Now Available: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Books!


September 22 is the first day of fall, and you know what that means! It means that for weeks and weeks now, everything from Pop Rocks and coffee to Oreos and marshmallows has been available in pumpkin spice flavor. I’m at the cutting edge of marketing expertise, and so I have found a way to give the people what they clearly want:


Yes, that’s right! Both I Was Geeky When Geeky Wasn’t Cool and Don’t Stop the Geekin’ are now available in Pumpkin Spice flavor. For a limited time, each copy of my books will include a Scentsy scratch and sniff rub and smell sticker in that most delightful of aromas: Pumpkin Roll. Thoughts of falling leaves, crisper temperatures, and candy corn will enhance the already amazing experience of reading one of my books.

How will you use your sticker? Here are a few ideas:

  • Place sticker over the picture of my ugly mug on the cover
  • Use sticker to mark the page you are currently reading
  • Relieve nervous tension by rubbing and sniffing the sticker constantly
  • Use the sticker to repair any pages torn when you inevitably drop it from laughing so hard
  • Soak up tears you weep while reading the sad parts

You might be asking yourself: how much extra do I have to pay to have a wonderful piece of olfactory technology on top of a handsome tome which is already an exceptional value? That’s the best part! These Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice versions of my books are available at the same low cost as they always have been: just $10!

HURRY, HURRY, HURRY! Don’t delay! You don’t have long to get your hand numbered, signed Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice books. Only 36 are available! Make sure you get yours, TODAY!

Purchase your copies here!

So I Have a Flea Market Booth Now…

img_20161012_183121238Because I am either A) insane, B) foolish, C) easily bored, or D) all of the above, I am now the proud renter of a flea market booth. Over the years we have accumulated lots of cool stuff, and sooner or later, for most of the stuff, we decide we don’t need it any longer. Some of the more expensive stuff goes on Ebay, some of the cheap stuff goes to garage sales or gets donated. There are some things in that sweet spot in between the two extremes that make great flea market material.

I’m not sure I really thought it all the way through before I began. It turns out that a flea market booth is a lot, and I mean LOTS of work. Gathering stuff up took most of a Saturday. There were debates about exactly how many Spider-Man figures we should keep for my nephews and potential future grandchildren. Several spare Power Rangers were missings hands or legs. I was willing to get rid of  many of my comics, but some weren’t bagged when I bought them and weren’t in good enough condition to sell. Once we had a fair sized collection of things nice enough to sell, but not so nice we couldn’t live without it, we moved on to pricing. Writing prices and wrapping little stringed tags on action figures takes a while.  And that’s if you know exactly what they are worth (very hard to determine in most cases). For books, DVDs, and video games, I printed prices on address labels. It took so much longer to get this done than I had anticipated.

But that was before we ever made it to the booth. There was still much work to be done. First, I had to shop for stuff to display my stuff on. Even goijng with inexpensive options, we spent well over $100 on shelving, pegboard bits, and other incidentals. Carrying all the shelves, comics, books, and other stuff wasn’t exactly easy on my back, either. And then there was the assembly. A running joke in our home is “I’m not Bob Freakin’ Vila” and putting all the shelves and things together was way outside my comfort zone.

However, many dollars, tablets of ibuprofen, and hours later, the booth is done (enough) in time for the first day the new Flea Market is open. I am hopeful that I will at least make my money back!

Why I Love the Godzilla Movies of the 90s

PopCultureLeague-Logo-BigThe Pop Culture League challenge this week is another great one. Here There Be Monsters! I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla! I have been a big fan of Godzilla ever since I was a kid. My first exposure to the big G was at the public library, in the Crestwood Monster series of books. I read all those books over and over again, but Godzilla was my favorite. (I’m lucky enough to still have a set of those books today!) Godzilla made frequent appearances on Saturday TV, and I remember watching many of the older Showa series Godzilla films on a grainy black and white TV set in my bedroom. We also rented Godzilla ’85 several times in the late 80s.

Then, in 1997, a new Godzilla movie came out. It wasn’t great, by any stretch of the imagination, but it did get me to thinking about my favorite monster again. By 1999, I was married and had a five year old son. In October of that year, AMC ran its annual Monsterfest, and ran nearly all the Godzilla movies, including several that I had never seen before. It turns out that they kept on making Godzilla movies after 1985! I was thrilled to learn about this, and went online to find out more about them. Between our VCR tape of Monsterfest and obtaining a few releases on VHS (thankfully plentiful due to the marketing of the ’97 American movie), my son and I were able to watch all the movies in what is known as the Heisei era. We watched them time and time again, wearing out the tapes. When son #2 arrived, we upgraded to DVD and eventually Blu-Ray. We rewatched all the 90s era movies in preparation for the 2014 American Godzilla, and with a new Japanese Godzilla being released this year, I decided to go through my favorite era in Godzilla history one more time. Here are quick reviews and ratings of each of these great films.

the_return_of_godzilla_poster_japan_1The Return of Godzilla (AKA Godzilla 1985)

In 1984, Toho brought back Godzilla after over a decade off. No longer the good natured defender of Earth, this time Godzilla was back to his roots as an unstoppable destructive force of nature. I have, as of this writing, only ever seen the American release of the film, which added in Raymond Burr, just as the 1950s Godzilla did. We had this on VHS, but it was extremely hard to get on DVD. Just last month, the movie was released on Blu-Ray. I am looking forward to watching the original, un-Americanized version for the first time.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Dr. Pepper Ads

Godzilla vs. Biollante

This is a solid entry. A scientist merges Godzilla cells with those of plants, hoping they will be able to thrive in desert conditions. Terrorists attack, destroying the cells and, sadly, killing the scientist’s daughter. The grief stricken father merges her cells with those of a rose, in order to keep her soul around. He also manages to add in Godzilla cells, because why not? The resulting creature is a plant-Godzilla hybrid, which is one of the coolest looking monsters you will ever see. Eventually, the big G shows up, there’s a titanic tussle or two, and it’s over. Weird, and quite dark for the series, but very watchable.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Angry Roses

mecha_king_ghidorahGodzilla vs. King Ghidorah

This is my personal favorite of ALL Godzilla films! It has literally everything. Time travellers from the future come to 1991 to meet an author. They plan to test his theory: Godzilla was a”Lost World” type dinosaur on a Pacific Island that mutated after exposure to radiation from nuclear weapons. They all go back in time, planning to destroy Godzilla before he is created. However, the future people leave behind three strange “pets”. Upon returning to the present, the critters have been mutated in Godzilla’s place, turning into King Ghidorah! The evil future people plan to use the three headed abomination to knock Japan down a peg, as they are the world leader in the 23rd century. The army uses a nuclear sub to recreate Godzilla (say what?), and the Big G and King Ghidorah fight! Godzilla wins, then attacks Tokyo. Everything looks bad, but then the sole friendly future traveller saves the day, piloting a cybernetically rebuilt version of King Ghidorah and drives Godzilla off. It’s absolutely nuts, from start to finish, and I love it.

Rating: 6 out of 5 Time Paradoxes

Godzilla Vs. Mothra: Battle for Earth

One of the things I liked about the Heisei era Godzilla movies was the continuity from one to the next. One of the major recurring themes is that humans are destroying the environment. Mothra appears in this one, returning after many classic appearances, in her traditional role as defender of humanity. Her darker foil, new character Battra, fights instead to defend the planet itself. The two come into conflict, because SYMBOLISM. Godzilla shows up, naturally, and he’s pretty much against both humans AND the earth. Mothra and Battra put aside their differences and take him on in both larva and flying form. The fight scenes in this one are particularly great. The fairy twins and their song are among our favorite parts of the entire franchise.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Gooey Webs

godzilla-vs-mechagodzilla-2-4Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II

I love robots, and I love Godzilla, so it’s no surprise that I also love Mechagodzilla. Toho triple dips here by bringing back two more classic monsters, in addition to everyone’s favorite metal dinosaur. Rodan returns, also evolving into a more menacing flaming form known as Fire Rodan (makes sense). You’ll either love or hate the third returning alumnus: baby Godzilla! I’m not a big fan of the tyke, honestly. I know it seems odd to say it, in a genre known for goofiness, but the baby is just a bit too cheesy for my taste. Still, this one has Mechagodzilla and some great fight scenes, so I’ll bump it up higher than it by all rights should be.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Adorable Roars

Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla

After the last movie drew heavily from the roster of classic monsters, we have a new main villain in this one. Pay attention here, or you might get lost. So apparently some Godzilla cells from Biollante escaped into space, and made their way through a black hole. The cells came out and formed into an evil version of Godzilla, with all sorts of spiky glowing crystals on its body. Sound weird? That’s because it is. It doesn’t make much sense at all, but really, is that a bad thing? Baby Godzilla is unfortunately back and more cutesy than ever. I love the way Space Godzilla looks, and the human-controlled combiner robot Mogera is pretty sweet. Still, this is unquestionably the weakest entry from the Heisei era.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Skreeonks

haneda3Godzilla Vs. Destroyer

After years of absorbing radiation, Godzilla is overheating. If he goes critical, Earth will be destroyed in the ensuing explosion. Scientists develop a freezing ray and use it to cool off the Big Red G. Meanwhile, baby Godzilla is now larger and renamed Godzilla Junior. The main baddie, Destroyer, is composed of multiple smaller critters that merge and evolve in several stages. Junior fights Destroyer, who hurts the little guy badly just as Godzilla arrives, red hot and ready to explode. The big guy fights valiantly then goes into meltdown. The resulting surge of energy defeats Destroyer, and then Godzilla dissolves into goo. Suddenly, the radiation levels fall, reviving Junior, who is now full sized! This was lots of fun, and a great send-off to the series, for sure.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Freezing Lasers

In ten days, I will be watching the latest Japanese Godzilla film! It’s called Godzilla Resurgence, or Shin Godzilla. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers since its release in Japan over the summer. It’s a shame I have to drive three hours away to get to a theater that’s actually showing the movie, but that’s just fandom for you. I’ll be sure to write a review with my thoughts on the new movie here!

Here are some of the other league entries for the week, or you can check them all out here.

Transformers Prints by Tom Whalen

800px-dw_20th_anniversary_lithograph_imageWhile the majority of my Transformers collection is toys, I’ve also amassed many other types of items. I’ve got dozens of Transformers comics, several vintage coloring and activity books, even a Choose Your Own Adventure style story featuring my favorite Transformers characters.

Transformers illustrations are some of my favorite pieces in my collection. I loved the recent book Transformers Legacy: The Art of Transformers Packaging. There are some boxes that I’ve kept simply because I love the design and the pictures. I have several posters, as well, and two I especially enjoy are framed in my office. One is an Optimus Prime mosaic Botcon exclusive from 199. The other by from one of my favorite comic artists, Don Figueroa, and features every single Generation 1 character, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the toyline back in 2004.

imagesLast month, I read an article over at the Retroist about a new series of prints from artist Tom Whalen. I didn’t recognize Tom’s name, but I did recognize his style. A previous illustration of his served as my iPad wallpaper for well over a year. I had actually looked for the lithograph of this amazing image but it was unfortunately well outside my price range. The new prints, headshots of iconic Autobots, were more affordable, so I jumped at the chance.

I paid a little extra for the variant editions, which are printed on paper with a metallic finish. You couldn’t really tell much difference in pictures online, but I suspected the effect would be worthwhile in person. I couldn’t have been more right! The prints arrived last night and I was awestruck when I opened them. The clean lines and bold colors look incredible on the silvery sheen of the prints. My bad camera and terrible light setup don’t do them justice.

My original plan was to keep only Optimus and Prowl, and trade or Ebay the rest. However, after seeing them in person, there’s no way I am getting rid of Bumblebee, Ratchet, or Jazz. I can’t wait to get all five prints suitably framed and on display in my office. I’m sure it will take some willpower to not purchase the Decepticon versions immediately, or resist splurging on the larger lithograph which is available on Ebay right now…

Top 10 Seasons of Power Rangers


The Pop Culture League Challenge this week is a simple one: Top 10! I immediately started thinking of what I could rank. Transformers? Maybe, but I couldn’t narrow it to ten, in all likelihood. Godzilla movies? An intriguing thought, but I already have another post brewing regarding the King of Monsters. Maybe something about comic book superheroes? Again, same problem as Transformers: where do I start?

And then it occurred to me, why not discuss a franchise that blends my love for robots, actors in suits destroying model cities, and super heroes? Power Rangers is one of my favorite television shows of all time. I loved it from the first time I saw it way back in 1993, and have watched it ever since. I haven’t seen every single episode of every season, but I’ve seen the lion Zord’s share of them, for sure. I love the toys as well; at one point, we (me and my boys) had all but five American release Megazords. My Power Rangers toy buying has slowed since my kids are nearly fully grown now, but I still try to stay current. Someday, I hope to have grandkids, and they will need all of these toys, you see…

So, without further delay, here are my choices for the Top 10 seasons of Power Rangers!


4068896#10 – Mystic Force

When I first saw the suits for this season, I thought wow, capes! It’s like superheroes! Next, I saw the Megazord with the wizard hat, and thought nope, that won’t work. Then I actually watched the show, and it turned out fine. The magic themes were a total Harry Potter ripoff, but I like Harry Potter, so it was cool. Mashing spells and magic formulas up with PR elements was a good fit. This show also had one of the best bad guys ever: Koragg, the Knight Wolf, who turned into a centaur Megazord!


lost-galaxy-magna-defender#9 – Lost Galaxy

The first totally new set of Power Rangers, and also the biggest budget for any season ever. The big draw here, for us, was the Magna Defender. His costume was awesome, his anti-hero attitude was unique, and he could grow to huge size and drive his bull-shaped Megazord. My son dressed up as Magna Defender for Halloween, and later wore the suit out from playing in it. Another fun memory was the long series of new episodes that aired on weekdays during the fall. Coming home after school and watching new episodes of Power Rangers together with my kindergartner curled up next to me was wonderful.


all_10_dino_super_charge_rangers#8 – Dino (Super) Charge

Power Rangers had been in a long term slump before this came out. The two series preceding it, Samurai and Mega Force, were both two years long, and also terrible. Then this season, based on the classic dinosaur theme, appeared and made up for six years of bad shows. The acting is much better than the norm, and it’s a large Ranger team which I always enjoy. The only negative is the Megazords, which have a sort of superdeformed look I don’t particularly care for. However, there are tons of them, and they are all prehistoric creatures, so it’s hard to complain!


photo-sep-28-10-05-26-am#7 – Lightspeed Rescue

Many fans will disagree with me, but I really liked this season. The Megazords are among the best toys the line has ever seen, with tons of interactivity and play value. The Supertrain Megazord, especially, looked fantastic, and it was gigantic, too. The sixth ranger for this season, Ryan, the Titanium Ranger, was the first American-only Ranger ever, and his story arc was interesting. The demonic villains were quite creepy, almost too scary for my kiddos at certain points in their development. I loved the season-long interplay between Green Ranger Joel and his crush, Miss Fairweather.


hqdefault#6 – Jungle Fury

Too many Zords? Maybe, but who cares when each one is totally cool? We enjoyed this show so much I ended up importing all the major toys from Japan just to have them in the proper scale. That may seem silly to some, but when daddy loves giant robots and the kids show those puppy dog eyes, well… I’m a sucker. The characters were fun, especially the mentor and eventual Purple Ranger, RJ. The best part, though, was the set of three new Rangers created just for the American market: Shark, Elephant, and Bat Rangers! Amazing villains, too. Not much to complain about with this one!


tumblr_lvoq62dxhm1r5mk62o1_1280#5 – MMPR Season 2

In college, I worked at an after-school program. When Power Rangers began airing, it immediately became a “drop everything and watch” activity. I enjoyed the show with 30 or so kids every day and thought “wow, it’s like real life Voltron, but with dinosaurs!” I was hooked. The formula had gotten a bit stale towards the end of season 1, but then the new season came out and changed everything. New Zords! New villains! Tommy lost his powers, then regained them, becoming a new Ranger color in the process! The Thunder Megazord is one of my favorites, to this day. This season set the bar high for the rest of the series to follow.


Image result for shadow ranger spd#4 – SPD

My sons were 4 and 11 when this came out, so both of them were totally into it, and as a dad, that meant I was totally into it too! This may be the best cast, top to bottom, of any season. We particularly loved the hilarious Green Ranger, Bridge. There was a uniformity to the design of the Megazords that looked great and was quite appropriate for the tech police theme. This season also has my favorite Ranger of all time, the Shadow Ranger. His costume was totally sweet, all steel blue and black. He had the best fight scene in PR history, where he took out 100 minions in one minute. Topping it all off, he was a dog-headed alien. What more needs to be said?


147fe8602b24e3f124e5f8aae999836b#3 – In Space

This series was the one airing when I started dating my wife-to-be and her 3 year old son. Introducing him to the show is one of my fondest memories. This was the end of the continuity heavy Zordon era, and it went out in style. The “evil Ranger” theme is one that is oft repeated, but it was never handled as well as with the Psycho Rangers. The spaceship themed Megazords were slick, and truly stood out compared to their predecessors, which were mostly animal based. One of the best PR villains, Astronema, tops it all off, making this season stand up well against the best the series has to offer.


mezodon-megazord#2 – Dino Thunder

The series makes a triumphant return to its prehistoric roots, and it was wonderful. Fan favorite former Ranger Tommy came back as the series mentor. When he finally suited up again as the Black Ranger… it was goosebumps all over. The Zords were fantastic, probably the best animal-based forms across the whole series. Zeltrax, Elsa, and Mesogog were menacing villains, very fun to watch. Additionally, the two lead male Rangers were named Connor and Ethan; these are my youngest son’s first and middle names. The episode “Fighting Spirit”, where Tommy has a vision in which he fights his previous alter egos, is a delight. I also enjoyed the episode where the Rangers watch a “Japanese ripoff” of their own exploits. Deliciously meta!


power-rangers-time-force-167081#1 – Time Force

This one stands head and shoulders above the rest. A team of police from the future travel back in time to hunt down an escaped mutant terrorist. The best Pink Ranger ever, Jen, is the team leader, and she is awesome. There’s an intriguing season long romantic subplot between Jen and Wes, the modern-times Red Ranger, who looks suspiciously like her dead boyfriend from the future. Time travel wasn’t emphasized as much as I would like, but there are still some “fix the timeline” shenanigans. The Quantum Ranger (who is also Red! Two Red Rangers? Sweet!) was a particularly interesting sixth ranger, far more mercenary than you’d expect from a kids’ show. He also piloted a giant silver and red Tyrannosaurus, which is one of the best Zords ever. The Time Force Megazord was a quadruple-changer, extremely unusual, having two different humanoid robot forms and a giant jet mode as well as the individual ships. This series is more what I would now call “CW style”, but this totally worked. Time Force remains unsurpassed among Power Rangers seasons.


Here are some highlights from the other Top 10 Lists, check them all out at Cool & Collected:

A Box Chock Full of Vintage Awesome

As a follow up to the Pop Culture League blind box challenge from several weeks ago, Cool & Collected offered up mystery boxes to those of us who participated. For the low price of $20, I jumped at the chance of opening a box full of unknown but surely totally cool stuff. Lo and behold, last weekend, a rather heavy box was dropped off at my front door.

I was totally shocked with how much stuff was packed in the box! It just happened that my nephew, who is 4 years old, was at our house. He joined me, my wife, and our fifteen year old son as we gleefully went through it all. Check the pictures below for the full record, but here are some highlights!

  • As a Transformers fan, I was tickled to see Air Raid, a robot who transforms into a black jet. It’s my first vintage Aerialbot, oddly enough. Also: my first Happy Meal transformer, a hamburger! Always wanted to get these.
  • My wife is a Snoopy fan, and I love outer space… Astronaut Snoopy is perfect!
  • The 45 record of “Buy the World a Coke” makes me want to buy a record player.
  • An A-Team stamp? MOSC? Yes please!
  • You can never have enough Jawas.
  • I now own action figures from Hook and Water World. I never thought I’d be able to say that.
  • Even the comics were great choices: Iron Man, Indiana Jones, and NFL SuperPro!
  • I need to get a poster up in the game room for all the cool vintage stickers I’ve now amassed…

Major props to Brian at Cool & Collected. We had such a great time opening this stuff!

Both My Ebooks Are FREE Today Only!

I was geeky when geeky wasn't coolMarkBook2_CoverYou might be wondering… Marc, are there Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice versions of your ebooks? Sadly, no. There is no app for smells at this point in the development of pointless technology. However, both ebooks are FREE instead! Today only, download copies of I Was Geeky When Geeky Wasn’t Cool AND Don’t Stop the Geekin’ for the low, low price of $0. What a deal!

Click on the book covers to be taken directly to Amazon and grab ’em quick!


Thank You for Your Compliance


Here’s the Pop Culture League Challenge for this week.

Aliens Among Us

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” –Stephen Hawking

What a fun quote! I decided to treat it as a full on writing prompt. Here’s what I came up with, around 2000 words or so. I’d love to hear what you think! Comment here, or contact me @marcallie on Twitter.


Thank You for Your Compliance

A Short Story by Marc Allie

Alex rolled left, barely dodging a deadly phazon missile. His alien opponent, piloting a saucer-shaped spacecraft, dove past Alex’s tri-rocket warship before breaking away for another attack. Brow furrowed in concentration, Alex jammed his control stick left, then right, before firing off a volley of three laser bursts. The first two projectiles went wide left, but the third hit true. The enemy saucer exploded into a blinding flash of white light. Alex smiled and checked his score at the top of the TV screen. He had almost surpassed his previous record, and still had two lives remaining.

Just as the next wave of aliens began their attack, a knock sounded at the front door. Alex’s mother yelled from the kitchen. “Honey, can you answer that? My hands are all sudsy.” Alex sighed in disappointment, dropping the black and orange joystick on the thick shag carpet before walking over to open the door.

Three people stood on the welcome mat, the bright porch light shining down upon them. Two of them were men, both in black suits and ties. The third figure was a woman with brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore a frilly white blouse with large shoulder pads, and a knee length black skirt. A clipboard was in her hand, while the two men held walkie talkies. The man in the middle, the tallest of the trio, grinned at Alex.

“Alex Guest, I presume?” The man’s smile never wavered as he spoke. Alex nodded, then yelled back into the house for his mother. The four of them stood in uncomfortable silence as Alex’s mother came to the door, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel.

The tall man spoke again. “Ah, you must be Mrs. Guest! It’s so good to meet you both. My name is Agent Johnson. These are my associates: Agent King,” he gestured to the man on his left, who nodded solemnly, “and Agent Lewis.” He smiled widely at the woman, on his right. She smiled back at him, showing almost impossibly white teeth, before they both turned back towards Alex and his mother.  “We’re with the CIA.” Agent Johnson reached into his jacket pocket and produced a laminated white card.

At first Alex couldn’t quite make out the words on the card; they seemed fuzzy, indistinct. He blinked, then the badge came in focus. There was a head shot, name, and a fancy logo. Everything seemed to be in order. It looked exactly like government I.D. badges he had seen in the movies.

“Listen, Mrs. Guest. We are here today to talk to you about a very exciting opportunity for Alex. May we come in?” His mother looked at Alex with a hint of indecision on her face. Then she cleared her throat and invited them inside.

Mrs. Guest quickly ushered the visitors to the overstuffed brown leather couch. She dashed off to the kitchen for refreshments while Alex took a seat in a recliner across from the couch. The wide grins on the tall man and woman never wavered. The shorter man wore no expression at all. All three were staring right at Alex.

Alex took a closer look at the odd trio as they waited for his mother to return. He hadn’t noticed it outside, but all three had waxy, shiny skin. Their eyebrows were very thin, and groomed so smoothly that he couldn’t see any individual hairs. The one called Agent Johnson moved his head left and right, surveying the room without blinking. His eyes came to rest on the wood-grain video computer system in front of the TV.

Johnson spoke as Alex’s mother entered the room bearing a tray of four glasses. “Alex, I see you have been playing computer video games! That one is Stellar Warlords, am I correct?” Alex nodded as his mother gave each guest a glass and a straw. None of the agents even spared her a glance. Agent Johnson continued, eyes still centered on Alex. “Thank you for the refreshment. You are very good at Stellar Warlords, aren’t you, Alex?”

Alex shifted in his seat. “Yeah, I’m not bad. I actually sent my high score in to Computer Games Magazine a few months ago.” Alex reached into a pocket on the recliner and produced a copy of the magazine. He flipped to a well-worn page and pointed. “See, here? I’m one of the top ten players in the United States!”

Agent Johnson didn’t even glance at the magazine before replying. “We are quite aware of your abilities, Alex. In fact, that is why we have come. We are here today to talk to you about a very exciting opportunity. We are offering scholarships to an elite military academy for the best and brightest young video game players across the entire American States.” The tall man was still smiling. Alex wondered if his cheeks were beginning to hurt.

Agent Johnson continued talking to Alex’s mother, giving her details about the scholarship, explaining that skill in video games was an indicator of future potential in military service. Alex listened for a while, but then his attention shifted to Agent King. The short man leaned forward, head turned, watching Agent Lewis take a sip from her straw. Then he grabbed his own glass, and began to take a drink himself. He moved the glass to his mouth before wrapping his lips awkwardly around the straw. His cheeks twitched slightly, but the level of lemonade in the glass never changed.

Alex refocused his attention on Agent Johnson’s conversation with his mother. “Yes, Mrs. Guest, this is a very exciting opportunity. Only the best and brightest have been selected. Alex is in an elite group. And of course there is no expense for you whatsoever. It’s all taken care of by the federal government. All we require is your consent.” As soon as the agent stopped talking, he grinned immediately, his teeth as stunningly bright as those of Agent Lewis. Agent King didn’t share the same odd smile, instead sitting as expressionless as ever.

Agent Lewis moved her hand to her ear and produced a pencil. Alex hadn’t even noticed the pencil before; it must have been stuck in her hair. She placed the pencil on her clipboard, smile never wavering, and spoke for the first time. “We have just a few questions for you before we go. You don’t mind to answer a few questions, do you?” Her voice was saccharine sweet, like a teacher talking to a class of preschoolers.

“No, no, we don’t mind at all,” Alex’s mother said. Alex felt a bit differently. The whole situation struck him as strange. It seemed far-fetched that the CIA was recruiting kids who were good at video games. What was with these weird agents? They seemed like strangers from another country. They reminded Alex of the foreign exchange student that had been in his fourth grade class. He didn’t understand things that everyone else knew, like playing kickball.  These agents didn’t seem to understand how people acted, either. They made Alex nervous.

Agent Lewis spoke in her sing-song voice. “Tell us about the rest of your family. Where is Mr. Guest? Are there any other children?”

His mother didn’t respond immediately, her eyes swelling with tears. Alex spoke up instead. “Dad was a Navy pilot. He, uh, died. In a training accident, two years ago. I’m the only kid, no brothers or sisters.” The entire time Alex spoke, Johnson and Lewis never stopped grinning. Agent King swiveled his entire head to look at his colleagues, then opened and closed his mouth repeatedly. He reminded Alex of a goldfish.

“Very good, very good,” Agent Lewis sang. She scribbled a few notes on her clipboard without looking at it, eyes fixed on Alex. “You probably play Stellar Warlords with your friends, Alex, don’t you? Are any of them as good as you are?” She never blinked. “We’d like to talk to your friends about a very exciting opportunity, also.”

Alex responded as his mother wiped a tear from her cheek. “I take turns playing with my buddy Lou sometimes, sure. Lou beat me a couple times, but never got a score high enough to send in to the magazine.” The female agent scrawled halfheartedly on the clipboard.

“Lou is your friend’s name? Is Lou a male or a female? And where does he/she live?” Alex was taken aback at the odd question. He glanced at his mother, and saw a flicker of unease cross her face. There was something wrong with these people, with this whole situation.

Smiles and silence filled the room. Agent Johnson, still grinning, crossed his legs. One black pant leg came up. Alex could see part of the agent’s leg above his black sock. The leg was pale gray and hairless. A thin green tube ran out from under the sock. Alex watched as the green tube pulsed and quivered. The throbbing green tube made him feel sick to his stomach.

Mrs. Guest stood and spoke, her voice stern and forceful. “Lou is a boy, and he lives next door. Why do you need to know that?” She put her hands on her hips. “What’s with you people? You ask about my poor husband and don’t show a hint of remorse or compassion at his death?” Her eyes got shiny again. She pointed a finger at Agent Johnson. “I’m beginning to think you aren’t really with the CIA at all.” She raised her voice. “Russians, maybe, is that it?” She looked over at her son. “Call the police, Alex, something’s not right here.”

Agent Johnson stood as Alex jumped out of the recliner and ran across the living room. “Mrs. Guest, I think we have everything we need. Thank you for your compliance. We appreciate it very much.” He smiled again, this one bigger than ever. “Let’s thank them for their compliance, agents, shall we?”

Alex rounded the corner, standing next to the phone, as Agent Lewis sang “Thank you for your compliance!” He turned and saw the female agent rise to her feet, the clipboard dropping off her lap. The clipboard wavered like a mirage for a split second, vanishing before it hit the floor.

Agent King and opened his mouth in a round “O” shape. The noise that came forth wasn’t a voice at all. An unearthly warble filled the room, as if a flock of birds had crash landed on a xylophone. The two men stood up as Alex grabbed the phone, jamming 9-1-1. There was no dial tone. The buttons made no noise. Heart pounding in his chest, Alex let go of the phone. It flopped back and forth on the cord.

Mrs. Guest cried out as she turned and ran towards her son. Agent Johnson rotated his head, a bit too far for a human, looking at the shorter agent. “No, no, Agent King, that won’t do. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMPLIANCE! Try it again.” Alex’s mother wrapped her arms around him. He was shaking with fear. He buried his face in his mother’s neck. They held each to each other tightly.

Agent King’s mouth opened again. “Angku oryerk ahmylizz. Angku oyer kahmpliamnzzz. Kahmpliiiaants.”

“Close enough.” Agent Johnson raised his walkie talkie. The air crackled slightly, and the walkie talkie seemed to melt in his hand. It reformed into a metallic spider-like apparatus. Johnson pulled one of the chrome leg-things on the device and a thin beam of green light shot out. The beam touched Mrs. Guest and she was gone. In her place was a cloud of hot, pinkish steam that smelled like burnt bacon. Alex didn’t even have time to cry before another green beam shot out. He, too, disappeared in a burst of steam. In seconds, both clouds dissipated, leaving three things standing alone in the shag-carpeted silence of the living room.

One of the things stuck an appendage down its throat. It coughed a wet, barking cough, then withdrew what now once again appeared to be a human hand. “Thank — you — foryour– com-pli-ant-s,” it said. The tall thing adjusted its teeth and smiled. The three of them walked out, heading to the house next door.





New Co-Optimus Review: Stardust Galaxy Warriors Stellar Climax

sgwsc_coopreview_screen3I love me some old school shoot’em ups! Gradius, R-Type, the 19XX series, all of these series are favorites of mine. There’s just something wonderful about the simplicity of flying right (or up) and shooting stuff. And it’s even better when you can share the experience with a friend.

I just had the chance to review an indie video game release that tickles my shmup fancy and allows for no less than four couch co-op players. It’s called Stardust Galaxy Warriors Stellar Climax, and it’s pretty great.

I really enjoyed playing Stardust Galaxy Warriors. It looks good, plays great, and is definite throwback to a simpler, sweeter time when filling a living room with friends and playing a video game together was the norm. The soundtrack is particularly great, as well, and makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable. Any fan of shoot’em ups, whether casual or hardcore, will find something to like here. I’d even recommend it to shmup newbies, purely on the strength of the four player couch co-op. It’s definitely worth a look!

Check out the entire review over at Co-Optimus!

Flea Market Find: Vintage Trading Card Edition

PopCultureLeague-Logo-BigThe Pop Culture League challenge this week:

Buying Blind

Who doesn’t love gambling on a blind box or mystery package?

Well, I sure don’t, and judging by the responses of other League members, I’m not alone. As a toy collector, nothing is worse than spending some hard-earned cash for just the chance to get a toy you want. I feel the same about Magic: the Gathering cards, Dice Masters packs, and the like. I’d rather look online for exactly what I want.

That said, I certainly enjoyed one particular type of blind buy item when I was younger: trading cards! Busting open a pack and looking at a checklist to see if you got them all was a good way to spend a few dimes, back in the day. On Labor Day weekend, we did a little flea market shopping, and I found three items that struck my fancy. Coincidentally, they were all trading card related, so why not talk about them for the challenge this week?

I was surprised that the alien card packs were all the same. But the two bucks I wasted on the two extra packs means my loss is your gain! I’m giving away the extras. Just post a comment here if you are interested, and I will randomly choose two commenters and send them the cards. The date of the alien encounter from card #8 is September 19, 1961, so I will end the giveaway commenting period on September 19, 2016. Good luck! These cards are out of this world! (Groan.)

Here are a few other interesting Blind Buy posts:

  • Green Plastic Squirt Gun has two really nifty Tron figures that would look great next to my new trading card box!
  • 2 Minute Toy Break shares my disdain for blind buy toys, but reminds us all of the coolness of toys found in cereal boxes.
  • Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool has a deep loathing for blind buy stuff, as well as Build a Figure toys, which have been a thorn in my side for years now.

The rest of the Pop Culture League posts can be found here. Don’t forget to comment below if you want a groovy set of holographic alien trading cards!