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New York Comic Con 2017

It’s that time of year again for the biggest pop culture event on the East Coast! This marks my 6th year attending New York Comic Con, home to the latest in comics, video games, movies, toys, anime, and much more!

If you’ve only attended small cons before, New York Comic Con is exactly the same… except pumped up on Bane’s Venom formula! Just imagine your favorite local comic con amplified 10 times! So without further delay, here are some of my favorite moments:

Despite the space restrictions this year due to the $1.5 billion Javits Center expansion, I think ReedPOP did a good job managing their 12th NYCC. And as always, they had a great display for DC Comics in the South Concourse. A giant Justice League banner & costumes were out, DC television show clips were playing, and some cool freebies were given out.

On top of that, Graphitti Designs had some incredible t-shirts and variant covers of this year’s Dark Nights Metal issues as well as their tie-in’s (Red Death, Murder Machine, and Dawnbreaker). I waited on their line which was almost an hour long and many covers sold out for each day’s allotted quantities! Thankfully I got the ones I wanted.

Along with DC were some amazing booths for photo ops, VR/AR, and fan experiences. You could hang like Spidey in an upside-down room, step inside SpongeBob’s Pineapple, or snap a photo with some Justice League cardboard cutouts.

But I had a blast inside on the show floor.

One of my favorite exhibitors is trading card company Topps. They were offering giveaways and Star Wars autographing all weekend.

On Thursday, I got to meet Jerome Blake (who I had the privilege of meeting last year as well) and even got to hang with him a little afterwards. Such a nice guy and his presence in Episode I is quite important! He signed an 8×10 and my Oppo Rancisis figure.

On Saturday, I met Philip Anthony-Rodriguez (the voice of the Fifth Brother in Star Wars Rebels) who signed an 8×10, my Fifth Brother figure, and my Topps card.

Just as they did at Star Wars Celebration 2017, Topps authenticated the autographs with their special holographic QR code which verifies that specific signature. And on top of the free autographs, Topps was also offering some great giveaways by participating in a scavenger hunt & app demo!

To get the exclusive chase droid cards, you had to receive 3 stamps found on the map card. They were also giving out an exclusive trading card each day from The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Garbage Pail Kids, and Mysticons. Lastly, you could win exclusives like a Star Wars poster, card holder, or Rey pin by earning a high score on their game Topps BUNT’s Batter Up.

In addition to Topps, Konami had a section set up for Yu-Gi-Oh. They were handing out Yugi hair headbands and had a booth to turn yourself into a custom token card!

Like many others, we went for the New York Comic Con exclusive design! This was a great freebie and the line wasn’t that long either.

Some other great photo ops were Bandai’s Power Rangers morphin’ grid and a Dragon Ball power-up video (more in my YouTube video). I even met Sean Schemmel (voice of Goku) while waiting to power up!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet David Yost (the original Blue Ranger) this time around. He & Amy Jo Johnson are the last of the original MMPR cast I’ve yet to meet. But I did get to meet some other amazing stars.

Kevin Conroy – He’s not just the hero of Gotham. He’s the hero of my childhood. “I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman!” A long line to meet him, but well worth it! I told him how much Batman The Animated Series impacted me growing up. I brought one of my favorite childhood Batman Adventures comic book to get signed too. I explained that Loren Lester (Robin/Nightwing) signed off to the side to leave room for Kevin’s autograph. Mr. Conroy laughed and signed up top to leave room for Tara Strong (Batgirl).

Tara Strong – This was Tara’s first NYCC! One of the most popular voice actors of our time: Timmy Turner, Bubbles, Raven, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, the list goes on and on! And while she arrived late to her last autographing session, Tara stayed extra to meet every single fan instead of cutting the line short. I told her the story of Loren & Kevin and how there’s tons of room for her name now… and she signed a very tiny autograph on Batgirl’s cape. What a story! This comic book is now being graded by CGC with their Signature Series program.

Jim Cummings – Kind of a Disney legend. You may know him as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Pete (Goofy), Razoul (Aladdin), Bonkers, Darkwing Duck, Dr. Robotnik… You can check out his IMDb for more! But I just had to finally get his autograph on my Hondo Ohnaka figure from Star Wars The Clone Wars. Initially, we were worried on the line because a lot of time passed and he hadn’t shown up for his autographing session. But when he finally arrived, we all had a fun time. As I was leaving, he even did the voice for me: “Do me a favor… [voice] Be careful out there. There are Jedi EVERYwhere!”

Nolan North – Another voice actor legend. His credits are too long to list (IMDb) and his line never got shorter! He was a very nice guy and took the time to chat with fans. He told me a great story about how he was directed by George Lucas for the episode of The Clone Wars he voiced as El-Les. I told him that that episode was so good and kicked off one of my favorite story lines in the whole series.

Along with the autographing area downstairs was the new Artist Alley. Because of the construction being done at the Javits, Artist Alley was moved to the “experimental” hall from last year. Frankly, it was too warm down there and I can’t imagine spending all day in the cramped aisles. I had to navigate through here a couple times to reach the lower level CGC (because the upper level CGC would not travel to the autographing area). But at least I got a free print from artist Christopher Jones!

Meanwhile, upstairs on the show floor you could find some great artists & writers for meet & greets and book signings.

Early in the morning I received the wristband which entitled me to purchase the convention exclusive of From A Certain Point Of View – Penguin Random House’s compilation of 40 Star Wars stories from 40 different authors! Over the course of the NYCC weekend, I was able to get my exclusive book signed by 4 of the authors who worked on it (which is 10%… not bad, I guess?): Chuck Wendig, Delilah S. Dawson, Pablo Hidalgo, and Jason Fry. They each signed standalone posters for their respective books as well.

IDW also had a signing with Star Wars Adventures creatives Derek Charm (artist) and Landry Q. Walker (writer). They signed my SDCC Star Wars Adventure #0 ashcan issue and it’s on its way to CGC too! Surprisingly, they mentioned that they didn’t get any of these to sign this weekend:

What’s beautiful about New York Comic Con is that it appeals to all kinds of fandoms whether it’s comic books, movies, or pop culture in general. And the Fandom Fantasy Food Truck is no letdown in this category. Featuring food & drink from Star Wars, Stranger Things, Rick & Morty, and The Walking Dead, this food truck serves up sweet & salty treats to give you a little boost during the con.

Quantities were limited and were on a first come, first serve basis. But throughout the weekend we were able to try out all 4 items: Porg In A Blanket (chocolate cake pop with royal icing, white chocolate, and marshmallow wrapped in a mini tortilla), Upside Down Waffle (whole grain waffle covered in milk chocolate, cotton candy, unsweetened coconut flakes, and marshmallow), Pickle Rick Soda (dill pickle juice, fresh dill, club soda, and pickles), and Lucille Bat Pretzel (a pretzel stick covered in caramel, white chocolate, red food coloring, and a candy eye)!

Also, throughout the con, food vendors were serving up Brooklyn Defender 2017! We didn’t get to pick up a pint but we got to check out the launch party last month. Check it out here.

But one of the best parts of the con was the surprise booth by Verizon to showcase Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and how about that trailer??)! This immersive experience deserved its own post so be sure to check it out here.

Some other highlights from the con were the world premiere of 8K at Domo! World, the DIRECTV NOW Walking Dead photo booth, Weta Digital’s Planet of the Apes mocap station, and the Lego BrickHeadz truck for the Boba Fett/Han Solo Carbonite exclusive!

We wrapped up our time at New York Comic Con with An Evening with Mark Hamill at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Because we got to meet Mark at Celebration for photos & autographs, we decided to skip the meet & greet at NYCC and opted for the paid panel. Recently ReedPOP started offering a variety of off-site panels that don’t require NYCC badges but do require payment. This is an excellent alternative for non-attendees, but additional hurt for already paying con attendees. (Not to mention the extensive bag check removing all Sharpies, gum, etc. which we sort of got back after the show…)

For $1500, you’ll be in the first row with a post-show meet & greet with Hamill himself – plus an included autograph & photo session. Needless to say, we got the best seats on the first balcony and enjoyed 2 solid hours of #Hamillstein – stories of his journey as Luke, his voice acting career, an extensive Q&A, and a heartfelt tribute to Carrie Fisher.

15 random audience members received a blue Post-it indicating that they would be moved to stage seats, which they called Hamill-vision! This also guaranteed them a free autographed headshot presented later in the show. And during the Q&A, the first 15 people also received autographs.

It was truly a memorable talk even if you’ve heard some of the stories before. Mark has a way with words and you can tell the man really cares about the fans too!

To wrap up, New York Comic Con 2017 was so much fun! Honestly I was worried about the crowds and space issues due to the construction but not only was this not an issue, ReedPOP did an unbelievable job managing the morning queue lines too! We got to do almost everything we planned, and even had time to visit the WB/Boomerang/BoxLunch “Get Animated!” pop-up on top of that. I’ll be curious to see how next year is handled as the Javits goes through even more changes.

Until then, see you at the next con!

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Experience By Verizon (NYCC 2017)

From October 5-8, 2017, Verizon offered a one of a kind Star Wars experience at New York Comic Con. Inside, fans could be a part of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi via props and costumes straight from the film!

I was lucky enough to be able to step inside. And with the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie ticket pre-sales and the official trailer out tonight, I thought it’d the perfect time to share for anyone who wasn’t able to attend or see this amazing booth. Scroll down for more!

The interior was just like a First Order base with the wall designs and even doors resembling the on set look, while beams of light hit the floor with mild smoke effects.

You’re immediately greeted with the weapons of the Praetorian Guards.

Each exhibit is accompanied by a screen, like you would see in the Star Wars universe, except these screens will explain each piece. Here’s an example of what was said about a couple of these weapons:

Praetorian Long Axe – The Praetorians carry weapons that are high-tech versions of unpowered analogs found in primitive societies across the galaxy. The tempered blade of this long axe, or vibro-voulge, connects to a compact ultrasonic generator that creates a high-frequency vibration across the cutting edge, increasing its deadliness.

Electro-Chain Whip – The Praetorian electro-chain whip is one of the most unique weapons in the Elite Praetorian Guard arsenal, able to function as a sword-like melee weapon or be shifted into a plasma laser whip depending on combat style.

Some other amazing props include helmets and weapons used in the making of the film:

The details on these rifles are amazing (First Order Stormtrooper above, Resistance below). It’s so great so see that Star Wars movies don’t skimp out on details!

In addition to the weapons, the exhibit also boasted fantastic windowed displays of helmets & other props:

I loved being able to get a closer look at the Praetorian Guard helmet. Seeing it next to the other First Order helmets also gives us a better idea of the size of Snoke’s special guards!

And what would Star Wars be without some spaceships?

On display were mini versions of the Resistance Bomber ship (which closely resembles the B-Wing) and Kylo Ren’s TIE Fighter (TIE Silencer).

The final category covered in The Last Jedi Experience was the costumes. On display were mannequins donning a TIE Pilot and a Resistance Pilot uniform.

I had seen these before in NYC’s Discovery Times Square (now closed) during their “Star Wars And The Power Of Costume” exhibition, which featured 70 costumes from the film franchise, including those from The Force Awakens. While I’m sure there have been some changes for The Last Jedi, I was kind of hoping for some newer costumes that had never been seen before in person.

But overall, this Verizon booth was a nice surprise at New York Comic Con! A few days ahead of the official trailer and ticket sales, it was a smart move and got people’s focus back on the next film of the Star Wars Saga!

Right in front of this exhibit, we even got to take a picture with a real life BB-8! It was a fully functional droid that would pose, blip, and do all the BB-8 type stuff (minus the flame thumbs-up)!

If you haven’t yet, watch the trailer for The Last Jedi here and buy tickets today!

Legoland Discovery Center: Lego Ninjago Movie Days + Giveaway!

*Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post to win a Family 4 Pack of tickets to LDC Westchester!*

Find your inner ninja on September 22-24 and September 30-October 1 at Legoland Discovery Center!

With this fall’s new Lego Ninjago Movie, Legoland Discovery Center is launching a special series of events especially for Ninjago fans! Here you can take part in a ninja-themed scavenger hunt, help build a big mosaic portrait of the Green Ninja Lloyd, build something special in the master class, and much more!

I had the privilege of checking out the Lego Ninjago Movie Days this past weekend and it was a blast for kids and families of all ages.

Apart from the existing Legoland attractions (which you can read about here), new Ninjago fun has been added. Up above, you can snap a photo with Lloyd, Nya, or Master Wu – completely made out of bricks! Or be your own ninja with the cardboard cutouts next to Ninjago City Adventure, a two-story 2,300 square foot interactive play area!

And as if that still wasn’t enough, keep your eyes peeled for Kai the Red Ninja who makes his rounds throughout Legoland. Strike a pose and help defend Ninjago against Evil Lord Garmadon!

The positive energy at Legoland Discovery Center Westchester is always a plus and the staff is always helpful. Thanks to them, I was able to find the room where you can help build the big mosaic of Lloyd (or as Garmadon calls him, La-Lloyd)!

Simply pick a 6×6 plate (or try to find the corresponding number if you prefer a specific spot on the mosaic) and build along with the mapped out colors!

I played my part! Here’s plate #215, one of the last available spots on Lloyd’s face. It was so much fun to take part in, and I can’t wait to see the finished product! Don’t miss out on your chance – visit Legoland Discovery Center this weekend!

Not only that, there are plenty more activities that are unique to Lego Ninjago Movie Days:

In the Master Builder Workshop, you can build mosaics of Ninjago characters! Simply use the examples on the screen provided by the instructor. There are buckets of colors on the tables for you to build on a 16×16 plate.

It could be one of the main ninjas, or you can be creative and make your own! We decided to build Master Wu and an original ninja, J:

The second Master Builder Workshop is to design your initials using the Ninjago language. At the start of the class, you’re given a translation sheet and practice paper so that you can map out how you want to design your initials.

Using the same buckets of bricks and 16×16 plates, the instructor walks you through the basics of creating your initials. We decided to make our initials with their English counterparts, with some white highlights. What will you come up with?

And again, the staff here is so friendly and great with kids. If your family is big on collecting minifigures, be sure to bring some to trade! Many staff members have a nametag with a minifigure connected to it. Offer a trade and see what happens – you never know! (During the Lego Ninjago Movie Days, all staff members will have a Lego Ninjago Movie minifigure on their nametag, unless they’ve traded already for a non-Ninjago figure)

Lastly, a newer feature in Legoland Discovery Center is the Lego In-Store Action app!

This AR (augmented reality) app allows you to scan displays around the attraction to see Lego characters come to life.

In this particular case, the Master Wu #BENINJA Activity Station will allow you to see this popular Ninjago character:

Watch as Lloyd comes to life! Pose with him, or just take a picture of him next to your favorite section inside Legoland.

Once you save your awesome photo, tag @LDCWestchester and use hashtag #BENINJA on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook for a chance to win a Lego Ninjago Prize Pack!

And speaking of winning, I’ll be picking one lucky winner on October 5, 2017 for a Family 4 Pack of tickets to visit Legoland Discovery Center Westchester! Entering is easy, so you won’t want to miss out on this: Enter Here.

The Lego Ninjago Movie Review

The battle for NINJAGO City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja, along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu, as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad.

Contains some spoilers…

The Lego Ninjago Movie is the third animated theatrical film from the Lego Group and features characters previously introduced in Lego sets and TV shows. And like The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie tackles real-life issues while still approaching them in a lighthearted way which, in this case, include high school social life and even single parenthood.

Initially appearing to be aimed for children, Lego fans will be pleased to discover that the movie appeals to all ages and not just kids, thanks to quick jokes and references. It even brings back the “human” element that’s combined with the digitally animated bricks (which was missing from The Lego Batman Movie) which merges the real world with the Lego world, making the universe seem cohesive again.

In the movie, the main protagonist Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) is your average high school kid with your average high school kid problems – except that his dad is the “Worst Guy Ever”, Evil Lord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) who terrorizes Ninjago City. The banter is clever & witty, and is only rivaled by the hilarious dialogue between the cast and Master Wu (voiced by Jackie Chan). It was a pleasure to see Chan bring some of that “human” element into the introduction of the movie by also playing Mr. Liu, the shop owner telling the legendary story of Ninjago.

Other “human” elements I enjoyed were the Six-Toed Beast and the Ultimate Weapon. I think you’ll like them too! These were some of the best parts of the movie.

I haven’t seen any of the TV show so I don’t know what kind of background information you need prior to the movie but the beginning of the film does a great job giving you a quick overview of the main characters through “Good Morning Ninjago”, a Lego take on Good Morning America. Once you’re up to speed, the rest of the movie is pretty self-explanatory.

The Secret Ninja Force’s colorful mechs, which sort of gave off a Power Rangers vibe, were fun to watch even though they never combine to transform something bigger. The action was enjoyable but nothing out of the ordinary, and there wasn’t anything that really stood out about the animation this time around, but kids will enjoy all of these aspects regardless. But as an adult viewer, what I think makes this movie charming is the camaraderie and the deeper meaning of why the legend of Ninjago was being told in the first place. What does it mean to be ordinary? It’s the kind of thing that Emmet struggled with in The Lego Movie – fitting in and one’s purpose, which isn’t just a young person’s struggle but something that occurs to everyone at some point or another.

After a couple twists and turns in the story, the movie finishes and you’re left with a trademark Lego feel-good ending along with another buoyant musical number. You’ll want to stay a little longer during the credits to see a brief blooper reel from the opening scene, a la Jackie Chan Stunt Team.

SCORE

Story: 8 – The movie was well-written and though the pacing was at times a little slow, I found that the story was original & entertaining enough to hold its own.
Acting: 8.5 – I really enjoyed the performances of the voice actors. The tone wasn’t monotonous and the back-and-forths were done really well. Some of the lines were a little garbled though.
Soundtrack: 7 – For the most part, the music/score fit really well with the film. Some non-instrumental tracks were used but were pretty forgettable. Though they used Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood in all the trailers, it was nowhere to be heard (which isn’t uncommon for movies to do).
Production: 9 – Digital animation was on par with the other Lego Movies. The martial arts scenes were fun to watch in Lego form, but for some reason I was expecting more. Special effects were executed nicely and the set designs were well done.
X-Factor: 7 – In this case, I’m referring to the humor. Sometimes it felt like it was trying too hard. And I laughed the least in this movie out of the 3 so far… But when I did laugh, it was pretty loud!

Overall: 8.1

There are some good laughs and it’s generally solid family fun. If you’re a fan of the other Lego Movies, chances are you’ll enjoy this one too. If you haven’t seen any of them yet, this is actually a good introduction as well! Even though I didn’t find this installment as funny, don’t take yourself so seriously and just sit back & enjoy… but warning: this movie made me want to go to the nearest Lego Store and pick up a few Lego Ninjago mystery minifigures so if that’s the case, keep a tight eye on your kids!

The Lego Ninjago Movie is rated PG with a running time of 101 minutes and hits theaters September 22, 2017.

Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan.

Starring Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Olivia Munn, and Jackie Chan.

Heroes & Villains Fan Fest 2017

A fairly new show brought to you by the makers of Walker Stalker Con has popped into the con scene. Calling itself a “Fan Fest”, it’s advertised that they’re going to “revolutionize the comic con landscape.” With this being the third year under their belt, Heroes & Villains Fan Fest boasts that “this is NOT your dad’s comic con. It’s YOUR fan fest!”…

This year I finally got to attend one of the HVFF events at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, NJ – the “New York” show. I’ve been to many conventions at this expo center, so I’m very well aware of the size and potential of the show floor space. Immediately, looking at the list of vendors online I knew that it would be more heavily geared towards the celebrity meet & greets.

And when we walked in, a couple of winds around and you were already done with the vendor booths!

But it indeed was a fun convention (can I still call it that?) and for its size, they really capitalized on what can be done simultaneously. Let’s take a look!

Right after the security checkpoint, the first thing you see when you walk through the door is the Official Shop! There were a couple of prints/posters and some apparel, but nothing was really standout about the merchandise for this show. I saw a couple of people collect all their autographs on the show poster featuring John Barrowman (Arrow/Doctor Who/Torchwood), Stephen Amell (Arrow/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Ming-Na Wen (Agents of SHIELD/Mulan/ER) but personally I felt that the celebrity-provided 8×10’s were better, if you didn’t bring your own items to get signed.

Directly next to the HVFF Shop was the main stage. I must say that, given the limited space, they did a fantastic job getting as many people in as they could with a decent sized stage + 2 screens!

And because the expo center hall isn’t too large, the sound wasn’t super echoey either.

There were people lined up for the next panel at any given time so we didn’t bother lining up because we had other plans throughout the day. But thankfully it was an open space so you were able to see & hear any panel you’d want to hover around. This is exactly what we did while eating at one of the expo center food vendors.

The Meadowlands Expo Center offers pretty much the same food for every show, but luckily it’s also nearby some great chain restaurants which are walking distance away!

You can probably count the number of vendor booths on your two hands, but one of the cooler ones was definitely this one featuring fake wanted posters, newspaper clippings, and magazine coves of popular DC (and some Marvel) characters – many of whose actors are HVFF regulars.

You also had your typical comic book shops, poster reprint vendors, and bulk action figure sellers.

But it was really cool to see artist Rob Prior paint a few live pieces throughout the con. Here he is working on a Netflix Defenders painting.

Also along this wall were bigger participants like Saber Guild Corellia (Saber Guild’s NJ chapter of lightsaber choreography), the 501st Legion, and the Mandalorian Mercs… complete with astromech droid R4-K5, Valo Tonar, and the detainment unit we saw at Wintercon last year.

It was pretty great to see all of these things without the huge crowds they’d normally get at a “comic con”.

But it might have something to do with the demographic of this show. After all, Heroes & Villains Fan Fest mostly appeals to fans of DC TV shows like Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and Gotham… with the additional help of Agents of SHIELD, iZombie, and the occasional Walking Dead and/or Guardians of the Galaxy.

This year’s guests for New York were: Stephen Amell (Sunday), John Barrowman, Ming-Na Wen (Saturday), Brett Dalton (Sunday), Brandon Routh, Carlos Valdes, Candice Patton, Robbi Amell, David Ramsey, Katie Cassidy, Josh Segarra, Rick Gonzalez (Saturday), Echo Kellum, Katrina Law, Maggie Geha, Italia Ricci, Rose McIver (Saturday), Caity Lotz, Robin Lord Taylor, Drew Powell (Saturday), Sean Pertwee (Sunday), and David Mazouz.

Regardless of who the actor was, all the lines were long but were moving along pretty smoothly. From what I could see, all of them were super friendly and were taking the time to talk to the fans.

Unfortunately the main person we wanted to see, Stephen Amell, had to cancel his Saturday appearance due to filming schedule. So our autograph presale was refunded and we ultimately did not get to meet him. Hopefully next year!

Brett Dalton also had to cancel his Saturday appearance last minute. The only other celebrity we wanted to meet was Brandon Routh, who we loved in Superman Returns (2006) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) before he appeared in the Arrowverse.

He was so nice and we got to talk about his recent Instagram posts that dealt with upcoming Legends of Tomorrow episodes. And though he had a great collection of headshots & 8×10’s from some of his projects, I brought my Superman Returns movie adaptation comic book, which he signed in gold! Came out so well.

We also got the pro photo op with him later in the day. Celeb Photo Ops was in charge of the photos and they generally do a good job. There were separate lines for each ticket tier: Premium/Gold, VIP, and General Admission. The lines moved quickly but we still had time to greet Brandon again… plus the 8×10 came out great!

Like I said, Heroes & Villains Fan Fest is definitely for fans who mainly want to meet the stars. There’s not much else to do or see if that isn’t your cup of tea (aka your trip to the con will be ridiculously short!).

But if there’s one near you coming up (check their upcoming cities), see if there’s anyone you’d like to meet! You can simply say hi, ask for an autograph, or snap a fun photo with your favorite celebrity. Then you can laugh about it with Darth Vader and Reptar:

Brooklyn Defender 2017 Launch Party with New York Comic Con

Tonight was the launch party for the latest Brooklyn Defender IPA by Brooklyn Brewery partnered with ReedPOP’s New York Comic Con. Every year, this power couple releases a new take on the “Official Beer of New York Comic Con” featuring brand new artwork of an original modern Brooklyn superhero.

Defend Beer with Brooklyn Defender IPA, our heroically hopped golden IPA featuring strong notes of tropical fruit, well-muscled hop bitterness, and an incredibly dry finish. Cape not required. #DefendBeer Brooklyn Defender IPA is proud to be the official beer of New York Comic Con.

The event was jam packed with fans eager to try the new golden IPA but the night wasn’t just about beer, no.

ReedPOP/New York Comic Con was in the house, providing fun all night long! As we entered, we received a raffle ticket for the end-of-the-night prize drawing, a couple of NYCC stickers, and a voucher to redeem a limited edition Brooklyn Defender pint glass!

Once we were inside, everyone was already enjoying the Brooklyn Brewery Tasting Room atmosphere, except this time it’s been decked out with #DefendBeer artwork and photo ops!

You could enjoy the existing arcade games inside, grab a seat at one of the many tables for coaster/paper sword decorating, or head over to the superhero backdrops where you can pose with props in front of the skyline or a wind machine!

Eventually, the pizza that was promised showed up and it didn’t disappoint.

Brought to you by Sizzle Pie, an assortment of slices fed the hungry crowds!

While waiting for the raffle drawing, we got to sit down and check out the “Design Your Own Coaster” baskets:

But honestly, even the printed side of the coasters were keepers!

Next, we had to check out the fondant cake by Rock Candy Cakes. Modeled after the Brewery, this cake was intricately detailed, down to the building design and the superhero pose on top!

As the night came to a close, the MC announced the Instagram story winner who would win a 4-day pass to New York Comic Con next month! Though multi-day passes are not an option this year, these special passes would allow entry for all 4 days. Lucky!

The same top prize was given to the raffle ticket winner… except this was 5 minutes after the MC attempted to read off winning raffle tickets pulled from the wrong bucket… (Runner-ups won Brooklyn Beer swag!)

The final event was the cosplay contest. Many entered and I saw a bunch that were phenomenal like this Batman costume from Christian Bale’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

Winners also won the special NYCC passes, with a Grand Prize of 2 passes. Check out the top 3:

Congratulations to all the winners!

The whole event was well thought out and didn’t leave a single second for a dull moment. And the night just made me that much more excited for New York Comic Con, October 5-8, 2017 (buy tickets here)!

And to top it all off, on our way out we were able to redeem our vouchers for that limited edition pint glass! Originally behind schedule, we were told we would need to return to Brooklyn after 2 days to pick it up… but thankfully the shipment had arrived just as the event was winding down!

Thanks, Brooklyn Brewery & ReedPOP for hosting a fun event for us! Cheers!

All New AMC “Ultra Lux” Dine-In Theatre (Shops at Riverside, Hackensack, NJ)

The first Ultra Lux AMC Theatre opened today at the Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, NJ. AMC’s latest movie theater offers the feature Delivery to Seat with guest-favorite movie-going amenities in an upscale environment.

With renovations currently going on at the mall, this new AMC is a great addition as a luxury entertainment experience. Walking into this theater is already different from other AMC’s with beautifully tiled floors, upscale decor, elegant lighting, and a lobby rivaled only by posh hotels.

Arrived early? No worries! The lobby is very spacious and if you’re not ordering from the concession stand, sit back and enjoy one of the carpeted seating areas accompanied by a flat screen television.

Standing on lines to order tickets is a thing of the past, and that couldn’t be truer here at AMC DINE-IN Shops at Riverside 9. Not only can you buy & reserve seats on your phone, you can do the same at their ticketing kiosks inside or outside the theater.

Tickets are very reasonable considering the experience you’ll get inside: plush AMC Signature recliners and a comfortable “eat-at-seat” service!

And when you’re ready to order, stop by the food & beverage area to choose from a menu full of amazing handcrafted entrees, appetizers and desserts. And once your order is ready, it’ll be delivered straight to your seat!

Have some time? Grab a drink at the concession stand or the AMC MacGuffins bar (21+) which offers beer, wine, and cocktails that can be enjoyed before, during, or after the movie.

On your way in, don’t worry about those stubs! This Ultra Lux Theatre features ticketless entry. Head on over to one of the 9 state-of-the-art theaters for your show and make your way to your assigned seat.

I’ve been to other AMC DINE-IN Theatres and this one differs most obviously by the aesthetics but also the theater size. Other locations I’ve tried will seat less viewers to accommodate bulkier chairs or more leg room. While AMC DINE-IN Shops at Riverside 9 also has plenty of personal space, it also fits a large crowd inside. Just take a look at this stunning interior:

It’s by no means small and the rows & seats are clearly marked. Every seat is optimized for a clear view of the screen and makes sure your viewing is as comfortable as possible. Here is an example of the recliners, one fully reclined and one fully upright:

Snack on some AMC signature items like the Ultimate Nachos (starting at $10.99) or Poutine Fries ($10.29). Or if you’ve got a larger appetite, aim big with the Asian Steak & Shrimp Bowl ($16.49), Royal Burger ($12.99) or Chipotle Chicken Melt ($12.79)!

Then satisfy your sweet tooth with a Ghiradelli Chocolate Milkshake or OREO Milkshake, but don’t forget to check out the wall of iconic movie quotes before you leave (if you didn’t already on the way in).

“I’ll have what she’s having”

“You had me at hello”

“To infinity and beyond”

But I’ll leave you with my favorite from the photo above: “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU”

HASCON 2017 – The Premier Hasbro FANmily Event

I had the privilege of attending the first ever HASCON this past weekend (September 8-10, 2017). This convention, right across from Hasbro’s headquarters (1 Hasbro Place, Providence, RI) is all things Hasbro! Yes, that means Star Wars, Transformers, Marvel, Nerf, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Dungeons & Dragons, and much, much more!

Couldn’t make it? Join me as I revisit some highlights with this post and a video at the end! (Disclaimer: this will be a long one, so be on the lookout for bold/underlined titles so that you can navigate to topics that interest you!)

INTRODUCTION

When Hasbro announced their first convention, fans and con veterans alike were pretty confused. I, for one, miss seeing the Hasbro booth at New York Comic Con so I was anxious to see what kind of “Brand Experiences” they would offer. HASCON even boasted many free opportunities including photo ops, autographs, and giveaways. Everything was being advertised as being a family event, down to the guest list: Stan Lee, Transformers films’ Mark Wahlberg & Isabela Moner, voice actors Peter Cullen & Frank Welker, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2 director James Gunn, and even athletes & YouTube stars!

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the only lines I experienced at HASCON were for the Exclusives Store and to obtain Meet & Greet vouchers.

The exclusives were fantastic and the con had a great variety to offer from many of their brands. They also stocked up on San Diego Comic Con exclusives as well for anyone who couldn’t get their hands on those.

All the exclusives were out in display cases for window shopping while standing on the line. Friday’s limit was 4 of each exclusive per person, until they realized it should drop to 2. This carried until the rest of the con and was strictly enforced with a stamping policy on your event badge.

TRANSFORMERS

Then in no particular order, here are some of the brands represented on the show floor, starting with Transformers.

First off, it was amazing to finally see the film version of Optimus Prime (truck) in person. I attended several cons recently that advertised this version of the truck but they all failed to deliver. But additionally, there were also a couple of Bumblebee’s, Barricade + Frinzy, and other great Transformers displays I’ve never seen before.

A 20-foot Optimus Prime from NYCC 2011 also greets you as you enter the show floor. And later on, a Bumblebee cosplayer walked around during Peter Cullen & Frank Welker’s meet & greet session for photos (more in the video).

The Transformers section did not disappoint. As one of Hasbro’s oldest brands they displayed toys ranging from the 1980s to today, as well as amazing dioramas featuring scenes from their latest Transformers film, The Last Knight.

STAR WARS

The next section is my favorite, of course!

Hasbro set up many fun photo ops with permanent props throughout the show floor so that you can jump in & out for quick pics.

All around the Star Wars section were cases of their current lines: The Last Jedi 3.75″, playsets, The Black Series, Forces of Destiny, and the return of The Vintage Collection!

This is exactly where I got to meet Hasbro Star Wars designers Steve Evans & Mark Boudreaux!

It was great to finally meet them and geek out about the Star Wars line – Mark’s work on 5 Millennium Falcons (take that, Han!) and Steve even signed a couple of my Force Awakens figures:

There were also plenty of props and costumes on display, including a semi-lifesize Tatooine Landspeeder (signed by many of the Original Trilogy cast) and Rey’s Jakku Speeder (accompanied by electronic BB-8):

But one of my favorite things to see here was the SDCC display case of 6″ Black Series dioramas. Hasbro put together one-of-a-kind action figure scenes based on Episode IV and had them in a huge case again here at HASCON. Here are a couple of my favorite scenes:

In my opinion, the Star Wars section had the most to see/do (and justly so!). But for the sake of time, we’ll move on…

G.I. JOE

Technically, the Joe section was in the hallway where foot traffic was always at its worst, but there were very neat things to check out.

Along with vintage figures and props/costumes from the films like Storm Shadow & Snake Eyes, there were chances to meet G.I. Joe legends (24 of them!) to sign an exclusive Snake Eyes cardback.

As well as a photo op to become a Real American Hero yourself:

MARVEL

Imagine a section filled with MCU costumes, photo ops with Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, and a giant Hulkbuster!

Now imagine… 12 dancing Baby Groots?

The Marvel booth was absolute fun. Similar to the Black Series case, there was one for the Marvel Legends depicting an epic battle – possibly modeled after Infinity War? They also had a table where Hasbro prototype painters were finalizing a couple figures including Jim Lee’s Wolverine for the Marvel Legends line and it looked so amazing! You can see the system they use for painting them and the colors they choose as well.

And to top it off, they were handing out Marvel Legends postcard prints and blind bags of Marvel 500 too!

BOARD GAMES

The Hasbro Gaming section took up a huge chunk of the show floor because there was a giant Monopoly board on the floor! Roll the big dice and make it around the board to collect your prize: a Monopoly Gamer Power Pack of your choice!

If you own a Monopoly or two (or 6 like me), then you’ll want to grab a bunch of HASCON exclusive $1,000 bills!

Then get a deal on Hasbro Gaming Crate, demo some of their newer games, or play giant Jenga! (Not actually playable… don’t try!)

But I think the highlight here was the mosaic of the Monopoly man made entirely out of Rubik’s Cubes… now that’s art!

And as you head upstairs, WS Game Company was a vendor with many collectors editions on display for Monopoly and Scrabble. Here’s one of the coolest board games you’ll ever see, Transformers The Movie Monopoly ($300)! You could enter to win it by signing up for their mailing list… good luck to all!

NERF

Who doesn’t have a giant wall filled with Nerf blasters?

This section had live demos, Nerf gear & apparel on display, previews of upcoming guns, and an arena to duke it all out! It’s Nerf or Nothin’!

Because there was no Nerf exclusive at the con (seriously?), I suggested to one of the employees (who, by the way, are almost all employees of Hasbro – from marketing to design to interns!) to make some exclusive darts for next year!

OTHER BRANDS

There are so many other sections that I didn’t get to cover like Hascade (Hasbro arcades, games, apps, etc.), Play Doh, My Little Pony, Dungeons & Dragons, Magic The Gathering, Furreal, Littlest Pet Shop… even a Dunkin Donuts booth with free Monster energy punches & munchkins, and a game to win free DD swag! You’ll see what I mean in my video at the end, but I can’t move on until I cover one of the best (yet worst) parts of the con:

CELEBRITY MEET & GREETS

Just like everything else at HASCON (minus the vendors & Hasbro stores), the meet & greets were 100% free! This was unbelievably cool yet overwhelmingly stressful because the official rule for meet & greet was that vouchers were to be handed out 1 hour prior to the meet & greet. Yet, no one followed this rule – not the attendees and certainly not HASCON.

In my opinion, to make this completely fair, they should have made vouchers available as soon as doors opened to the convention so that it’s legitimately first come first serve basis.

But honestly I’ve attended cons that have been established for 10 years and they still haven’t hammered down the meet & greet portion yet…

And even though I didn’t get to meet Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron), I did still get to meet James Gunn and Candace Payne (Chewbacca Mom)! So that’s a huge plus.

Officially, HASCON preferred that you receive guest’s autographs on the provided medium (they said “almost all will be custom artwork we have had created for the event) but I saw almost everyone on the lines bringing their own collectibles… At that point, the guest or Hasbro has the right to refuse the autograph if it is not an authentic or officially branded item.

This wasn’t a problem for my Guardians Of The Galaxy comic book for James Gunn (plus got a signed Marvel Legends card too!). But I ran into a roadblock when bringing a Chewbacca figure for Chewbacca Mom… what?

The volunteer insisted that merchandise wasn’t allowed to be signed by Candace… but long story short, it all worked out in the end, so I’m a very happy Wookiee!

No COAs were offered at this con but what else can you ask for a free autograph & photo with celebrities?

All in all, HASCON was a blast and a great first effort by the amazing people at Hasbro. You don’t fully realize how much of your childhood, collections, and pastimes revolve around their products until you are fully immersed in their Brand Experiences.

I hope they consider this con a success and are considering making it an annual event because I would love to come back over and over. And hopefully they’ll listen to feedback from fans to make each experience even better next time around.

My wallet was hardly hurt from this trip. In fact, the only things spent are my arms from carrying around all this free stuff!

Hello Kitty Cafe Truck

There’s a pink truck outside Westfield’s Garden State Plaza serving fun treats and merchandise but it isn’t your typical food truck… it’s the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck!

For the past 2 years, Sanrio’s popular character has had its own cafe on wheels travel the country: delivering cookies, macarons, petit fours, water, mugs, and t-shirts.

Not only is it a must for fans of Hello Kitty & all things pink, but also fans of the baked goods as well! I was surprised to discover that the macarons and petit fours not only photographed well but were quite tasty too.

Check out the whole menu below:

As short as the menu is, the line still moves along very slowly but if you make it, you’ll be able to choose from 6 fun items on their menu – plus a free tote bag with a food purchase over $25!

Make sure you arrive early! The later you are, the longer you’ll wait and the more likely things will sell out before you reach the front. It was a very diverse group of people lined up – from kids dressed head to toe in Hello Kitty to adults who thought Hello Kitty stopped being popular in 1992:

But once you reach the front, everything is displayed in their window and a little tent is set up next to it for the non-food merchandise.

When you’re finished, the truck is decorated on all sides… so whichever side is free, be sure to swing around to snap a selfie!

So don’t miss your chance! The Hello Kitty Cafe Truck’s next stop is this Saturday, September 9, at The Shops At Skyview Center in Flushing, NY from 10am-8pm (while supplies last)!

Force Friday II (The Last Jedi)

With Disney kickstarting a whole new trilogy of Star Wars movies, Force Friday made an epic comeback with a midnight event in 2015 in anticipation of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Last year there was a “Force Friday” type event (#GoRogue) but wasn’t technically a sequel to 2015’s event.

However, with the coming of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi on December 15, retailers all around the world participated in another launching of new merchandise today at midnight. Companies like Hasbro, Lego, Funko, Sphero, Disney, and many more made their presence known with tons of new collectibles & exclusives in stores such as Toys R Us, Target, Walmart, GameStop, Amazon… the list goes on and on!

Come along with me as I visit many of these stores and check out what they did to celebrate Force Friday II, as well as a photo of my bounty at the end of this post!

One of the Toys R Us stores near me had a nice variety of new products including new Hasbro, Funko Pop, and Jakks Pacific figures. For many of the stores today, a separate section was set up in addition to their existing Star Wars aisle. Above we see a table filled with new merchandise for The Last Jedi. You’ll also notice interesting “ink blot” signage with the Stormtrooper Executioner, but more on that later in this post!

By 11:50pm, everyone on the line was filled with excitement as Toys R Us mascot Geoffrey made his way outside for selfies & high fives. He even got into the Star Wars spirit and wielded a lightsaber!

Toys R Us was also the only store to sport a special “gateway” into Star Wars land:

In addition to all of this, one of the main reasons I decided to line up at Toys R Us and not at another store was for the free poster and t-shirt. No information was given about this ahead of time except for the fact that the t-shirt would be “Funko” themed. Thankfully, you could choose between M, L, and XL, and the poster was a beautiful shot of AT-M6 walkers on Canto Bight accompanied by TIE Fighters & Bombers! Can’t beat that!

It was also a great time to buy some of last year’s products on clearance like Jakks Pacific big figs and the Black Series 6″ scale TIE Fighter. But the highlight of my trip to Toys R Us was finally seeing the kid-friendly Luke’s Landspeeder (announced earlier this year at SDCC). It’s a lot bigger than I expected!

But that didn’t stop me from giving it a test drive:

Next up, Target had something different going on.

Two years ago, they had a fun door decal with some Stormtroopers. You were to “use the Force” to open the automatic doors! A very fun way to get kids into the mood as they entered the store. This year, the chain store decided to use Rey & a Porg on the island of Ahch-To, inviting you to “create your own path”. Pretty great shot and gets me excited for the movie every time!

But this time, instead of taking over the entire seasonal corner, Target made the decision to limit products to a single aisle… but not to worry! It was chock full of great merchandise, down to the end-cap.

And more Porgs.

And as a follow-up to 2015’s interactive BB-8 display and 2016’s Rogue One AT-ACT, we have Rey again… “Use the force. Place your hand below and concentrate your energy!”

After a few seconds of waiting, ahem, I mean concentrating, Rey’s lightsaber lit up. Very fun!

And just like all the other major retailers, tons more cutouts for photo ops. But the best part of Target was the giant Porg giveaway! My local Target was giving away 2 shopping cart-sized Porgs – just for showing up!

Unfortunately, I lost by just 1 digit! But congratulations to all the winners everywhere! I wish I could have a giant Porg…

But here’s my Porg from the 3.75″ Chewbacca set, along with the 3 free pins Target was giving away and some Lego freebies (with purchases at Toys R Us & Lego Store). Sometimes it isn’t the super large purchases, but the small things that bring great joy! (Looking at you, Porgs…)

Disney Store also had some freebies – they were giving away exclusive mini prints from The Last Jedi to the first 100 customers (with no minimum purchase)! In addition, Disney’s known for having tons of exclusives like their Elite Series, costumes, and figurine sets.

But the coolest thing in the store was the R2-D2 & C-3PO bronzed statue set, exclusively for Disney Rewards Visa card members (and limited to 1,000 pieces). It was $179.95 but these card members also get 10% off… Check it out:

Lego Store is coming off the heels of announcing their latest UCS Millennium Falcon with 7,541 pieces, so they definitely had some cool displays in-store!

New sets were all on the shelves and a very nice incentive to make a purchase today was the free Shoretrooper mini-figure with a Star Wars purchase of $50 or more. And with any Star Wars purchase, you receive 1 of 3 exclusive UCS Millennium Falcon prints! For the next 3 days, Lego Store will change the print each day to make sure you keep buying all weekend!

Finally, I ended my Force Friday journey at GameStop.

While many retailers had unique signage and displays at the front of the store, GameStop kept things private… really. Most of the new products (whatever they received) were behind the counter, out of arms’ reach.

But I did manage to get a pack of the new Topps Journey to The Last Jedi trading cards! Alas, no hits inside but it was still fun to go through them.

And as if that wasn’t enough Force Friday for you, Disney & Lucasfilm also developed an “Augmented Reality” camera in the Star Wars app called “Find The Force”. Using it, fans can experience new characters live in-store. That’s right, pull up the app and look for that special signage found in most stores and see some Star Wars come to life!

Already a cool display, you’ll notice that the Stormtrooper Executioner on the left has some ink blots around him. This is the code that the app translates and digitizes a life-size Last Jedi character right before your very eyes.

See BB-9E at Brookstone?

Or Chewbacca at Disney Store?

You can take pics of them or hold the button to record a video. Feel free to hop on screen with them too!

The app will continue to unlock new characters/tokens while you explore new products this weekend.

But sadly, that means Force Friday II is coming to a close today…

Shocking, I know.

But here’s my final bounty (note: this shot does not include the free Toys R Us t-shirt & poster, the SDCC Grand Admiral Thrawn, or SDCC Luke/Rey combo):

P.S., I also did not include my trips to FYE or Books A Million, but I went! And I conquered! Happy Force Friday, everyone!