Sunday, August 31, 2008

Empire's 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters

In my continued spoilage of these overlong list columns, I now present Empire Magazine Online's 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters. For those unfamiliar, Empire has been the film magazine of choice of the U.K. since about 1989, and their list is decidedly Brit-centric. I'd say it's also eccentric, and doubt there was a large pool of authorities gathered in compiling this list. Still, it's more interesting than the usual Wizard crap, even if they somehow not only let Venom on the list, but ranked him just above Dr. Strange. Shite! On the other hand, notables like Usagi Yojimbo, Cerebus, and the Tick deserve more attention like this.

50) Spawn
49) Captain Haddock
48) Harvey Pekar
47) Apollo and Midnighter
46) J. Jonah Jameson
45) Deadpool
44) Jenny Sparks
43) Astro Boy
42) The Saint of Killers
41) Green Lantern
40) Scott Pilgrim
39) The Mekon
38) Cerebus the Aardvark
36) Agent Graves
35) Hellboy
34) Dr. Strange
33) Venom
32) Lex Luthor
31) Usagi Yojimbo
30) Emma Frost, the White Queen
29) Swamp Thing
28) The Tick
27) Johnny Alpha of Strontium Dog
26) Violent Marv (Sin City)
25) Dr. Doom
24) Deena Pilgrim (Powers)
23) Obelix (Asterix)
22) Hunter Rose (Grendel)
21) Captain America
20) Wonder Woman
19) The Punisher
18) Halo Jones
17) Iron Man
16) Rorschach
15) Death of The Endless
14) The Incredible Hulk
13) Vladek Spiegelman (Maus)
12) Spider Jerusalem
11) Jesse Custer (Preacher)
10) The Thing
09) Magneto
08) The Joker
07) Judge Dredd
06) Morpheus/Dream of The Endless
05) Spider-Man
04) Wolverine
03) John Constantine (Hellblazer)
02) Batman
01) Superman

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Showcase #92 (8/70)

Starker and his young lady friends had a great time in the resort city of Janus on Jupiter, but a wanted poster killed the mood:
100,000 Credits will be paid for the death of Starker, bounty hunter.
The Brotherhood of Space
"Didn't know the Brotherhood has that long a reach! No staying a little longer for you now! That means you've got to go and go now-- before some clown tries to collect-- and I don't want you two in the line of fire!"

Along the way to taking the girls home, Starker set his flyer on auto pilot and relented to their queries as to why he does it.

"--It all started out long ago-- 17 years ago to be exact-- 17 long years of fighting and catching this criminal scum... Hate them, yes, I guess I do. And with good reason-- a reason they gave me themselves! It started when my father, an asteroid miner made his find-- the thing most miners never find--" It was didanium, and a rich enough vein to insure the pair would never want again. It was also plenty enough to kill for, as a pack of claim-jumpers gunned the miner down in front of his son. The boy would have been next, had "Slops" not wanted kitchen help. "You know my rule-- no live witnesses-- but okay-- a kid can't hurt us!"

As Starker's first lesson in the galley, Slops threw him a beating, just to show who's boss. "That's what my life became-- brutality after brutality. Orders yelled at me-- and if I didn't move fast enough-- a boot or a fist reminded me to hurry!" As his fear gave way to hate, Starker began to watch the pirates in their pursuits, learning their various skills while mourning their many victims. Petty tortures, like Slago practicing knife throws with Starker-- William Tell style-- fostered a steely nerve. Starker continued to act the coward while training in secret: surpassing Slago with the blade, incorporating a variety of fighting styles, weight training, and learning every nook and cranny of their spaceship.

After turning eighteen, Starker beat Slops and tossed him out of the kitchen, claiming it as his own. This show of dominance was respected by the pirates, and besides, Starker turned out to be a better cook. After earning their trust for another two years, Starker enacted his master plan. He disabled all the life boats to prevent escape, then set a trap to snare his first pirate. Gaining a blaster, needle gun and a knife, Starker burst in on a card game between three pirates. "Things have changed in the last hour! I've come for you, Sergio-- you were one of the killers of my father-- You others-- I've got no quarrel with you-- so stay out of this!" The other two creeps weren't about to take Starker's advice, so they died with Sergio. "That's number one, Dad!"

Warning klaxons sounded as the captain became aware of the carnage via his closed circuit cameras. The hunt was now a two sided affair, though Starker was prepared. He knocked out the lights in the engine room, then waited for investigators. "Cyclops! He's one of the five who killed my father!" Starker dropped down from an overhead pipe and silently choked Cyclops to death between his legs. In the dark, Starker knocked out another pirate, then held his confederates at gunpoint before binding them. "If you're quiet, you may still come out of this alive-- but one sound out of you..."

Phase three of Starker's plan entailed releasing paralyzo-gas into the air-conditioning system, taking down most of the crew. That left only the pair watching Starker's progress with the captain. The trio donned sealed suits and split up after the kid. Slago found him first, but missed with a knife throw. Starker pulled the blade from the wall. "Let me show you how to do it, Slago? You do it like this!" Slumped dead on the floor, Slago made three of the five to be revenged against for a father's death. Dondor made four, as he was dead before he realized he'd missed shooting the agile Starker, whose own aim was true. "Only one more-- the Captain!"

Alone, the Captain thought only of escape the life boats couldn't provide. "I knew I shoulda killed you back there on that rock!" Starker made sure the only way out was through him. The Captain wasn't up to the task, managing only to nick Starker's shoulder before perishing by blaster. "That's the last one, dad... You can rest easy now!"

"Two days later, I herded the rest of the pirates, still groggy from the paralyzo-gas into the nearest space security patrol station... and as the stunned security police gaped in astonishment... 'There's seven D.O.A. still in the ship outside in your airlock.'"

"And that's how I became the richest bounty hunter around, because the rewards on that pirate crew totaled over two million credits. It also brought me to the attention of the Brotherhood of Space-- that and the years after have made me quite a thorn in their side!"

Starker finally dropped off the girls, laying over briefly to spend some time with the father that served him well in his investments. As he departed, he was blessed. "Good luck, Starker, and Godspeed!"

Friday, August 29, 2008

Twilight Book II of III (1990)

Prologue: Homer Glint continued to futz about with his seeing-eye cat F'tatatita and reminisce about the expansion of the now immortal human race under the worship of the former Karel Sorensen. He's aided by more text pieces and transitions stolen from Alan Moore.

Tommy Tomorrow: Eventually revealed to be Tommy Parker from the "Space Museum" in an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes.

Space Museum: "An unusual series in that the only recurring characters were the narrator, Howard Parker, and his son Tommy... on every visit to the museum, Tommy picks up an object and his father furnishes him, and us, with the heroic space-faring tale behind it... With plots of unfailing ingenuity, beautiful art, and never a false note, Space Museum may well have been the most consistent product of the Schwartz stable." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Knights of the Galaxy: "30th century do-gooders, patterned after King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, were ready at the drop of a hat to hop into their individual spacecraft and rocket off from their base on the planetoid Gala, to right wrongs wherever they may be found... Lyle was the only Knight of the Galaxy who was at all developed as an ongoing character, and thus the only one for whom the reader had anything resembling sympathy..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Tommy Tomorrow: "His partner, who shared their two-man spacecraft (The Ace of Space), was Captain Brent Wood. Tho they had officers' titles, Tommy and Brent spent their days out in the field, pursuing suspects and wearing their Planeteer uniforms..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Knights of the Galaxy: Brent Wood now commanded the Knights of the Galaxy in various wars between worshippers of Karel Sorensen regarding methods by which to worship her, as well as against those who renounce her and the plague of immortality. He's one of the few knights to honor a millennium-long vow of celibacy.

Tommy Tomorrow: "Created by Schiff and Weisinger in 1947 (for their educational Real Fact Comics) as a forum for real scientific speculation, but transformed during the 1950s into a minor backup strip about an interstellar police force called the Planeteers. The stories (mostly by Jack Miller) avoided bug-eyed monsters in favor of little mysteries..." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Tommy Tomorrow: Driven completely mad, if he wasn't already, by his immortality and lack of divinity in a universe shared with Karel Sorensen. "The scourge of a hundred planets-- the bogeyman of a hundred more... A man who had wiped all memory of all the other murderous psychopaths of mankind's illustrious history... Maybe Hitler was a monster in his time... Attila... or Nero... or Stalin... Maybe they were all Class-A horrors... but by sheer weight of numbers... by utter, gross immorality... none of them hold a candle to that monster-- period."

Star Hawkins: "From Star and Ilda's association emerged the basis for the strip, the humorous interaction between the two; virtually every story revolved around one of the two protagonists getting him or herself into some wacky jam, from which he or she was eventually bailed out by the other in some mock-heroic feat of physical prowess or cleverness. Star Hawkins was a charming and boisterous entry in the Schwartz stable..." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Star Hawkins: "And while Tommy was microwaving Knights of the Galaxy, there were other lunatic heretics to deal with... a job handled with far too much gusto by Star Hawkins... a fellow who never quite adjusted to the idea of animals and machines receiving equal rights under Karel's benign rule..." Axel Starker was shielded from gunfire by his loving robot assistant, allowing his prey to escape. The bounty hunter let loose a litany of verbal abuse. "I should have junked you years ago... Help what-- to screw things up again... You're always sorry-- you've cost me a small fortune in bounty... If I weren't contractually bound to keep you around, I'd melt you myself... Get it through that iron skull-- you're obsolete--"

Manhunter 2070: Starker, never given a first name, was probably the greatest bounty hunter of the year 2070. Orphaned when his miner father was killed by claim jumpers, the young Starker managed to survive as a cook's helper on a pirate ship. Training in secret, Starker finally grew old and skilled enough to turn the tables on the motley crew. From then on, through bounty and wise investment, Starker amassed a sizable fortune. Though he was routinely asked why he continued in the profession, Starker's passion to defend the innocent against piracy kept him going. Starker was aided by Arky, a clunky box robot who arranged his jobs and other tasks.

Manhunter 2070: After a first issue repeatedly referred to as "John Starker," brother of Axel "Star Hawkins" Starker, it's now "Jon Starker." A shame the character was by writer/editor Mike Sekowsky, as if it were a Miller/Schiff feature, forgetting the lead's name might seem like an homage. Anyway, Jon Starker is an alcoholic drifter as in love with sexy Ilda (not to be confused with the original incarnation, whose head looked like a punch bowl) as Ilda was his hateful brother. To make ends meet, he took a job lining suicidal immortals lacking courage up against a back alley wall to shoot them for a nominal fee. "When I heard months later what Jon had been reduced to... I wept for the first time in years... I mean, how many times could he kill himself... and continue to live in torment...?" Why does Starker do it? For the unrequited love of robot booty...

Star Rovers: "The brevity of its career was just as well, for it was far and away the weakest of Schwartz's series... Gardner Fox built the entire series around one plot trick: Three space-faring adventurers experience three almost identical action-packed mysteries, retell them later to each other, and discover a single explanation for all." -Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones in "The Comic Book Heroes"

Star Rovers: With Rick Purvis dead, Homer Glint was nearly always at the side of the deified Karel Sorensen, writing her bible in her temple abode. Confronted by Tommy Tommorow's ex Brenda with the knowledge that the Methuseloids were the servants of another powerful race, and that their souls knew no rest, Karel Sorensen agreed to forsake the immortality of herself and a weary mankind to lay the Methuseloids spirits down.

Star Hawkins: "Like most fictional private eyes, Star had been battered by life, and his well-lined face showed it. He was basically a good guy, but with a cynical attitude brought on by years of crawling around the seamier portions of society... despite the fact that he was very good at detecting, he wasn't all that good at making a living. In fact, he sometimes, during periods of especially bad cash flow, had to pawn essential pieces of equipment just to keep the rent paid... Ilda was just like the average fictional private eye's secretary — tough, smart, good at her job, and amazingly willing to put up with the hardships that come with working for a guy who doesn't always succeed in keeping up with the bills. In her case, that meant frequent incarceration in the pawn shop. But he always redeemed her, and always promised it would never happen again — which, of course, she never believed. It was his equivalent of being late with her paycheck... Star finally (year 2092) got a lucrative case, and even made a permanent connection with the last of the many women in distress he'd encountered over his career, heiress Stella Sterling. Even Ilda got a happy ending, as she hooked up with Stella's bodyguard, an incredibly ancient robot named Automan..." -Don Markstein's Toonopedia

Star Hawkins: Alone, Axel Starker continued to hunt his bounty off-world. Guided by a cat-man, Axel found the bloody corpse of his prey, drained of life by giant humanoid vampire bats. Attacked by same, Axel used his Magnus, which now looked and functioned like a gun rather than last issue's baton. Axel killed all the bats, but faced the cat's condemnation for use of an unlicensed weapon. "You talk this 'hard world' [expletive deleted,] but when it gets down to brass tacks, it's all romance that counts-- You keep your romance-- I'll keep my skin..."

Star Rovers: Karel, Homer, Brent and Brenda were all on one big ship, part of an armada meant to take the "goddess" to the Methuseloids' distant masters to release their immortality. Just as Brenda was in the process of seducing the formerly chaste Brent, Tommy Tomorrow launches an attack. Karel was killed and Brenda wept as Tommy assumed her "divinity." Homer also saved the kitten who would grow to become F'tatatita during his escape.

Twilight: A book in which Howard Chaykin wrote a mediocre science fiction story, then plugged in the names of minor DC science fiction heroes where whatever he'd called these foul-mouthed cretins had been. He couldn't even bother to keep the professions straight.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Emmanuelle (1974)

Character Name: Emmanuelle
Actress: Sylvia Kristel
Actual Movie Title: Emmanuelle
Known Aliases: None beyond foreign reinterpretations.
Country of Origin: France
Character Nationality: French
Character Age: Late Teens-Early 20's
Occupation: Housewife
Married: Jean
Locales: Paris, Bangkok, Chiang Mai
Release Date: June 26, 1974 (France)
Director: Just Jaeckin
DVD: Emmanuelle (1974), The Emmanuelle Collection (Emmanuelle / Emmanuelle 2 / Good-bye Emmanuelle)
Stats: Second official Emmanuelle film.

Story: A pan over Paris rooftops as the world famous "Emmanuelle" theme begins. The titular character is lounging around her home in a sheer overcoat, red socks, and nothing else. Her friend Marie calls to offer a ride to the airport.

In Bangkok, Emmanuelle's husband Jean (Daniel Sarky) awaits her arrival, while enjoying a massage parlor with his friend Yves. Jean assumes Emmanuelle will entertain herself over the seventeen hour flight with spontaneous lovemaking. Yves wouldn't dare try to join the Mile High Club, nor pay for sex, but Jean suggests, "One must always dare." As for his wife, "I didn't marry her to deprive her of anything, nor put her in a cage... I married her because she is the only woman in the world who enjoys sex as much and who's so good at it! ...Jealousy is outdated." Jean leaves, but seems to negotiate with his message girl to help work out the uptight kinks in his friend.

Jean picks up Emmanuelle from the airport, and the pair drive through the city in his yellow sportscar. Jean mentions that despite the locale, he meets the same faces everywhere. "There are ex-adventurers, civil servants, diplomats-- they're all dying to meet you. Especially since they saw the pictures... I'm very proud of you." Jean was surprised Emmanuelle hadn't slept with the photographer during the erotic shoot, but she explains that he was gay. They drive down a narrow market road, completely immersed in pedestrians on the same route. Jean leaves Emmanuelle in the car to conduct some business. She's swarmed by children trying to sell her their wares, and horrified to see a chicken's throat slit at a nearby booth. An old begger leans into the car, and Emmanuelle covers her eyes while ducking down. Jean is surprised to find her in such an anxious state, and the pair depart. Jean had purchased a new bracelet for his love.

The couple arrive at their estate, rented from a princess, where they are greeted by their Asian staff. Later, they adjourn to the bedroom, where they make love in a canopy bed. Jon the houseboy/handyman spies on this act, then motions for Ting, the lovely cook, to join him. Jon tries to take Ting right there, but she runs from him. The pursuit is half playful, half menacing, until Ting submits in a garden shack.

Later, Emmanuelle indulges in sunbathing and girl-talk by the pool with the many bored, rich, promiscuous European housewives. Chief among them is the mature Ariane (Jeanne Colletin,) who's particularly opinionated. Ariane seems to have kept Jean company previously, to Emmanuelle's mild dismay. Emmanuelle says she did not cheat on Jean while she was alone in Paris, prompting laughter from the diplomats' wives at her naïveté, or her presumption of theirs. Emmanuelle leaves for a more peaceful area of the garden, but is followed by Ariane, who has a habit of intimidating people. Ariane doesn't believe Emmanuelle has never cheated, so Emmanuelle clarifies that cheating would require lying about her extracurricular activities. Emmanuelle asks about Bee (Marika Green,) another outsider who chooses to stay away from the other girls. Ariane tries to seduce Emmanuelle, but Emmanuelle brushes her off to go for a nude swim. Tender Marie-Ange (Christine Boisson) eventually follows suit, and asks to visit Emmanuelle at her home the next day.

Marie-Ange is greeted by Jean on her arrival, who allows her into Emmanuelle's bedroom before leaving himself. Marie-Ange wakes Emmanuelle by brushing her exposed chest. The two talk about Marie-Ange's nymphette inclinations (she loves turning on older men by always sucking lollipops,) those erotic pictures Jean had a friend take (no "good ones," as Marie-Ange hoped, to Emmanuelle's disgust) and why Jean at 32 is no "old guy." As the pair sit outside in swinging wicker chairs, Marie-Ange thumbs through a French newspaper, and asks for a photo of Jean for later. Marie-Ange then begins to masturbate to a picture of Paul Newman, Emmanuelle shocked as she watches the girl rub to completion. Emmanuelle is surprised someone so young is so uninhibited, and fends off Marie-Ange's attempt to go further with her.

Emmanuelle confides that she was a virgin when she met Jean at a dinner party her parents hosted. Jean came to her when she was in "a lonely place," asking her questions about herself. The next day, he took her out for a drive, and deflowered her right there in the car, where they had parked in the forest of Fontainebleau. They married, and Emmanuelle found it strange to make love at night. A month later, Jean was gone, though he gave her permission to do as she pleased, which only frightened her. Emmanuelle never was unfaithful in Paris, but did have a steamy encounter with a fellow passenger during the night flight to Bangkok. Emmanuelle began to play with herself as she related the tale to Marie-Ange, of how she lured a handsome man to her seat for a tryst. Yet another fellow looked on, and a while after the first pair finished, he carried Emmanuelle to the restroom for another encounter. As the tale ended, we see Emmanuelle and Marie-Ange, each asleep in their chairs, spent.

At dinner that night, Emmanuelle expresses her boredom with Bangkok to her husband. Jean suggests she take up a sport, sail the canals, visit pagodas, or take on another lover. Emmanuelle continues to resist taking on additional partners, but like Jean, she embraces the notion of developing a higher self through sexuality. Beyond improving technique, one should expand their spirit and capacity for love through open sensuality. "Pleasure can be an absolute." Emmanuelle expresses her conflict regarding Marie-Ange, taken aback by her youth and forwardness, but also admiring her superior sexual sophistication. "I probably need something to become a real woman. Your woman. Marie-Ange is innocent. I mean, she's not guilty. She's so pure. Compared to her, I feel very prejudiced... She's like a teacher." Emmanuelle goes down on Jean.

Emmanuelle plays squash with Ariane, who criticizes her technique, then shows her own by denuding and ravishing Emmanuelle right there on the court. Later, at a party, Ariane and her husband Gilbert joke with Emmanuelle about their open relationship. Emmanuelle is called away by Marie-Ange, but she is introduced to Yves by Jean en route. "I finally meet a virtuous man!" Marie-Ange steals her away to meet elder lothario Mario, just as he's being dismissed by a disinterested prospect. Marie-Ange "lends" Emmanuelle to him, though the borrowed party is immediately put off by Mario's frank speech. "She talked about you and your Lolita games. You should become an adult. Are you happy the way you are?"

Emmanuelle is returned to Marie-Ange, and is less interested in discussing the irritating Mario than meeting Bee, but Marie-Ange refuses to introduce them. Emmanuelle asks Ariane to do the honors. "This sinful woman... Oh no, I won't help you." Emmanuelle finally introduces herself, and is pleasantly surprised to learn Bee actually works for a living, as an archeologist. Bee is leaving Bangkok the next day, and working that afternoon. Emmanuelle gives Bee her bracelet, with the expectation that she will have to return it sometime tomorrow. Bee agrees to 2:00 p.m. in Khlong Wat Sai, along the canals.

The next day, on her way, Emmanuelle receives a note written by Mario making a date for nine that night. She meets Bee, who says she only bothered with the party because her naval officer boyfriend wanted to show off his new uniform. Emmanuelle had caught her eye, however. Bee was dismissive of embassy wives like Emmanuelle, just as concerned with the love lives of others as New Yorkers are about how much a person earns. Emmanuelle didn't care to feel judged, but was still intrigued by how different Bee was from her circle. "We all practice idleness as a fine art." Emmanuelle is often bored, but not in Bee's company, as she rips up Mario's note and tosses it aside. She's fostering a schoolgirl crush, and though Bee clearly doesn't respect her, she remains interested. Emmanuelle pressures Bee to keep her bracelet, though it's her favorite, but Bee refuses. Bee expects she'll have to play with her gorgeous doll later, but Emmanuelle decides she's going to be joining Bee on her trip. Emmanuelle is a free woman, after all.

Jean is uptight about Emmanuelle's not having returned home, while Ariane's husband Gilbert points out Jean was never so much concerned about her freedom as his own. Mario's sending a boy in to fetch Emmanuelle only agitates him further. Emmanuelle and Bee are, meanwhile, horseback riding out in the country. The pair find a waterfall, go skinny-dipping, and cuddle. Bee takes enjoyment in dressing Emmanuelle like a little boy, kissing her lovingly. They moon at one another on a dig. Jean goes to a strip club, and watches a clearly underage girl smoke a cigarette with her vagina. Jean also gets drunk and punched. The cigarette girl joins another girl for some go-go dancing and a bit more. I'm deeply concerned about this turn. Thankfully, consenting adults Emmanuelle and Bee soon engage in less alarming cunnilingus. Though Bee has an orgasm that leaves her shaking her head, when Emmanuelle drops the "L" word (the "love" one,) Bee makes it abundantly clear she's only in "like." Emmanuelle masks her tears in the rain.

Jean pays a drunken late night visit to Ariane, who's equally sauced and pissy. Her husband Gilbert is off with the consul's daughter Martine, and she is uncertain where Emmanuelle is. Ariane assumes she's with Bee, who'll be finished with her soon enough, though not in time for Jean to stop being a joke amongst their friends. Ariane teases Jean for his jealousy after his pretentious speeches, and suggests Emmanuelle be educated by someone more capable, like Mario. Ariane then lifts her dress, and accepts Jean's furious thrusts. Jean returns home to find Emmanuelle crying in a corner. "I don't want to play the adult anymore!" Jean consoles her, explaining that the kind of passionate love and humiliating dependency she felt for Bee was the worst thing for Emmanuelle. The best revenge can be found in the arms of others...

Emmanuelle attempts to return to her routine, joining Ariane for squash. Ariana tries to chastise Emmanuelle regarding her escapade, and claims Jean practically raped her while she was away. Emmanuelle asks for help, ostensibly with her bra, but from her voice much more. Ariana is all over Emmanuelle in the locker room, but is gently rebuked. Emmanuelle is clearly disinterested in Ariana's form, but perhaps not her icy manner. Ariane says, "You're going through life like a baby waiting for her first cold. You have to pay with your person if you don't want to become a statue. If you want to live and forget Bee, you must learn. Go see Mario... He knows erotic science." Emmanuelle remains disgusted by Mario, but Ariane explains that to maintain eroticism at his age is an artform worth her exploring.

Emmanuelle sees Mario as an vainglorious aging Don Juan that represents everything she hates. However, between Jean, Ariane and Marie-Ange, she's pressured to spend an evening abiding Mario's tutelage. Emmanuelle tells Jean as she's being dressed "I feel like you're sending me to the executioner." Emmanuelle learns Marie-Ange is off on holiday with her parents, while Jean is leaving that night for two days in Vientiane. "I leave you alone with Mario."

At dinner, Mario drinks a toast to the law of the future, involving a dark turn on the concept of "free love;" where "chastity is a lack of generosity," and that anyone forming boundaries around sexuality must see them broken. Mario elevates all pleasures, including eating, where Emmanuelle and Jean seem more concerned with frequent orgasms. Emmanuelle seems to warm to Mario, and the pair take a carriage ride together.

Emmanuelle is no longer afraid, which pleases Mario, as he sees fear as a form of "moral slavery." He believes taboos are created by those who fear thought, happiness, and life itself. Mario signals the carriage to halt, then calls over a random drunken pedestrian from out of the night to massage Emmanuelle's legs. She resists at first, but yields, allowing the sailor to remove her panties. Mario snatches the undergarments from the man's hands and shoos him away. Perhaps he was too pleasing to the eye, as Mario signalled the coach to continue. "You musn't give it all to one person. Mario tucked the panties into his breast pocket as Emmanuelle teased him about what part she should reserve for him.

Mario and Emmanuelle enter an opium den, which unnerves her greatly. Emmanuelle says she's not ready for this, and offers to bed Mario, but is refused. Mario says Emmanuelle's boundaries must be destroyed. Emmanuelle defines eroticism as "the cult of sensual pleasure." Mario disagrees, feeling it must go beyond the senses to move the soul. "It's the refusal of subterfuge... The effort to break with everyday life. It's the victory of dreams over nature... Destroy established values. Fill your head with sensations that no one can give you... My empty head has become so scared and greedy... Death is the only way out." Mario believes that sentimentality must be crushed, and eroticism defined outside of marriage and conception. Emmanuelle prefers to remain an animal, focused on pleasure. The pair smoke. Mario signals a fellow junkie, an Asian who rapes Emmanuelle while others pin her down. As she cries and grits her teeth, Mario puffs and watches leasurely.

The morning after, Emmanuelle and Mario take a boat ride, where she tells him about her heartbreak with Bee. Mario cast the affair as an illusion, something Emmanuelle made up in her idle time in this foreign land, a common problem throughout history. All seems to be forgiven between them. Mario claims "I'm a great and respectable collector. I collect situations." Emmanuelle asks for Mario to take her, be he wishes to guide her... to take such an ordinary thing and make it unforgettable.

Mario leads Emmanuelle to a hut, expounding on his philosophy. "Real love is always against nature. Love is erection, not orgasm. The couple should be outlawed, and a third person introduced by force." Inside, Emmanuelle finds a Thai boxing match set to begin. "This will be one of those frontiers I promised to take you across." Mario chooses the combatants. Emmanuelle favors the one with the long sideburns. The fight excites her, and Emmanuelle's man wins. She licks the sweat from his brow, but as she tries to recede back into the crowd, Mario takes hold of her. Emmanuelle was unaware she had been promised as the fighter's prize, but kneels at Mario's beckoning, and is sodomized while the audience watches. Emmanuelle enjoys herself this time, watching Mario as he stares down at her grimly from against a wall.

Mario remained in place as Emmanuelle slept on the floor. As she awoke, she confessed "I'm proud as the day my blood flowed. It was my twelfth birthday. I hate idiots and inhibited persons. All those laughing as if they were tickled. I'm a woman now." Mario hugged her, and took her with care elsewhere-- a densely decorated bedroom. "Daylight is not for us," Mario claimed in English as he pulled the drapes. "Let us borrow darkness, for the night is not over." The original French was more direct. "We're not done yet. You have to spend the night here." Emmanuelle is tired and wonders what more he could want of her-- surely not to make love? "I desire somebody else. Another Emmanuelle. The one I don't know yet. The one you don't even know yourself. You must reach the unknown and upset all the senses." Mario departs with words about moving "beyond the looking glass of reality," looking more like "The Tall Man" from "Phantasm" than a sensual mentor. Harrowing horror music upsets the softer sounds that preceeded and continue alongside it.

In Mario's absense, Emmanuelle rises, removes her dress as Mario asked, and sets the new one he left for her in a wicker chair. Emmanuelle rests her nude bottom on it, and teases her hair in the mirror. Snippets of Mario's philisophical musings ring in Emmanuelle's ears, and she recites his words as she "hears" them. Emmanuelle envisions a man zipping down the fly on her new dress, and joining him and Mario in a ménage à trois. The terrible droning pitch returns with the swell of music. Emmanuelle paints her face in a garish fashion, a boa drapped over her chest. The frame freezes, the Emmanuelle theme returns, and the screen goes black for the credit roll.

Notes: Text relates to the 95 minute U.S. cut of the picture, but represents both the French and English language translations.

The name "Emmanuelle" appears 102 times in my synopsis for the first movie. Being a long name, I began cutting and pasting it with each usage from the first paragraph onward. Shame I didn't catch that I had happened to mistype "Emmaeulle" that one time, and had to correct the error about 100 times thereafter.

Summation: Right off the bat, there is so much to say, and already well said at 1000 Misspent Hours, I'll direct you there. More from me next week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Virgin Sacrifice

I was directed to Journalista's coverage of Virgin Comics' demise, and while I can't disagree with the fanboy-bashing comments, it all seems a bit simplistic to me. All this "middle-aged pencil dicks only want spandex and zombies" stuff is painting with a pretty damned broad brush.

For starters, yes, there are too many super-hero comics. There are also too many tv shows about cops, lawyers, and doctors; but they keep making what people like to watch. Zombie comics got a foothold because there were a few good zombie movies followed by an avalanche of bad ones. People buy comics for the same simple escapist value as other media, and they're only willing to pay $3 a pop because there isn't enough quality representation of certain genres in outside media. Comics about vampires and werewolves sold well before movies and TV outpaced them. Same goes for romance. There aren't a lot of light romantic comedies that work in serial format, so Archie comics still makes money. Indian super-heroes? I don't see the market.

Two words: "Tekno Comics." Remember those guys? Entered the industry touting a bunch of big media names and new distribution channels? What we got were throwaway concepts from people like Neil Gaiman and Isaac Asimov tossed off to no-name creators. I seem to recall the digital coloring was pretty decent, and they did wrangle George Perez and Gil Kane during career lows to draw their one attempt at a super-hero comic. As for the distribution, there was a little extra push at bookstores, but nothing much to speak of.

Three more words and a conjunction: "Comics Greatest World" and "Ultraverse." Again, big names were promised, second-stringers were delivered, along with intellectual property largely generated and wholly owned by corporations. These guys came along toward the end of the boom, did alright for a short stint, then imploded. Can Marvel and DC be blamed for that? People were trying out these new super-heroes left and right, found most comics from the period wanting, and left the industry entirely. This was followed by event marketing, which swelled, then ruptured, and drove more readers out.

I could go on naming names, but I'd rather ask you a question: name one line of corporate comics that ever successfully launched? I'm not talking about a steady stream of creator controlled comics, nor companies that slowly built their lines over years. I'm talking about what Virgin Comics did, where within two years they took up nine pages in Previews without a single real "hit." At what point is it the company's fault for having a shitty business model. Journalista mentioned Crossgen, which followed the same pattern to oblivion, including a fantasy-based line, even including much smaller doses of creators like Ron Marz and Bart Sears. What kind of fool expects a different result from the exact same process?

I mentioned Tekno Comics earlier. Another failure, but Virgin followed their model as well. Hugh Jackman's "Nowhere Man1!" 1 Script by Marc Guggenheim. Guy Ritchie's "Gamekeeper2!" 2 Written by Jeff Parker Nic Cage and his kid are writing a comic book! And Ed Burns! Wait-- isn't Guy Richie that guy Madonna was going to divorce? Has Nic Cage ever written anything, before or since he stopped being a good actor? Isn't the only reason anyone ever cared about Ed Burns was an indie movie from, like ten years ago? Wow, Tekno Comics at least got to milk the teat of Gene Roddenbury's corpse! Also, Quentin Tarantino directing an episode of ER matters more to most people than Tarantino directing a given movie, because they were already watching ER. Some dude who writes for "Lost" doing a mini-series with Wolverine and Hulk matters more than Jenna Jameson "writing" "Shadow Hunter," because they were already reading Hulk/Wolverine.

You know, I sold Crossgen comics before I quit the business, and I did okay with them. I sold maybe 20% of books like X-Men, but proportionately, that wasn't bad. Crossgen was a pretty good line of books, and most everyone who bought one followed a few others. Again though, they had something like eight ongoing series out within about a year, and weren't they priced at #2.95 when the industry standard was $2.25? Didn't they pay ridiculous rates, and built a compound in Florida where they housed and fed their entire staff? Doesn't that sound a tad extravagant?

Look, I read some Crossgen titles, and I tried Virgin books on several occasions. Virgin not only was not as good, but typically just plain were not particularly good in general. I thought of Virgin as an art line, because it seemed that and a deeply defective sense of "name value" were the driving forces behind the company. I wonder though, under what conditions were these people working. I know the U.S. creators were just work-for-hire, but who were these Indian creators, and how well were they compensated for their efforts? Remember back in the 70's when Marvel, DC, and Warren were hiring out what were essentially Phillipino sweat shops to churn out art on a good many books?

That actually gets to another point: who thought India was the place to go for the next wave of comics? Manga is still the big thing in the States and much of the world, but the Asian market worked for decades to make inroads in publishing, animation, live action-- hell, culture in general. Is anyone here old enough to remember when the "ninja" was a new concept? The martial arts started catching on here in the 50's-60's, then ninja began popping up in the 70's, and by the 90's everyone on the planet knew about ninja. What kind of cultural penetration does a thugee have? How does Ramayan resonate outside India, if at all? When the "Speed Racer" movie failed, was it because America wasn't ready for live action anime, or because it was actually decades too late? Where is the Bollywood Speed Racer, or really, anything from Bollywood to make a splash stateside? In the grand scheme, was Virgin more like Crossgen, or Jademan, a line from the 80's of full-color Hong Kong reprints that I doubt would perform even in today's market?

What I'm saying is, mourn for Virgin if you must, but let's try to apply a bit of perspective, shall we? It took Mike Richardson years of slow progress and major savvy to build Dark Horse into an entertainment giant. Image was lightning in a bottle only sustained one creator and book at a time. Other companies have had books with female protagonists run for decades, and they did so with talent, determination, and patience. I doubt Virgin is the end of anybody's world, so let's not turn a mediocre company into a cause, shall we?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Obscure Character Handbook: Mr. Gargoyle

Real Name: Unknown
Other Aliases: Mr. Gargoyle
Dual Identity: None known
Occupation: Well-heeled stalker
Legal Status: Presumed U.S. citizen
Place of Birth: Unknown
Marital Status: Presumed single, and very, very lonely
Known Relatives: None
Known Confidants: None
Supporting Cast: Four armed, middle-aged Caucasian henchmen in domino masks.
Known Allies: Ditto, and they're on the payroll
Major Enemies: Steve Trevor
Base of Operations: A huge ghostly mansion on a lonely part of the coast (near Washington D.C.)
Place of Employment: None known
Group Affiliation: None
Extent of Education: Unknown, but as a presumed scientist...
Eyes: Pale blue
Hair: None visible
Other Distinguishing Features: Disfigured face
Intelligence: Seems reasonably high, though he's clearly whacked in the head
Strength Level: Possibly superhuman, or at least maniacal
Skills: Stealthy, possible inventor, and inflicter of heebie-jeebies
Superhuman Powers: None known
Special Limitations: Ugly. Needy. Wears a stupid mask.
Source of Powers: None known
Special Weaponry: A luxury car equipped with smoke and knock-out gas emitter. Weighted cane.
Personality: Delusional, possessive, and generally aggressive.
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #175 (March-April, 1968)
Origin: Unrevealed
Publisher: DC Comics
Status: Copyright DC Comics
Tagline: "This time-- kiss me as if you meant it! Convince me!"
Mission Statement: "I'll never rest until Wonder Woman willingly throws herself at me-- instead of that pretty boy surf rider she's with!"
Created by: Robert Kanigher and Irv Novick

"I wanted you for my own, Wonder Woman! Long before an explosion in my lab ruined my face forever-- forcing me to wear this mask!"

To that end, Mr. Gargoyle ran a jeep carrying Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor off the road. Though she had been gassed, Wonder Woman deflected gunfire and fought off henchmen sent by Mr. Gargoyle. While she was distracted, Mr. Gargoyle stealthily approached and bludgeoned her with his cane. "This hurts me more than it does you, beautiful! But it's the only way I can quiet you-- after you've made yo-yo's of my men!" The revived thugs loaded Wonder Woman into their car. "Handle my darling carefully! I have a few surprises waiting for her at my hideout! And take along Trevor, too! I may need pretty boy there also- in case Wonder Woman proves stubborn!"

The group travelled to Mr. Gargoyle's creepy "palace," where he compelled Wonder Woman to kiss him with her own magic lasso. "I might as well have been kissed by an iceberg!" Wonder Woman used her deep feelings for Steve Trevor to deny Mr. Gargoyle a heartfelt kiss, so Mr. Gargoyle utilized the same to demand one. In his courtyard was a very large, semi-natural pool infected with sharks. Steve Trevor was tied to a rock at its center, as the water level rose to meet him. "That will be his last breath unless I order the water to be lowered!"

Regardless of the second kiss' quality, Steve Trevor was dragged underwater by a leaping shark, prompting Wonder Woman to break lose from Mr. Gargoyle's grip to dive in after. Mr. Gargoyle tried to convince Wonder Woman Trevor would forever hate her for their infidelity, but failed. When Mr. Gargoyle ordered his men to collect the unconscious Trevor to dump "on some lonely country road," Wonder Woman again easily subdued them and escaped in her invisible robot plane. More concerned with Trevor's health that Mr. Gargoyle, she left the villain shaking his fist at her. "Don't think you're escaping me, Wonder Woman! What the Gargoyle wants-- the Gargoyle gets! I'll never rest until you're in my arms again! Your love for pretty boy is hopeless! He hates you!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Trouble With Wonder Woman

So my dork isolationist rant about the SDCC earned me a temporary traffic bump via a When Fangirls Attack link. That surely won't last, as I enjoy calling the Silver Age Wonder Woman a useless cunt far too much. However, a fellow link fed into my love/hate relationship with the Amazing Amazon, Ten Reasons No One Cares About Wonder Woman. I offer a rebuttal.

  1. Writer Alicia Ashby believes that Wonder Woman's exposed legs, which once represented athleticism, are now just an excuse for Ed Benes' Wonder Thong ass cleavage. I couldn't agree more. Yeah, I've seen too many pictures from this year's Olympic women's volleyball and gymnastics teams to dismiss the look as completely impractical and sexist-- but still kinda, right? My thought is that most women who want to dress like Wonder Woman for Halloween while the fellas are rockin' Spidey and Bat costumes add to the suit. Skirts, capes-- if our national dress-like-a-whore day celebration has little room for the heroine's comic book costume, something has gone terribly wrong here. Finally, Wonder Woman's look is just too busy for my taste. There are too many colors running through her general appearance, and all that exposed flesh just becomes another awkward addition to that overwhelming combination. The multi-colored knee pads and such sometimes added in the comics don't help.
  2. Ashby feels there are no great Wonder Woman stories to introduce her to new readers comparable to "Dark Knight Returns" or "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Well jeez, why not throw in "Maus" or "Watchmen" as well? Batman and Superman have appeared in some of the greatest super-hero comic stories ever told, because DC has treated them as their most important properties for three-quarters of a century. There are few comic book heroes who have a "Killing Joke" under their belt. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman has been treated like three day old fish for most of her publishing history, and is still a national treasure recognized the world over. Seriously, I wasted most of my weekend pouring over foreign reprint covers online for an unrelated project, and Wonder Woman was everywhere, like the Brian Bolland British piece running above. This is why DC has finally begun to push the character with the same fervor as licensors have for decades, and why she rates in a "Trinity." I'd recommend any of the following stories, most available in trade paperback:

    • "Diana Prince: Wonder Woman" Volumes 1-3 by Mike Sekowsky, Denny O'Neil & Dick Giordano
      A lot of people are critical of these stories, but compared to the Superman comics of the day, they're the bee's knees. After years as a lovestruck weakling fool, Wonder Woman starts earning the name, even without her powers or traditional costume.
    • "Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals" by George Pérez, Greg Potter & Len Wein
      Do I like that Paradise Island was turned into a low-tech shelter for immortal rape victims? No, but it made for a heavy story worthy of consideration, especially when placed against the comparatively slight Byrne "Man of Steel." Are we now at the point where George Pérez's incredible art is to be taken for granted?
    • "Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Gods" by George Pérez & Len Wein
      The best Wonder Woman story of the 1980's. Includes the wonderful, text-driven "Time Passages," reflecting on people's initial reaction to a Princess of the Amazons in Man's World. Also, the suspenseful introduction of a dynamic new Cheetah and the titular epic.
    • Wonder Woman #66-71 by William Messner-Loebs and Paris Cullins
      Diana is cast in a "women in prison" movie, which proves an insightful character study of the heroine; while also mixing the mythological, science fantasy, and BDSM favored by Wonder Woman's creator with an exciting modern presentation.
    • Wonder Woman #72-75 by William Messner-Loebs and Lee Moder
      Humorous, humbling and humanistic, these stories serve as an excellent primer to the Wonder Woman mythos, as well as offering her most relatable representation ever.
    • "JLA: A League of One" by Christopher Moeller
      A "back door" fully painted Wonder Woman graphic novel, in which she's forced by fate to battle each of her fellow iconic heroes in turn. Gorgeous and well crafted.
  3. I can't argue with the opinion that "Most Wonder Woman Comics Are Completely Terrible." It is true. I own her entire Post-Crisis run, and reading it has caused me emotional distress. Many of the Pérez illustrated issues suffer from Pérez scripts, which became a full-on blight once he quit art chores. The second half of Messner-Loebs' run read like self-parody, only "enhanced" by the bad girl art. The only thing worse than John Byrne was most of Eric Luke's run. Phil Jimenez made Pérez's writing seem like Alan Moore by comparison. Rucka was at best serviceable, and as always completely derivative, but in this company a highlight. The less said about most of what came before or since, the better (Simone excluded, at least until I read a trade.)
  4. I think that "Charles Moulton" and Harry Peters are an acquired taste, preferably with lots of wine to go with the cheese and crackers.
  5. Personally, I think the Lasso of Truth is a grand conception with a wealth of meaning. I think the main problem with it is the avoidance of bondage and submission references in present tales. Subversive femdom philosophy is at the heart of the character. It is as essential to Wonder Woman as the empowerment fantasy of Superman and the fascistic underpinnings of Batman. Used correctly, it makes a Batarang look like child's play. Speaking of which, weaponized razor sharp tiaras and phallic swords in Wonder Woman's hands are truly, remarkably obtuse.
  6. Hating the Invisible Plane/Jet is hating Wonder Woman, and I will not abide. Allowing Wonder Woman to fly under her own power makes her Superman with tits. Part of the point of the character is that she is meant to carry others with her on her missions. All Aquaman did in all the years Super Friends was on the air was sit in the Invisible Jet while Wonder Woman showed how a super-heroine kicked ass. Girls have hundreds of heroines to choose from who fly like Supergirl, but only one they can imagine themselves as while pretending to pilot an imaginary aircraft. One of the best scenes in "New Frontier" was Diana piloting a jet made partially visible by her own splattered blood! The lack of an Invisible Jet is part of what makes the Lasso of Truth seem stupid, because why rope something when you can just grab it-- exactly like fucking Superman does?!?
  7. Alicia Ashby has varying degrees of merit to her arguments, but virtually none when she proclaims all Wonder Woman foes terrible. On what grounds? She offers none! She just keeps calling them all "lame-asses" and "shit," with no explanation.
    • Cheetah: Ashby offers a scan from an early Cheetah story that plays out almost exactly the same as Sam Raimi/Willem Dafoe's take on Green Goblin from the first "Spider-Man" movie. That seemed to play to the tune of what, $400,000,000? Cheetah was great on the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited animated series, which ran for years. The Pérez reworking of the villainess was all the better. The fuck?
    • Circe: "doesn’t count - she sucks?" Elaborate some, maybe? A Circe stand-in was used in one of the best JLU episodes! The notion of a sorceress who can turn men into animals and must kill Wonder Woman to insure her immortality is crap for what reason exactly?
    • Dr. Psycho: a misogynistic midget who casts illusions? Fuck you, your homicidal clown, and your Rogaine tragedy-- I want to see Peter Dinklage accept an Oscar for his stunning portrayal in the motion picture! Best. Villain. Ever!
    • Ares/Mars: The God of War! When has the Flash ever fought a God of War?
    • Dr. Cyber: an international queenpin of crime turned hideously disfigured super-scientist out to swap her brain into Wonder Woman's body? Sold!
  8. Everyone does hate Steve Trevor, but for two totally different reasons. Golden Age fans hated him because he was such a little bitch, he just didn't measure up as a love interest or companion. When the Candy Girls pown you, get out. Silver Age fans hated him because Robert Kanigher reversed the dynamic by turning Wonder Woman into his bitch, disparaging the heroine. Modern Age fans don't really know the guy anymore, but he left a vacuum that recast Diana as a frigid ice queen rubbing herself off to Superman's picture every night. Wonder Woman needs a redefined Steve Trevor, or she needs to become a lesbian. This Nemesis shit won't fly any higher than the various other Trevor surrogates over the years, but Diana must have a romantic element within her series.
  9. Wonder Woman needs a supporting cast like Legion of Super-Heroes needs a deboot. It isn't that she hasn't had good prospects in the past, but every incoming writer "shakes things up" by dumping everyone. On the plus side, that means there's been no Jimmy Olsons to deal with, but on the minus side, no Alfred either. Memo to DC-- please reintroduce and remodel the following at your soonest convenience: Queen Hippolyta, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy (fat only,) I-Ching, Tim Trench, Nubia, Donna Troy, Julia & Vanessa Kapatelis, Phillipus, Ed Indelicato, Artemis, Joanna & Cassie Sandsmark...
  10. Since "We Already Have Superman," let's focus on what has made Wonder Woman unique over the years, rather than tear her to pieces and homogenize her. This includes: the warrior/evangelist dichotomy/symmetry, rigid adherence to a message of innate (if "loving") superiority of women over men, the military/intelligence community background, Invisible Jet, lack of invulnerability, Lasso of Truth, the steampunk-style mysti-science, the routine presence of confederates on adventures, conflicting world myth/religions in contemporary or unusual settings, ideologically motivated foes, the overbearing and ever-present authority figures, the heroine as lusty adventurer or subversive element rather than crime buster, and on and on. See, given just a bit of thought, I think it's pretty clear Wonder Woman owes no more to Superman than any other super-hero. In fact it was Superman who adopted much of Wonder Woman's personality and tropes going into the Silver Age that eggs on these comparisons in the first place!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Showcase #91 (June, 1970)

"2070-- In the short space of one hundred years-- man has conquered space! Planted his colonies on the planets of his own solar system-- and with the invention of the Bridwell Space Drive has reached out to other galaxies... And soon fat-bellied freighters are plying back and forth between our solar system and others-- bringing the riches of other planets and cultures in their holds... But where there are riches-- there are those who covet them-- and soon the lifeless husks of burned out freighters float dead in space... Victims of pirates-- history repeating itself-- but the time is 2070 not 1670... And for every pirate caught by the space patrols or the private security police of the giant mining and freight corporations, a dozen take their place... Soon, as in the old American West, a new breed of free lance bounty hunter springs up, some are successful, and collect the huge rewards offered by the United Federation of Planets and private corporations... Others are not so lucky... or good enough... Their reward is death! But as with the pirates, the lure of wealth overcomes fear and there are always others to fill an empty spot in their ranks-- many others...

Such a man is Starker, Manhunter 2070! This is his story-- and it begins on the Olympus 7, a vacation and pleasure satellite orbiting around Jupiter..."

...and in that future, now even closer to our present, sentence structure is a thing of the past! Oy.

Surrounded by a pair of pretty Vince Colletta-inked ladies, Mike Sekowsky's Starker made a killing-- at the casino! Gathering his winnings, Starker passed his dealer a sizable tip, and credited the rest to his account. Starker needed to settle up, as a signal device on his ring finger had alerted him to pressing business. Hopping into his Jetsons space car, a.k.a. Flyer S-2424, Starker took the call and the job on his way to his luxurious house satellite, also in Jupiter orbit. The girls protested, as Starker had promised to take them to the Jovian Bowl, but "Business before pleasure, honey! ...I know I promised your father I'd chaperone* you on your vacation-- but Arky will take you!"

Arky was Starker's robotic personal assistant, without whom he would likely be lost. Arky detailed the job-- a break out of Deimos Maximum Security Prison by three convicts, involving the deaths of two guards. "Jamal Kry-- Jovian-- Frank Lester-- Earth-Man," and "Slymor-- Planet Donos, Andromedan Galaxy! All three are killers, many times over. Approach with extreme caution!" Starker's young charge asked why, even at 750,000 credits, he needed to take on more work. "You've got more money than you can ever spend!" Starker explained, "Thanks to the way your father has handled my investments... As to why I do it-- If you've ever seen a gutted freighter or a passenger liner... No survivors-- no witnesses! That's part of it-- If you'd ever met these killers or their like at close range as I did-- then you'd understand!"

Arky took out all the guess-work. The three fugitives had stolen a food and fuel delivery freighter and jettisoned the crew. Based on their profiles and other factors, Arky deduced that they would set down on the planet Pheidos, where they could hide out at a pirate stronghold. "I will recommend-- Disinto-Blaster-- Exposi*-Needle Gun-- Electro-Knife-- Rifle-- Cannon-- and Full Space Armor--" Starker was surprised by that last bit. "Sounds like it'll be rough out there! Okay, Arky-- you've always been right before-- Anything else?" Arky explained that the planet Pheidos itself would be a threat, "For it is a killer planet-- and so is everything on it-- mineral, vegetable, animal--" Starker chided, "You're a regular mechanical bundle of cheer, Arky! I'll be careful! And what do you recommend for transportation?" Why, "The TR-40 with the new 10-750 Space Drive-- I'll get it--"

In our modern era of the comic book Übermenschen, it's refreshing to see the hero of our more likely future so utterly dependent on technology for every single thing. I'm surprised Starker didn't have arms come down from the ceiling to dress him. Suited up, Starker returned to say goodbye to the girls, as he would be gone for about a week. The daughter gave the "big boob" a kiss on the cheek for luck. "Don't you know knights in shining armor haven't been in for centuries?"

Three days later, Starker found the wreckage of the freighter on Pheidos. This was a lucky break, as it meant the escapees were on foot until they could reach the stronghold. "Looks peaceful as a grave yard. Arky may have slipped up this time!" Starker mounted his Jet-Rider. "They're somewhere in the jungle-- be easier to spot them from the air-- and less tiring--" Just as he was about to rev his sky cycle, he was beset by creatures and animated plants wishing to end his life! "Godfrey Daniel! Now I know what Arky meant by a killer planet!" Filling his hands with weapons, Starker slashed and blasted the monstrosities away from his body! Everywhere he turned, Starker faced a vile menagerie out for blood! "A poisonous thorn-snake! ...Hairy Harry! These things look like the piranhas on Earth-- but here they have wings! ...Move, feet... Chow call on Pheidos!" Also, Glider-Cuda! Python Vines!

"Meanwhile, in a hidden underground chamber, not too far away-- Three figures stop in the process of arming and refitting themselves from one of the pirate arms and food caches scattered around the planet..." Using an Eye-Spy, they watched our hero fight his way out of one attack after another. "It's Starker... Just about the best of the bloody bounty hunters! Too many a good lad's in jail-- or dead because o' 'im! Nothin' stops 'im-- Not until 'e gets 'is man-- or men!"

A dead "winged-crocodile-like creature" later, Starker finally managed to return to his Jet-Rider and make tracks on Ol' Hoss! Starker tried scanning for heat radiation, but the pirates' own space armor covered that trail, allowing them to lie in ambush. Lester managed to blast the scanner and Jet-Rider out from under Starker, sending him on a crash course near some rocks. The pirates lay on Atmo-Sleds and flew off in pursuit. Using shoulder rockets to enhance his agility, Starker dodged their continued fire. The bounty hunter took cover, only to find a wave of Spider Rocks coming up from behind! "Howling Hounds of Hades! Did I say safe?" Shoulder rockets carried Starker out of reach, but he had to hit the ground running to evade the Atmo-Sleds! "Better find a hidey-hole! Here's one-- but it's already got a tenant--" As Starker blasted its head to pieces, "--Here's your disposess* notice, pal!"

The escapees passed overhead in search of Starker, until Lester finally spotted him, only to have his Atmo-Sled take the same punishment he'd dealt Ol' Hoss! "Never could stand a tattle-tell!" Lester used his downed Atmo-Sled for cover while his sharp-shooting blew the rifle right out of Starker's hand. Temporarily blinded and disarmed, it looked like Manhunter 2070 wouldn't live to 2071! A tear in Lester's space armor proved otherwise...

"ARRR-- No! Cannibal Ants! No!" One of the problems with Sekowsky editing his own script is that there was no one to catch the spelling errors, or point out that he probably meant "flesh-eating ants" instead. "With a terrible shriek, Lester leaps to his feet and tries to race away from his doom... but to no avail-- and a moment later, a near empty suit topples to the ground..."

Starker utilized his shoulder rockets to find a new safe place to plot ambush, but of course, there was no such thing on the surface of this planet. Tiny dragons began to climb Starker's legs, which he smashed with the butt of his handgun. A giant flying dragon-lizard howled its disapproval. "Oh-oh! Momma! And roaring mad about her babies!" In her fury, the saurian swatted Kry and Slymor off their Atmo-Sleds. Low on the only ammo that could potentially pierce its hide, Starker decided on a risky gambit. Manhunter 2070 claimed a sword and Atmo-Sled from a fallen escapee, then charged the dragon, stabbing it through the eye!

"Towing two Atmo-Sleds, one carrying a skeleton-- the other-- two unconscious outlaws-- Starker... fights his way back toward his ship..." He hoped nothing had eaten it, and his prayers answered, blasted off the "Planet of Death!" A few days and a medical inspection of Lester's remains later, Starker was promised his reward was in the bank. The day after, the bounty hunter returned to the company of his lovely lady-friends. "We still have a week, Starker, and you're going to make up for that week you deserted us! Arky's cute-- but-- You're not going away again--"

"Except on business-- if any comes up?"

Starker appeared in five issues of "Showcase," most written and drawn in 1970 by Mike Sekowsky. Starker was clearly modelled on then-popular movie toughs like Lee Marvin and James Coburn. The tales were rough and tumble, with a potent origin story sandwiched right in the middle of the run. Starker starred in three issues, plus a short preview and an out-of-continuity appearance in Showcase #100.

(* sic)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Twilight Book I of III (1990)

Prologue: Blind Homer Glint chased his talking cat F'tatatita around the room. It acted as his "substitute retina," and F'tatatita prancing about was making Homer uneasy. Glint found an old pistol of his, and tripped on a memory...

Star Rovers: Homer Glint was a sarcastic presence, but unfailingly "printed the legend" as a journalist, which kept gods' mouths near his ear. Rick Purvis was a sports star who consistently struck first, and never bothered with any questions after. They were linked through Karel Sorensen, Glint's ex and Purvis' current, another journalist with a camera implanted in her eyes.

Through his association with the Museum of Space, Glint found himself trying to negotiate a peace with rebels in a hostage situation. These would be the eugenically-engineered intelligent simians that once served as a work force, but fought for independence.

Manhunter 2070: John Starker was the head of the strike force meant to raid the camp. He sympathized with Glint and the rebels, but would only allow a fifteen minute dialogue before going in.

Star Rovers: Rick and Karel were among the "hostages," but the latter's gonzo journalism style had made her chummy with Bruno, the rebel leader. Homer arrived to make headway with Bruno, until Rick pulled a gun.

Manhunter 2070: John Starker led his force in after the shots to neutralize the target.

Star Rovers: After everything settled, Rick expressed his displeasure at how Karel had allowed Bruno to touch her "that way." Karel accused him of secretly liking it, so Rick drew a machete and decapitated the captive Bruno. Karel caught it all with her "camera," and Homer spun the murder into a revered act of heroism. Glint hated himself for doing it as much as he hated Purvis in general, but that's just how they both handled themselves.

Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers: "If, as the English poet put it, vanity's name is woman-- then psychopathic ego out of control is surely called Tommy Tomorrow. Tomorrow never got over being an orphan-- never knowing whether he was born of woman-- or petri dish... it made him a xenophobic monster, obsessed with eternal life... and I made him a legend in his own time-- a hero of the first inter planetary war..." Tomorrow barely recalled the name of his fellow officer Brent Wood, who was aiding him in his search for the last of the Methuseloids, a race key to immortality.

Star Hawkins: A.K.A. Axel Starker, a cold, hypercritical private investigator only willing to see rules bent when they suited him. This included carrying an illegal, concealed Magnus device to lethally bridge the gap between human ability and the superior strength of robots and other species. This was used in the robot-dominated Mexico to enter a cybernetic brothel in which humans were prohibited, killing a robot and a human, as well as alerting police.

Manhunter 2070: Found in bed with four robot whores by his brother Axel. "I'll be easier on you when you outgrow this disgusting obsession with robot sex..." The pair had to sneak away to escape arrest.

Space Museum: John and Axel Starker cooled off at the memorial for war heroes. A display devoted to "Captain Thomas Tomorrow & Lieutenant John 'Manhunter' Starker, Heroes of the First Alien War" triggered another flashback...

Manhunter 2070: A cease fire was in effect until morning, as the Methuseloid camp had taken prisoners, including Tommorow's wife Brenda. Starker called it a night, and Tommy Tomorrow waited until Starker was out of earshot, then made up a pretext to attack. In the aftermath, "He lost three officers-- including his pregnant wife-- and wiped out the remains of a race that was antique when man was... baying at the moon... but Homer Glint made him out to be a hero on the inter-link-- and it stuck-- What stuck for me were those shots of me with that robot in church... They court-martialed me... and I was a forgotten man in three months..." The same only made Tomorrow more of a public champion, using private contributions to fund his own private militia.

Star Hawkins: Axel Starker didn't care about his brother's self-pity, or for his emotional attachment to a piece of his property. Still Axel needed John to retrieve the stolen/kidnapped Ilda, his robot assistant. "She" was crestfallen when it was fat, loutish and often drunken John Starker negotiating for her release, rather the her beloved owner-- regardless of John's affection and Axel's clear contempt for "her." It probably didn't help John was trying to haggle over Ilda's price with "her" current holder.

Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers: Decided to investigate what underhanded business his old comrade John was getting up to in his jurisdiction. Flabbergasted to learn John was in fact bartering with Brenda, Tommy's presumed dead spouse, who gave him such a slap. "Back off buster-- and stay backed... I don't look or feel any older-- but you had me declared legally dead eight years ago--" Though Brenda miscarried, she and her cohort Broome managed to escape the battle in a Methuseloid ship. It took fifteen years to learn to properly operate the craft and navigate it back to known space. In the meantime, they reverted to piracy, and though Broome died five years back, neither had aged a day. "They were right all along about the Methuseloids... but it wasn't some secret formula-- it was eating the little crits." For a price, Brenda gave Tommy "the cross co-ords" of the last Methuseloids they knew of.

Star Rovers: The trio had stumbled upon the Methuseloids first, and became collateral when Tomorrow and Brent Wood launched an unprovoked assault. Rick Purvis was killed in an explosion, which also caused Karel Sorensen's essence to merge with that of many Methuseloids at once. Sorensen ascended to a sort of divinity, which Homer Glint refused to look away from. Through her eyes, worlds watched the rebirth of Sorensen, while Brent Wood was the first person on hand to begin devout worship. Tommy Tomorrow was preoccupied with tearing apart Methuseloids with his bare hands and eating them raw. Though now blind, Homer Glint drew his pistol on Tomorrow to insure there would be no more hostilities. "You're just destined to forever be present at those focal points in history, Tommy... like now, for instance... Simply put-- you're going to live forever-- but Karel got to be God..."

Epilogue: Homer Glint held the pistol again, and considered his many sins. The Methuseloid corpses were used to grant everyone eternal life, with Karel receiving all the credit, as Homer was on hand to write her bible. Glint cursed himself for not having killed Tommy Tomorrow when he had the chance, instead of allowing him eternity to stew in Karel's shadow.

Review: I'm a fan of Howard Chaykin's art and innovations, but I generally can't stand his stories. At one point, Karel explained to Glint, "I dumped you as soon as I saw through that shallow facade you call a personality, Homer," and I like to imagine Chaykin had a similar conversation with one of his own girlfriends. I feel as she does. Chaykin seems to be exactly like his Glint, dispassionately relating stories of cruel, petty, stupid, and vapid individuals without serving any purpose beyond wallowing in their sordid nature. I can't imagine Jack Schiff, a proud social progressive who edited many of the adulterated here, would be anything but repulsed by this series. Schiff hated science fiction anyway, intending his books to educate and entertain children. Then again, I'm not sure who this series was for, beyond Chaykin fans. The characters are completely unrecognizable, yet stand poorly without the tawdry perversion of pre-existing properties. Finally, coincidence runs a bit thick here. How exactly did the Star Rovers find the Methuseloids, I ask you Meanwhile, José Luis García-López, Steve Oliff and Ken Bruzenak waste some of their finest effort on an overheated "Heavy Metal" magazine lead story.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Top Five F'd-Up Movies of the Moment

Between Netflix halfway getting its shit together and a sudden urge this week, I got to get my cinephile on. I received "Singapore Sling" in the mail, which allows me to produce an impromptu list of my most fucked-up viewing experiences off the top of my head. Do note that this list is subject to change, and beware of spoilers-o-plenty...

5) Cannibal Holocaust: The original "Blair Witch Project," which was so compelling in its pseudo-documentary style that Italian officials tried to have the director arrested for murder. While that charge was meritless, actual animal cruelty does come into play. A swine appears to be shot dead on screen, a possum painfully gutted, and a giant turtle is decapitated and disemboweled. Several women are "raped," one with a stake-- which is later used to beat her to death, just another of many "murders." A woman is subjected to an involuntary abortion, men have their penises severed, and all manner of body parts are treated as cuisine. In spite of all this, the film is curiously low-key and oddly smug.


4) Singapore Sling: A quasi-sequel to the noir classic "Laura," but despite being filmed in black & white, no one could ever confused this with classic cinema. We've got "erotic" electroshock treatments, seemingly legitimate sexualized regurgitation, faked golden shower/g-spot orgasm, incest, extensive bondage, torture, role-playing, necrophilia, and grievous injury to the private parts via hunting knife as phallus. I still can't tell if the acting was atrocious or pitch perfect for the material. If any of the above appeals to you, you're a twisted shell of a human being like me, so I heartily recommend this freak show.


3) Bumfight: What's more appalling than bribing substance abusing, mentally handicapped derelicts to beat up on each other until bones break? How about also bribing them to have sex with each other, injure themselves, and expel all manner of bodily substances (blood, piss, shit, vomit, & cum inclusive.) Still not enough? How about we then dress some asshole up as the Crocodile Hunter and have him assault unsuspecting indigents? Still not enough? Then how about you fucking kill yourself, you soulless lump of shit. These are real people, you prick!

WARNING! NOT SAFE FOR WORK! CONTAINS NUDITY, REAL VIOLENCE, COARSE LANGUAGE, and the potential to destroy your faith in humanity!

2) Visitor Q: When a movie opens with a Japanese man bribing his daughter for sex on videotape, you know it's all downhill from there. By that, I mean in terms of successive depths of depravity. Takashi Miike's films alone could fill up a list like this (I'm sure "Ichi the Killer" and "Audition" would make my top 10,) but none can quite compare with what happens when David Lynch gets processed through the minds of the nation that brought us tentacle rape porn and soiled schoolgirl panties in vending machines. Most of the atrocities previously mentioned make a showing here, with the added fun of illogical narrative and gallons of lactate.


1) Happiness: While in no way as graphic or shocking as the previous entries, Todd Solondz's masterpiece is heinous because of its quality. The movie is filled with characters to empathize with, as they are subjected to an endless stream of emotional brutality. The acting, writing, and direction are uniformly superb, which might explain why it remains one of my favorite movies, even though I'm very selective about who I will share it with.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK! Also contains um and uh...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I expect I'm of the last generation who'll remember the pre-internet days when Skinamax earned its name off cheap drive-in sex comedies and foreign imports, as opposed to cheaper Direct-to-DVD sex parodies and edited hardcore productions. In that more innocent time, I'd clandestinely tape these debauched works, and my favorites were always the Emmanuelle series and their ilk. The first French "Emmanuelle" picture was an international phenomenon... So much so that the name became synonymous with sophisticated softcore erotica, opening the floodgates for imitations and like works. Let me tell you, I liked them works.

Anyhow, part of what I find so specifically fascinating about Emmanuelle is how, through all these permutations, she became a fantasy character with a convoluted continuity. The first Emmanuelle is about the young, inexperienced wife of a French diplomat in Bangkok. It's based on an infamous book, and for a film of its stripe, it was taken seriously, with a reasonable budget. Thirty-five years later, Emmanuelle is an immortal sex goddess who possesses the bodies of one beautiful woman after another to commit carnal adventures in cyberspace with the aid of aliens from outer space. Famed Italian illustrated Guido Crepax produced three graphic novel volumes starring Emmanuelle, but make no mistake, based on the movies alone she's a sexual super-heroine worthy of serious geek documentation.

Several actresses have been made famous by the role of Emmanuelle (note spelling,) including Sylvia Kristel and Krista Allen. Meanwhile, the best known knock-off, the Italian Black Emanuelle (one "m,") was played by Indonesian actress Laura Gemser. I didn't make her acquaintance until I was in my twenties, when my father pitched me a copy of "Black Cobra," starring the late, great Jack Palance. I thought Gemser was among the most beautiful women I'd ever seen, and still do. It wasn't until later still I became aware Gemser had her own Emanuelle series, this one defined by her singular person. Gemser's Emanuelle was a photojournalist, always chasing after the next mondo-bizarro story. Gemser so defined the role of "Emanuelle Nera," virtually any movie she starred in was eventually dubbed an "Emanuelle" movie, whether it featured her in that role or not. Only one other actress appeared as the lead in a proper "Black Emanuelle" picture, and though she was actually black, she never appeared in another film.

So we have Emmanuelle, a sci-fi/supernatural erotic heroine who tends to have more romantic, soft focus escapades; which only occasionally brush against the dark side. Then you have "Emanuelle Nera/Black Emanuelle," the action/horror reporter whose stories start on the dark side, then get worse from there... so much so I think the "black" refers to her world more than her complexion. Both characters have long, winding histories I find so interesting, I'm prepared to write up lengthy synopsis and reviews of each of their films for the foreseeable future. Even the off-brand numbers with rotten "actresses," especially dubious relation and increasingly creative spellings.

I intend to call this feature "Emmanu-Wednesday," and it'll appear a few times a month. It will be a lot like the new "Comic Box Trot," only with less cursing. I'm not prepared to turn this blog pornographic, and I do take the subject somewhat seriously, so I'll handle it as delicately as possible (no nudity, for instance-- at least without plentiful warning.) I hope you'll give it a try and take intellectual gratification from the effort. I think Emmanuelle and Black Emanuelle are pretty cool concepts, and I think it's worth the time to share my interest.

Monday, August 18, 2008

X Omnibus Volume 1

Like a number of other people, I was enticed by Dark Horse's late-in-the-boom attempt to launch a super-hero line. I've embraced a number of publishers' lines over the years, but always kept my distance from Dark Horse. For some reason, Mike Richardson's company always struck me as having the same aloof, cynical vibe as some European comics-- like they were better than the American industry, yet willing to slum. As the company shifted gears from the publisher of creator-owned properties and licensed fare to the generator of licensable company properties, foremost at the time being "Comics Greatest World," my aversion only grew. Still, I'd been burned by Marvel's corporate heroes, lost First's corporate heroes, and was only beginning to expand my interest in DC's corporate heroes. Why not at least give them a shot, especially at $4 a month for four months?

Well, I did, and the whole thing left me cold. Each installment just barely introduced a character type, the artists were mercenaries, the writers were editors, the designs were flat and the overarching story merely a prelude to nothing much. Of the lot, the only charater to hold my interest was X. By God, but X was well designed. Simultaneously recalling the primal 40's vigilantes, 70's punk, 80's pro wrestlers and 90's bondage freak, X looked like a perfect storm of fucked-up cool. His was the first installment of "Comics Greatest World," among the best drawn, and as the entry point was allowed to be mysterious. Of course, by the end of "Comics Greatest World," the whole premise of the line was still vague, and burnout set in. I passed on the few spin-off series.

All these years later, Dark Horse has hopped on the fat-fucking-omnibus at a reasonable price bandwagon, and I opted to climb on for X. I'm a big fan of writer Steven Grant's inciteful weekly CBR column Permanent Damage, and artist Doug Mahnke became a favorite of mine in the oughts. That's why it pains me to report "X" as a crushing failure. "X" is a concept without a personality, the kind of character Robin the Boy Wonder was created to support, but no such luck here. X is a force of nature, which only works as an antagonistic presence. His prey must become the stars of a given story, with the reader viewing the world through their eyes. These P.O.V. figures are a bunch of one-note goombas that only serve as cannon fodder. Each episode plays like a crap 80's slasher movie, replacing machetes with automatics. Mahnke's style was still developing, and here looks soft and unfinished. Jimmy Palmiotti's inks did him no favors. At 352 pages, it takes a while to read through the little brick, which becomes quite a chore once you realize each episode is just a minor variation on a tired theme.

  • "One Shot To The Head" collects the earliest X short stories from "Dark Horse Comics #8-10." It was here I realized that "Comics Greatest World: X" had been reprinted in another omnibus, which ticked me off. The entry tale was by Jerry Prosser, which introduces the corrupt city of Arcadia and the relentless X-Killer stalking its officials and criminals. The story is ill served by the substandard pencil work of N. Steven Harris.
  • "Abandoned Hearts" picks up with the first issue of the "X" ongoing series. Mahnke, a body-building enthusist, is wonderful at depicting massive, clearly referenced frame. He's even got that pronounced "builder butt" that makes some guys look simian. X is so well realized, you can't help but notice the contrast with the lightly rendered secondary characters and dimensionless backgrounds. Grant introduces Tango, a cartoonish mafia don with a fixation on astrology, and an unwanted kid sidekick who pops up randomly throughout the series to no effect. I don't recall if the kid was ever given a name or assigned a gender. The kid is that thin.
  • "Copycat" falls under the heading of "too soon," as X hadn't built up enough of a presence in the reader's mind to warrant an "evil" duplicate. Far more grievous was Grant's introduction of a black islander blind homeless man who speaks in heavily accented rhyme. He sits in front of city hall and gathers information for X, while being dismissed as a crazy man. He's like the nexus point of all cliche in the known universe-- so much so I assume it must have been intentional, but is no less annoying for it. He's so awful and contrived, I'm surprise the book didn't implode right there. He also randomly appears, mostly to give the impression of a supporting cast where no such thing actually exists. As a plot device, he was repeatedly pointless.
  • "Welcome to the Jungle," parts one and two, from "Dark Horse Comics #19 & 20." Writer Eric Luke mostly uses X as an excuse for a policeman to tour Arcadia, and focuses largely on the super-human SWAT team called "Pit Bulls." This is probably what the "X" series should have been, but lacks Grant's maniacal drive, the book's main charm. Grant is all about X, who's nucking fucks, and takes every situation to its most grisly extreme. Without that gonzo quality, X is just another bullshit nighttime avenger. The art by Nghia Lam is nice, recalling early Jason Pearson.
  • "Big Guns" returns to the regular series and creative team, in a downtown battle against cyborgs that read like the end of Miller and Mazzuchelli's "Born Again" on meth. Mahnke is plainly faltering under the monthly grind.
  • "The Coming of the Chaos Riders" New characters are introduced at random for no real reason besides X needing someone besides gangsters and politicians to punch and stab. Both the best and worst thing about this series is arbitrary shit like this. At least it keeps things moving very rapidly in a vicious circle.
  • "Riders of the Storm." More of the same, with the art continuing to deteriorate. Some vague reference to X's origins and a crossover event are made, but never resolved.
  • "Challenge" starts off with a fantastic original cover by Dave Johnson (see above) depicting X giving a imperial "thumbs down" on a rooftop. This is a megalomanic self-appointed arbiter of who lives and dies in his city, and what will occur within its confines. It sums up X perfectly. On the other hand, Grant's story and art by Vince Giarrano are absolute shit. Reprinting "X: Hero Illustrated Special #1," it introduces a new foe for X that does not reappear in this volume, partly because he's rendered impotent inside 12 pages.
  • "The Scream," a.k.a. "X: Hero Illustrated Special #2," is more of the same, but somehow far worse. Another new villain drives the tale, a raving madman whose dialogue is nearly as off-putting as the blind black derelict islander's, and in far more substantial portions. Incompetently drawn by Corky Lehmkuhl, this promotional piece was the perfect insurance against gaining any new readers.
  • "Devils" makes that a shame, as it's one of the single best issues of the series. Three lovely pages of art by P. Craig Russell depicted Steven Grant's inspired riff on a millenium old premise, and then Ron Wagner follows through on the update with some of his finest pencils. A worthy adversary is introduced, and X's infallibility brought into question. Joe Quesada's cover isn't one of his best, but it ain't bad, either.
  • "Trigger Man" continues the tale, sans the extra artists. Palmiotti was on a Bill Sienkiewicz trip at the time, which served Wagner's pencils far better than Sal Bucema on Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the extra effort seemed to require the additional embellishment of Frank Fosco, who can suck rocks through a straw. The villain retains his menace at issue's end, X has an actual arc, and the overall story ramps up. This one could have used a third issue, where most X "stories" feel interchangeable and disposable.
  • "Edge of Nowhere" teases prime Matt Haley art on the cover, less reliable work within. The lead character was so taxed in the previous two issues, this one is given over to Ghost, a spectral avenger with her own series at the time. The heroine brings out a ponderous, purple prose in Grant I could have done without. The story was so tonally divorced from the rest of the book, I kept checking to see if it was actually an issue of "X."
  • "Evil Nets" featured the last, best overall art by Mahnke on the series, though it sacrificed the more iconic X posturing. The Übermensch is back in full force for an underworld massacre, more super-creeps climb out of the woodwork, and schemes of consequence take shape.
  • "Fringe of Judgment." Chris Warner, who I believe designed the character (though perish the thought of a creator credit,) returns for a pair of fantastic issues inked by Tim Bradstreet. Another memorable cover here, of X definatly detonating an explosive charge in a nearby building. Hostilities escalate, and a proper nemesis for X appears.
  • "Black Rain" sees more scheming, another new menaces, and a victory for the bad guys. It also sees the end of the volume, which took much to long to reach a point of interest for me to rush out and buy Volume 2.

As you can see, there's a lot of good to be found in the "X" series, but it's also such an inconsitent mess of guilty pleasures, I wouldn't put my good name on the line by recommending it either. You get a lot and very little for $24.95, depending on your viewpoint. I understand Javier Saltares supplies most of the art for the rest of the run, which is a selling point for me, as I'd expect he was in his prime where Mahnke was a troubled adolescent. I don't know, but for now I'm marking against this book. "One warning, one mark. The second mark is the mark of death."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Frank Review of "Tropic Thunder"

Okay, watch this video...

Funny, right? It takes name actors, and gives them material that plays to their strengths. Intended to skewer Hollywood, that video references real incidents and uses them to bludgeon their perpetrators in highly amusing ways.

"Tropic Thunder," the movie this "viral video" was intended to promote, does none of those things. We've got the action star, the method actor, and the strung-out comedian making an extremely expensive Vietnam movie when things go awry. Does that sound broad to you? Downright generic? Then your hearing's fine. That's all you get out of this movie-- one long "in-joke" that everyone got from the poster, and a consistent reassertion of those stereotypes based on the premise they're funny. The whole movie is clearly "supposed to be funny," in the manner of a sitcom, and in as great a need for a laugh track to demonstrate it satisfied someone.

Ben Stiller mugs for the camera in a variation on his "Zoolander" character. Jack Black dials it so far down in his role that it's at best supporting, but at least he's no bother. Robert Downey Jr. never can get past the "dude playing a dude playing a dude" shtick, which he does very well, but would have delivered more laughs as himself. Brandon T. Jackson bounces from one caricature to another, existing solely to legitimize Downey's turn in blackface by offering in-house criticism. Jay Baruchel is our straight man, and as such offers little in the way of humor. Steve Coogan is one of those actors whose presence I find so offensive as to poison every second he's on screen in any movie I see him in. Danny McBride is fun, but has too little screen time.

The movie tries desperately to offend as a source of satire, and fails miserably. Speaking as someone who enjoys Todd Solondz comedies far too much to qualify as a decent human being, all the hubbub over "Simple Jack" misses its most glaring inequity-- that it's just not interesting enough to warrant the attention. The movie derives a chuckle during a dialogue about what a misstep the faux movie was, then unfortunately returns to it as a major plot point. Every moment "Simple Jack" is referenced from there is time out of the life of the audience they'll never get back. That's the true tragedy of its inclusion-- the lack of entertainment value for time invested. It's also an indicator of another major flaw in the film-- finding something funny, and returning to that one thing repeatedly until the dead horse done been beat to smithereens.

The saving grace of this flick is in its plentiful cameos, which I'd rather not spoil, as they succeed in surprising and often amusing. Some are better than others, but all are a welcome diversion from the tedium of spending time with Stiller and company. Still, If you broke down all the best bits in "Tropic Thunder" into a YouTube video, it wouldn't compare to or run as long as the MTV skit from earlier.


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