this is not a review for this is not a podcast the podcast

Do you listen to podcasts? It’s cool if you do, and even better if you don’t. The internet has been flooded with podcasts whose hosts get into all sorts of conversations. Joe Rogan gets into the controversially bizarre, Ben Shapiro gets into the politically conservative, and Alex Jones used to get into controversially conservative. Meanwhile, there are podcasts like The No Jumper Show for your underground hip-hop fix, Welcome to Night Vale for your horror fiction, and The Ace Watkins Presidential Hour for your political satire with the gamer twist. With each of these podcasts, there are a set of fans who these shows are written for. So what do you recommend to someone who doesn’t really know what sort of podcasts they would like?

it’s a podcast, but, it also really isn’t

Logan Lofgren aimed to make a podcast that was real and raw. He set to make a show that was genuinely funny and entertaining, and he somehow made exactly that, but all without forcing any comedy bit onto us, or struggling to follow a certain narrative or scripted structure. The content he gives you is exactly as it is titled: “this is not a podcast…the podcast.” Lofgren narrates this show in a cheeky Peter Parker kind of way as a look behind the scenes of the podcast’s creation. To put it simply, it’s a very meta podcast. We’re taking a look into this guy’s life as his show is being made in the duration of his recording sessions. You never know what will come up, or where his show will go next. Is it mundane? Well, sure, but life is mundane, isn’t it?

Just rip your eyes away from all of the screens it has a hard time peeling from, calm your mind as it struggles to cease from racing across thousands of thoughts a second, and sit with Logan for an episode of this podcast, which again, isn’t a podcast. Reality can be as simple, or as relatable as his reality is. You invest in what life throws at you, or rather, at Logan. The minor struggles, the confusion, despair, and yes, mild hijinks of creating a successful podcast become as riveting as any fictional show or podcast written. But that’s how Logan Lofgren gets you; the reality of it is…it isn’t fiction. What you hear is all actually happening, and the fourth wall crumbles as you chuckle and sigh in amusement as you and Logan journey with Irish musicians, K-Pop stans, the Chocolate Rain guy, and Keanu Reeves throughout these episodes. (Yes. Keanu Reeves.)

Take the opportunity to take in what there is to offer in this show. It is not a podcast, according to the title, but if it doesn’t become one of your new favorite podcasts to listen to, then Logan Lofgren will personally pay you $1. Loads of people end up loving it though; myself included. Hell, I’m not even much of a podcast guy myself, but I do love bingeing content.

If you’re interested, check out the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to do more to support the podcast, you can head over to the Patreon to learn more. Check out this is not a podcast on Twitter, and let Logan know if you like the show. Or not. Either way, maybe hit the guy up.

Super-Gods, Sick Mixtapes, and a Surreal Universe: Leaders of the Free World Review (#1 – #2)

If Gods blessed you with powers, would that make you one? Or does that just place you on a tier-level below the source of your abilities? It’s okay, don’t dwell on the existential question for too long, because thankfully we’ve got the answers for you. Hi, folks, and thank you for being patient with this anticipated post (just getting back to the day job grind) and welcome to my first ever Official Stars and Monsters comic review!

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to review the comic series Leaders of the Free World by one of the creative minds behind it, Corey Pruitt (better known as Task on Twitter) and quite frankly, it might have been the one of my most exciting experiences since the initial launch of this blog. Task is not only a comic writer, but also a podcast host on Supersuit Show, but also a major source of influence in the vortex that is the comic twitter community (Spider-Man fans hate Spider-Man, it’s the truth!) Task allowed me to preview his first two issues of his series, drawn by Elijah Johnson (also known as @artbyatlas0 on Twitter), and share some of my thoughts on Leaders of the Free World #1 and #2. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Leaders of the Free World #1 – “A Surreal World”

I dove right into the first issue with the same initial thought that new readers to any series worry about; “Will I be overwhelmed by the world that was built before me?” I suppose the breakdown of the Free World mythos stems from the origin of the Godsend, a group of super-powered gods who arrived to the planet, each instilling themselves in one nation, and essentially committing to their nation’s image, government policies. In return, the Godsend provided tech and knowledge to help advance the world, which inadvertently birthed a new generation of super-powered beings: the Archetypes, a less powerful group of people who created more conflict than safety in the world. After a war killed a third of the world’s population, the Godsend issued laws to limit an Archetype’s activity to only their respective country. This is the lore of Leaders of the Free World.

This series starts with an excellent brief look at the world’s history in the form of a history class, narrated by Surreal, a teenage Asian-American descendant of the an ancient god known as the Monkey King. He fits every relatable aspect of being a teen whose heritage holds more power than they realize. With great power comes great responsibility, and thankfully, we don’t have another Uncle Ben-esque character to reminds Surreal of that. Instead, he meets Eco, the Son of Gaia, who is a superstar wrestler with abilities drawn from, well, Gaia. When these two characters meet and share scenes together, there’s definitely an undeniable chemistry between the two when it comes to the hilarity in their bantering back and forth, and Eco’s unconditional support towards Surreal. The young Monkey King doesn’t know his own true worth yet, and thankfully, the powerful and wise Eco stands beside him from the very beginning, showing a kind of trust that makes me reminisce about the days when Luke Cage and Iron Fist teamed up in Marvel’s Heroes for Hire series.

“Timber”, Eco’s wrestling signature move. Also named after my dog.

As I continued through the issue, I enjoyed the spotlight on these two characters a lot, while also finding myself more enthralled by the joy in seeing Surreal’s old school hip hop playlist scattered across text-boxes in the comic. It creates an entertainingly new and fun experience in a comic book that feels as authentic as a classic comic series as you go through each panel. It was one of the things I was most excited about discussing with Task. When asked where the inspiration for this came from, Task said, “I always listen to music when I write. So I thought ‘What if each issue had its own soundtrack?’ It’s a way for the reader to see where my headspace was at during the creative process.” Nicely done, Task. We love it.

One of my other favorite story threads in this issue specifically included the introduction of Moonshine, the wildly erratic and drunken female superhero whose abilities appear to rival even Superman. It was just one of the many things I enjoyed in this first issue, and I could easily list more, but I have LOTS more to gush about!

Leaders of the Free World #2 – The Beginning’s of Freedom

Aright folks, this is my favorite issue of the two for sure! In Leaders of the Free World #2, we are introduced to my absolute pairing of characters in this set universe. Like Ying and Yang, we meet Medic and Doctor Seance. Medic is, well…if God was a woman, to put it perfectly. As an angel of war and peace, she’s a balance between life and death. In nothing but merely scrubs, she manages to kick enough ass to make Jessica Jones second guess her career as a comic book badass. Alongside her is Doctor Seance, an evil necromancer whose character visual design homages aspects of Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, with a symbiotic relationship to Medic like that of Venom, and a sinister and calculating villain mind that crosses between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs. These two characters, joined together by a holy and flaming halo over Medic’s head, embark on a quest to join the other lead heroes as they prepare for a crisis of epic proportions.

This, however, prompted me to ask Task about the bonds between the various characters, like the development between Surreal and Eco, or between Medic and Doctor Seance. Task’s response was, “When I came up with the characters I had to ask myself ‘Who would get along the most? Who would hate each other?’ Surreal and Eco are both mythical beings born into a life that they never asked for. So they relate to each other the most. Medic and Seance have history that will be explored throughout the series. I don’t want to reveal everything now but let’s just say you will be surprised.”

Comics can mend ya heart, kid.

As I continued on in this issue, completely enthralled by the concept of Medic and Doctor Seance (and Surreal’s Mix scattered through this issue as well to help set the tone), we soon learn more about the hardships that some of these characters hold in their personal lives. Medic, being a superhero and all that, is still a medical doctor, and has a duty to both the world she saves and the world she inhabits. When she turns to work from battle, she unfortunately fails to save her patient’s life. She storms out, completely broken, and her coworker consoles her by stating a sad, but accurate fact of life. She says, “You can’t save everyone all the time.” When I read this comic panel, it was then that I knew this was going to continue to become a really powerful story, with a really exceptional writer behind this stunning and beautiful line work. And, just as the moment on the page was beautifully had, it was interrupted by a beautifully nostalgic shot…

*CUE FREEZE FRAME*

FREEZE FRAME!

The story returns to the initial group, with Surreal. Eco, Tech-Neek, and Moonshine briefly meeting, but it’s just as an invasion brews in the sky above them. From that, to their hilarious first encounter with Doctor Seance, we get really funny dialogue, awesome action sequences, and super dope nostalgic homages to things in nature of, say, giant mechas, or Power Rangers, or maybe even Dragon Ball Z, or just plenty of West Coast classics to keep the action seamless like a swift breeze under Surreal’s feet. Another one of my favorite shots out of this back half of this issue is most definitely Eco’s greeting to the invaders, known as the ominous Outreach. We get some top-tier Samoan representation, some more amazing character moments amidst the action, and an epic finale shot that may tease an epic clash between two of the most powerful beings on the team. Both beautiful and strong women, might I add.

One of my last questions, more of a fanboy-gushing moment, was me asking about what could be teased to other fans of this series, whether it be epic shonen-styled fight scenes between certain highly powerful characters, or the brief tease of the mysterious Mr. Excellent. Task answered with, “I’m trying to make this world seem as big and alive that I can. And that there’s more going on than what is happening in the books. Mr. Excellent’s story will lead to another story arch that I am excited to share. And it’s funny how you brought up the fights with Lunar because let’s just say she’s not entirely sold on the idea of this team up yet. Where she comes from she reigns over these beings, not collaborate with them. Issue 3 is on the way folks. Stay tuned.”

Well done, Free World. You have a special place in my love for comics now, and I cannot wait to see what an amazing franchise this becomes soon.

A Cybrogi. That’s it. ‘Nuff Said.

No weekly plugs this week, folks. Not like I usually do, I mean. No, all I want to suggest to my readers is to check out this new comic book ASAP. This is seriously one of the most enjoyable comic reads I’ve had in a very long time, for sure. It’s pretty amazing, and the series is available on Comixology right now, or, if you’d like, you can follow the writer @uptotask, or the artist @artbyatlas0 on Twitter.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaders of the Free World #3!

Switchin’ up my outro like I usually do too, folks. This time, I’m quoting Gamer Presidential Candidate, Mr. Ace Watkins.

*ahem*

Not solo; squad.

Vicious Rivals and Endless Dreams: A Look at Potential

Happy Wednesday, folks! I hope everyone is enjoying their time right now, making good use of their energy and efforts these days. May has just started, and Mother’s Day is around the corner, and with that, I hope everyone is able to reach out to a loved one, where ever they may be. Nobody is ever completely out of reach, if we reach out just a little. With a few moments out of our day to check up on friends and family costs nothing, and it’s important to open up just a little bit more. That’s my message to my readers this week. If we just open up our hearts a little bit more, I promise, we’ll all be that much more happier.

Now, with the sappy stuff out of the way, I wanted to shine a spotlight on some creative works that I found myself completely mesmerized by with this week. Granted, one of these is a novel that I had already read, but just came across when my sister was cleaning out her room. It’s an amazing piece of science fiction in the YA genre of literature, and dare I say might be the juiciest and sexiest crime thriller around as well. I pitched it to my sister as “Professor X vs. Magneto” meets Grey’s Anatomy, but, she’s busy watching Money Heist on Netflix. For those of you who know exactly what book I’m talking about, I just want to thank y’all for putting me onto this series. I love y’all!

The book is Vicious by V.E. Schwab, first of her Villains series and predecessor of Vengeful. It’s so lovely how dark this tale is, while taking readers on a suspenseful journey across a gritty comic-book-styled world. The story follows Victor Vale and Eli Ever, two college roommates and medical students who explore the possibility of near-death experiences being the catalyst that can awaken superhuman gifts within them. As the two embark on this journey as academic rivals, they become obsessed with the results, leading to a battle between the two brilliant minds as they use their newfound abilities to destroy one another as arch-nemeses.

If anybody has read this book, then you know why it’s such a highly recommended novel. Along with V.E. Schwab’s wonderful writing style, development of the characters in her stories, and the sheer scope of the superhero dynamics she explores in the series, it’s also just a hell of a great time for any fan of revenge thrillers. 10/10 coming from me, folks! And if you aren’t interested, then we can at lest admire these gorgeous covers.

I, personally, was drawn into the series by the premise of unlocking newfound abilities through pushing one’s self to the brink of death, and to be brought back with a new breath of life. Vicious doesn’t dwell heavily on the sci-fi aspect of the abilities by allowing Victor and Eli’s medical student backstory to help ground the concept in a realistic scenario. That being said, I found the unique look at a human’s untapped potential to become superhuman in Vicious vastly more fascinating than, say, a radioactive spider, or “You’re a lab experiment, Rogers; everything special about you came out of a bottle.” (Yes, I’m calling Marvel out, let the Disney overlords take me away.) There’s something truly extraordinary about the possibility that, in order to become the more capable version of ourselves, all we need to do is dare to explore scientific experimentation in a trial and error fashion, while also gambling one’s own life. That’s what the two characters, Victor and Eli, end up doing, but with completely diametrically opposing mindsets and viewpoints. At the start of the novel, Victor is a lonely cynical atheist, whose trust issues stem back to his absent parents, while Eli is a loving and passionate young man, whose big heart is a result of his devotion to a righteous God. As the two’s philosophies and beliefs contradict one another, they test the theory with less interest in the ramifications or consequences of these tests, but rather out of pure jealousy and rivalry. Victor believes he can accomplish this by succumbing to a messy overdose, while Eli believes he can create a controlled environment in order to slow his heart rate to the point of nearly flat-lining. As the experiments continue, with success, more and more chaos ensues, and we see what it’s like when two people attempt to play God with their lives and those around them.

Untapped potential and superhuman abilities? Perhaps these two could’ve, I dunno, stayed in school and cured cancer or something. They were both arguably smart enough to become amazing men, and instead they just…well, I suppose you’d have to read the book yourself to find out what happens to these two young men.

On another note, I wanted to continue the conversation about untapped potential with another creative project I came across. This one also came about when my sister jokingly asked me “Why don’t you get into computer science? Make a video game or something.” Now, if anybody knows me, they know I absolutely abhor math and science form a professional standpoint. I say this fully aware that I just went on and on about a book involving medical students, but, you will never catch me learning how to code in Python or anything like that. However, my sister did spark an idea in me that led me to a pretty worthwhile investment (if you can even call it that; I spent maybe 20 bucks on this only.) Anyway, check out Dreams, a video game that is essentially a game creator system published by Sony, from the creative minds behind Little Big Planet.

It’s SO heckin’ cute!

It’s a weird concept to explain on paper (or screen?) but basically, the game allows you to utilize mechanics found in video game development engines to create your own video game projects! In Dreams, tutorials on the development of levels, characters, and stages are optional, as you are also given free range to test out and play other creations made by other users. Whether it’s a remake of Super Mario 64 in the Sony game engine, a test run of an original video game character’s animations, or a completely rendered cinematic of the Batman: The Animated Series intro. There are also music-based projects, like synth machines and piano rolls, and visual environments used for background noise and concentration, like study beats! There’s even some weird remakes of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but that’s for the meme-loving gamer.

So Much Power and Potential In Dreams

Speaking of gamers, if anybody is looking for any good light-hearted satirical humor tailored to gamers AND politics, check out Ace Watkins’s podcast, The Ace Watkins Presidential Hour. Their latest episode features Ace Watkins and his team as they discuss Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of Joe Biden, weigh the pros and cons of drinking bleach, and talk through what grinds their Metal Gears. So, ya know, just another President candidate, spittin’ stuff that’s quite normal in comparison to, ya know, those in Office.

I do want to give a big thanks to my sister who, without her finding my copy of Vicious and her inspiring me to try out Dreams, I wouldn’t have had anything to discuss today! So, for that, I’m going to shout her out, my immensely supportive pain in my ass sister. Love ya. Stay safe, folks.