Monday, December 28, 2015

Between Books - Disney by the Numbers

Disney by the Numbers: Facts and Figures About the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Resorts by Anthony M. Caselnova is a mathematical tour of the Walt Disney World Resort.  Caselnova takes readers through every theme park, hotel, restaurant and more within Walt Disney World providing numerically based facts of the attractions and locations being examined.  Numbers can include ride capacity, tax information, important dates and many more.  

Statistics fans will enjoy this book and find the facts leading to more thoughts and questions.  I have personally made Tom Sawyer Island my standard for capacity questions, and the island is not doing well when compared to the hourly capacity of some many other things.  That is the fun of the book, being able to create your own baselines for exploring the park and comparing apples to apples and apples to oranges within the resort.  

However, you cannot baseline everything as statistics are not consistent.  For example, not every location includes a property value and tax paid figure.  So it is not possible to compare all hotels and restaurants for tax purposes.  And to do deeper comparative dives I wish there was more consistency in the types of numbers shared.

Another issue is the occasional error.  5.8 million hot dogs are sold each year, but 6 million are consumed.  Were 200,000 given out for free?  A bigger error is in the apple strudel department.  The amount of strudel served is represented in both a year and a day.  But the number of slices in the same.  It appears to be a simple error, but perhaps in the case of hot dogs and strudel they should not have been duplicated.

Disney By the Numbers will likely intrigue the mathematically minded Disney fan.  And those of us having problems adding one plus two will probably find some interesting facts within its pages.  I would recommend that one pick up the lower priced Kindle edition as it will not be everyone's happy place and the electronic format provides easy quick search and reference.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Lost Stars

I have been told several times that Star Wars: Lost Stars is the best of the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  And ironically it was the last installment to hit the Between Books shelf.  The journey to this film has had its downs with few ups.  Would Star Wars: Lost Stars be the shining light in this literary preparation?

Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are two youngsters from the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan with nothing in common including culture, history and societal stature.  But they do share a love of flying and a desire to join the Empire as members of the Navy.  The two bond over their hope to abandon their world to explore the galaxy and make it a better place under the Imperial banner.  The two are selected to join an Imperial academy and begin their journey as Imperial citizens.  Though their friendship begins to fracture under the strain of Imperial service.  Eventually, Thane will turn his back on the Empire and eventually become a Rebel after witnessing the horrors the Empire can bring to a world.  Ciena however driven by her personal honor remains in Imperial service despite her strong and evolving feelings for Thane.  The drama of their relationship plays out in the background of the original Star Wars trilogy, including Hoth and Endor, and beyond the movies.  Can the two survive to discover what their relationship can truly be?

I loved Star Wars: Lost Stars.  Honestly I think it helped that the story starts with human characters in a simple to describe world.  This gives the reader time to get to know the new characters as developed by Claudia Gray before they take bigger steps into the galaxy.  Basically, I felt like I knew Thane and Ciena before more complex worlds and aliens were introduced.  And I came to like and worry about them.  By the time they arrived at the academy I was invested and after they left their friends were my friends.  I found myself tense over simple things like school assignments.  Events like watching their roles in the Battle of Hoth made me worry about the potential damage to their relationship.  Really this book is driven by their relationship, and I really enjoyed it.

And as I talked this over with another fan it became clear to me that Thane and Ciena's relationship and growing love is more authentic than others in the universe including Padme and Anakin.  Thane and Ciena's relationship is based on respect, friendship and equality.  It is not wish fulfillment but a true growing evolving relationship that we should all aspire towards.  

Like all of the books in the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" small glimpses to the new movie are mentioned.  I am pretty sure I know where the crashed Star Destroyer from the trailer came from and even who commanded it.  And through our characters eyes we get to witness how the Rebellion responds to their victories and the Empire to their defeats.  While this book does not tell me about The First Order, it is made clear the Empire still had life to it.

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray is a young adult book that adults will also enjoy.  For someone like me it shows events I know well from another lens.  Honestly, I now feel for some of those Imperials who died with the destruction of the Death Star since Gray shows us how many Imperials were simply people look those we know in our galaxy.  And my expectations of what I might see in Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been built with two powers struggling to command the galaxy on more equal footing.  But in the end, it is just a really good book.  It is the best of "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and best of all it is something we really need more of, a really good Star Wars book!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Between Books - Moving Target

The "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" continues with a Princess Leia story.  After reading stories about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker written for kids I expected Leia's story to be my least favorite, because I liked the other two heroes more as a kid.  Would Leia's story excite me for the movie or would my low expectations be met?

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry finds Princess Leia in a dilemma.  Being a former Imperial Senator and a head of state, the Empire has put a high price on her head.  And she is determined to do something to save her love, Han Solo, from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt.  With the Rebels receiving plans of a new Death Star she must decided which crisis she will address.  She chooses the Rebellion andhelps plan a daring attack before the new Death Star can be brought online.  In this case it is determined that she would serve as a suitable distraction to keep the Empire from interfering with the converging of the Rebel fleet before they make an attack on the Imperial super weapon near Endor.  Leia and a rag tag group of rebels attempt to recruit resistance in a backwater area of the galaxy, knowing the whole time any volunteers would find themselves captured and likely killed.  While on the run from an Imperial pursuer, Leia balances duty and what is right.  

Moving Target is my absolute favorite of the three kids books to ready fans for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  It is much more action packed than the other two books, Luke spent a lot of time training.  And it is faster more intense as Leia and her team move from planet to planet.  Sometimes it is scary and definitely the story is tense.  We also get some great character development, which makes me want Princess Leia to be in a key Rebel position.  She is the leader we want and need.  She always exceeds our exceptions.  Her crew as a group works well, especially since story devices and tensions we expect are used successfully so we can understand their motives quickly.  

There are solid tie-ins to other books.  The use of a ship is Star Wars: Shattered Empire becomes quickly clear.  Honestly, it may spoil this plot a tiny bit.  Additionally, the story does a great job of serving as an introduction to Return of the Jedi for the three people who have not seen it yet.   Moving Target has Easter Eggs that fans will love.  And to get ready for the movie, the Epilogue makes it clear that new live-action hero Poe Dameron is dedicated and skilled though also rash.  

Moving Target by Castellucci and Fry is fast paced, action filled, and contains great character development.  Princess Leia is a leader the Rebellion needs.  Though written for kids, adults will also enjoy this installment. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Between Books - The Weapon of a Jedi

It is less than a month to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Betweenland is all excited.  So all things, okay many things, are keeping me on “The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” including Between Books.

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure by Jason Fry is targeted at getting young people ready for the film.  The book starts with a Force Awakens era pilot hearing a story of Luke Skywalker as told by C-3PO.  The promised tale covers the first time Luke drew his lightsaber in battle.  The story flashes back to Luke, C-3PO and RD-D2 on a secret mission for the Rebellion after the Battle of Yavin.  Luke however is drawn by the force to abandon his mission and journey to the planet Devaron so he can become better acquainted with the Force.  Luke has to face off against Imperial and local threats while continuing his Jedi self-study.

The Weapon of a Jedi is clear, easy to read and a little dull.  Luke does face off against some threats.  But much of the action is Luke in some training scenes.  It is a good story for a 10 to 12 year old, I know I would have eaten it up.  Though I am concerned one can read the story to say if you get a strong hunch maybe you should abandon an important task.  Older readers will probably find their minds wandering.  I was frustrated that the illustrations by Phil Noto were misplaced and spoiled the coming twists at some portions.  I do not feel I really got much of a hint to the future movie.

The Weapon of a Jedi is a fine book for young readers set in the galaxy far far away. The book would acquaint people better with Luke and his relationship with the Force.  And young readers will have a better understanding of how he became a Jedi with some light action.  Older readers would likely prefer Heir to the Jedi instead.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Between Books - On the Disney Beat

On the Disney Beat: Over 30 years of Chronicling the People and Places in Walt’s World by Chuck Schmidt collects the author’s recollections of covering Disney as both a newspaper reporter and blogger.  Schmidt provides an overview of his journalistic career starting as a copy boy at the Staten Island Advance, a position on the bottom of the ladder which would eventually lead to positions as reporter and editor.  Serving as Sunday news editor, Schmidt decided to write travel features on Walt Disney World.  These articles would kick off meaningful relationships with Disney Legends including Charlie Ridgeway and Marty Sklar and executives such as Jay Rasulo.  On the Disney Beat is a result of these relationships and interactions with chapters including profiles and interviews of these and other Disney personalities such as Tony Baxter and Bob Gurr along with descriptions of press events that he attended.  The book also contains images of some of the items given to Schmidt at press events. 

For me that piece that I found the most interesting was the press events.  I had read about these events from the Disney side in Charlie Ridgeway’s memoir.  But here Schmidt takes us into these events on the side of the participant.  It becomes clear fast that these events took great care to pamper the attendees.  And it becomes equally clear that these events created a great amount of good will.  Schmidt takes us beyond the design of these publicity events to an understanding of their effectiveness.  We also get to know Ridgeway and his spirit through one who interacted with him, and with effectiveness of his personality shines outward.  

The other “star” of the book for me is Marty Sklar.  Sklar along with being a featured personality in the book also wrote the “Forward”.  Through Schmidt the reader gets to experience a growing relationship and friendship with the Disney Legend.  And it is clear that Schmidt has great respect for Sklar.  The Legend’s personality feels generous and fun-loving as the reader dives into the Sklar focused chapters.  

Another enjoyable account is how Schmidt came to learn of a shared connection with Rasulo.  This connection leads to an interview with the executive.  And one has to wonder if you could still setup an interview so easily with a high level company executive today.

On the Disney Beat is clear and easy to read.  It does provide a variety of topics with Schmidt’s passion for Disney being the heart of the book.  Personally, I would suggest picking up a Kindle copy just to save a few dollars.  And for me it is the kind of book that would be easy to read on a phone since one can easily drop in and out of chapters due to the variety. 

Chuck Schmidt in On the Disney Beat gives us a look into Disney publicity events as a participant.  And he details how he became a friendly with a number of Disney personalities.  In many ways readers will either be jealous of the adventure or follow along vicariously through Schmidt as he interacts with many of our heroes.  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Star Wars: Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka with art by Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso is the installment of "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" that I was anticipating the most.  But I was warned I needed to set my expectations lower.  And honestly some contributions to "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" disappointed me, so I started the read with concern that this Marvel comic would let me down.

As the Battle of Endor end we meet a young couple, pilot Lieutenant Shara Bey and Commando Sergeant Kes Dameron.  The married couple finds themselves assigned separate missions as the Rebels seek to communicate a simple message to the Imperials after the destruction of the second death star, you lost.  Yet, the Imperials fail to understand their fate.  While the couple's missions are generally different, the two have a habit of finding each other in the heat of conflict.  The two also support key Rebel leaders including Princess Leia, General Han Solo, General Lando Calrissian, and Commander Luke Skywalker.  Readers are left with a tension as the couple struggle to find time for their future while staring at a conflict that appears to have no end.  The volume also includes the first issues of the classic Marvel Star Wars series and the more recent Princess Leia mini-series.

I read Star Wars: Shattered Empire in a collection, so I got to enjoy the story in one read instead of having to wait for the four separate installments.  I think I benefited from this, as I did not have to reacquaint myself with Bey and Dameron when a new issue hit my hand.  I am inclned to like Greg Rucka writing, and the writing generally met my expectations.  Though it may not have exceeded.  Overall this has been one of my favorite installments in "The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  While the story does share with Aftermath the use of original characters, Rucka and his art team make new to me heroes work by having them interact with original trilogy heroes.  And of course, visuals help.  Since I have the art to set the background, I find that my mind allows me to be in the Star Wars universe without feeling a need to force itself to imagine and without the frustration of wondering if I got the image wrong.  My mind really struggles when it worries that I am not properly framing Star Wars. 

Star Wars: Shattered Empire was successful for me.  Rucka sets the tone that the war against the Empire was far from over after Return of the Jedi.  And I am pretty sure Han and Leia were leaning on each other in one scene.  While it was not the best Star Wars story I have ever read, it was very solid and helped prepare me for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Between Books - Aftermath

I continue my quest to prepare for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.  I started the book knowing this was official canon that also serves as part of “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.  And I opened the book excitement to find out officially what happened to Han, Luke and Leia after the Battle of Endor.  But what I got was very different.

I have decided to write this synopsis from the window of a casual Star Wars fan.

On a world you don’t know in the Outer Rim, the Empire attempts to regroup after the loss of the Emperor, Darth Vader and the Death Star.  Wedge Antilles travels to this world in a scouting mission and stumbles into the Empire’s planning conference.  Imperials you don’t know capture the Rebel hero and dream of a Imperial tomorrow.  On the planet you don’t know, a Rebel, bounty hunter, former Imperial and streetwise kid, all of which you don’t know, struggle to make their way in the galaxy while also potentially sabotaging the Empire’s talks.  These heroes you don’t know are the only hope for Wedge’s freedom, a hero you might know.  Interspersed in this adventure are interludes from throughout the galaxy as people you mostly don’t know, but hey Han and Chewy show up, are forced to answer issues caused by the fracturing Empire and the rising New Republic.   One thing is made clear, the struggle you know is not yet over!  

I will continue to argue that Star Wars works best with a visual element.  And with all apologizes to Chuck Wendig who was given and job and did his job, Aftermath has this problem and more working against it.  First, Wendig puts us in a new world and uses aliens where we have to rely on either our imagination visual reference or the internet to create a picture of the mind.  But unlike an original science fiction novel our mind pushes for a visual reference for the mind’s eye.   Our minds know this galaxy and pushes to provide the right image instead of accepting imagination.  Second, Wendig is largely using original characters to this story, this trilogy wow really, so readers are left frustrated wanting to spend time with original trilogy characters who are largely absent.  And finally the plot is not what a casual Star Wars fan would want since it is really about this new group of heroes for which we have no context.  The blunt reality is Wendig’s book would be a good science fiction story.  But it fails in meeting the needs of causal and hard core Star Wars fans.  

What I really want to know is what happened after Return of the Jedi.   And Aftermath gives us a big picture.  The Empire is hurt but not eliminated.  And a power vacuum has been created with multiple voices trying to fill the void.  The Rebel Alliance is also in transition as they move from a guerilla underground movement to a legitimate authority in several planets and systems in the universe.  Both sides are scrambling to keep or take power.   In short there is enough contested territory that the war is far from over.  And so I can use this to enter the movie with the sense that a long struggle continued or even continues into the future.  The other aspect I take from the book is the ideas that were found in the Expanded Universe to be frank with a New Republic, Mon Montha as the key political leader, Wedge Antilles as a flying legend and Imperial Moffs and Admirals fighting to become key political players.  

Aftermath by Chuck Wendig is set to prepare me for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  In the end it was largely failed for me.  What could be a solid science fiction story is high jacked by the constraints of Star Wars.  And of course there is the slight problem that it does not even close to meet the expectations of casual and even hardcore fans.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Between Books - From Disneyland's Tom Sawyer to Diseny Legend

From Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend: The Adventures of Tom Nabbe by Tom Nabbe outlines a Disney career that arches over 5 decades.  Nabbe was there on opening day at Disneyland, standing in the crowd as invited guests entered the park.  The youngster would actually get to enter the park that first day though he would not be able to ride his favorite ride.  Nabbe’s history with the park actually started earlier as he relocated to Anaheim and was lucky enough to watch the park grow up from the orange groves it replaced.  The boy started in the park selling newspapers and would eventually be hired by Walt Disney to be the first Tom Sawyer walk around character for Tom Sawyer’s Island.  Nabbe would spend several summers in this role, until he became too old to play the role.  He would then move into other jobs at Disneyland, eventually after a stint in the Marines, entering a management track.  His career would then take him to new and unexpected places which included relocating to Orlando and providing supervision in portions of the Magic Kingdom Park.  He would later move into distribution services managing warehouses that helped build Epcot, supply Walt Disney World, and support expansion under Michael Eisner, and even Disneyland Paris.  Along with his Disney history, Nabbe provides information about his personal and family life.  The book ends with an essay by Keith Murdock, the second Tom Sawyer who filled the role after Nabbe became too old.

I really liked From Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend.  I flew through the book as I found Nabbe’s recollections interesting and in an easy to read tone.  I felt like I was listening to him tell stories about his time with Disney and even found his later accounts of warehouse work to be highly interesting.  I am thrilled this Disney Legend’s thoughts are captured for fans like me to enjoy.

Sometimes I find Nabbe’s Disneyland hard to imagine.  He goes into some depth on the fishing that occurred from the dock on Tom Sawyer Island.  In today’s legal minded society what I read was honestly hard to comprehend, but it happened.  I just cannot see any lawyer today allowing a company to let a teenage boy supervise adults and kids by himself on an attraction.  And I cannot comprehend that any lawyer would sign off on untrained guests swinging a line with a hook near other guests within the park.  And this does not even include the sanitation issues with fish in the Rivers of America dying due to the results of the catch and release program.  Yes, this is a different time and park then I have ever known.

Tom Nabbe was a company man.  He was hired by the man with his name on the door!  His story filled with love and dedication to his job and family both entertains and inspires.  Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer to Disney Legend is sure to delight those who wish to remember the early days of Disneyland or the creation of Walt Disney World as they lazily sit by the river with their line dangling in the water.   

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cap's Comics - Big Thunder Mountain #4

You know what is exciting...a train robbery!  Now that is exciting!

The action in Dennis Hopeless' Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #4 heats up.  Abigail, Chandler, Onawa and Dolfo attempt to hit Barnabas T. Bullion where it hurts most, his gold.  The job is full of action and excitement.  But the robbery has consequences, and life in Rainbow Ridge gets a little tougher with Bullion upset about the loss of his property.  And we begin to question again who the real villain is.  But one thing is certain, Big Thunder Mountain is watching.  And perhaps it thinks it is time for Bullion to pay for his greed.

Brian Crosby Connecting Variant Cover

This issue really rebounded the story for me.  First and foremost there is action in multiple scenes, with the train robbery being the big moment.  Second we do get some character moments which make us question the motivations of the potential villains.  This of course is going to free up the possiblity that Bullion could find reconcillation with Abigail.  And finally we get additional story around Onawa and her motivation and links to the mountain.  And her storyline helpfs reinforce that the mountain is a character.  

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #4 heats up the action as we push to the story's conclusion.  And I for one am happy that this installment worked better for me.  And I will admit I really want this story to have a good payoff, because I am still hoping for a Jungle Cruise comic!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Dark Disciple

Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden adapts a story arc developed but never produced for  Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  The Jedi are strained and have come to an unthinkable decision, they must assassinate Count Dooku the head of the Separatists in order to save the lives of countless others.  But this is a mission they are not equipped for.  The Jedi Council tasks unorthodox Jedi Quinlan Vos to secretly recruit former Dooku disciple Asajj Ventress to the cause.  Vos pretends to be a fellow bounty hunter making his way through the universe.  And what he finds shocks him, a damaged woman who has lost everyone she has ever loved.  Ventress must teach Vos to balance Dark Side energies to kill Dooku.  And it all horribly goes wrong in a story of broken lives, betrayal and love.

As I have said many time, Star Wars really needs a visual element to work really well.  That being said, Star Wars: Dark Disciple is a very strong book.  Yes, at times as some of the countless aliens of the galaxy is being described one does get a bit lost.  But it is the central character tale that really holds everything together.  Asajj Ventress is someone fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is familiar with.  But this 300 page plus book really gives Golden the time to flesh her out.  We have time to hate and love her.  We cringe at her cruelty and marvel at her tenderness.  Readers get a chance to really understand how she turned to the Dark Side and then walked away.  And in the end one cannot but feel compassion for her.  Can there be happiness in the galaxy for Asajj, or will her worst personality traits cost her happiness?  Basically, if one is familiar with Ventress the book becomes highly enjoyable and interesting.  Especially since it does build on the last few arcs that viewers saw of her on television.

Will Vos and Ventress succeed?  Okay that is really not the big question since Dooku's final fate has already been established.  No what Star Wars: Dark Disciple gives readers is tension around a Star Wars: The Clone Wars figure.  In the time of new canon, one knows that for Ventress and Vos this story has real stakes.  Can there be happiness?  Would another Jedi Master leave the order?  Could someone fall to the Dark Side?  These are the sorts of questions that Star Wars: Dark Disciple asks and answers! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Between Books - The Wisdom of Walt

The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth by Jeffrey A. Barnes finds personal improvement and leadership lessons in the history and enjoyment of Disneyland.  Barnes provides 17 chapters that vary from topics like continuing education, getting stuff done, leading teams, telling stories and creating superior experiences.  Each chapter includes information about Disney parks and history.  Disney content is paired with experiences from Barnes' own life which provide practical anecdotes showing how Barnes' concepts can play out in one's life.  Each chapter includes a "Souvenir Stop" where readers can reflect on the chapter, and take first steps towards growth.  The chapters conclude with "Getting Your Hand Stamped" which is one last chance to reinforce the chapter's lesson as one leaves the park. 

Mr. Barnes and I started off on a bad start.  Every chapter starts with a quote by Walt Disney, as reported by the author.  But the first chapter's quote is not an actual Walt Disney quote.  Now as much as I love the quote, "If you can dream it, you can do it." it was not actually said by Walt Disney.  So I set my eye towards fact checking everything.  Now I did eventually did give up on this.  There were several new to me facts that seemed incorrect or slightly off to me.  But everytime I went to double-check Mr. Barnes, I found he was correct.  I found myself transformed from "I'm going to get him" to "you know this guy knows a thing or two about Disney history."

And then there is the fact that I am the perfect audience for Barnes.  Barnes works in higher education, and has been both an administrator and history instructor.  My education is in history and I am now a higher education administrator.  So many of Barnes' tales of working with students and logistical concerns of the higher education are all things that I can and do relate to.  You got me there Mr. Barnes!  In fact I am quite jealous that he was able to achieve his dream of a Disneyland history course.  I really would love to take it!  And Barnes was highly relatable to me. 

I also found myself inspired.  While reading The Wisdom of Walt I found the courage to try two new things.  I also found myself inspired to focus myself and make progress on some personal projects that I have been stalled on.  So while I have read books of this type before, I found myself taking action instead of simply passing over the words to complete the text and shelf the book. What is even more remarkable, is it was Barnes' stories not the Disney history which motivated me to action. 

I am the guy who spends his day telling stories about Walt Disney and Disneyland to lead my team.  Sometimes the stories actually go over well.  I love the fact I have heard colleagues say, "Yes, If" in meetings twice this week.  Jeffrey A. Barnes in The Wisdom of Walt entertained me while helping me to grow as a leader and professional.  And now I have additional stories to bolster my story database.        

Review Copy Provided by Author  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cap's Comics - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #3

As Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #3 opens, Abigail Bullion finds herself captured by the gang that robbed her father's gold train.  And as she discusses her situation with her captors, the real question becomes who is the real villain in this story.  The robbers swear it is her father who is the real robber, mistreating workers and the mountain.  But can her father sweet old Barnabas T. Bullion, the victim of theft, be everything the thieves claim he is.  Talking is not enough to show Abigail who the real villain of the story is, but action reveals all.  A crisis will reveal to Abigail everyone's true colors.

Brian Crosby Connecting Variant Cover
Sadly the third installment of this Dennis Hopeless Disney themed adventure is slowing down for me.  Honestly the tardiness of my review shows my general lack of enthusiasm.  Honestly, it could be because it is a Western comic, something I really do not read.  But Figment 2 definitely has help my interest when Big Thunder Mountain Railroad  has not.  Though I do still like the fact this title has a strong female hero.  And she is willing to open her mind while still standing firm for what she believes.  I just wish that a Tony Baxter modeled figure was not a questionable bad guy.

Hopefully, the next issue can help me feel connected to the parks and the roller coaster my family truly loves and have not seen for way to long.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Between Books - Smuggler's Run

I am totally excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens!  But I am spoiler free, well except for what Disney wants me to know.  So I have made a pact to prepare for the movie by only knowing beforehand what has been officially released under the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" label.  And I was lucky enough to get my first installment from the library, because I generally do not buy Star Wars prose books since they are generally lacking.

Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka starts in what we assume is the Force Awakens eraA group of thieves consider how to get their hands on a fast ship and which one they would want.  An old man hears this conversation and spins a yarn about the Millenium Falcon literally days after the destruction of the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin.  Han Solo is pressed into service by the Rebels to retrieve a reconnaissance soldier from the Outer Rim.  Of course it cannot be easy as he is being chased by one of the finest officers in the Imperial Security Bureau.  Can Han and Chewy save this key rebel or will he be delivered into the hands of the Empire?

So I started here on my Star Wars: The Force Awakens quest because I am very familiar with Rucka's work in comics.  His Gotham Central run is gritty and classic.  His creator owned title Lazarus is smart, edgy and great science fiction.  And he had shown he could take a superhero into space with Cyclops.  But this is a categorized as a children's book by the library.  So Rucka's work has death and action, but it lacks our hero or villain diving into an overly excessive dark place.  And perhaps needing to be a short book of under 200 pages and having a strong author like Rucka helped it overcome issues I see in other Star Wars books.  Rucka is "faster more intense" with quick cuts like Star Wars is meant to be.  He does not have a lot of pages to work with so his story moves fast!  There is no time of Han or Chewy to contemplate their belly buttons!  And so it is fairly engaging despite being for young adults/mature kids.  I would have likely loved this in Junior High!  But it is all high-action, there is nothing deep here. 

This volume promises hints of what is to come in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  For me the biggest non-reveal is that Han and Chewbacca still live into the future.  But the trailers have already shown us they are home.  I do find it interesting that the story includes a beloved Marvel plot point, can Han pay off Jabba?  And I found it interesting that Imperial Center is out and the familiar Coruscant is being used instead.  Perhaps the new name given by the expanded universe is out.  Finally, and again I do not believe this spoils anything, there are still a few Clones in the Stormtrooper ranks.  I would say that I had an enjoyable brisk Star Wars adventure, though perhaps not a strong prequel.  Because honestly there are not many big reveals.   

Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure by Greg Rucka is a fun and quick read.  And honestly, that helps it feel like Star Wars!  I definitely would suggest this to any pre-teens who are interested in science fiction and required reading for Star Wars fans preparing for a little film!  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dreaming Disney - Between Disney Podcast Special #1

After much encouragement from two friends I have put together the first and perhaps only Between Disney podcast episode!

It can be found at The Comic Book Time Machine and is all about Haunted Mansion books!

In the first every Between Disney Podcast Special, Daniel discusses Haunted Mansion themed books and comics. Daniel breaks down the key strengths in the works of two different Haunted Mansion themed authors. And because its comic book time machine he talks about the Haunted Mansion comic anthology collection.

The titles discussed in their most recent editions are:
• Jason Surrell’s The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic
Jeff Baham’s The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion
Haunted Mansion comic book collection

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Between Books - Cleaning the Kingdom

Can janitors be an interesting topic?

Despite a really horrible one semester one bathroom custodial shift, I am going to say in some circumstances yes!   And seeing a book about Disneyland’s famed custodial cast members is probably one of the most interesting Between Book topics I had seen in some time.  I knew this for sure, it was not going to be your typical guidebook!

Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt’s Dream Spotless by Ken Pellman and Lynn Barron provides some custodial history, a layout of how Disneyland was cleaned and personal stories from the men and women in White.  Pellman and Barron spent years in Disneyland’s custodial department from the 1980s to 2000s.  The two former custodians are passionate about what they did and the legacy that the white clothed crew has left in the hearts of guests.  The 400 plus page book is clearly the most exhaustive book ever considered about these cast members.  The authors open with a historical review of Disney’s custodial services including the key cast members who made the Custodial department the legendary unit it became.  The authors then share in great depth their experiences including their typical day, how they cleaned Disneyland and an exhaustive land by land breakdown of the park and the services needed in each area.  Amongst their report of what it was like to be a day custodial employee are personal accounts from themselves and friends about guests, cultural changes, and of course the chapter of the gross which readers are warned may not be for everyone (you will not be surprised to find the worst bodily fluid situations in this chapter).  The two close the book discussing why they left Disneyland and reflecting on how their experiences impact them to this day.  

Let me just start with this simple observation.  I now am noticing dustpans, including one that I recently used, evaluating them on their material make-up and their usefulness.  I am sad to say that I found my most recent sweeping lacking, as I do not believe my plastic pan would have been able to remove gum!  So if asking the question if a book about custodial could be interesting, the fact that I’m thinking about dustpans really answers that question quickly for me. 

Another aspect of the book that really interested me was the short but complete history of Disneyland custodial services.  The history includes the names of important staff and a history of the department.  For me this chapter was a great touch giving a very serious historical view of the department.

As someone who was evacuated once behind stage and seen a packer and recycle sorting, I found it very interesting to read a breakdown of where the custodial areas were and how they were accessed.  And I became very impressed with the hard work and dedication that Disneyland’s janitors historically have worked with.   I liked leaving the book with a better understanding of where does the trash go, what sweeping lines entails, how Indy is treated special and how urine is urine regardless of source.

I do have some critiques.  The authors identify often who is writing, and sometimes to keep my reading flow going I really could have been satisfied with a “we” instead of “Lynn” or “Ken”.  However I assume their podcast fans would not agree with me.  And on occasional the material seemed repetitive.  But that is likely due to the very through nature of the book.  

Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Talesof Keeping Walt’s Dream Spotless by Ken Pellman and Lynn Barron is a book that Disneyland fans will clean up on.   It feeds into fans who want to know all things Disneyland by showing the dirty side, literally, of the park.   From their observations about in park developments such as wardrobe changes, their personal thoughts about Disney and their detailed explanations of cleaning the park, fans will want this volume with a very different point of view.  

Review Copy Provided by Authors 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Between Books - Katie Earns Her Ears

Katie Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary by Katie Hudson is the fourth volume in the "Earning Your Ears" series which allows former Disney College Program participants to share their experiences.  In this recounting, Katie a student from Texas spent a fall working at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe.  But for Katie not everything is all work as she attempts to stay connected with her campus back home and make the most out of her limited time in Orlando.  Additionally, Katie's journey includes a tense roommate situation that uncovers how rigid Disney procedures can be for the young people in the program.  

For me what I generally want to know what about these books and their voice is different.  First, Katie is an introvert.  So being on stage all the time can be draining for her, and I am sure other cast members with like personalities.  Katie's story makes it clear you can still get a lot out of the program and be enthusiastic without needing to change who you are.  Second, Katie's social life gives some great ideas for those who want to enjoy everything Orlando has to offer.  In fact, through her experience one can learn how to work in the Disney College Program but still save money at Universal parks.  Third, these experience books often make it clear how regimented living in Disney housing can be with rules and inspections.  Katie's journey includes an incident with her roommates that provides an striking example of why one must follow Disney's requirements to the letter in order to keep from being termed, leaving or being sent away, from the program.

If I was to recommend this volume to any potential Disney College Program participants it would be for those who want the Disney experience but are afraid to put themselves out there because of their introverted nature.  The book is a journal format which is easy to read.  I personally read this book over a period of months with breaks between other books and I was never lost when I returned to the offering.  And I would likely recommend that like me, that one read it in the Kindle format due to the ease of quick note taking and cheaper price.
Katie Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary by Katie Hudson reminds us that not all Disney fans and Disney College Program participants are outgoing extroverts.  Some of us, including me, are fun-loving introverts.  And those like us can still learn from the Disney College Program experience.  


Monday, October 12, 2015

Between Books - 50 Years in the Mouse House

Over the last few years and I have gotten deeper and deeper into Disney history I have heard the names of Disney's Nine Old Men several times.  But some of them have been obscure to me.  Marc Davis had the benefit of a career that extended into the parks leading us to reflect on his animation years.  And Ward Kimball had a personality that cannot help but fascinate.  For me Eric Larson is one of these legends I had stumbled upon and made an impression of, the teacher, but he was still shadow and not substance to me.  Now I can say I think I understand Larson in a more personal way.

50 Years in the Mouse House: The Lost Memoir of One of Disney's Nine Old Men by Eric Larson edited by Didier Ghez and Joe Campana allows Larson to share about his life and career in his own words with some refection by others.  The text is broken into several short segments by and about Larson which include a biography and background on Larson's lost memoir.  The main features of the book itself include Larson's memoir, once believed lost but uncovered in some of the late legend's papers.  The memoir written in the 1980s discusses his arrival at Disney, the men he worked with, Sleeping Beauty and the studio strike.  This is followed by a collection of Larson's smaller thoughts and quotes on similar topics.  The editors follow the memoir with a reproduction of Larson's notebook from his 1942 trip to Mexico in cooperation with the studio and the Good Neighbors program.  The reproduction includes a transcription of the notebook and copies of the notebook pages including his drawings for the researcher to observe themselves.  Larson's writings end with 14 lectures by Larson on animation.  And finally, another view of Larson is provided by Dan Jeup who was mentored by Larson beginning in his teenage years.

As I said, I feel like I have a much better idea of who Larson is now.  He appears to be a "simple" man in the good sense, being true to himself and consistent in his interactions. Larson was a teacher, one who gave willingly of his time to those younger than himself both in small and large settings.  And he was animator that believed that animation was acting, full of motion and emotion.  Larson taught Disney staff not to draw but to bring living stories to the frame.

I do think this is an important text.  Now, to be fair that does not mean it is always the most readable.  Larson's writing can be somewhat slow at times.  And the segments do not provide a biography that transitions flawlessly.   The lectures are lectures, they are technical and include content that may not naturally catch the interest of the non-professional.  Now that being said, this is a book every Disney animation history and fan needs.  Because, you do get to read Larson in his own words.  You get accounts of Larson in the first person from those who know him.  And finally his animation lectures are a treasure trove of information for those who wish to know about Disney animation philosophy during Larson's time.  This text will serve as a key primary source on Disney animation in a easy to access package.  And the editors have done an excellent job in ensuring readers get plenty of extra content beyond the relatively short lost memoir.

50 Years in the Mouse House: The Lost Memoir of One of Disney's Nine Old Men reveals Eric Larson the man...a Disney legend and a key Disney animation mentor.  By the time one completes the text the reader will feel as if they know Larson the man, mentor and animator.  And the volume will be a must read Between Book for Disney animation researchers. 

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, October 5, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 3

Lately I have been super I have treated myself.  I have taken the time to dive into the classic Marvel Star Wars comics found in Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 3!

Han Solo has been taken by Boba Fett and is in the clutches of Jabba the Hutt.  But that does not mean that the Rebels can only put their efforts into freeing their companion.  No, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca the Wookie balance attempts to strike against the Empire with finding a safe base of operations for the struggling Rebellion.  The Rebels have to survive Imperial super weapons, organic technology, traitors, love and a unexpected trip to Mars!  And sometimes in flashbacks, Han Solo makes an appearance. 

This volume really focuses on Luke and Leia.  The over two years of comics in Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 3 represent a time when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite and unavailable for comic stories since his fate had not resolved on the big screen.  Therefore, Lando stands in for his absent friend as the pilot of the Millennium Falcon and resident rogue.  Though Leia and Luke are not always happy with the relationship.  This leaves the story vacuum to be filled by Leia and Luke.  Leia focuses on leading the rebellion with the occasional longing for her missing love Han.  And Luke is thrown into tons of action as he fights water thieves, has to clear himself for a crime he did not commit, or did he, and not finding as much time as desired to experiment with the power of the Force.  

Did I mention that the Rebels visit Mars?  One of the story arcs uses unused art from John Carter, Warlord of Mars.  The art is very clearly the John Carter and Dejah Thoris character models.  And Tharks are aplenty just with miscolored skin.  But the world of swords and flyers is clearly the Mars of Marvel comics, with Luke and Leia drawn in.  And I have to admit, it is really weird reading a story where Leia is catching the attention of John Carter, I mean Aron Peacegiver, under the watchful eyes of his very Martian but not pigmented red Martian wife!  The two universes are truly matched up and for anyone reading both titles, like listeners of the Comic Book Time Machine, the mash-up is easy to see.

Now a lot of people have trouble with Jaxxon the green rabbit. But Jaxxon had only a limited run in the Marvel comics.  But for me one might begin to wonder if the title has jumped the shark with the Hoojibs of Arbra.  These cute rodent like Rebel allies are clearly wiser than one might think.  And are truly a key ally to the Rebels.  But if the Hoojibs do not take you out of the story, perhaps Luke Skywalker in the gear of a medieval knight jousting may toss you for a loop!  Regardless these stories and comics are still enjoyable for the Star Wars fan,

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 3 though out of print is a treat for the Star Wars fan.  With stories primarily by David Michelinie and art often featuring Marvel legend Walter Simonson, the volume is fun and action packed.  The volume is definitely a treat, despite the occasional story and visual reaches.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Between Books - One Little Spark!

I have used “Mickey’s Ten Commandments” crafted by Marty Sklar quite a few times in my professional career.  It is ten concepts that one can easily apply to a number of creative endeavors, and even if you make widgets you are creating something.  So needless to say a book describing Mickey’s Ten Commandments by their originator had my attention, and my money.

One Little Spark!:Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering by Marty Sklar is really two books with one title.  The first book is a summary and explanation of “Mickey’s Ten Commandments”.   Sklar gives each commandment a chapter in which he explains its meaning, provides an good example (which he gives a Mousecar) and a bad example (to which he gives a fictional Goof award) and sprinkles in his own expertise.   All of the examples come from Disney Theme Parks, including those things he believes failed the principles.  The second book is Sklar distilling the wisdom of 75 current and former Imagineers on the skills needed to be an Imagineer including passion, a love of learning and curiosity. 

I do not really want to say this.  But I really wish this was two separate books instead of one.  The content is like Epcot, two very different things pushed together.  Yes, Sklar has proven to be a master of this concept.  But here it really does not play well for me.  It basically does not feel like a mashup that fits together.  Maybe it does not have a transition that works for me since really the whole book could be seen as an Imagineering toolbox.  Or it could be the two very different presentations.  But I found myself obsessing about “Mickey’s Ten Commandments” while not showing interest in the road to Imagineering.  Maybe it is my stage of life, being an professional not bright eyed youngster.  Also I really did not enjoy the block quotes used in the road to Imagineering segment.  I really would have preferred more Sklar and less everyone else. 

If anything I will say that Sklar is honest.  And despite being a Disney Editions book he does not pull punches.  There are attractions which he gives a Goof award to which will shock you.  And despite some of these are classic attractions beloved by millions, he has good points about how they have failed to follow Imagineering’s creative principles.  And one must remember that Sklar was a key developer in some of the “failed” attractions. 

One Little Spark!:Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering is a book I will reference throughout the next few years.  And Sklar has given me more background to support my professional use of his principles.  But honestly I would have preferred two smaller books, using more of Sklar’s voice, to quench my thirst on this creative topic.    

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cap's Comics - Figment 2 #1

Blarion Mercurial and his sidekick Figment are back.  After saving London and seemingly disappearing, we catch up with our heroes moments after the shocking ending of Figment.  Can the newly minted Dreamfinder show others the power of imagination, or will rules and doubt crush our heroes' spirits?

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Cover
As our story opens we are introduced to a young dreamer today who's ambitions are checked by rules.  She hopes to become a student at the Academy Scientifica-Lucidus USA, but it seems this dream is not to be.  Meanwhile, Dreamfinder emerges in our day in front of a familiar building.  This structure houses the new Academy Scientifica-Lucidus which has moved from London to the United States.  Figment and Dreamfinder explore, discover what some believed occurred to them after saving London and meet the staff.  Some of the staff are very familiar while others just have familiar attitudes.  The Academy is attempting to harness a new type of energy to power their many endeavors, and save the school, but Dreamfinder in his fancy Dream Machine offers another potential energy source...imagination!  Can Dreamfinder deliver and have old opinions changed about the power of imagination?

Jim Zub returns to write Figment 2 and it is clear that he enjoys the characters and theme of imagination.  If anything my biggest concern with the writing is a replay of Figment as the Directors in both books seem to share very similar opinions about imagination.  The time has just changed.  The art duties are taken over by Ramon Bachs, who's models are slightly different than the first story arc.  But honestly, it feels like the character models have been updated for a story taking place now instead of in the past.  So the art change feels really appropriate.  There are a number of Disney Easter Eggs, ranging from architecture to the Dream Machine to a mention of Medford.  They grab the Disney fan and challenge you to pay attention for whatever could pop up next.  Additionally, the story which appears to be about the power of imagination definitely has a Disney feel.  

X Atencio Imagineer Variant Cover

I did read this story aloud to the Between Tween and Between Kid.  They loved the story and the return of familiar characters.  And I think they would enjoy seeing Figment return on a regular basis.  Maybe this would be a good opportunity for a reoccurring limited series under the Disney Kingdoms label, helping to keep Dreamfinder and Figment fresh as kids and Disney fans crave their return.

Jim Zub brings us back to the story of Blarion (Dreamfinder) and Figment in Figment 2 #1 "Part One: Living Legends".  And the duo delivers as they evangelize the power of Imagination.  I am hopeful that this second series will be as well written and as praised as the first.  

At the moment, I have no doubts!