portray support/enhance the overall themes of the film. Like I said before, it isn't often we get movies like this.

Manu Bennett (of Arrow fame) is the leather-clad lead of a beastly cyborg that is Frankenstein, and is ultimately the core of the whole experience. Coming to the part with a slightly comedic masculine gruffness, Bennett is simultaneously amusing, and badass. The veritable icon that is Frankenstein in the Death Race world feels like it has weight with him, and as the narrative unfolds, his motivations become more and more clear, to the point that, even if you didn't like him at the start, by the film's end you can at least understand his goals. Unlike Stathom, who came at the role as pretty much himself, Bennett brings a much appreciated self-awareness to the character that actually serves to enhance the themes, coupled with his excellent chemistry with the supporting cast.

Marci Miller as Annie Sullivan (a navigator for the race who also serves as Frankenstein's virtual proxy passenger) is absolutely charming in her role, and has a great sense of comedic timing in several scenes. The celluloid legend that is Malcolm McDowell takes on the part of the "The Chairman" with class and crass, fitting the character like a tailor-made glove. From his glamorously fop (and perhaps even Elton John inspired) wardrobe, to his obvious comb-over toupee, to his clear lack of leadership skills, everything about "The Chairman" is meant to reference today's political climate with scorching fervor. Even the somewhat small role of Yancy Butler as the brutish, no-nonsense leader of the fledgling (and charmingly stupid) resistance stands as a ludicrous lampoon to modern public discourse.

None stand nearly as uproariously tall though as Burt Grinstead who plays Jed Perfectus to immensely hilarious aplomb. This character is easily the film's best feature, as Jed is literally a genetic product of the Death Race world. If Frankenstein represents heroes of a by-gone era, Perfectus is a representation of the homogeneity of modern action leads. From his self-aggrandizing narcissistic attitude towards every aspect of the world around him, to his overly sensitive temperament and hyperbolic outbursts, Jed not only reflects the extensive fiction he exists in, but also serves as a road-sign to what a future American generation may be heading towards. Regardless of what his character represents, Grinstead camps it up for the camera, and it's hard, if not downright impossible, not to come away loving his performance.

Truly a master-craft of automobile design.

Visually Death Race 2050 is an insane, gory, macabre, masterpiece. Despite my dubious praise though, you won't find me denying it that this movie looks cheap as all hell. The notoriously frugal Corman still utilizes all of the tools at his disposal, and makes this flick feel almost like a celebration of all the different methods used in its creation. Intentionally shot with as minimum of a budget as possible, every aspect of the movie reflects a dour world that's only holding on by a thread, essentially making for a meta joke on the production itself.

For the practical effect hounds out there who loved the delightfully destructive mannequin and dummy work of the original, you'll find plenty to adore.The astoundingly graphic tone of the original is preserved to an immensely faithful degree here, as once the race gets fully underway there is no shortage of severed body parts to liter the fields, or blood squibs to stain the streets. It only gets more gratuitously ridiculous as the plot progresses, and when Death Race 2050 enters its climax, you can certainly tell where most of the budget went.

The cars (while quite obviously made of equal parts plastic and foam) all have unique designs that congeal with the cast, making for vehicles that feel like an extension of their respective characters. Frankenstein's car is a dark and spiky mass seemingly built for the soul purpose of raking up a body count. Jed's ride is garish and streamlined, meant more-so for show and spectacle, rather than results.  A.B.E. looks like a calculator on wheels, and Tammy the Terrorist's jingoistic, all American paint-job is just as obnoxious as she is.

Annie takes ol' Franky to task.
Oddly enough, due to those very same budget constraints, it also means that there is little in the way of jumpy edits, or shaking cam. A lot of these shots are incredibly well framed (probably because they needed to count) providing only the most visceral angles to emphasize speed or impact. At no point do scenes loose focus on whatever is happening in frame, making for some surprisingly effective conveyance of action throughout all the set-pieces. The most post-production editing to find is in the coloring of the movie, which opts for a more saturated palette of hues and inky blacks, giving every sequence a near comicbook feel. Even with with the admittedly cheesy sped up footage for the car chases, or the blatant green screen shots, every moment in Death Race 2050 feels alive and occupied like a classic 70's comic strip.

Combine all of these factors with a deliberate (hell, it's almost reckless) use of casual full-frontal nudity, and you've got a movie that by all margins successfully encapsulates the essence of what made Death Race 2000 such a legendary film experience to begin with.

Perhaps the only area where I feel Death Race 2050 truly does fail to deliver is on its music. While it may be somewhat intentional, I do find the lack of a distinct identity to the score to be a bit saddening. Essentially the backbone of the original was sex, violence, and synth laden rock. Don't get me wrong, the original wasn't exactly a masterstroke of composition by any means, but I feel Gunter and Cindy Brown simply fall on the generic side of the sonic spectrum. Sure, the tracks are easy enough to listen to, don't distract from any moment, and at several points work well with the chaos unfolding on screen, but nothing resonates by the film's end.

The only notable track that I think anyone would take away from the experience is 'Kill, Kill, Kill, Drive, Drive, Drive' and that's only because it's a crappy rap/pop song that's meant to lampoon the insipid, derivative, and uninspired schlock we have in popular music today. If it were up to me, I'd more-so be trying to capture the spirit of those funky synth hooks from Death Race 2000.

In the end, it's hard for me to hate Death Race 2050. This movie is quite possibly now the penultimate example of how to do a fun B-movie correctly in the modern day. While I would never recommend it to anyone as a solo venture (because watching this flick of their own volition by themselves will probably not have nearly the same effect) it's one hell of a good time with friends while it lasts. If you're a fan of the original Death Race like I am, you'll find this to be far more in line with the original's concept than the somewhat soulless 2008 Jason Stathom version. Regardless of where you're coming from though, you'll more than likely laugh at the over-the-top kills, the metric tons of gore, the copious amounts of sex, and the surprisingly savvy script. With the world being as it is right now, I think we could all use something like Death Race 2050 to not only tide us over til the blockbuster season goes into full-swing, but to give us an opportunity to simply take a look at ourselves and have a hearty belly-laugh at the contorted fun-house mirror style reflection staring back at us.

Positive Factors

  • Recaptures the essence of the original Death Race 2000, unlike the dismal 2008 remake. For old-school fans, this is a god-send.
  • A raucously funny film, filled to the brim with black comedy and scathing social commentary. 
  • Beautiful casting, Manu Bennett as Frankenstein provides a solid backbone for the plot, while Jed Perfectus steals the show.
  • Car designs are goofy, but feel like organic extensions of the cast. 
  • Surprisingly solid action cinematography, given the huge budget constraints.
  • Immensely fun to watch with a group of friends.

Negative Factors

  • This movie is cheap, big-time cheap. If you're not on-board with Roger Corman flicks, this isn't going to win you over.
  • While the social commentary does give the film some much needed bite, it's about as subtle as a brick to the skull.
  • The score is devoid of identity. One track is memorable, and it's the most intentionally insipid piece of the whole film.
  • You might want to avoid watching this alone, unless you're that brave

Final Rating: Craptacular!

If you're like me though, there's only one proper response to this film, and that is:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

♫Getting Back to the Roots♫

Greetings faithful readers, and welcome back to another (far too long delayed) installment of Ear Worms, my music section of the site. While I'm sure most of you out there reading are already well ware of this fact, for all the newcomers to the blog, let me make in known once more that I am a long-time, dyed-in-the-wool, full-blown metal head. With that clarification out the of the way, let's just dive right in.

On February 2, 2017 I got to attend what has now been perhaps one of the best concert sets I've ever experienced to date. None other than the legendary vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider (former front-man to the iconic german heavy metal band Accept) was at my local venue (Baltimore Soundstage) for his Back to the Roots North American tour. Performing songs all over the classic Accept catalogue, this was a mandatory matter of attendance for a near life-long Udo/Accept fan such as myself. I knew full-well in my heart of hearts that I absolutely had to be at this concert regardless of circumstance. Otherwise I would've never been able to look at myself in the mirror or forgive the sin of skipping out on such an incredible opportunity to not only see Udo live, but singing the likes of 'Balls to the Wall' or 'Midnight Mover'.

Before Udo could take to the stage proper, we had a couple front liner bands to warm up the crowd, and I can gladly exclaim that neither of them disappointed. First up to bat was Mind Maze, a somewhat prog-edge power-metal band from out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Up until now, I've never heard of them, but after their incredibly strong showing here, I'm more than willing to consider myself a burgeoning fan to their work. The singles 'Breaking the Chains' 'This Holy War' and 'End of Eternity' really resonated with me, and with the promise of a new album to come this April, I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't at least curious to see what was on offer.

Lead vocalist Sarah Teets has an immensely powerful tone to her voice that (for lack of a better description) simply beckons the soul to action. As the songs hit their crescendo, Sarah's cadence remained firm and unwavering, making for some truly inspiring sounds for each track played. The lead guitarist Jeff Teets absolutely slayed with his righteous riffs, and I could tell just from some of his stage antics that he without a doubt loves playing in front of people. Drummer Mark "Truk" Bennet played with expert timing, all the while seemingly trying to match Jeff for flourishes on display while playing, which to be frank, was actually quite fun to watch. Bassist Rich Pasqualone had a distinct rhythmic pulse to all the tracks, and while some in the crowd claimed that he sounded almost non-existent, I could feel his bass thumps in the souls of my feet, and I wear thick boots. Who knows, maybe it had a lot to do with me being right in the front row...?

If I had any real one complaint about their performance, it was that there were a few times Sarah and Jeff almost ran into one anther as they walked about, making for some slightly awkward pauses with the stage motion. Other than that, they killed it up there with an overall solid presence, and some super solid music, and that's all a metal-head like me could honestly ask for at the end of the day.

A Sound of Thunder rocks the Soundstage!
Next up was A Sound of Thunder, and I will once more disclose that I'm on friendly terms with two members of this band. Regardless of my personal connection though, I am first and foremost a fan of their music.

While I do attend their local shows to provide some level of support as a friend, my attendance has been mostly due to the simple fact that I just love watching them perform. Out of a lot of the local bands I've seen, A Sound of Thunder has possessed some of the most beautiful, and downright infectious chemistry/rapport with a crowd I've ever witnessed. They have always given it their all every time I've watched them, and this performance was no exception to that well established rule.

Once on stage, they kicked off with their resoundingly balls-out speed metal track 'Queen of Hell'. Lead singer Nina's blisteringly boisterous banshee wale remained as attention grabbing as it ever has, and it was a fantastic statement of intent for the set that was to come if there ever was one. Interestingly enough, I do think Nina has been working on her lower registers, as every time she had to touch on a more Baritone key, it was notably more textured than previous outings. 

Despite their somewhat short run-time, they did manage to get out some of their more recent and iconic tracks such as 'A Sound of Thunder' 'Tremble' and their totally kickass cover of Manorwar's 'Pleasure Slave', which the crowd ate up with much delight. Lead guitarist Josh continues to amaze me with his stunning fret-work, as some of the chords he cuts are stupid fast, and he makes them look insanely easy to pull off. The closing piece they played before yielding the stage was their biggest online hit 'Udoroth' which they confessed was deeply inspired by Udo Dirkschneider himself. While I would've liked to see more from A Sound of Thunder, it ultimately wasn't their show.

Unfortunately it wasn't much of Udo's show either for a bit, as there were some apparent technical difficulties with the sound system, which resulted in a bit of a delay for the concert. Even though it was only around a twenty minute postponement (which I personally didn't mind the break to be honest) sections of the audience started to become quite restless as time went on. Shouts and chants for Udo to take the stage only grew louder the longer they waited, and I heard over my shoulder how some of the fans were contemplating on demanding a refund and leaving the venue if things didn't change soon. Thankfully the sound did eventually come back up, and without any further disruption, Udo Dirkschneider and co. were in front of the crowd, large and in charge, ready to rock everyone's collective faces off.

Opening up with 'Starlight' and 'Living for Tonite' set the crowd ablaze in a matter of mere seconds, and it was only briefly after that intro did Udo take a moment to address his years-long absence from Baltimore before diving right into the next two songs 'Flash Rockin' Man' and 'London Leatherboys'. What really got my fist pumping though was when they started up 'Midnight Mover' followed immediately by 'Breaker'. The summary on the ticket stub sure as hell wasn't hoaxing when it read that Udo was going to be playing nothing but classic Accept from start to finish. For the next hour Udo dished out other awesome Accept tunes like 'Head Over Heels' 'Neon Night' 'Princess of the Dawn' 'Winter Dreams' 'Restless and Wild' and the ever iconic 'Son of a Bitch'.

Before I go any further into the set, I want to state for the record that I hope I'm still rocking out like Udo when I'm his age. Udo is currently sixty four years old, and even though we can sit back making a ton of jokes about his obvious weight gain, or just calling him "Old-man Udo" I want to point out that the dude still belts it out like it was 1986. Sure he doesn't strike as many badass/fabulous poses as he used to, and his overall stage presence isn't nearly as energetic as it once was, but the rest of the band more than makes up for it. His guitarists Andrey Smirnov and Kasperi Heikkinen dueled perfectly with one another, striking a ton of gloriously photogenic cock-rock poses for the crowd, never mind the occasional borderline-homoerotic interlocking poses they'd strike with Udo and bassist Fitty Wienhold throughout the set.

Andrey Smirnov is having a blast!
After a ludicrously small break, the band came back out on stage, dishing out the goods in full force. Tracks like 'Up to the Limit' 'Wrong is Right' 'Midnight Highway' 'Screaming for a Love-Bite' 'Monsterman' 'T.V. War' 'Losers and Winners' and my personal favorite Accept track 'Metal Heart' were all delivered in short order. To be blunt, this band had one mission after a their respite, and that mission was attack, attack, attack!

As the show began the process of exiting the midpoint, Udo and the band decided to play around with the audience for a little bit, with fun instances like Andrey showing off his superb guitar chops, or drummer Sven Dirkschneider going on a series of continuous rolls that would make any self-respecting percussionist nod in approval.

Of course all good things must eventually come to an end, no matter how metalliferously mighty it may be, and end it they f@cking did! In true metal fashion Udo and co. blew the roof off the building by closing out the show with Accept's biggest, most anthemic hits 'I'm a Rebel' 'Fast as a Shark' 'Balls to the Wall' and 'Burning'.

Getting to do the chorus chant to 'Balls to the Wall' at an Udo concert may go down as one of the most flat-out metal moments of my life, and it will live with me til I die or develop alzheimers. It's kinda funny though, because since the band was performing so spectacularly for close to a whole two hours, they almost couldn't get in a word edge-wise, let alone introduce some of the songs, because the Udo chants started to become too domineering. At one point it looked as if Udo was on the brink of tears, as I'm sure he was touched by the Baltimore fan's clear adoration for him, but I'm fairly certain he's too much of a heavy-metal badass to be even physically capable of crying.

In the end, this was without a doubt one of the best metal concerts I've ever attended, and despite the slight delay in getting Udo up on stage, this show was perfect from start to finish. Not only was the main attraction well worth the price of admission, but the front liners were also amazing, and before I could leave I knew I had to get my hands on the Mind Maze album Mask of Lies, and A Sound of Thunder's new Cover Album Who Do You Think We Are?

If anything else my only real gripe I took way from the event was that I couldn't get my hands on some of the downright kickass swag they had at the merch booth, like Udo's "only slightly used bathrobe" or Udo's actual stage gloves. What I had my eye on getting though was an autographed live CD album from Udo and the band, but those were apparently only limited to a grand total of ten copies available, so obviously those were sold out in mere seconds of the show wrapping.

Thankfully I decided upon hanging around for a few minutes after the crowds died down, and I was greeted by none other than bassist Fitty Wienhold. He asked me if I enjoyed the concert, to which I emphatically told him yes, which lead to me gushing in front of him for about a solid five minutes. I shared with him that this was my first Udo concert and that I really wanted something to commemorate the occasion.

It was then that he reached in his pocket and handed me his guitar pick. With a sly grin, Fitty told me "Those guys may have the album, but they aint got something like this!" Needless to say, I was left almost speechless, and as of this writing I'm still at a loss as to what I should do with the damn thing. Should I frame it? Use it for myself in the hopes that some of Fitty's powers reside in it and will transfer to me?

Putting hyperbole aside, only time will tell now if any other concerts I will attend in the future can ever openly compete with the ultimately unmatched Udo, as this show is now my gold standard measure for all the metal concerts to come. Sorry Blind Guardian, but Udo and the crew just simply killed it here. All the same, I can declare I'm officially satisfied with having had a front row seat to an experience that fundamentally amounted to Mr. Dirschneider's goodbye to a undeniable heavy-metal legacy that will hopefully never, ever be forgotten.

Thank you Udo! Rock on, and God Speed!

A much deserved bow to a mindblowingly awesome show!

P.S.- I do want to give a very special thanks to the Jim Powers youtube channel for providing such awesome footage of the concert.