Thursday, March 5, 2015

On: The Casting of Pods

On: The Casting of Pods, or How I Learned to Stop Nay-saying and Begin Enjoying Listening to Strangers from The Interverse Geek Out for Hours at A Time


I'm a little bit obsessed with podcasts. As recently as, say, two years ago I would’ve readily dismissed the notion of listening to a podcast (oh two-years-younger Me, what a fool thou were’t), but in only that cosmically-miniscule heartbeat, my proverbial tune: it did change.

It started with boardgaming podcasts; a bit of a game-review here, a Top 10 List there; just a nibble at first, but that initial shot did things to my brain. Scaaaaary things. Soon enough I was mainlining whole episodes one after another, binging on years of archives, reveling in the wealth of that particular, peculiar, black-lit corner of nerd-dom that I’d not even known I’d been denying myself. “It’s like sitting-in on a super-interesting conversation with extremely knowledgeable friends that I never knew I had!” I exclaimed more than once (note: “super interesting” and “friends” are, in this case, without a doubt wildly subjective), “Granted, I can’t join in, but if this was happening right in front of me in a shop, or on a couch, or at a summer bbq or whathaveyou, I’d be absolutely riveted and clamoring for more! This is The Stuff!” I trend a touch excitable; mea culpa.

My newly-born enthusiasm only escalated, episode after episode. I listened while cooking, I listened while driving, I listened during bike rides, I listened at night before I went to sleep. And still, I wasn't entirely sated.

In a fit of insatiable Galactus/Darkseid/Thanos-esque megalomania, I hungered for more, and thus more it was to be. On the heels of the first love, the benchmark boardgaming podcast The Dice Tower, came the just-the-right-amount-of-witty London-town equivalent Shut Up & Sit Down, followed by The Fighting Cock (as in the mascot of The Pride of North London, the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur, the club that some time ago and forever-more won my heart).

At that point, with a steady couple of new episodes per week on my plate, I thought I’d just about reached optimal podcast saturation; there are only so many hours in the day, after all, and there was still music to listen to, and long stretches where earbuds couldn't be in for whatever unholy reason, time when actual human interaction would be required for whatever X, Y, and/or Betazed situation. “That should just about do me,” I mused, smugly, “Tons of episodes loaded up, weeded-out the boring stuff, can’t think of too much else I need to explore, podcast-wise; job well-done, Self.” OH, HOW WRONG I WAS.

Which brings us to comic books, and Empire’s Comics Vault. Shop stalwart and good friend Jacob DeSersa mentioned to me one day that tripped-out Scottish auteur Grant Morrison had discussed such-and-such fascinating thing on something called Fatman on Batman, and had I heard this? Did I know about this? “I have not,” I replied, “Whassis, now? A fat . . mannn? Grant Morrison, you say? And Kevin Smith? I love Kevin Smith! He does podcasts? This, I did not know! Sounds interesting; I’ll have to check it out.”

A massive, long-time fan of Smith’s movies, from Clerks on up, I soon discovered that he runs not just ‘A’ podcast, but a truly gargantuan (“you know, I've always liked that word . . ‘gargantuan’”) network of them, many of which he appears on if-not hosts. And, as befitting an entertainer of his talent, he’s really, really good at it. While I found that some of the shows on this so-called "Smodcast" network aren't quite my speed or taste for one reason or another, I also found, as Jake had oh-so-correctly asserted, that Fatman on Batman, on which Smith, as host, talks to various Bat-celebrities and luminaries of comicdom about Batman and how the Platonic Dark Knight has both micro and macro-cosmically affected and changed lives and the world in which we live, is outstanding, and right up my alley; quite, and then some. So on went dozens of archived Fatman episodes, loaded to the iPod, and the absorption and ratcheting-up of my already-stout Bat-love did’st then begin.

Of course it wasn't long before I’d caught up to current (I go on a lot of bike rides), and had to wait for another week or month for the next episode (*gasp*), and as such I began to venture deeper into the web in search of more comic-related podcasts. There were missteps and misses among those I checked out, but I’m not writing this to pan anyone or and I have no interest in being a Critical Christopher here, so those shall remain anonymous and blessedly-forgotten. Besides, there was, indeed, more gold to be found at the end of that Asgardian Rainbow Bridge-trope, not the least of which is the Empire’s Comics Vault podcast, oft-titled Empire’s Open Vault (what it lacks in quantity and regularity, it more-than makes up for in quality, says I).

And here we now find ourselves, at long last, at the point of this post:

My Favorite Comicbook Podcasts

Are you ready? Feel like a swim? Goggles firmly affixed? Fun. Let’s dive on in, ‘cause the water? She is so very fine:

Empire’s Open Vault: You already know and love the shop, or you probably wouldn’t be here, eh? So, turns out, sometimes they do in-store podcasts! Boom! Just like that!! They’re fun! Why am I using so many exclamation marks!?! I really ought to knock that off, now!!! Empire’s Open Vault is always a good listen; topics have included new comics, The Big Two, indies, comic movies and TV, local creators, cosplay, Free Comic Book Day, and most of all: et cetera. Do it to it. [Subscribe to Empire's Open Vault on iTunes]

Fatman on Batman: “Babblin’ ‘bout The Bat, with ol’ Kevin Smith,” as it goes. As far as I can tell, if comic-book-podcasting were an industry, and if that would-be industry had a standard, this would be it; seriously outstanding stuff, and wildly-popular. Guests have included the likes of Mark Hamill, Joe Quesada, Denny O'Neil, Paul Dini, the cast of Smith’s AMC show Comic Book Men, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Kyle Higgins, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Stan The Man, Jeph Loeb, Geoff Johns, Adam West, Burt Ward, Kevin Conroy, Bruce Timm, Tara Strong, Arleen Sorkin, and “The World’s Biggest Neal Adams Fan” the one, the only, Mr. Neal “Himself” Adams. Ridiculous, yeah? If any of those names sound familiar to you in a good way, or if you have any interest in or love for Batman in any form, this show is a gold mine, though it must be mentioned, as with everything Kevin Smith’s ever made, it’s also very, very adult. So . . you know, heads up on that; sense of humor required, and this is probably not one for the kiddies. Also, sadly, in the last year it’s become much, much less regular than it once was for reasons unknown, essentially grinding to a halt as far as new episodes go (likely due to Smith putting his filmmaker hat back on, which, as an unabashed fan of his, I’m certainly never going to complain about), but hopefully that’s merely a hiccup, and with over seventy episodes to catch up on, there’s plenty of buffer to hold you over ‘till Kevin gets back on his Bathorse, proper.

View From The Gutters: One of my tippy-toppmost favorites, View is a weekly podcast from some most-knowledgeable and affable peeps in the Olympia, WA area, the format and role of which is best summed up as (to quote the ‘about’ section of their page, because I’m a horrible person, totally bereft of creativity and the capacity for original thought), “. . a weekly round-table discussion about comic books. In each episode we focus on one graphic novel or collected volume of a series. We review the week’s topic work (with frequent digressions to jabber about other comics and creators, discuss the state of the industry, or just bash on Geoff Johns for a while), and then each host nominates a new comic to discuss on the next episode. At the end of each podcast we vote to select which nominated work we’ll be talking about next time, so you can read along with us.

The cast of characters who host the show rotate a bit, week-in and week-out, depending on availability and whatever other personal circumstance, but you can usually find Messrs Andrew Chard, Tobiah Panshin, and Joe Preti at -or near- the helm, and they always manage to strike that particular, enviable, friends-sitting-around-a-campfire/coffee-table vibe, and no matter the lineup or the book of the week, there’s always thought-provoking dissent and discussion, and a great deal of fun and laughter to be had (they even managed find one or two nitpicks with Saga, which I’d previously assumed lay at a theoretical absolute-zero-level of nitpickability, because: SAGA). The format alone makes this a unique and always-interesting listen, and sets it apart in a very good way; everyone’s always up on and for the book being discussed (which is refreshing), having just read or re-read it, and the show serves as a fantastic reading guide/list of books to check out as well, walking you through an astonishingly-diverse tour of famous, infamous, notorious, and even relatively-obscure comic runs new, old, and everywhere in-between. I can’t seem to nail-down exactly how many great books and runs View has turned me on to so far, but assuredly that number is well past three dozen by now. Roughly four times a year they put out an episode categorized as a Long Run, which is exactly what it sounds like, covering several substantial volumes of a comic or character’s history instead of the usual single trade or graphic novel.

View is, to me, a Ye-Olde-Book Club of sorts, minus the Earl Grey and canned-fruited scones, and even when I’m not hugely-fond of or familiar with the book being discussed, or even when I mildly-to-strongly disagree with some of the opinions of one or two of the hosts, I always come out of their discussions smiling -beaming, even-, and feeling a little wiser, like I've just partaken in an eminently worthwhile chat, which in and of itself is an impressive feat. This show is highly recommended, to say the least.

FYI, as with Fatman and nearly all of the podcasts I’m listing here, this show often contains adult language, and it’s always spoiler-heavy for the book being discussed, so unless spoilers bother you not, make sure you've read the book being discussed before you listen. You've done been warned.

  • Back Matter: In addition to the regular weekly episodes and the Long Runs, every now and then various members of the View crew sit down for a more traditional “chat about a particular topic/what you’ve been up to or are excited about” sort of bull-session; these episodes they put out as Back Matter. Sometimes these episodes are on a particular overarching/general topic or question (ex. “Art vs. Artist”, “Comic Events”, “The Birth of Image”), sometimes the episode is an interview, sometimes it’s about a con they just attended and what all went on there, etc; every time it’s worth a listen. If you decide to check out the View flagship show, and then find yourself wishing they’d do a more standard-format/less-structured podcast, this is the droid you’re looking for. There aren't a ton of episodes of Back Matter out yet, but I've been assured that there are more on the way. Adult language warning, still in effect.
Out of The Fridge: This is another one that I simply cannot get enough of. A sibling show of sorts to View From The Gutters, with some personnel crossover, and also based out of the Olympia, WA area, Out of The Fridge is hosted by three comic-shop coworkers and friends, Alison Poppy, Kelly Okler, and Eric Manix; in recent months that three has grown to four with the addition of aforementioned View’s host and former co-worker Andrew Chard. They've done episodes on such topics as Emerald City Comic Con, Thor, Superman, Brubaker’s run on Captain America, Edmonson and Noto’s current Black Widow series, Mike Carey’s run on Hellblazer, Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), Young Avengers, Afterlife With Archie, Sailor Moon, Rat Queens, magic in comics (as revealed through discussions of Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, and mah boy Dr. Strange), Peter Panzerfaust, Fables, Saga, Miles Morales/Ultimate Spiderman, Runaways, not-one-but two Halloween specials (in which they discuss Revival and the phenomenal Rachel Rising, among other things), a Jim Henson special, as well as a trio of episodes focused on sexism in comics featuring a variety of guests (a focus and angle that very much helps define the tack that they apply to all of the topics and books they discuss, thus: the moniker of their podcast, and a four-part series on the X-Men covering The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, God Loves/Man Kills, and From The Ashes.

The camaraderie, hilarity, dropped-knowledge, and love-of-comicdom that they put across, combined with the particular lens that they view these topics through, hits me right in the sweet spot; honestly, I can’t possibly properly express how much I enjoy every single episode of this show. It’s never anything less than informative, enlightening, and riotously funny. At the risk of becoming detrimentally repetitive, here too there be adult language, but as with the rest, please, pleasedon’t let that deter you. When a new episode goes up, it’s a race against my ever-more-formidable impatience to get it loaded and playing, tout de suite.

  • Top of The Stack: Though not a podcast, I would never-the-less be remiss when talking about View from The Gutters or Out of The Fridge if I didn't also recommend their related weekly comic-review Youtube show, Top of The Stack (link to old Youtube page). Usually out by Thursday night, Chard and Manix (plus the occasional guest) go over pretty much every comic and trade/OGN/omnibus/deluxe-sparkly-ultimate-edition/whathaveyou.now that came out that week, starting with the #1s and wrapping with the new trades and picks for Books of The Week, discussing what they like, dislike, or are intrigued by about the various books. Much longer, more thorough and in-depth, and later in the week than the “these are the books that are coming out this week” shop-vids that go up on Youtube every Tuesday/Wednesday (and thus in a slightly different category than those, and not, to my mind, in direct competition with, let’s-say, Empire’s Comics own thoroughly-enjoyable, always-informative, weekly “what’s new this Wednesday” show, EmpiresCV.tv, which I would of course also encourage you to watch on the Regs McGeggs if you're not already doing so, I look forward to this show every week to the point that I’m genuinely grumpy when it’s delayed or when I can’t get to a computer in a timely manner on Thursday to devour it. They’re opinionated and amiable, panels and pages splash across the screen giving you an idea of what’s being discussed, they don’t hold back, and their enthusiasm is utterly contagious. Love it. The pre-2015 Top of The Stacks can be found on the View from The Gutters Youtube page, and the new entries (going forward) are now being posted on a new Youtube page named Gamma Bomb. Go. Watch. You’re welcome. 
Rachel & Miles X-plain The X-Men (Because It’s About Time Someone Did)Ooohhhhhhh man. Oh man, oh man, oh man, ohmanohmanohmanohMcManaman. So . . ok, I understand that at some point all of the superlatives and overly-flowery language that I’ve been Rip Taylor-flinging around in here like so much pastel confetti is going to begin to desensitize anyone reading this to the point of dull-nerved apathy, but I beg you, do yourself a favor and download or stream the first episode of Rachel & Miles. Just . . just go, and do that. Right now. I’ll wait.

. . done, yeah? Dazzling, no? Didn't even take very long, did it. There are comic podcasts, and then there are Comic Podcasts, and then there’s Rachel & Miles X-plain The X-Men. They only started last April, barely a tik-tok ago, but they've just put out their 43rd episode, each and every one an unadulterated treasure to behold (to be beheld? Beheld-en? Eh, roll with it). Unlike any other podcast of any sort to which I've listened, they favor (and presumably work very, very hard to attain) a compact, somewhat-scripted, rapid-fire format that tends to run about 45 minutes, or “short enough to listen to on your lunch break,” as is their aim, and the compressed, witty repartee that they achieve never fails to sweep me up, utterly, and set itself apart by its pace, professionalism, energy, and comic-book-history-lesson format. Plus, cards on the table, I just plain-ol’ adore the X-Men, and have since I was a wee lad, so I’m admittedly square in their target demographic.

The topics are what one might expect, given the title. Ever been confused, intimidated, or prohibitively-daunted by the prospect of trying to make any sort of sense at all of the giant-sized, impossible, Gordian Knot of infinitely-convoluted yarn that is the last 50 years of X-history, but you’d really like to try to get a handle on it, all the same? Then this shall, henceforth, be your jam. Episode 1 starts with the very beginnings of the X-Men, the original five from 1963’s X-Men #1 (the “first class” proper; are you paying attention Bryan Singer? No, of course you aren't), and, bit by bit, Rachel and Miles try their damnedest to work their way up to and through every nook, cranny, and roundabout Lee-and-Claremont’s (and co’s) crusaders have found themselves entangled in since, criss-crossing through all the various related X-properties as well, including annuals, crossovers, events, New Mutants, Excalibur, X-Factor, and such. It’s an indelibly wild, fast-paced, dizzying, and joyously-wacky trip to follow along with; at once mirthful lecture, series of running gags, and childhood story-time. Not to be missed or dismissed if you are at all interested in any of the X-families. New episodes drop on Sundays, and are followed by an "As Mentioned In This Episode" post with pictures, panels, doodles, and links.

(Incidentally, and unrelated to comics or podcasting in any way, I not long ago found out that the mad-clever Twitter account The Worst Muse is written by this very Rachel. If you use Twitter, and you’re not following Worst Muse, you’re doing your laugh muscle a grave disservice.)

  • Rachel & Miles Review the X-Men: It’s very much worth noting that several months back Rachel & Miles hit a support milestone on their Patreon that “unlocked” this new side-project, now in it’s 24th week and posted every Friday on their Youtube page, in which they review all of the new X-books that just dropped that prior Wednesday. It’s delightful, and as someone who generally can’t deal with Brian Michael Bendis’ mode of operation and thus finds himself not super-into today’s X-storylines but still wants to stay in the loop, I find it invaluable as a way of mostly keeping abreast of what’s what in X-Mens right this moment and keeping tabs on those beloved characters without having to sink money into books that I’m not particularly currently enamored with. It very much accomplishes what it sets out to, and serves as a wonderful supplement to the audio show.
Talking Comics: In several very real ways, Talking Comics is one of the biggest of the big-boys on this particular block. Not only do they put out a clockwork-regular, uber-thorough, extremely well-done comics podcast every week, with a massive back catalog already in the bank (they've done over 170 episodes at last count), the four regular hosts of which form a wonderfully-dependable, cohesive, round-table crew that represent a colorful carousel of living nerd archetypes (which I pigeon-hole with the utmost affection, The Emcee/Fast Talker, The Gen-Y/Philosopher, The Eminently-Wise/Nostalgic/Encyclopedic Baby Boomer, and, by no means the least, The Cute-Quirky/Oft-Fiery/Always-Bubbly Canadian), they also offer a Talking Games podcast, a Talking Movies, podcast, yet another show called The Misfits (which features exclusively as hosts the ladies of the Talking Comics family, Bubbly Canadian included), as well as sporting an impressive site which offers not only those shows but also a news section, a reviews section, a videos section with regular segments (including Comics and Coffee, a regular, live, Youtube “what’s up this week” current-events chat-style morning show/discussion), a blogs section, and a dedicated forum.

And not only is there a ton of content, but in no way is quality sacrificed in favor of the absurd abundance. Their titular flagship show often comes with a truly hefty running time (as is so often the case with all manner of podcasts), and the breadth of the material that they manage to cover never ceases to astound. They each do quick overviews and reviews of the books they've read that week, first in a timed Lighting Round, then as a more lengthy Book of The Week segment (again, each of them does this in turn), followed by whatever other weekly topics they've decided to hit, and listener questions, follow-ups from previous discussions, monthly sales numbers, the full list of what’s coming out this week (oft featuring the ever-mysterious “what subtitle is this week’s Transformers book sporting” game), and occasionally interviews from a list of comic who’s-who that will blow thy dainty little mind clean up and out (this is how I discovered their site and their shows to begin with, having googled for podcasts featuring Scott Snyder, or Kelly Sue DeConnick, or Jonathan Hickman, or whomever else I was looking to hear more from at the time).

Warning: This one in particular is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s not wholly unusual for it to run a full three hours or thereabouts, which I’d imagine is bound to put some people off. But if the prospect of that runtime doesn't frighten you, then give this one a shot. Also, again, there is adult language here and there on Talking Comics, worth noting so my recommendation doesn't put anyone in a tight spot, but certainly no reason not to listen up and listen good.

The Hot Comics Plopcast: There once was a girl; this girl had a robot; this robot was obsessed with comics from the '90s. Together they started a comics and film themed Youtube channel for newblers (sic) and geek enthusiasts. It was funny, and clearly-authentic, and generally good times, and enjoyed a more-than healthy following as Youtube channels go. Comics and movie talk begat “epic” histories of the various houses of George R.R. Martin’s now-ubiquitous A Song of Ice and Fire, which begat much clamor, many “hits”, and much "hotness" as the kiddies say. By April of 2013 this then begat The Hot Comics Plopcast featuring the girl in question, Comicbookgirl19, and her cohorts, T-Bone (aka the fellow behind Robot), and their friend “Captain” Kirk (not that Captain Kirk, obviously, nor the guitarist for The Roots Captain Kirk, but a third, still-entirely-worthy fellow). Occasionally everyone’s favorite Geek & Sundry comics-expert/pixie Amy Dallen (of Talkin’ Comics Weekly, among other things), also joins the mix. They talk movies, they talk escapades, they talk TV, they talk books, they talk internet trolls, and -yes- they do sneak a smidge of talk into the show about comics news, favorites, what they've been reading, and what they’re excited about.

T’would be a vast understatement to claim that I’d been mostly out of touch with the comic world for a good spell before I first tuned-in to the The Hot Comics Plopcast all that while back (two years seems like forever ago), and their musings, ramblings, and varied recommendations for their favorite new-ish books played a substantial role in reigniting my interest in the art-form. It was through this podcast that I first found my way to an enormous number of what have since become my favorite-ever books, not the least of which include Saga, East of West, Hawkeye, Y The Last Man, Pretty Deadly, Sandman: Overture, The Wake, and Black Science. It was on this show that I first heard mentioned the mostly-hallowed names Hickman, Brubaker, Phillips, Aja, Fraction, DeConnick, Gillen, Keatinge, Soule, Ellis, Remender, Snyder, Straczynski, and Brian K. Vaughan, and was then able to begin to take my first steps back towards the proverbial yellow brick road after such a long time lost in the woods, plunging from the world of Stan The Man & King Kirby, The Neals: Adams, Gaiman, and Denny O’, Loeb & Sale, Claremont & Cockrum, Jim Lee, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller, into the oft startlingly-poetic and shockingly-nuanced world of grown-ass modern and current comics. Needless to say, I am most grateful for the assist.

They don’t record or release episodes regularly, so stow those expectations of regularity somewhere you won’t miss them, and the percentage of their content that’s devoted to comics isn't consistent, but do not let that dissuade you; it’s a fun, loose show to listen to, and for the debt I owe these fine people as much as for anything else, I can do naught but recommend it, fully, as a very entertaining nerd-culture podcast. They’re straight shooters, here (as such, once more you’ll find some adult language hereabouts, as one might expect), it has a real “friends a-few-shots-in having a healthy rant/rave chat about whatever’s been on their collective minds” aura about it, and it’s always a treat when I find a new episode’s been put up. Unfortunately, they've struggled to get their foot in the iTunes door, so this is definitely the toughest of the podcasts on this list to download (generally I rip the audio of the show from their Youtube channel so I can put it on my iPod, which is by far the most convenient way for me to listen), but even if you have to stream it, I can vouch for how worthwhile it is to go that extra mile.

Well that's the list! All finished.

Overwhelmed yet? That’s fully fair a response; sane and reasonable. But if your interest in comic book related podcasts is at all piqued, don’t be shy. Start slow, pick one or two that sound like your cuppa, search through the episode lists and find one on a book that you already like, maybe listen to one of your favorite writers do a guest spot or interview, take your time and try out various shows to see what fits and what flops in the amphitheater betwixt thy ears; the back issues (so to speak) aren't going anywhere. No harm in trying an episode or three out, yeah? I hope you find a few that tickle your fancy. And if you do end up a fan, please go give whichever show you're listening to a review or rate them on iTunes (I've been assured that this helps immensely), or support them on the Patreon pages that several of them have started-up. All of these fine shows can be found at the links I've provided, or on iTunes (except where otherwise noted), and/or elsewhere on these here interwebs (Stitcher, Podbean, Soundcloud, whathaveyou, as well as their own sites, in addition to the predictable Facebooks, Twitterverses, Tumblrings, and such). Happy listening!

* written by Tony C. Asaro, Esq, of Sacramento, CA.
Knight of Mars, Listener of Shows
email: tgaucho@yahoo.com

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