Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 Zook Convention Piece by Ethan Van Sciver



I remember when Cyberfrog first came out, and fans thought it was going to be the next big thing. I was running a shop by that time, and tossing through the book, couldn't see it. I figured it for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles riff as drawn by a Todd McFarlane clone, and dismissed it. I took note of the name Ethan Van Sciver though, so when he turned up looking a lot more polished on DC's Impulse series, I was impressed by his development. I think I liked his stuff here and there, but it was really The Flash: Iron Heights prestige special that made me recognize this was indeed a superstar in the making. Van Sciver is now one of the biggest and best artists in comics, and certainly the top name at Comicpalooza 2010. He was the first artist I approached to do a head sketch, explaining that I regretted his not finishing his run on the Superman/Batman arc "Enemies Among Us." While he drew excellent classic and One Year Later Martian Manhunters (he's one of the best modern MM artists, after all,) what I regretted was his leaving the first appearance of J'onn's other-dimensional pet/sidekick in decades to replacement Matthew Clark. I was promised EVS, dang it, and I was here after his Zook!

Not only did Van Sciver remember Zook, but he expressed regret at not having gotten to draw him, and thought it was cool to get the chance now. I handed the man a couple of reference pages I'd scanned and something like $40 for a head shot. I was asked to return in about three hours, and doing so, found that I was still a few names down the list. Later still, my friends told me Van Sciver was working on Zook, so I walked over to check it out. Van Sciver had been discussing his history with the character for the benefit of onlookers, and upon my arrival one made sport of me by asking slightly sarcastic questions. I addressed his questions with sincerity, though in a somewhat defensive tone. What I didn't know was that a friend of mine had videotaped some of this on his digital camera, so hopefully I can get that from him and post it here down the line.

The lovingly detailed image takes up better than 3/4th of an 11" x 14" rigid, bright white sketch page provided by Van Sciver. It is a thing of beauty, and I'm very proud to share it with you, not to mention very pleased to finally get my promised Zook!

Ethan Van Sciver was a mighty nice guy who does obviously outstanding work, far more valuable than I was charged. In case you were wondering, a friend of mine leaned in and learned directly from the artist that it's pronounced "Sky-ver." Now you know (and I'll have to remember to stop saying "Psy-ver."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Wrong Trousers (1993)

I had hoped to knock out a Wednesday review column tonight, but it got late, and I was tied up by, among other things, introducing my girlfriend to Feathers McGraw. While she was away on vacation, I brought my stuffed doll out of storage, and felt she deserved a proper acquaintance. Below is the excellent half-hour stop motion film The Wrong Trousers, winner of the 1993 Academy Award for Animated Short Film. It's a lovely bit of noir, but with a penguin and robotic pants. If you haven't seen this yet, it's about time you rectified the matter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

1983 Superman Peanut Butter Action Comics #1 Reprint Ad



I never had much luck with mail away items as a kid (Fuck you, thieving Get Along Gang!,) and I rarely saw Superman brand peanut butter on store shelves, so this is pretty much just a nice ad to me. I do still have a bit to shit copy of the Superman #1 Treasury Edition I bought at a Gemco around 1983. Now that was a badass Superman, before he haunted the local grocers with his bullshit off-brand PB!

Monday, March 15, 2010

nurghophonic jukebox: "Maria" by Blondie

Written By: Jimmy Destri
Released: 1999
Album: No Exit
Single?: #1 in the UK, #82 on US Billboard Hot 100

Anecdote: I've decided I'd like to have more of my own personality on this blog, as opposed to the aloof vibe I once preferred. Blog buddy wiec? recently had a birthday, and he digs Debbie Harry, so it was this or a nudie scene from Videodrome to celebrate.

I've liked Blondie since an early age, but I've only ever followed them as a singles band. I caught them in concert as a treat for my visiting sister last year on a triple bill with the Donnas and Pat Benetar. If you're ever in-a Houston, try to catch a show at the Arena Theater. It's a comparatively intimate venue, and thanks to a 360 degree rotating stage, there isn't a bad seat in the house (unless you're in line with the speakers.) Anyway, when Harry came out, she was wearing chunky '80s sunglasses, a business jacket, and fishnet stockings. She came off as cold at first, awkwardly strutting, with stiff arthritic movements. After a song or two, her voice and joints seemed to loosen up, and her personality warmed. Her pipes were never 100%, but damned solid for a 63 year old new wave chick. Speaking of which, after she ditched the shades and jacket, I could see she was holding up pretty well physically, though in a curvier way than in her heroin chic heyday. The set was solid, with curve balls like a cover of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough." I'm fond of the band's last big single, which fared poorly stateside, but "Maria" rocked live. I figured it was the most interesting track to offer here, given my surface-level fandom...



Lyrics:
She walks like she dont care.
Smooth as silk, cool as air.
Ooh, it makes you wanna cry.

She doesnt know your name and your heart beats like a subway train.
Ooh, it makes you wanna die.

Ooh, dont you wanna take her?
Wanna make her all your own?

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Latina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.

Ive seen this thing before.
In my best friend and the boy next door.
Fool for love and fool of fire.

Wont come in from the rain.
Sees oceans running down the drain.
Blue as ice and desire.

Dont you wanna make her?
Ooh, dont you wanna take her home?

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Latina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.

Ooh, dont you wanna break her?
Ooh, dont you wanna take her home?

She walks like she dont care.
You wanna take her everywhere.
Ooh, it makes you wanna cry.

She walks like a she don't care.
Walking on imported air.
Ooh, it makes you wanna die.

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Latina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Latina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Regina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.

Maria.
Youve gotta see her!
Go insane and out of your mind.
Latina.
Ave maria.
A million and one candlelights.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

X-Men Forever Vol.1: Picking Up Where We Left Off




My first X-Men comic was Uncanny #168, which introduced me to proxy girlfriend Kitty Pryde, the sublime art of Paul Smith, and the distinctive writing of Chris Claremont. I liked it, but didn't become a regular reader until the following year's release of the classic reprint/alternate ending special Phoenix: The Untold Story, coupled with a fantastic "Marvel heroes in the Hyborian Age" two-parter in the regular series. I bought Uncanny more or less continuously for the rest of the decade, marking it as the first title I collected devoutly over a long period of time. I loved the richness of the mutant world, the complexity of the characters and their relationships, and the sheer weight of it all. Between the strained history and rampant verbiage, Uncanny was a meaty read, and usually graced with the finest artists besides. Back when I still had to scrape up pocket change for each comic I bought, it was a no-brainer purchase.

Claremont was prone toward the long view, and began an enormous ├╝ber-arc around #200 that ran, and ran, and ran for eighty issues and endless tie-ins until 1991. My patience wore out shy of the halfway point, but the departure of the disagreeable Marc Silvestri in favor of the ascendant Jim Lee and upward story momentum won me back. When a second adjectiveless X-Men series launched by that team, I bought a rare two copies (the first week of release plus the later high end edition) to do my part to get the debut's sales in the neighborhood of eight million copies. Although the arc in the first three issues did nothing for me, the previous two years worth of work earned the creative team a lot of leeway under my good graces. It was troubling then that after ongoing conflict with editor Bob Harras, Claremont left his babies after sixteen years of guidance in the hands of artists-turned-dilettante-writers and company hacks. I stuck it out until 1993 on the uneven Uncanny, abandoned the consistently terrible new X-Men a few months prior, but broadly dumped the X-titles and became a mutie hater after retarded crossover The X-Cutioner's Song. Aside from occasional and very brief backsliding dalliances, I've been x-free for nearly twenty years.

You may fail to see the relevance of my sharing my personal reading habits at length, but all will become clear. You see, for me and a good many other fans, Chris Claremont simply was the X-Men. Though he toyed with us by working on some peripheral books, and misguidedly tried to ape edgy British writers on an ill-fated return to Uncanny, Claremont remained the heart and hope of the franchise for us old school types. Finally, in a stroke of genius, Marvel greenlit an ongoing series set in a parallel continuity where Claremont could pick up exactly where he left off with X-Men #3 and go from there. Of course, Claremont had told plenty of people what his original plans were over the years, assuming he would never get the chance to tell his tales. Thus, we have X-Men Forever, in which Claremont mingles those plans that previously hadn't born fruit with new twists.

It was important for you to know all this, because this book is in no way intended for the uninitiated. Claremont does an alright job reminding everyone which stories were in development in 1991, but I can't imagine anyone without a prior emotional investment giving a good goddamn. The entire first issue is exposition, plus a left-field love affair between Wolverine and Jean Grey that exists because fans have long wanted it and it flies in the face of the domesticated Jean & Scott as married couple conceived after Claremont left. The first issue even ends on an awkward cliffhanger that leaves the major reveal for a few pages into the follow-up. The pace also picks up here, with hints of nasty developments and reminders that things vaguely touched upon nineteen years ago would now be thoroughly employed. You definitely get the sense of a long delayed "new world order" to the title, but again, you'd have to have been there the first time for any of it to matter.

The third issue gets deep enough into an ongoing conspiracy and "WTF?" moments that the tale finally kicks in at a more objective level. The fourth is problematic, as a tendency toward "off" characterization on Claremont's on terms really starts to nag. There's a lot of silliness (who didn't hate Jean's awful '90s costume, but to try out a new one in the midst of this chaos, and an unflattering one besides...) and telling-instead-of-showing, all of it amusingly heavy-handed verging on camp. The fifth and final issue in this collection teases a line-up changes that never occurs, complete with more new poorly designed outfits to not look forward to. As one would expect from Claremont, virtually nothing gets resolved, and instead a whole kettle of new revelations and complications closes out the volume.

X-Men Forever is a nostalgia exercise that tries so desperately to be bold and shocking, you want to pat its eager head and give it a hug and/or Ritalin. Everyone is trying so hard, especially '90s John Byrne acolyte Tom Grummett with his period flare for feathering, they at least deserve an "e" for effort. It's a hot mess if you missed this kind of storytelling from back in the day, and likely perplexing to anyone else.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Degeneration" (2008)

The Short Version? CGI animated zombie video game movie.
What Is It? Survival Horror.
Who Is In It? Jubilee.
Should I See It? Probably not.



Being a zombie fan, and at one time a video gamer, it was only natural I'd gravitate toward the Resident Evil series. My introduction and favorite edition was Resident Evil 2, an innovative two-disc game where you would choose to play once as one character, then as another, and your actions in the first would effect change in the second. Leon S. Kennedy starred on one disc, a rookie cop on his way to join the Raccoon City Police Department, who ran smack dab into a citywide viral outbreak that reanimated the dead as flesh eating ghouls. Claire Redfield was your avatar on the other disc, the younger sister of Chris Redfield, the missing star of the previous game whose disappearance Claire was investigating. Leon and Claire worked their way through a variety of monsters and evil corporate machinations to escape Raccoon City before its destruction.

Claire Redfield was reunited with her brother in a later game, subtitled Code: Veronica, and appeared in a reworking of both games called The Darkside Chronicles. A character by the same name appears in the live action movie series, but those films have so little in common with the games' lore, they're essentially separate entities. Leon S. Kennedy turned up in a slew of cameos amongst the many Resident Evil game sequels, and starred in the very popular Resident Evil 4. I myself stuck with the series until Code: Veronica around 2001, but I had lost interest in gaming in general by that point, and never finished it. I tried a few of the later installments, but they had shifted toward first person action/shooting, where I preferred the cold, creepy, awkward cinematic tension of the early games (not to mention their emphasis on strategy over reflexes.)

You may wonder why I'm droning on about video games during what should be a movie review. Well, this computer animated feature, released theatrically in Japan and direct-to-DVD stateside, is the first repairing of Leon and Claire since in 1998. If you're not already a fan of the games, there is absolutely no good reason to watch the film. This is a ninety-six minute cut scene, filled with endless exposition, the most basic characterization, bad voice acting, terrible lip-synching, shots swiped directly from actual movies, stiff character movements, thin plotting, average music and of overall low quality. I watched it with one of the friends I worked through Resident Evil 2, and we spent the whole time pointing out flaws and shouting nostalgic references to the games at the screen. There was a comforting predictability to it all, and it even had Alyson Court reprise her voice work for Claire once again eleven years down the line.

The story tries to go to new places for a zombie movie, including allowing for a non-apocalyptic aftermath, liberal protesters against the Umbrella Corporation's successors, and an outbreak at an airport. These novelties are burned through in the opening minutes, before reverting to a tired Romero-meets-Matrix retread. The characters are so plastic and lifeless, both in animation and voice acting, it's tough to tell the mannequins-as-protagonists from the living dead. The lead characters are reunited after seven years apart, and there's no actual reaction on either's part. "Oh, it's you. Hi. Time to kill zombies again, huh?" An overwrought love interest for Leon is introduced, but beyond their complete lack of chemistry, she overcompensates for her vague masculinity through comically enormous breasts. The story is a hash, and the whole affair reeks of imitation without comprehension. People say and do things because they're based on other film's characters who said and did similar things, but usually within a context with greater depth than a thimble.

Honestly, the video games were better thought out and more involving than this, but if you're already a fan, it isn't completely inept as a diversion. I reckon this was done on the cheap, but all these years after Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, realistic CGI animation continues to make the same mistakes with less attention to detail. It's positively regressive.

Extras?

  • The Generation of Degeneration Welcome to the incredible world of motion capture! Wait-- you've sat through a great many tedious effects/behind-the-scenes documentaries already? Now, do it with subtitles! See: "Creators" draft plots by committee in board rooms! See: An SFX man turned director, and how enthusiastically he's received by nobody mo-cap actors who speak another language! See: How clueless they are about the near absolute absence of storytelling whilst slavishly hewing to a decades old formula! See: Or better yet, don/t!
  • Character Profiles A headshot for each major player with text biographical information. Optional action montages for the leads, and photo gallery for the rest.
  • Voice Bloopers Awful vocal gags grafted onto scenes from the movie.
  • Faux Leon Interview A grating waste of everyone's time, as a mo-cap actor plays make believe without the benefit of CGI, or even a reasonable camera angle.
  • Resident Evil: Degeneration Trailers
  • Resident Evil 5 Special Footage Cut scenes edited into trailers for a game that looks a lot more involving than this movie.
  • Previews There are thirteen trailers and a Blu-Ray ad that collectively are almost as long as the damned movie. The best was for a Sean William Scott/Randy Quaid vehicle called "Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach." Not as terrible as it sounds, but you really should be doing something better with your time.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

1982 Remco Toys Action Figures Ad



I love seeing that tag about "Available at participating K-Mart stores!" K-Mart was the #1 toy store of my po' barrio boy youth. My grandmother would get her prescriptions filled what seemed like every Saturday while I hit the toy aisle and loitered, determining which inexpensive action figure I'd get to take home. If you couldn't tell by the association, Remcos were pretty low rent. The Sgt. Rock line was totally shit (more on that another time,) but I ended up with most of the Warlord figures, if you can call different heads on the exact same body "individual figures." Only the initial three are illustrated here (I never got Arak for some reason,) but there were at least another quarter dozen (heads/repaints) others. I pulled off and lost the wings on my Travis Morgan's helmet, plus a friend of mine's little brother tried to steal it from me, so narc'd him out to get back (don't recall if successful.) Hercules had this shitty foil-wrapped rope that fell apart, and I didn't even have him that long. He went into a storage unit during a move, which my parents neglected to pay for.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Power Lords #1 (December, 1983)



I have a certain nostalgic fondness for the Power Lords and their perceived potential, even if the toys and concept were actually pretty shitty. When I found a set of their long forgotten three issue DC Comics mini-series on sale for $1.50, I figured, why not? The creative team was surprisingly good, being a pre-Hex outing by Michael (The Spectre) Fleisher and Mark (Wolverine) Texeira. I will always love Tex, as evidenced by all the crap books I've bought with his art, dating back to at least Psi-Force and including this.

Things started out well enough, with the alien heroine Shaya flying a "space sled" through the black vacuum. She was trying to evade a Trigore Squadron, "mutant intergalactic scavengers" who looked like green anteaters with tusks that shot lasers out of their snouts. A pack of them ran after Shaya through outer space, forcing her to make a desperate trek to Earth.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ivey at an observatory observed the strange emanations caused by this battle with his mysterious amnesiac assistant Adam. Ivey had an inexplicable faith in the unexplicated Adam, and left him alone that night to tend to the observatory. Adam had visions of terrible genocide on extraterrestrial worlds, and rushed outside when the space sled landed nearby.

The exiting Shaya knew exactly who and what Adam was, literally tugging Adam to her starcraft to exit Earth space before the Trigore Squadron caught up with them. Once in flight, Shaya reverted to her grody red-skinned natural Toranian form, and gave Adam a strange jewel to affix to his forehead, so he could become similarly gross, but in a shade of blue. Shaya revealed Adam was in truth an alien Power Lord, heir to the monarchy of Izah and Moira. Both had been murdered by the buggy Arkus the Dictator is a surprise assault, on which he was joined by Ggriptogg the Crusher and Raygoth, the "Goon of Doom." Against his will, Adam's memory had been wiped, and he was secreted on Earth by Shaya. This put Arkus out, because his overzealous goons weren't supposed to slaughter the royal family, at least until after they granted him access to their devastating weaponry.



Shaya flew to Volcan Rock, a roving Death Star and probable playset from which she meant to help Adam Power launch his counteroffensive. Thanks to his gem, Adam could become Lord Power, allowing him tricks like unaided space flight and energy projection. The latter was required to reactivate Volcan Rock, and after doing so, Adam and Shaya were ambushed by Ggriptogg and Raygoth. Adam managed to overpower (ba-dum-bump) the pair, but was disintegrated alongside Shaya by a stealthy Arkus.

For the opening chapter of a licensed property, Power Lords was strong, especially compared to most of DC's other attempts to catch the same lightning as Marvel's Conan/Star Wars/Micronauts/G.I. Joe./Transformers/etc. While the timeline here was screwy, Fleisher set up a reasonable framework to drive a series. The villains weren't well defined, but Adam's life on Earth seemed interesting. While Texeira has his obvious faults, his pages were fairly pretty, and his moody lighting gave these highly derivative events dramatic weight. A shame it would all go downhill from here...


Monday, March 1, 2010

1982 Revell Power Lords Ad



Man, was this ad all over the back cover of my comics that year. I think I bought a Lord Adam Power because he reminded me of one of my favorite heroes, Adam Warlock, with his bejeweled brow and big hair. Try as I might to play with him along those lines, I could never quite wrap my brain around his being a beast with no backs, just fronts. It's also hard to treat a guy like a bad ass when he looks like Family Ties patriarch Michael Gross in his human form. I was pretty fanatical about acquiring all-to-rare female figures in my youth, so I also owned Shaya, "The Queen of Power." I knew she also turned into a red-skinned mutant going in, but I think the real deal breaker was that I hadn't realized she was wearing a muskrat wig. I dated a girl who wore a wig. It makes their heads all tacky from sweat. Then and now, not a turn on. Nobody wanted to be Shaya's boyfriend, and she was too scrawny to feel like a legitimate threat (see also the manorexic Adam.) She just kind of loitered in my collection before disappearing one day without being immediately noticed for, like, actually, I think I just now realized she was ever lost. Adam Power played at the periphery of my collection for years before something happened to him. Again, I don't recall what. Yard sale? I just know I don't have him anymore.

As for the rest, they were too weird and funky looking for my taste. I never even dug them out of the discount bin, which for me is saying something. Did anybody ever love the Power Lords?

...nurghophiles...

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