Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Frank Review of "His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th" (2009)

The Short Version? Slasher flick icon gets discussed.
What Is It? Documentary.
Who Is In It? All the usual suspects, plus some completely random people, like that guy from Psych.
Should I See It? Probably.

Growing up in the 1980s, and I'm sure for decades prior, there were these TV specials featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews for upcoming movies. Even though they were essentially commercials, they were still heavily advertised 30-minute-to-half-hour events with their own hosts run on network television. At the same time, UHF channels and cable television were using similar material stripped to bare basics as bumpers between movies. The public generally became better educated about the mechanics of film production, so the "specials" seemed to fade away going into the '90s. They kind of got replaced by the geek documentary: fan/creators seeking to legitimize their dorky obsessions by getting deep into the sociopolitical relevance of Star Trek and such. Between the revelatory nature of the deeper meanings found in good docs and the amusement of someone pulling imagined weight out of their assholes in the bad ones, it was a really fun period for that type of material. Unfortunately, the rise of "reality television" economics has made the cheap ass pseudo-documentary exasperatingly common nowadays, so every pop culture dead end can be counted on to receive several feature length dedications to their dubious merits.

Take Jason Vorhees, for instance. The original Friday the 13th may have been a canny spin on Psycho that paid off the insinuated gore of Halloween, but by the third installment it was just a straight up Michael Myers knock-off in a rural locale. However, the character has turned up in twelve feature films and counting, so you'd think there must be something special to warrant that kind of longevity. Watching the direct-to-DVD His Name Was Jason, I suspect it's the same base, comforting, familiar formula that kept Married... With Children on the air for over a decade. It isn't that there's anything great about Jason Vorhees as a character, and his movies are fairly consistently lousy, but his potency as an iconic image is hard to deny.

Like your typical Friday flick, His Name Was Jason is crappy in the early going. Jumping quickly between film footage and an excess of interviewees, nobody is saying anything worthwhile. Tom Savini, who famously passed on Part 2 because he thought bringing back Jason was nonsense, comes off as as a bit of a low quote sellout as the host. He's also involved in interstitials depicting victims stalked/killed by Jason on a set. The cheesy devices used to cut everything together (CGI hatchets/blood spills/sound effects) are truly obnoxious, and there seems to be a real rush to cover each shitty, repetitive sequel as rapidly as possible. In fact, I switched the movie off after about twenty minutes and let it sit for a month before giving the flick another go.

The overly busy production eventually settled down, like an ADHD kid whose Ritalin starts kicking in. The interstitials start featuring actual kills and tits. Most of the stupid transitional effects get dropped. Individuals involved in the various productions start being given space to tell their stories. That last one especially makes the difference, because you start to realize part of the appeal is the shared experience of being in a Jason movie, and the usually positive impact that association has on their lives. There's a real feeling of community between fans and the decades of performs involved with the movies that seems to enrich their lives. The movies are still dumb formula, but the relationships are almost profound.

While the documentary itself may be too crassly commercial and mainstream, the special features more than make up for its faults.


  • The Men Behind The Mask Forty-six minutes of interviews with every actor to play Jason Vorhees. Without all the garbage and quick cuts, plus full of information, I enjoyed this more than the actual documentary.
  • Final Cuts Same as before, except an 1 1/4 hour with the directors. It's almost as if the documentarians knew their work was getting chopped to shit, so they indulged themselves by offering everything they could have possibly wanted in a real doc as extravagant special features. I had my favorite Jasons, and there are some directors with much more insight than others, but as a whole this is a robust pair of worthwhile features.
  • Dragged From The Lake Twenty minutes of stuff cut for being too long or extraneous. Not bad, but I don't want to hear about Alice's stalker or art ever again. Too creepy and sad, not necessarily as expected. Also, I never saw Part VII, but it seems to have been the Freddy's Revenge of the series, so I oughta.
  • Fan Films I had a knee jerk reaction at first glance, until I hit the sub-menu to check the marquee. Freddy vs. Jason in 30 Seconds With Bunnies and The Angry Video Game Nerd: Friday the 13th Episode have made the internet rounds for years, and are pretty good. Jason Hurts is a solid enough skit that runs a bit long. The only dud is Rupert Takes Manhattan, about Jason's unsuccessful brother who wears a catcher's mask. That gag is old as shit, and poorly executed besides.
  • Closing the Book on the Final Chapter About ten minutes spent at the Jarvis house from Part IV with the director and a pseudo-Jason. After everything else, this was a bit of a drag, but not so much through fault of its own.
  • Fox Comes Home I assumed this would be some lame Fox trailers, but it's actually the actress from the 3D one (which I also haven't seen) showing off the location from her film for four minutes. For the diehards only.
  • Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes Three accomplished fans separately give a loose summary of the entire original series and have it edited together into a narrative. Cute. Inessential.
  • Jason Takes Comic-Con Dread Central.Com interviews cast members from the reboot's marketing salvo at San Diego. Lame as it sounds.
  • The Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide Everybody offers Scream-type advise for another four minutes, run though a cheesy "dated footage" filter.
  • Inside Halloween Horror Nights An tour of the Universal Studios Camp Blood attraction used extensively in the documentary.
  • Shelly Lives! Sketch comedy. No, it isn't.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wednesday is for Dollar Dark Horse & I Don't Care #86

Groo: One For One
Image Firsts: G0dland #1
Magnus, Robot Fighter: One for One
Star Wars: Legacy: One for One

Groo: One For One #1 (Dark Horse, 1998/2010, $1.00)
I read some Groo back in the Epic Comics days, but never the first issue, and I found it weird. Although imbecilic Groo is present, there's an unexpected and unexplained twist that leads me to conclude the story continues in later editions. It was a cute story, but I never laughed and wasn't remotely intrigued enough to pursue an answer.

Image Firsts: Godland #1 (Image, 2005/2010, $1.00)
Jack Kirby was treated with utter contempt when he returned to Marvel in the mid-70s, and I'd always assumed it was because of sour grapes over his "betrayal" by going to DC. Thing is, his DC books didn't go over either, and looking at Tom Scioli rough-edged Kirby pastiche, I think I can see why. The King developed his most distinctive style in the '60s, and even with the extra detail and indy touches Scioli adds, the material positively screams for its era or origin. This art was hopelessly dated in the '70s, just as it was too ill-formed to suit the 1950s. Kirby was crowned the King in his set place in time, and influenced plenty who followed, but he simply peaked and failed to adapt further.

None of which is especially relevant to Joe Casey's Godland, which quite intentionally works modern slang and affectations like piercings into his scripts, so that when adapted through the anachronistic art, it offers a jolt of cognitive dissonance. It's funky and metatextual, which I dug, but it was still just '70s Kirby with a bit more bite (plus competent dialogue.) Your standing opinion on that material may determine your mileage from there.

Magnus, Robot Fighter: One for One #1 (Dark Horse, 1963/2010, $1.00)
Son of a bitch! I ordered this without realizing I'd already received and reviewed the exact same reprint free! I guess I'll added that both versions look to have been scanned directly from old comics and processed through digital filters. It makes the art look fuzzy, and the washed out coloring is shitty. It's still a neat story worth a buck though, if you missed it.

Star Wars: Legacy: One for One (Dark Horse, 2010, $1.00)
I was a Warsie before that retarded term existed. George Lucas didn't rape my childhood, but he did point out the flaws in the original trilogy by compounding them with his follow-up. I still followed Star Trek as a kid, but it seemed by and for old people. Now that I myself am an older person, I realize Trek is so nerdy it's cool, by reflecting real world politics and influence science and other high minded pursuits. Star Wars meanwhile is hopelessly mired in a romanticized past, and without the benefit of good swashbuckling, I don't see much appeal in a feudal system.

After nearly thirty years of mostly spinning wheels with the same set of characters (oh no, Chewie!) someone finally decided to take the daring chance of aping what Star Trek: The Next Generation did nearly a quarter-century ago by jumping ahead a hundred years. Establishing text from the inside cover talks up how "new" this is, and promised "the Star Wars franchise still had plenty of life left in it," which is something you say to cheer up a grandparent on a birthday. After all, the first page offers mildly redesigned tie-fighters belonging to a resurrected Empire. I think we can all relate, as we're still struggling with czars, confederate forces, the Third Reich, the fascists and the soviets, right? Isn't that why the new Tea Party formed, to combat that secret cabal of resurgent Redcoats?

So yeah, "new" in Star Wars means the villains' outfits are pointier, since they all have tired tribal tattoos like Darth Maul, who was supposed to be decades dead before the first movie in '77. This is a grim and gritty future (like every Wars knock-off, including Star Trek's, which ran nearly a decade a decade back) where almost all of the Jedi have been slain (again) by the Sith (again.) A young Jedi named Skywalker risks succumbing to the dark side of the force because of his emotional ties to a parent who died right in front of him (again.) There are even still Moffs around for the latest Darth Vader wannabe to dick with while making plays and struggling with his own alignment. Basically, it's the exact same thing as always and ever, ladling common genre cliche on top of Wars-specific ones. You know what I like to imagine? That this is a bunch of LARPers or the equivalent of Civil War reenactors just pretending like fuck all has changed from Lucas' brain dead Asimov lift of decades past.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Frank Review of "Return of the Living Dead 3" (1993)

The Short Version? Romeo meets Zombiette
What Is It? Horror
Who Is In It? Lady Heather, Officer Jim Reed, Ursa
Should I See It? Probably not.

Brian Yuzna directed the overrated Society, and not much else you’d want on your IMDb page. He specializes in horror movies that look like ambitious but underfunded stage plays with bad lighting, including those straight to video jobs that trailer movies you suddenly realize from their presence you shouldn’t have rented. It takes a special kind of ineptitude to release a two million dollar sequel to a classic horror-comedy as a melodrama that only recoups a quarter of its budget. Still, if only because of late night showings in my formative years, I have a very small amount of affection for Return of the Living Dead III. It isn’t in any way objectively good, but it is surprisingly watchable, and has memorable moments.

The movie opens on the set of a Wilson Phillips video-- no wait, that’s just the overpowering presence of the early nineties at work. Acid washed jeans, floppy boy hair, those stupid hats-- if such a movie were produced today, I would howl over how insanely on the nose of 1992 everything was. Anyway, this is the story of an army brat boy having fallen for a bad girl to the dismay of his widowed daddy. Pops is involved in a very loose continuation of the previous movies, his idea to have the military use zombies as weapons against enemy nations soon falling out of favor and replaced by zombies acting as meat batteries for exoskeletons controlled through medieval means. Half of what I just wrote made no sense, but there’s enough idiocy in the script that focusing on any one inanity requires an impressive amount of tunnel vision on the viewers’ part. The script is wretched, the characters are all ridiculously deserving of dire fates, and Pitfall Harry couldn’t get over this many plot holes.

The boy sneaks onto a military installation that must be run by Gomer Pyle to show his girlfriend the reanimated dead, until whoops, she joins their ranks. Forgetting all that stuff from the first movie about zombies needing to eat brains to relieve themselves temporarily of the agony of being undead, the bad girl instead uses pain to distract herself from wanting to eat whatever human body part is readily available, specifically her boyfriend's. On the run through South Central Los Angeles, the star-crossed couple run into all sorts of offensive racial caricatures, including a magical negro derelict who shelters them in his sewer home while growling every moronic line. He’s still better than the boy, an actor so bad I’m not sure I buy his respiration, much less his delivery. The girl actually went on to better things, and deservedly so, but she’s still finding her way here.

Prior to the hour mark, things start to drag, but the film seems to reach its anti-climax within a quarter past. Disconcertingly, the movie then continues for another quarter hour, which feels inorganic, but is actually where most of the money and fucked up imagery ends up. What makes it weird is that it's 9/10ths of a vampire movie, then suddenly becomes a true zombie flick about the time you're ready to check out.

In summary, the movie is a mess. Everything looks cheap, the script sucks, the acting eats dick, fans of the earlier movies will miss the yucks, and zombie fans will miss the yuck. Still, our heroine zombie serves as an early alternative culture/piercing/cutting icon, there are some clever bits, a surprising presence (if not quantity) of tits, and it's generally better than the sum of its parts.


  • Director's Commentary Film geeks always appreciate tracks that go into this level of detail... unless it's for a Brian Yuzna production. So wait, you just kept repainting the same boxes and shining different colored lights through them to give the appearance of new set locations? Who'da thunk it? Besides everyone?
  • Cast CommentaryHoly shit! Two tracks for this turd? Someone's getting fired over this waste of company resources! Also, I don't know if you can technically call it the cast when one member and a technician shows up. Admittedly, it was star Melinda Clarke and Thomas C. Rainone (2nd unit/effects supervisor,) but still. It's fun to listen to the awkward silences whenever Tom hits on her or steers the conversation toward right wing politics. This would have been adequate on its own, but after a second viewing with the director, enough was enough.
  • Trailers Remember what I said earlier? All Yuzna features, including Progeny, Faust: Love of the Damned and The Dentist 1 & 2

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wednesday is Veteran's Day For All I Care #85

Captain America: Patriot #1
DC Universe: Legacies #5
Freedom Fighters #1 (2010)
R.E.B.E.L.S. #20 (2010)

Captain America: Patriot #1 (Marvel, 2010, $3.99)
Wow-- someone with a perfectly logical and contextually reasonable excuse to wear a silly costume and punch people? All done with WWII moxie? Hells yeah, I can read me some of that! Bugle reporter Jeff Mace was doing the "get paid to write your own adventures" shtick long before Spider-Man, and he does it in a joyous newsreel hyperbole. There's heroic period action and some affecting melodrama, plus light cast on an area of continuity I think has been discussed more in Marvel handbooks than in four color works. Karl Kesel is clearly enjoying himself, and Mitch Breitweiser is in his element (especially in this Ed Brubaker day and age.) Good stuff!

DCU: Legacies #5 (DC, 2010, $3.99)
In the '90s, Image Comics was the artists' company, Marvel the X-Editors company, Valiant the Bronze Age fans company, Dark Horse the licensing company, and so on. DC indulged in its own editorially-mandated cash grabs, but it also quietly developed a reputation as a reader's company. DC was a good place for super-hero geeks to get their fix of traditional long underwear action with a side of mature readers fare, mostly driven by the imaginations of their writers. I fell hard for this universe in that decade, and have boxes full of Who's Who/Secret Files/RPG reference to prove it.

Under Didio, DC has become Marvel in the '90s, always chasing after attention and steamrolling over creative. They've so thoroughly alienated writers, they can't even keep former editors(-in-chief even!) turned freelancers from a bunch of the previously named companies working for them. They're now at the point where they're letting their second-rate artists write their own books, or in this case, calling in old timers that couldn't get work for much of the '90s.

Legacies is the kind of continuity porn I'd have spit in my palm over a decade or so back, but I just do not give a fuck today. In the old days, you could knock this kind of timeline-as-plot crap out in a couple of books ala History of the DC Universe, but in the decompressed Final Age it takes a dozen issues of fatty fatty boom Balatty to get this off. Worse, Marvels made the bystander narrator the go-to device for these stories, and suffice to say, for every Phil Sheldon or Norman McCay there's a dozen Guy Incognitos or Jack Shits to make a muddle of the tired technique. I won't trouble you with the name of the ex-cop employed here, except to point out that he must somehow manage to live through seventy-five years of DC continuity and half of it involves Batman, so forget "realism."

Ex-cop whines about how awful it is that the Joker and everybody else stopped robbing banks and started killing people. Never mind that the Joker got his start killing people, and he only turned pussy because of protectionist scapegoating in the 1950s because people were to stupid to realize access to transportation and excesses of free time had more to do with juvenile delinquency than EC horror stories. Writer Len Wein is sucking off the same teat as most coddled baby-boomers who get misty for the good 'ol days, not realizing they were born a few years removed from sweatshops, child labor, and a pre-union "disposable" workforce. I guess it was kind of swell to beat/rape your wife with impunity if she got out of line, just like in those old Superman comics.

Where was I? Oh yeah-- a page is devoted to how horrible the Spectre became in those demented Adventure Comics stories that Harlan Ellison got sued over, while making sure to faithfully depict the twisted vengeance meted out. Then the newly Van Dyked Oliver Queen was shown on the news right after the freshly hirsute Green Arrow, reminding us that maybe people really were stupider back then. Ex-Cop and his overly opinionated daughter bitched about how dark and icky the remarkably naive but progressive Green Arrow had become, even ranking on his bad ass Neal Adams costume in favor of that baggy shit he'd worn since the Roosevelt Administration. For serious? But wait, then the Ex-Cop (er-- just cop in these flashbacks, but already crotchety) shows up at a parole hearing for his freckled Irish brother-in-law looking to turn over another leaf. That cliche is so dated, it's almost fresh again from decades of disuse. It's vintage store hackery.

Next, the Cop offers his thinly-veiled take on illegal immigration by pointing out that the "good ones" were far outweighed by the filthy wetgreenbacks who were always getting into spaceship collisions without insurance, and like fifty lizards haul ass from the scene before the cops arrive. I don't know Len Wein's politics, but his characters got on my pinko nerves damned quick.

As a proper geek, I got even more upset when the chronology, the whole point of insular circle jerk projects like this, proved fucktop. The Charlton heroes (est. 1958) arrived on the scene en masse after Firestorm (introduced twenty years later.) Then Batman quit the Justice League (his photo on a newspaper headline, so fuck you urban legend angle, unless you mean this thing called "printed media" the kids won't recognize in ten years) before the all-new Doom Patrol arrived (1983 vs. 1977.) There's also painfully unfunny stuff like the umpteenth iteration of "It's a bird--plane--Superman," which makes me want to punch a baby seal in its moist nose.

Things got less annoying from there, and settled into boring. George Perez drew the Crisis on Infinite Earths, again, from a worse camera angle. Nothing about the even was actually explained beyond red skies, wind, and super-heroes catching debris. This segued perfectly into a back-up strip with ugly tossed off art by Walt Simonson. It was just like Crisis in its throwing together random characters to perform the Micky Mouse Club roll call and speak exposition to one another. Adam Strange is the star of a collection of Silver Age sci-fi characters, and for some reason he's an asshole to everyone. Maybe he was as pissed to be involved with this as I was?

Freedom Fighters #1 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
During the Bush years, Palmiotti & Gray's new super group were gratingly partisan and obnoxiously obvious about their strawman arguments. When the issue opened at a Native American reservation casino being attacked by Axis America, I was pretty confident this would be more of the same tone deaf preaching in the O'Neil/Winick tradition. I was right, but after six pages the action blessedly shifted away from the two most awful Freedom Fighters (Black Condor III & Firebrand... um... IV? V?)

I wonder if artist Travis Moore agreed with me, because his work on those pages was rather lackluster, then suddenly become dandy when the Human Bomb begins a space adventure. A few pages later, and a Phantom Lady/Ray team-up looks better still. Just as importantly, the writing shifts to Grant Morrison JLA, allowing the massive scale of threats handled by portions of the titular team dictate how impressive the individual members must be. Avoiding a common pitfall, they don't tell the readers their characters are formidable, but instead show the heroes being kinda spectacular. The new Phantom Lady certainly seems esteemed, and the Human Bomb doesn't look like a dork, which is quite a feat. I miss the Ray's band jacket though, as his current black unitard is boring, and his collar is Disco Elvis hideous.

Someone explain to me why in the DC Universe, instead of Obama/Biden, the President of the United States is some fat mustached white guy with a lady VP. Replacing Bush with Lex Luthor was at worst a lateral move, and made sense, but these people just confused me. Unfortunately, the book kept jumping the shark at this point, from Nic Cage showing up with the real constitution to the Freedom Fighters being pitted against rejected Alpha Flight villains. I can't see continuing the book after these cock-ups, but the creative team have succeeded in making me think twice before spitting on a third or so of the team's membership. That's almost a kudo.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #20 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
There's a certain inevitability to my buying this book now. It isn't great, but it's good enough. The writing is solid, and I'm glad Claude St. Aubin has settled into regular art chores. The book is full of characters I have an interest in, although that's a problem in itself, as it necessitates the spotlight to act more like a disco ball. This issue brings in Lobo with a Dave Finch cover, which is probably a good idea. L.E.G.I.O.N. wouldn't have lasted seven years as just a contemporary Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off, and Lobo gave back to the book that relaunched him as his popularity soared in the early '90s. R.E.B.E.L.S. 2.0 is a lot more relevant to the DC Universe than the previous model, and maybe they could extend that good will to a Lobo who's mostly gotten by on the odd guest spot in recent years.

On the other hand, Lyrl Dox is a fraction of his former patricidal infant self, and I'm over all this Brainiac bullshit. I'm concerned Lobo might take over the book, and I'm still waiting for it to develop its wealth of simmering subplots. I wish the book was as wicked clever as the '90s model, but it feels like one of the B-teams you follow because you're a Justice League fan. I guess what I'm saying is that this book is okay, but frustrating and not as involving as it could be

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wednesday is Greenest Day For All I Care #84

Adventure Comics #518
Brightest Day #9
Brightest Day #10
Green Arrow #4 (2010)

Adventure Comics #518 (DC, 2010, $3.99)
Fuck! Good! About time! I was a serious Legion of Super-Hero collector for about six years, and I like the Atom well enough to have a blog devoted to him, so I figured giving this series a shot couldn't be all bad. Turned out that was three issues worth of the worst stories I've read from either franchise, and I highly doubt I'll ever give another $4 book that kind of benefit of the doubt again. This was my last pre-ordered issue, and I don't know what the fuck Paul Levitz was thinking on his lead story.

You've got a nice hook on the cover with Superboy learning about his impending death against Doomsday through a museum exhibition piece. That story should write itself, but instead it gets two pages of Superboy saying, "brr, I don't want to know about that. Good thing Saturn Girl is totally going to mindwipe me on my way back to 1953." Instead, we get this totally generic Legion story about the pursuit of some random asshole, and a subplot involving a ghost haunting Legion headquarters (Mon-El?) 

There's a silent one page pin-up moment that sums up the tale perfectly. It's a handful of Legionnaires tearing at the skin of a starcraft. And? Kevin Sharpe doesn't have the chops to sell it as art porn, and who gives a shit about the actual content? It's like the old saying about how your story sucks if you could swap out any hero as your lead without altering it much. In this instance, any super-team could be breaking any bad guy's shit, and it would have the same or potentially greater impact. Robotman lacking fringed boots and Elasti-Girl not wearing a pink costume could only be an improvement.

The Atom back-up sucked way less than the previous special and chapters. This time, the weak link is artist Mahmud Asrar, who used to do good work when he handled one book, but looks crap now that he never says no to any assignment. Some panels look like Bachalo wipes, and others Bagley, so forget stylistic consistency. One page started with a panel of digitally cloned atomic symbols, and continued into three panels of one illustration manipulated through different filters and aspect ratios. This one page, Ray looks about 65 in the first panel, and in the last has an asymmetrical head that seems to have taken a shovel to one side.

The writing on the Atom remains below par, but not in the double digits this game. Ray's still second-guessing himself like a titty-baby, but at least he schools some amateurs and pulls a nice all-ages donkey punch from some dude's behind. Also, a couple of guys explode into pools of gore, which is good thinking. Sword of the Atom taught us that shrinking alone doesn't sell nearly as well as doing so while stabbing fuckers in the mouth and similarly hardcore maneuvers. Unfortunately, a mischaracterized Oracle is still doing all of the heavy lifting, and why the Atom wouldn't pass along the coordinates to an enemy base detected by the DC Universe's high mistress of communication to his JLA buddies is beyond a reasonable lapse of discretion. Never mind that he wanders around their HQ at full size like a mo-ron. Goodbye, Jeff Lemire. I look forward to avoiding your future super-hero work.

Brightest Day #9 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
The Vision is way cooler than Red Tornado, but they're both always going to be losers. You see, they're robots, which means writers can break them at will, and they will. It's the same reason magic comics don't sell: when you can do anything, and you do, nothing means anything. You have to have firm rules, so that when you break or even just bend them, it turns people on. That's why guys dig Catholic school girl uniforms more than standard slut gear, and in fact you fear for your peener when it comes to the latter. My point being, the Martian Manhunter will never rise above the b-list, because when he shoots his own hands off with heat vision, you know he'll just grow another pair. Worse, everyone already knew this, so besides the lack of impact, there's the head shaking over J'Onn J'Onzz not being able to handle his shit better than that. Somehow, Superman could manage to regrow his hands, but he doesn't have to worry about that, because Men of Steel don't literally shoot themselves in the foot.

I want J'Onn J'Onzz to do well, but he's already traveling down failure road before he even lands his next doomed solo project. He's got a brutally murderous opposite who gets up to all kinds of gruesome shit, but without any motivation besides it looking kewl to kill a grocery store full of people and stock bits of them on freezer shelves. Further, he's retaining water, and when it looks like a job for the Green Arrow, you're approaching Red Tornado levels of suck. It doesn't help when your artist is obviously overworked, cutting every corner short of Snowbird vs. Wendigo in a blizzard. There's a two page spread in which there isn't a single character image that isn't cheated by using a silhouette, an aerial view or an extreme close-up to avoid drawing anything but shapes. I could knock this out myself. The writing is no better, with one sentence in one word balloon using the words "me" three times and "I" once. Oh, and that thing where J'Onn tries to do something good and ends up generating an unintentional body count, leading to a total reversion back to the status quo of unpopularity? I read that story a few times already.

Brightest Day #10 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
I officially like Blaqualad. The tat's cool, the powers rock, and his section gets drawn by Ivan Reis. Having Black Manta as a daddy has got to suck, but there's humor to be found in those fishing line barbs he keeps firing. Save that for the badazz Fisherman revamp, guys. Besides that, the Aquaman & Mera feature looks gorgeous, totally suits the characters, has scope, and is totally relevant to the cannon.

Firestorm? Less so. Scott Clark steps up his game to compete with the third rate work of Pat Gleason, so he's now only the second weakest link on the art front. The feature is still damned ugly and raw, but I guess the sheer amount of pages present and the amateurishness of Gleason's work last issue have beaten me into submission. I also can't get excited about Firestorm's new extinction event level power. I mean, Damage literally ignited the Big Bang to restart the DC universe after Zero Hour, and that didn't save him from being physically deformed and murdered by relatively minor villains (both times at Geoff Johns' command.) If the threat was that the unchecked power of Firestorm could kill more random DC women and minorities (R.I.P. Gehenna,) then that would be something to take seriously. Run, Doctor Light, run!

Green Arrow #4 (DC, 2010, $2.99)
You know what I love? Buying a comic book I don't normally follow because of a guest appearance/tie-in, only to spend the ten relevant pages reading a near panel-for-panel reframing of the exact same sequence of events with similar dialogue as another book. There was a time I bought new DC monthly comics by the dozen, but years of this kind of stupidity means I am currently subscribed to one title. That's strategery!

The rest of the book involved continuing subplots for stock characters introduced within the last three issues. There's the investigative reporter secretly helping Oliver Queen in his campaign against Isabel Rochev, the evil Russian entrepreneur whose nickname of "The Queen" surely means something. There's also the activist love interest, which is funny, because I could have sworn Green Arrow was still married to Black Canary. There's also the crazy Galahad guy who takes the labored Sherwood Forest parallel even more seriously than the book's writer. I guess this is better than what Winnick was doing, but sixty years is a long time in to still be casting about for a motif beyond "Batman with arrows." That's all the character is on Smallville, and it's worked out pretty well for him there.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wednesday's Cryptozoology Is A Buck For All I Care #83

Aliens vs. Predator: One for One #1
Dungeons & Dragons #0
The Smurfs Vol. 2 #1 (2010)
Usagi Yojimbo: One for One #1

I had this really long and involved multiple paragraph review for AvP that encompassed twenty years of my personal reading habits, involved the histories of several comic companies, and even touched on the films. Not paying attention, I erased everything I just wrote over 3/4 hours time under the assumption it was part of the old template while starting the second review. Either bless or curse the fates, depending on whether those tangents sounded more interesting than the more linear and brief second pass below...

Cover to 1990 Edition

Aliens vs. Predator: One for One #1 (Dark Horse, 1990/2010, $1.00)
In the mid-80s, there was a boom in black & white small press comics exemplified by the boffo success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dark Horse Comics came out of that era with its own stable of never-ready-for-primetime creators and forgotten properties (Black Cross? Roachmill? The Mark?) plus Paul Chadwick's Concrete. The boom busted, and Dark Horse's solution to the problem of becoming a sub-Caliber Press historical footnote was licensed properties.

Dell was the titan of the comics industry in the '50s & '60s on the back of media tie-ins, but the shrinking newsstand market meant by the '80s most licensed comics came out of the back end of the Big Two. Those books were basically retirement packages for washed-up freelancers looking to supplement their social security. Still, licensing cost beau coup bucks, as all the companies that have tried the Dark Horse model in recent years have learned through bankruptcy. The Dark Horse difference was that they must have known what a gamble it was, so they went all in, doing the very best work possible to show they had a place in this industry. The gambit paid off massively, with Dark Horse now a multi-media empire that shits out crap tie-ins just as well as the big boys used to, when they bothered.

What makes Aliens vs. Predator part uno such a blast from the past for me was the reminder that this used to be novel. That kind of cross-franchise pollination had never been done before up to that point,and this book inspired all of it, including the crappy AvP movies. However, what made this work was that it was actually quite good. Sure, the art is very much in that American indie Metal Hurlant vein Dark Horse was still heavily mining, but it gets the job dome. Randy Stradley's script is very cinematic, recalling the deliberate introductions of the miners and soldiers from the Aliens movies, so that they had a story of their own to tell before the massacre began. This time they're ranchers on an isolated planet, so it even gets points for the rare Outland style space western mash-up. After the first twenty-eight pages, you're involved in these characters and their mundane lives, which means introducing warring creatures into the mix will only raise the stakes, rather than being a sole draw. Hell, without even having read the rest of this series, I can pretty much guarantee that if a director had just shot this comic, those movies would have been better. Man, this makes me long for the days when dudes like Kelly Jones drew Aliens comics. That was boss!

Dungeons & Dragons #0 (IDW, 2010, $1.00)
Back when Dark Horse was showing the majors how licensing was done, DC started publishing a mini-line of books based on the roleplaying fad of the early '80s. This wasn't long after DC wasted years chasing after Marvel's success with G.I. Joe and Transformers through stillborn crap like Spiral Zone, Inhumanoids and Power Lords. While comic fans sighed at DC's unhipness, those D&D books turned out to be stealth gateway drugs, initiating a surprising number of D12 rolling dorks into the greater comics multiverse, not to mention developing creative talents like Rags Morales that would go on to great fame.

Regardless, when I think of role-playing, I get flashbacks to days wasted generated characters, or suffering through agonizing campaigns (or worse-- inflicting same on others.) Further, all that shit with the swords and armor hot points and leveling up? No. Never again. Final Fantasy VII made me vow to never waste another minute of my life leveling up through random fights with forest creatures. Worse, Tolkien can blow me, because I think all that elven hobbit buggery is queer in the most pejorative, John Waters wouldn't let you eat his dog's shit sense. One of the reasons I closed my comic shop was that people discussing role-playing and/or Lord of the Rings brought me close to the verge of battery charges. I am so not this book's target audience.

Here's the score: ten pages of pseudo-hip/comic dialogue by John Rogers involving the stereotypical band of paladin, thief, viking dwarf, elf archer and that creepy guy who always wears a flannel around his waist and reeks of cigarettes and weekly bathing. It's drawn by Andrea Di Vito, mostly known for his work on Thor and CrossGen, a line of books that read like a Dungeonmaster's Guide. It looks and reads better than it deserves, but it deserves to lick my boots clean. There's also a second six page preview that looks and reads like a teenage Conan pastiche. That's all I've got to say about that.

The Smurfs Vol. 2 #1 (Papercutz, 2010, $1.00)
I always liked the idea of the Smurfs, and my girlfriend loves them so much she sleeps with a stuffed doll I gave her. Still, actually sitting down and reading their comic adventure makes me totally root for Gargamel. Every fourth word out of cyanetic little pieholes is a variation on the term "Smurf," as noun, adjective, verb-- whatever. Their personalities are annoying and hinge on one defining trait. Most are indistinguishable from one another, and this story makes them seem like Jerry multiplied a few dozen times to confound Tom. I hated those cartoons, too. Further, the book's production is itself crude. The text font is funky and basic, while the coloring looks like someone just did fills on black & white scans in MS Paint (and I speak from experience.) I guess it's fine for a dollar, but I'd be afraid to give it to a dumb kid that would be hanging around me, for fear thay'd pick up that Smurf-talk thing. Finally, I totally read this thing months ago, and it was so forgettable I never got around to reviewing it then. Pass.

Usagi Yojimbo: One for One #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $1.00)
I'm supposed to like/respect this book. It's been running for decades, and is supposed to be a fairly faithful anthropomorphized take on Japanese history, myth, and samurai cinema. Yeah, fine, I guess. For me, it was the first act of a lame episode of Kung Fu. There's this ronin rabbit, and his acquaintance the sneak thief keeps outsmarting the local corrupt sheriff. The thief's good-natured simpleton aid takes a fall for her crimes, and... to be continued. No really, that's it. Maybe Matlock the Turtle shows up for the defense. Take away Stan Sakai's cutesy animal art, and this shit is straight stock. I've got some other vintage comics floating around my house to give the title another chance down the line, but ennui will see to that being a ways away.


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