Thursday, February 18, 2021

1983 Original Dokuzetsu Momohei Tsuyoi Ka Yowai Ka!? manga art by Kimura Tomoe

On our trip to Japan, I tried to track down ephemera relevant to my childhood experiences with their cultural exports with little success. Aside from a few recent manga collections, the only Golgo 13 item I came back with was a tiny figurine similar to a large Heroclix, but with a suction cup in its back. The only English on the item is "ucc Good Coffee Smile" so I'm guessing-- mug decoration? Aside from that, I finally found a small Gatchaman color print at a legit old school comic shop. There were newsstands with manga all over, and we hit several Mandarake, including the multistory one in Tokyo with an elevator. Still, those were mostly filled with 21st century artifacts, and don't get me started on the malls filled with One Piece/Dragonball/Attack on Titan items. No, we only ever found one really dense & dusty popcult tchotchke dumping ground (it was a claustrophobia-inducing number not quite wide enough for any one fat American walk through) and a single true, terribly humid Android's Dungeon deal. That's where my partner finally found a set of water-damaged Candy Candy volumes, and pretty much the only place with original manga art.

So much of the Japanese otaku scene feels prefabricated-- the type of stuff offered every month in the Previews catalog, just flea markets full of stuff you'll see at every domestic con. I've never been big on anime, so my tastes are either for nostalgia for Super Nintendo video games and afternoon cartoons, or just stuff that strikes me as cool. Japan runs on yen, so I had a finite amount of physical currency to last our entire trip. I didn't want to go begging to my girlfriend for toy money, so I was very frugal with my purchases. I mostly bought stuff that I only saw in a particular region to take back as souvenirs for the folks back home. That's why I passed on a ¥3500 Dawn of the Dead movie program, which caused me a bit of non-buyers remorse. Anyway, this one shop had a lot of wicked stuff, including the original art of complete stories in slipcases, like one of those Artifact Editions of the actual artifacts rather than reproductions. Those cost tens of thousands of yen, and in retrospect it would have been totally worth it, but I was still being very conservative. I was also afraid that they might be proofs or something, so I only bought one to take back to the hotel. It was clearly on inspection the original boards, and so we went back for one more, but I should have splurged. It's not like I'm going back to Japan... probably ever, in all honesty. It was a very expensive and fairly arduous trip, and my partner didn't have the best time.
The two pieces I bought were ¥8000 each, so roughly $150. Both were by the same artist, who was unsurprisingly unfamiliar to me. Knowing that I'd never get anywhere with the kanji on the bag, I asked the shopkeeper to tell me what he could about the pieces. He spoke almost no English, which is still a million times better than my Japanese, so I just jotted down a few cryptic notes on his Dumbo Post-Its. "Published in Young Jump. 1984. Poisonous Tongue. Momohira. Strong or weak. Tomoi. Kimura." While searching for some specific missing items and reorganizing in general to take advantage of all the power outages here in Texas, I came across the Post-It again and figured I better take advantage of the reunion before I misplace it again. With a bit of online research, the artist appears to be 木村知夫, or Kimura Tomoe (when the names aren't flipped due conflicting Eastern/Western conventions.) The strip seems to be Dokuzetsu Momohei Tsuyoi Ka Yowai Ka!? (毒舌桃平 強いか弱いか!? 全7巻セット), a shōnen manga (targeting teenage boys.) It's about a young couple willing to die in poverty rather than be separated, and ran from 1983-84, producing a seven volume collection. The writer, Kazuo Koike (小池 一夫), studied under Golgo 13's Takao Saito and is best known for Crying Freeman, both in my limited manga wheelhouse.

Tones are my kink, but the other thing that drew me to these specific pieces was the sensuality. Cheesecake and beefcake are common enough, but the delicate intimacy and tasteful nudity here are uncommon in my experience with comics. You have beautiful male and female forms in vulnerable and romantic situations where the sexuality of the characters isn't compromised. But again, the zip tone usage is extensive and exquisite. These are scans of reduced photocopies, so a lot is lost in translation. On the first piece, the top two inches are solid black, Then the wavy tones are adhered, running to either edge of the page so that but for the scotch tape texture on your fingers, it's tough to spot it. The tone is cut around the central figures, who then have horizontal tones hand cut round their forms and the white areas of the eyes and mouths.

My understanding is that the second piece was made either for a wall poster or some form of promotional work. This one also has two tones, dot pattern for the water and horizontal lines for figure shading. The cross-stitched sky appears to have been exhaustively created by hand, based on the asymmetry and the physical texture on the page. The Japanese boards are much thinner then western counterparts, so enormous delicacy must have been required. The artist also relies heavily on liquid paper for the sea foam and highlights on the figures. Don't miss the ornate back tattoo on the female, which though covered by the horizontal zip, appears to have been custom drawn dot by dot. There's a large "81" written on the back, and some yellowing/browning from actual tape. This was used to apply a tracing paper overlay with kanji suggesting a first chapter with a circled Arabic "1". I've opted not to throw up that scan.

I adorev these pieces, and my only regret is that I didn't grab a third available from the series, this one involving some form of demonic entity and a lot of lumber. Thematically though, this works better as a duology. I want to hang them, but I'm afraid of causing damage, in spite of Japan being about as muggy as Houston and without common use of air conditioning. If they lasted over thirty years under those conditions, many hanging from a thread from a ceiling, how much more harm could I do?

Friday, May 15, 2020

James Bond 007 Ultimate Theme Song Countdown 2020

Inspired by Soundtrack Selections 007 and countless broken image codes on this blog, I'm revisiting and expanding my 50th Anniversary ranking to include twice as many tunes. In the 8 years since my first pass, I started B.O.N.D.I.N.G. Agents: The Father & Son Spy-Fi Podcast, so I've marinated in this material a lot more, plus I just plain missed a bunch of notable stuff. I make an attempt to be objective, with songs I personally like sometimes rating very low ("Make It Last All Night" slaps and tickles,) but are not necessarily good James Bond songs (international smash "If You Asked Me To" should not be in a movie where a drug dealer feeds a dude's leg to a shark.) As with the 2012 ranking, I'm excluding instrumentals, but here's an honorary link to "Casino Royale" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. On the other hand, I refuse to acknowledge Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? by Nina ever happened.

*) "Run James Run" as performed by Brian Wilson
Despite the pedigree, I don't like this one in any capacity, and it somehow morphed into "Pet Sounds"? Still better than the terrible Beach Boys medley "California Gold" by Gidea Park from Daylights that I disqualified.

*) 1987's "The Living Daylights" demo for The Living Daylights as performed by Pet Shop Boys
A lousy synth submission for Her Majesty's Secret Service that was better served as the basis for 1990's "This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave".

54) 1989's "Dirty Love" for Licence to Kill as performed by Tim Feehan
Timothy Dalton is the favorite Bond of a small but vocal minority who feel he got a raw deal. Certainly contributing to that was the fact that there were more rotten songs packed into his two films than across most of the rest of the franchise.

53) 1999's "Only Myself to Blame" for The World Is Not Enough as performed by Scott Walker
Scrapped end credits song that landed on the soundtrack. I try to be thoughtful, but this just plain sucks, and is totally derivative lounge crap.

52) 1987's "If There Was a Man" for The Living Daylights as performed by The Pretenders
Great band. Painful song.

51) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Saint Etienne
There were something like a dozen different versions of this theme song as part of a shitty "spec" process that wasted a bunch of artists' time, effort, and aspirations. Nothing about this particular Cardigans-a-like navel-gazing disco(?) attempt seemed destined for 007, though.

50) 1989's "If You Asked Me To" for Licence to Kill as performed by Patti Labelle
Another one of those "what is this fluffy adult contemporary hit doing in a movie about a ruthless government assassin" selections. Plus, and I hate to say it, Celine Dion's version was sharper and more emotive.

49) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Lies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Pulp
Note the "L" in place of a "D." A pretty good number that landed on one of the band's albums. Seems more like a sneering nod toward Bondian inclinations rather than a true theme, though.

48) 1981's "Make It Last All Night" for For Your Eyes Only as performed by Rage
Sexually explicit groove that ran in one scene. I could chill with it, but this is really just something for the background, as it was.

47) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Julie Rogers
The original orientalist version, before the producers reached for a bigger name with a lesser vocal range but a more contemporary (and honestly far more appealing) style. The musical equivalent of Rosie O'Donnell's "ching-chong" moment with would-be Ethel Merman warbling histrionics

46) 2004's "If You're Gonna..." for GoldenEye: Rogue Agent as performed by Natasha Bedingfield
I confess that I wasn't expecting a lot from these video game tracks, and figured the "Unwritten" lady was going to skew more Sheena Easton. With the help of Paul Oakenfold, you can at least have a car chase to this one. I'm deeply uncomfortable with ranking this so high with dreadful lines like "Can't sit around couch potato land" and "'cause I'm looking for a guard dog, not buying a chihuahua."

45) 2008's "When Nobody Loves You" for Quantum of Solace as performed by Kerli
Seriously considered invalidating this one since it's technically a duplicate due to the video game being an adaptation of a movie and because it incorporates the Bond instrumental theme. Since most of these game tracks are sitting at the back though, I guess consider this a subcategory ranking?

44) 2015's "Spectre" for Spectre as performed by Radiohead
Unused (unsolicited?) theme produced after the Bond inspired "Man of War" was refused outright(ly) as undesirable. I love many Radiohead songs, but this was the pantsless George Costanza belly-flopping on the floor of wannabe theme salesmen. Somehow wimpier than Sam Smith, and certainly more lethargic.

43) 1995's "The Experience of Love" for Licence to Kill as performed by Éric Serra
I guess we know what a post-Tantric, "Fields of Gold" Sting song would have sounded like. Or "my name is Gabriel; Peter Gabriel." Mocking aside, this track is sort of the demarcation point for "songs that are acceptable to be featured prominently in a Bond movie without inducing head-scratching or embarrassment."

42) 2002's "Nearly Civilized" for Nightfire as performed by Esthero
A perfectly adequate early '90s club song released a decade late that has nothing to do with Bond, but got used in a well-received first-person shooter.

41) 1983's "Never Say Never Again" for Never Say Never Again as performed by Lani Hall
The worst of the Bond films' somnambulantly mellow title tracks. But she's really into it in the video, right? It's like if Kathie Lee Gifford were a Bond Girl.

40) 1962's "Kingston Calypso" for Dr. No as performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
Odd little calypso from before they figured out the formula, but with an appropriate foreign exoticism and tinge of menace. I'm excluding and/or bundling "Jump Up!" "Jamaican Rock" and "Under the Mango Tree" as more of the same. In fact, fuck it, I'm tossing Ivory's "Wedding Party" into the shark tank with them.

39) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Lorraine Chandler
Might have been a fine period platter, but not a lot here for a spy feature.

38) 2006's "You Know My Name" for Casino Royale as performed by Chris Cornell
I remember sitting in the theater with a fellow Bond fan buddy during the credit sequence. We turned to each other and wondered how such a bland tune could have been selected. I cannot recall this song from memory, because it's such a nothing trifle without any hooks that it refuses to stick in my brain. The video is about as bad, interspersing film clips with Cornell playing in front of some lights. How much lazier could it have been?

37) 2010's "GoldenEye" for GoldenEye 007 as performed by Nicole Scherzinger
I just want to dig the blind mouse's knife into Cornell's effort one more time with vastly superior songwriting, before stabbing my own eardrums with the cat-screech non-high note here. Scherzinger should have offered her own interpretation instead of drunken karaoke night Tina, but this is still an actual Bond song instead of a random artist's b-side.

36) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by Swan Lee
A decent attempt, but not enough edge, and Pernille Rosendahl sounds less like singing in a second language and more like an off-key girl group. I immediately hated this one, only to be won over with repeated plays, while fully recognizing it's probably just my weakness for Swedish songstresses showing.

35) 1983's "All Time High" for Octopussy as performed by Rita Coolidge
This is one of those instances where you have a good enough song for its day, but it doesn't actually have much of anything to do with James Bond. Based on craft, it's certainly better than some higher ranking tunes, but as part of a 007 countdown, it can't help but be hurt by its lack of fidelity to the franchise. The shoddy video illustrates the divergence well.

34) 1973's "The Man with the Golden Gun" for The Man with the Golden Gun as performed by Alice Cooper
This is a perfect example of a band unable to get out of its own way, or at least an ill-advised choice for a Bond theme in the first place. Too much William Castle horror score. Rough-hewn and American, plus that pitch change is laughable.

33) 1965's "Thunderball" for Thunderball as performed by Johnny Cash
Ummm... but this isn't a western? Another demarcation point, where the song deserves to be a credits theme, but only one of the "bad ones" toward the end of an actor's tenure.

32) 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" for For Your Eyes Only as performed by Blondie
Great band that sounds tired and are on the verge of breaking up.

31) 1967's "The Look of Love" for Casino Royale as performed by Dusty Springfield
I saw Royale once on TV circa 1990 and was mildly amused. I had to double check to make sure this stone classic standard actually originated from that spoof. That said, it's a swanky heavy petting number, not a headliner for any international men of action.

30) 1987's "Where Has Everybody Gone?" for The Living Daylights as performed by The Pretenders
God bless her, a near-unrecognizable Chrissie Hynde tries, but she simply is not Shirley Bassey. Sounds like the credit number for a higher end, tongue-in-cheek knock-off, like Austin Powers or Matt Helm.

29) 1965's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball as performed by Dionne Warwick
There are two different singers on the same discarded theme song with an awkward name. It's nice that a classy singer like Warwick got a shot at one of these, but hers is the flatter version.

28) 1989's "Licence to Kill" as performed by Gladys Knight
As if he didn't have enough strikes against him, Timothy Dalton was saddled with two of the least memorable songs in the franchise. This is common period overproduced R&B pap with a film title plugged into the chorus. The video is also a rubbish collection of clips and poor superimposition. A major waste of Gladys Knight's talent.

27) 2004's "Everything or Nothing" for Everything or Nothing as performed by Mýa
Performed by the one you don't remember from the 2001 "Lady Marmalade" cover, this one marks a sort of minimum standard for a decent theme song. The game title matches, there are correct thematic elements for a spy-fi villainess, and no part of my body is pained by its presence. Better than "nothing."

26) 2002's "Die Another Day" as performed by Madonna
On the one hand, this has a strong video that tells its own story, and Mirwais Ahmadzaï insures that it sounds unlike any other Bond tune. On the other hand, the lyrics are nonsense and gratingly repetitive, the music itself trivial dance tripe, and the perseverant idiot vocals are buried under e-IBS distortion. It's the Bond tune voted most likely to induce a headache in listeners.

25) 2002's "The Juvenile" for Goldeneye as performed by Ace of Base
Brosnan's first Bond movie had to shake lingering Moore-style cheesy inclinations of the producers, like returning to Sweden for a soft ballad. "The Goldeneye" could have inhabited an a-Ha space, but Jenny Berggren just doesn't have the pipes for this type of gig. The rejected theme turned up on an album seven years removed under a new (frankly more rhythmic) name.

24) 2008's "Another Way to Die" for Quantum of Solace as performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys
Jack White is the problem here. The crunchy guitar and drums are good, but the lyrics are shit, and the composition is irritatingly discordant. Alicia Keys' vocals and piano are perfect for Bond, and then White shows up to whine all over both. The video is decent, but the kitchen sink approach overall is a hot mess. There's a lot of good bits, so it's frustrating when they're overwhelmed by crap.

23) 1965's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for Thunderball as performed by Shirley Bassey
Not the best tune for the grand dame of MI6, but it's still Bassey and John Barry.

22) 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" as performed by Sheena Easton
Casio powered cornball, not helped by Easton's appearance in the actual credit sequence, but it also featured some of the least brief nudity of the lot. I'll always give a few extra for a simple ode to that good dick over a more on-topic but aggressively bad attempt like Madonna or Jack White's.

21) 1979's "Moonraker" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Third time appeared to be the curse for Shirley Bassey, as this was the least and last of her accepted themes. It successfully evokes an (astro)nautical feeling, and there's a floor with Bassey that's higher than most ceilings. The vocals, strings, and piano are sound, but the guitar is Velveeta, and the overall tune is a boring easy listening number. I actually had to be reminded that this one existed.

20) 2020's "No Time to Die" for No Time to Die as performed by Billie Eilish
There's definitely a fatality to the betrayal at the heart of the song, but the tune is very small and intimate in a way that feels deflating against a 007-sized canvas. I'm also very tired of "old sad bastard music" accompanying most of the Daniel Craig films.

19) 1987's "The Living Daylights" as performed by a-ha
Fucking enunciate. The vocals on this song sound like a Muppet without a tongue, or a barred out Bob Dylan taking hits of helium for the chorus. "Nuh-na-- noo-nuh-nuh-nannoo." Is this thing even in English? The music is little better, as it sounds like period pop from the back end of the top 100 (it never actually charted at all in the U.S.) Let's not even bother discussing what passes for lyrics. The video is a catalog of every cheesy editing effect available at the time. But sonically, you picture skiing down a mountain with uzis cutting down treelimbs until a cliff forms a convenient escape ramp as something explodes.

18) 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" as performed by Sheryl Crow
Crow's thin voice can't carry the weight of a Bond theme, and the lyrics are announced as rock dumb and cliché from the first line. However, Mitchell Froom's production is appropriately retro, the video is solid, the chorus is okay, and there's a nice breakdown. To quote Jack Black, very safe, very pussy. It's also impossible to forget that this same year, Shirley Bassey joined the Propellerheads for the vastly superior "History Repeating".

17) 1983's "Never Say Never Again" for Never Say Never Again as performed by Phyllis Hyman
A very pleasant period love song, and certainly better than the one actually used. Also, Phyllis Hyman is a good Bond Girl name. Joking aside, Hyman's story is tragic, and she once expressed that this was her favorite vocal, which plainly shows. Soars and yearns and massages the male ego; an entirely apropos ballad for Bond.

16) 1963's "From Russia with Love" as performed by Monty Norman
This is a simple, solid song that recalls espionage through its guitars and reference to the Motherland, but is mostly just a ballad. The vocal track wasn't part of the opening theme.

15) 1974's "The Man with the Golden Gun" as performed by Lulu
This one has the sort of awesomely ridiculous lyrics designed for campy spy action or musical theater, but it's hard not to feel self-conscious about how ludicrous it sounds. Lulu lacks the pipes of a Shirley Bassey, but then again, who else has them really?

14) 2012's "Skyfall" as performed by Adele
Pretty easy to tune out for the first couple of minutes. The callbacks and added punch in the last couple minutes make the song, but it's still boilerplate on both the Bond and pop song ends of the spectrum. It sounds like some homely chick longing for melodrama, instead of a fatalistic sex bomb. Man, I wish Amy Winehouse had lived long enough to do one of these.

13) 1967's "You Only Live Twice" as performed by Nancy Sinatra
While not explicit, a few key lyrics and some of the tone in the music still spells out 007. The very subtle Asiatic qualities are cute, and the vocals are nice. It was a weak title sequence though, and overall a thin, tinny tune.

12) 2015's "Writing's On The Wall" for Spectre as performed by Sam Smith
The hate directed and this number was immediate and intense... in some quarters. It also won an Acadamy Award and made it to #1 in the U.K. Lyrically, there's not much there, but Smith's falsetto is like nothing ever heard before, and the orchestral sweep is present.

11) 1965's "Thunderball" as performed by Tom Jones
Similar to "Golden Gun," but played straighter with more swagger. It sells the silliness better, and the horns are more swanky. Still, it's a bit sluggish.

10) 1977's "Nobody Does It Better" for The Spy Who Loved Me as performed by Carly Simon
This is another pop song that barely qualifies as a Bond tune, but it's a pretty damned good one. Despite lyrics that aren't especially Bond-specific, the exuberant praise of masterful cocksmanship sure smacks of 007. Somehow, despite having no edge whatsoever, name-dropping the movie title and exalting the finest of men makes this the perfect proxy song for women swept up in Bond's charm.

009) 1969's "We Have All the Time in the World" for On Her Majesty's Secret Service as performed by Louis Armstrong
A ballad made bittersweet by its usage at the end of the film. This one has a killer bridge with excellent strings, guitar and horns. The lyrics have nothing and everything to do with the story, but it's so affective, I'll allow it.

008) 1997's "Surrender" for Tomorrow Never Dies as performed by k.d. lang
Look, Crow may be the bigger name and the more likely to be appropriate, but you can't tell me the end credits song isn't a strong contender against the opener.

007) 1973's "Live and Let Die" as performed by Paul McCartney & Wings
I realize that this was a hit single twice over two decades apart, and deservedly so. The bridges are exhilarating and the piano gets some refined pounding. Still, the lyrics are overly simplistic, and the reggae-funk breakdown is goofy as hell.

006) 2010's "I'll Take It All" for Blood Stone as performed by Joss Stone
Beyond the robust vocals and lyrics that actually reflect a Bond story, having Eurythmics' Dave Stewart sharing the mission can't hurt. The game themes got progressively better (and presumably more expensive) until they halted abruptly in 2012, but this was the only one to top most legitimate Eon movie themes. Heavier percussion gives it a greater action thrust that just about any other theme, and while feeling comfortable in their company, this song doesn't feel as indebted to ones that preceded it where many efforts since the '90s have a distinct aftertaste of pastiche.

005) 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey, John Barry and Don Black bring the classic Bond edge with added funk. This strikes the right balance between recalling 007 and being comically blatant. There's a reason Kanye sampled this instead of "Thunderball," y'know?

004) 1985's "A View to a Kill" as performed by Duran Duran
The lyrics are developmentally challenged, the music video is laughable, and let's not even start in on the hair styles. Regardless, the tune is snazzy and conveys the proper mood.

003) 1999's "The World Is Not Enough" as performed by Garbage
This one layers strength over strength. Clear and detailed spy thriller tune and lyrics, but not so blatant as to be goofy. Sung by a total vamp, the music combines cool jazz licks and techno beeps that represent the 007 alphabet from M to Q. Shirley Manson as a fembot makes this easily the best Bond music video.

002) 1964's "Goldfinger" as performed by Shirley Bassey
Horns that could kill a man, vocals with ballistic impact, lyrics that paint the portrait of a monster, and the most rousing finale of any song on this list. It's weaknesses are repetitive lyrics and a hollow quality to the sound, but it still takes some fantastic music to overcome this titan.

001) 1995's "GoldenEye" as performed by Tina Turner
Classy without being moldy, slinky and muscular by turns, this is an epic theme about the entire Bond phenomenon. Turner's exotic, raw voice ranges from sensual to conniving to yearning with the skill of a true diva. There's the stealthy cool, the fatal yearning, the impossible notes... Bono and the Edge craft crystalline lyrics and hooks that dig to the bone, comparable with their finest songcraft.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2017 Aliens 30th Anniversary Lance Henriksen as Bishop commission by Kyra Morphis

I was really proud for Houston's biggest and longest lived comic show to score the coup of the majority of the surviving Aliens cast ahead of its thirtieth anniversary... until SDCC did the same thing a few month's later, closer to the actual anniversary, then added James Cameron, Lance Henriksen, and Gale Anne Hurd just for spite. Comicpalooza's never tried anything on that scale again, settling into being a purely regional attraction. Given how much money I spent to get all those autographs, I'm not entirely sorry about that. Still, this was a rewarding effort, and I am building a substantially larger portfolio of commissions to celebrate one of the few movies more beloved to me than this one.

At least The H's convention bureau made up for the absence of everyone's favorite fully functioning synthetic, the android Bishop. They brought in Lance Henriksen the following year, and at the same show, I tried out a new artist in Kyra Morphis. She was either an art student or recent graduate, and her portfolio had some really interesting stuff in it. I had my copy of the souvenir magazine for reference, and she took it to work on overnight. Wanting to get a better feel for the likeness, she pulled up additional reference online, printed on heavy stock color paper, and did warm-up sketches on one of the pages. She was really nervous when presenting me the final piece, but she needn't have been, as I was very impressed with her take on the late-film bisected android and the clear attention for detail (note the serial number on his inner arm, for instance.) Never underestimate how many cool applications an artist can come up with for White-Out.

In my haste to get the finish piece to the actor to sign (he was appropriately gravelly) I forgot my souvenir book, which Morphis held on to for a year before returning it to me at the next Comicpalooza. A class act, and not the first time an artist has gone above and beyond for me in this manner. They're good people. Me, less so, since I'd held out on posting the piece because I'd forgotten her name, and then sat on the post for another year-and-a-half besides out of pure inertia. Since Photobucket bombed out most of the images on my blogs, I had to light a fire in my gut to find and repost all of the Aliens pieces (which probably means no podcasting this week,) and here they all are now. At least I got another piece from Morphis for that other project...

2016-2017 Aliens 30th Anniversary Commissions

Saturday, September 1, 2018

DC Comics 1993 Editorial Presentation: The Killing Machine

Adam Cross is a drifter. He takes an almost child-like delight in his life as a manual laborer moving from one job to another...until he is unexpectedly confronted by violence. Then, good-natured Adam Cross explodes with the devastating ferocity of a human time bomb!

In the tradition of DEATHSTROKE, THE TERMINATOR, Robocop, and The Punisher, THE KILLING MACHINE blasts his way onto the scene in this super-hero/spy adventure.

This three-issue miniseries stars a cybernetic hero, Adam Cross, who is part of a government program to create a human defense system in a world where nuclear missiles aren't likely to be used now that the Soviet Union has fallen. Instead, there are smaller "brush fires" to fight around the world. The solution? Implanting human brains in artificial bodies to create a special combat force.

Unfortunately, a glitch in the technology drives the resulting creation mad. The program seems doomed, until a crippled scientist allows his brain to be put in a cybernetic body. He becomes the first to survive, but the gov­ernment doesn't have much time to celebrate before he rebels against them for trying to use him for more and more corrupt purposes.

On the run, THE KILLING MACHINE tries to find a peaceful life. The government tries, through assassins and cybernetic controls, to eliminate him, but there's one thing they didn't count on: confronted with extreme violence, THE KILLING MACHINE goes into combat mode and becomes uncontrollable. Faced with his devastating power and exper­tise, his handlers are driven to the ultimate risk...sending a newer, improved model after Cross.
THE KILLING MACHINE is the first major work created, written, pencilled, and inked by the legendary Gil Kane since his classic His Name is Savage over 25 years ago.
Referenced in comics media in the early '90s, this project has unfortunately never seen print. At least you can see a character sheet.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Frank Review of "Zombie Dearest" (2009)

The Short Version? Zombie day laborer endures routine
What Is It? Dramazomedy
Who Is In It? Additional Voice Talent, Saw III & IV
Should I See It? No.

Gus Lawton (David Kemker) is a failed comic supported the past half-dozen years by his wife, Deborah (Shauna Black.) Gus proves as unsuccessful at adultery as everything else in his life, and winds up forced into servitude at Deborah's rural childhood home in hopes of making amends. Gus inadvertently awakens a buried zombie dubbed Quinto (David Sparrow,) who he uses to do his many chores while he works on a terrible caveman themed stand-up act Gus intends to try out in a barn on the local yokels. Quinto unsurprisingly gets up to flesh eating shenanigans while unsupervised, which complicates the Lawtons plans.

Zombie Dearest is clearly a vanity project for writer-director-star David Kemker, who apparently had enough industry ties to call in favors to match '80s Canadian television production values, pull a strong bluegrass cut for the trailer ("Ain't No Grave" by Crooked Still) and cast a credible co-star. Due to the minimal competence on display, it's difficult to tell whether Kemker intended for his characters to be unlikeable, arrogant left-coasters, or if Gus' act is so wretched because Kemker was afraid rednecks might actually laugh at it if he put even an ounce of effort into the writing. It's probably not a good idea to do bad work on purpose when you're an unknown quantity, since it's so easily mistaken for being of poor quality in itself. It doesn't help that a pseudo-love triangle is resolved off-screen, a major plot point about the town's history with the supernatural is never addressed, and the picture is tone deaf as a whole.

At its core, this is an indie flick about displaced liberals in the sticks and their hubris, but it's played too broadly to offer insight. There appears to be overtures toward this being a comedy, but the film doesn't come within spitting distance of funny at any point. Then there's the zombie element, which is so tacked-on that it's safe to assume its involvement was motivated by mercenary inclinations. The film owes more to W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" than George Romero, so when the shit hits the fan in the final minutes of the last act, it flies briefly and with a remarkable lack of feces. Just to rub it in, there's a twist ending that's more depressing than most zombie flicks for the exact wrong reason. This could have been a decent enough half-hour entry in an anthology, but as a full length feature it is completely charmless.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Frank Review of "Hide and Creep" (2004)

The Short Version? Plan 9 from I-59
What Is It? Zomedy
Who Is In It? Rednecks
Should I See It? Maybe

Hide and Creep is a mildly amusing entry in the zombie comedy subgenre. It earns good will in the early going through slacker comedy, much of it delivered through a "one of us" sarcastic pop culture geek from out of a Kevin Smith movie. There's also a lot of southerners making fun of southerners (filmed in Alabama by Alabamans,) which is much more fun and legit than when goddamned Yankees try to pull it off. On the other hand, a Dawn of the Dead/King of the Hill mash-up isn't for all tastes, and you will not be surprise to learn these guys were working from a $20,000 budget. The make-up and effects are amateurish, the acting isn't much better, and the direction is so bad at times that even a layperson will question the framing. The first half hour is the sweet spot, as characters and quirky situations are introduced. For instance, the "R" rating isn't just for the full frontal male nudity in the opening scene, but who expected that to be a question in the first place? Both figuratively and literally ballsy. Once the foundation is laid and the initial questions answered though, the lack of variety and depth in the characters wear on the nerves, and there's a strong sense of the screenwriter spitballing for scenarios to keep the crew busy until the arbitrary ending. Enjoyment will to depend on getting your drink on from the top, so your standards can drop off as sharply as the material in the second half.

Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Artist Jam featuring Facehugger by Cody Schibi

Of the Aliens cast, I feel the greatest kinship with Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, unlikely popcult avatars, and have followed their careers the most closely. So many movies have tried to have their own Carter Burke, but it never works as well because they forget that he was more than a corporate slimeball with a homicidal eye toward the bottom line. Despite being manipulative and having an agenda, Carter Burke seemed like an alright guy that supported Ripley emotionally and in the xenomorph business for better than half of Aliens (especially if you factor in the revelations of the director's cut) before his true nature was revealed. You liked the guy, so the betrayal stung all the more. Those positive qualities led me to Reiser's other contemporaneous movie roles, his stand-up, but most especially one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Mad About You. I relate strongly to Paul Buchman, and appreciate his family and environment. That was one of the only long running shows to end on a high note, and I made a point of telling Reiser so.

Carter Burke was the second commission in the series that I initiated, when I still thought it would be dominated by jams instead of one-off character spotlights. Given my affection for Reiser, I began to fret that he might take offense at having to share space with other characters when so many of the active fighters in the movie got their own solo works. I nixed adding another character like Spunkmeyer or an alien egg to fill out the page, but the intersect between that character and Burke was close lab encounters with a facehugger, which inspired the idea to use one of those to complete this jam.

Facehuggers are one of the most memorable and unnerving aspects of the Alien franchise, with a live specimen that tried to "kiss" Burke with its prehensile sphincter stalk from inside a fluid filled tank anticipating his fate (in an unfilmed or undiscovered scene, Ripley found Burke cocooned and impregnated during her search for Newt, and left him with a grenade he could use to kill himself, which was meant to tie into one of those random explosions in the final act.) I loved this piece offering a chance to (literally) showcase the creature, especially as rendered by Cody Schibi, who is excellent at depicting the weird and grotesque (as well as being another of my very favorite regular artists to commission!) I was asking an awful lot of him though, between the complicated organic spider-crab-beastie, the textures of the metal and glass case, and to stroke Reiser's ego just a tad more, his mirror reflection (as reinterpreted by Schibi in direct contrast to an entirely different artist on the same page.) It was a ridiculous demand that I figured Schibi would overlook to preserve his sanity, but instead he gave me every single thing I wanted with panache like the boss he is!

Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton were the top priority signatures, since they were only appearing for one day across less than four total hours between them over roughly simultaneous sittings broken in two between the cast panel. I was lucky enough (and had unwittingly spent enough money beforehand on an extra priority express ticket) to score Weaver's signature during her first hour long signing session, while the girlfriend I was forced to abandon secured me a nice place in line for Paxton. I don't remember if I had Schibi's addition to the jam piece in hand yet, but with all the anxiety and hullabaloo from those first two signings, I wanted to take a break and check on pieces floating around Artists Alley. Also, with Reiser scheduled to be signing for the rest of the weekend, I hoped to eventually catch him during a dry spell and maybe try to milk some extra anecdotes out of him in a b.s. session. However, my girlfriend had kept her eye on Reiser, and didn't think he was enjoying his time stuck at a comic convention in Houston in the summer. To my knowledge, besides Comicpalooza and SDCC, I don't think Reiser really does nerdy conventions. At her urging, I figured I'd go ahead and get the signature just in case, plus standing in line gave me more of an opportunity to mill about near the celebrities, eavesdropping without being creepy.

When my turn came up, I presented the commission to Reiser, who said "Hey look, it's me with Bill Hope!" I chatted him up a bit, he politely thanked me for my kind words, and that was it. I saw him again at the panel, where he and Paxton stole the show with their lousy one question a piece in a shrimpy 40 minute Q&A involving eleven actors. And I didn't see him again for the rest of the show, so I'm mighty damned glad I got to him when I did!

Cody Schibi


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