Friday, September 25, 2009

Comic Movie showdown: The Spirit, Punisher War Zone

I'm going to take a little detour and talk about two comic book movies I saw recently, those being The Spirit, based on the character created by comics legend Will Eisner, and The Punisher: War Zone, based on Marvel Comic's the Punisher...duh!

I am not very familiar with the Spirit strip. I followed the character in DC's recent revamp by Darwyn Cooke, but I have not read very much of Eisner's Original at all. The film, directed by Frank Miller, who I believe was friends with Eisner, marks his first solo directorial effort. The look of the film is very close to the look of Sin City (Frank Miller's comic series, and film he co-directed), lots of black, white and red going on. Sometimes characters will be shot in silhouette, sometimes a background will flash in an eye piercing graphic red. Visually, the movie is very pleasing. Miller's graphic sensibilities really shine here. There are also many great shots of the city that give it a beauty, and capture the feeling of a sprawling metropolis well. One of my favorite shots of the film is during The Spirit's closing monologue, of the side of an apartment building or tenement house, hundreds of windows and air conditioners. The camera lingers there for a minute, probably less, and it was just a great shot. The photography of "central city" in this film is another feather in Miller's cap.

The sad thing is, in my humble opinion, the fine visuals of this film are all the film has to offer really. The story is thin at best, the characters mostly forgettable and uninteresting. The dialogue is rambling, strange, and just kind of boring. The Octopus, the main villain, portrayed by Samuel L Jackson, has many monologues during the film...too many. They are all fairly boring, and the character continually talks about eggs, how he doesn't like egg on his face, rotten eggs, etc. I didn't understand the egg reference, or what they had to do with the Octopus, it was confusing, and not very funny. The Spirit himself is kind of bland too, and has one too many bits of dialogue talking about his city, personifying it, how it provides for him, how he loves it, and it him. It gets old.

The other focus of the film are all the femme fatales the Spirit has to tangle with. The ad campaign for the film focused heavily on the ladies, all portrayed by beautiful Hollywood actresses, like Scarlett Johansonn and Eva Mendes. They play their roles well, and they aren't as fetishized like the women in Sin City, but I still feel they should have been fleshed out a little more, considering how heavily the ad campaign focused on these characters. No one really stands out in this movie, the most memorable thing about this movie is the visuals, and considering Miller's background as a comic artist that makes perfect sense. Miller also tries to inject humor into the film, and lots of comic book type logic. The Spirit hops on telephone wires and runs across them on two feet like it was nothing, nimbly as a squirrel. I can appreciate this. While I like movies like Watchmen and the Dark Knight, they are very serious type movies. The don't have that comic bookish humor present in lots of classic comic books, that type of off the walls humor is almost frowned upon these days in comics, and I, for one, think that is a little sad. Miller's effort to inject humor into the overly serious comic movie genre is a definite failure, the Spirit being such a colossal flop. If anything check it out for the good visuals.

Punisher:War Zone is another critical and box office flop, but I think this is undeservedly so. Directed by Lexi Alexander, the Punisher War Zone pits the Punisher (played by Ray Stevenson) against his longtime villain Jigsaw (Portrayed by the Wire's great Dominic West). I have not seen the other Punisher films, but Stevenson LOOKS the part of the Punisher more than any other actor that was cast in the part. Stevenson looks very similar to the Punisher covers, and even how he was depicted in the Welcome Back Frank storyline. This movie has an extremely high body count, and the Punisher does most of the killin'. He uses all sorts of guns, knives, and his bare hands. He pushes a chair leg through a man's head, and even goes so far as to punch a hole through one thug's head. This movie is definitely campy, and has a bit of that comic book humor that is missing in many comic book movies made today. The two main villains are pretty hammy, and definitely seem like they are having fun playing these ridiculous characters.

The film looks great, all the sets are beautiful, all the on scene locations feel right. It's a very colorful film, each scene has a deliberate color palette. The Punisher's costume looks really authentic, like he could really go into battle and survive it. Stevenson has obviously had weapons training, he handles all of the weapons like an expert, and looks the part of the Punisher the whole movie through. The movie is stolen by Jigsaw and his brother and confederate in crime, Loony Bin Jim. They play the roles like true comic villains, over the top, flamboyant, and silly. The whole movie is pretty silly, a lot of the acting might not be considered the very best, and the writing can be less that brilliant, but the finished product is greater than the sum of it's parts. The action sequences were all excellent, the sets, props and weapons were great. This is an incredibly well made film, and strives with all it's might to stay true to the source material. This is a fun movie, and I think it should have been received more favorably than it was. I feel this film succeeds where The Spirit failed in bringing that comic book feeling to the screen.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Manga Monday: Detroit Metal City

Detroit Metal City is a comedy manga, published by viz comics, by author/artist Kiminori Wakasugi. Detroit Metal City is an Indie Death Metal band growing in popularity, comprised of three members, Bassist Masayuki Wada (Jagi), Drummer Terumichi Nishida (Camus) and lead guitarist/vocalist Soichi Negishi also known as JOHANNES KRAUSER II!!! Negishi, is really a hipster type, who enjoys Swedish pop, tea, trendy T-shirt shops and singing his cute little songs about love and cheese tarts. To pay the bills however, he dons face make up, a cape and shoulder pads and transforms himself into a metal god. Negishi hates DMC more than anything, and hides the fact that he is Krauser II from his friends and family, but his outrageous alter ego creeps into his life time and time again, making for some sticky situations for Negishi. For example, one evening Negishi meets up with his crush at a CD store, where it is revealed that she hates DMC more than any other band. Negishi quickly agrees, and begins to loudly criticize the band, and is overheard by three confrontational DMC fans. To avoid getting beat up, Negishi quickly backtracks, and says he respects Krauser for his guitar playing, and emulates some on Air Guitar. Eventually he starts geting into it a little too much, and lets out a string of obscenities at Aikawa, much to Aikawa's surprise.

Another "character" in Detroit Metal City are the fans of the band, who follow Kauser II and the others like a religion, and are all morons. They believe all the stories about Krauser (like he killed his parents when he was born, and was in prison but broke out to form a band) and follow them blindly. They make for many of the funniest moments in the manga.

DMC is a hilarious Manga. The art is a tad crude, but makes up for it for being so outrageous. The Songs DMC perform are lewd to the extreme, and also very silly. Songs range from such diverse topics as killing your parents, raping everyone you see, and other objectionable subject matter of the type. Now that may not sound funny, but the subject matter is played so tongue in cheek that nothing really comes off as offensive, mostly just ridiculous. I do, however have one criticism with this release, and that is the English typography. It just isn't there. In Japanese Manga, the sound effects are an integral part of the story telling, and often done by the artist (or an assistant) with a brush. The translated, digital Font sound effects throughout Detroit Metal city look tacked on, to me, and definitely don't compare to the hand done effects found in manga. A lot of the type in the backgrounds looks pretty poor to me as well, with boring font choices that don't really seem to match. For example, the Death Records headquarters sign. The font doesn't look like a real sign, and just comes off as lazy to me. Usually I wouldn't comment on something like this, but I think it is an important aspect, and noticed the font while reading, so i think it was worth commenting over. All in all though, this is an offbeat Manga that I urge you to check out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Manga Monday: To Terra...

(Usually I have lots of scanned images to accompany my review, that I scan myself, but Manga releases are smaller than bigger American comics, and it gets harder to scan them without horribly damaging the binding, and since all the comics I review are ones I have spent money on...I don't want them damaged! Sorry guys! Check out the free preview on the To Terra page linked below!)

This Manga Monday is going to cover To Terra..., a Shonen Sci Fi Manga from Shoujo Manga Master Keiko Takemiya. To Terra... is a three volume release from Vertical Inc. Which for my money is one of the best Manga Publishers to date. Each Manga volume they release is handsomely designed, faithfully translated and printed on beautiful paper. They have been releasing a lot of work by Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, and Takemiya's work can stand proud next to any volume of Tezuka's work. She was a pioneer of Manga drawn by women, and was among the first women to actually draw Shoujo comics as we know them.

To Terra... is set in a future world far in space. The human race has surrendered the management of their lives to all powerful telepathic computers, since they had depleted their natural resources and damaged their home planet. Most humans went to space, while the machines and computers stayed on Terra to clean up. Children are created artificially and raised by foster parents on other planets. Around age 14 all children are subjected to a maturity check, where the computers deem them acceptable to move onward to adulthood and make the journey to the mother planet, Terra. If they are not deemed acceptable they are killed. Unacceptable children may have emotional problems, have disabilities, or even have ESP. Children with ESP are eliminated, as they are not human, but MU, a race of physically weak beings who have powerful psychic powers. Humans and the computers try their best to eliminate the MU, but the MU fight on and rescue as many children as they can from the maturity checks, in the hopes that one day they will be strong enough to return to Terra and live there side by side with humans, without the will of the computers. Enter Jomy Marcus Shin, a Human who is rescued by the MU, and is heralded as the new leader of the MU, who possessed strong Psychic abilities and a strong body, unlike most MU. Jomy has to lead the MU against the Humans in his quest to return to Terra, and suffers many hardships along the way.

I don't want to give anything away, so I will keep the description at that, but these volumes are gripping, and are fine examples of how good Manga can be. This is great science fiction. There are robots, other worlds, aliens, space ships battles, cities in space, questions about humanity, technology and all those great things that make a good sci fi story. There are a lot of tense moments here, and characters live and die in terrible battles all the time. It is a gut wrenching work at times, but there are moments of humor throughout, much like how Tezuka would throw in a little joke here and there to relieve tension. The art is nothing short of spectacular, the heavy ink lines, appealing characters and amazingly designed space ships make these volumes a feast for the eyes. My only complaint is that at times the word bubbles are hard to follow, but its nothing too egregious. Being Manga, these volumes are read from right to left, keeping the artwork unflipped. Most of the sound effects go untranslated, but that doesn't really detract from what is going on. Looking at these volumes you can see where Clamp got a lot of their influence, but I feel Takemiya is still the master.

You can find these in comic shops and book stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, and if you do, I would say pick them up! If you like science fiction, buy these! If you like shonen manga, buy these! If you like shoujo Manga...Definitely buy these!!!! If you like comics buy these!!! Vertical Inc. is a great company that needs our support, their manga releases are of a high quality, and the average manga reader doesn't give 2 craps about old manga like this, but it is amazing stuff! The stuff Vertical Inc. puts out is a little more expensive than the usual manga fare, but you get it unflipped, you get titles other companies don't have the balls to release, you get beautiful covers and excellent print quality and paper quality. Check these out!!!!!

Verticals Website

To Terra Page

Check out the free Preview on the To Terra page!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Radioactive Man

Today I will review two issues of Bongo comic's Radioactive Man series. Radioactive man is a fictional comic book character from the Simpsons, and I will assume everyone knows what the Simpsons is. The issues I will be reviewing are issues number 412(Steve Vance Script-Layouts Bill Morrison finished art, Tim Bavington Additional Inks, Cindy Vance, Colors and Matt Groening as "spin doctor"), and issue number 88(Steve Vance, script/pencils, Bill Morrison co-plot/finished art, Cindy Vance co-plot/colors). Now, the comic hasn't really been released for 412 issues mind you, the limited series was released "out of order", I guess to poke fun at Super hero books that run for hundred upon hundreds of issues. The whole series is a loving swipe at superhero comics, and it is very enjoyable, to my surprise.
Radioactive Man is really Claude Kane, who somehow had a lightning bolt stuck in his head. In his secret identity form he must always wear a hat to hide the lightning bolt. His partner, Fallout Boy (Rod Runtledge) is a Peter Parker/Robin type character, who has an Aunt and is a bit of a wiener. They also are teamed with the Superior Squad, a Justice League-esque super team of heroes.
Each issue is Packed with little tidbits of comic bookish humor, poking fun at the corny style of old comics, but lovingly so. I think everyone involved has a great love of old superhero comics, but also realizes how inherently funny a lot of them are today.
For one thing, they always explain what they are doing, despite the fact that it is a comic book, and we can plainly see what they are doing, just like old Stan Lee comics and the like. Also, many of Radioactive Man's heroic exploits result in big problems, like in the two images above. There is a section in issue number 88 that covers the origin of Fallout boy, which is similar to Peter Parker's.
There is also a section similar to a classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spidey tale, in which he is trapped under a giant piece of machinery. I never read the issue of spider man, but I saw some art and remembered the plot, I thought it was a cool tribute.
The series art is in the Simpson's style, with a little bit of Jack Kirby thrown in, and I think looks pretty sharp overall. I really like the limited color palette, and I think they capture the look of Silver age comics very well. These comics are really funny, and I am sad I don't have the remaining issues. For a comic based off an existing property, I would say these issues are very impressive. In fact these two issues are just good comics! Great, funny stories and writing, great cartoony/comic style art, no ads to speak of really, except for ads for other Bongo books, as well as Hilarious fake comic ads like this one:
So if you like the Simpsons or old super-hero comics or even both, then pick these up! They aren't exactly new, these issues are from 1994, but they are great stuff!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Manga Monday: Eat Man

For the first manga Monday I will review a title released by Viz in June of 1998, Eat Man, by Akihito Yoshitomi. According to wikipedia the manga ran for 19 volumes in japan, but in the US of A we only got what I believe are the first two volumes. I have had these two collections on my shelf since their 1998 initial release, and they have been favorites of mine ever since.

Eat-Man centers around an explorer named Bolt Crank. The world he inhabits is a little hard to describe, like many manga worlds, it is a combination of multiple genres. I would say it is equal parts fantasy, sci-fi, and western. There are air ships, monsters, giant laser weapons, six shooters, mermaids, wizard kings, and robots. Explorers are basically jack of all trades for hire. They take any type of job, from delivery to protection. Usually the jobs taken by explorers are very dangerous, but it doesn't seem to trouble Bolt one bit. The thing about Bolt is he doesn't carry a gun or a sword...but he does carry screws and pieces of metal and machinery around. Not only does he carry this stuff, he also eats it. He is more often than not seen with a screw between his lips. He has chomped the barrel of a gun and caught bullets in his teeth, and has also been know to drink industrial alcohol. All of the items he ingests have a purpose later in the story. For example, the industrial alcohol. after drinking it all up, a monster confronts him and his traveling companions. Bolt takes a match and shoots the alcohol he drank from the tips of his fingers while holding the match, creating an inferno from his finger tips. Any object Bolt dismantles and eats piece by piece, can be re-formed and used as a weapon, and reappears in his hands.

Each tale in these first two volumes of EAT-MAN generally have a similar premise. Bolt is hired to do something, is accompanied by a pretty young woman, who has a secret. During the story the secret is revealed, Bolt uses whatever weapon he has been eating throughout the tale and saves the girl, and we all find out that there is more heart to Bolt than meets the eye, as well as how terrible an opponent Bolt would be if you ever got on his bad side. Bolt seems to be ageless, and the trusted friend of famous explorers and sword smiths. He also shows a degree of clairvoyance it seems, because he always knows exactly what weapon he will need at the end of each tale to defeat the bad guy or solve the conflict. For example, in one tale, Bolt eats a radio at the opening. He is sent by a prince to retrieve a special flower that he must present to his beloved as a marriage proposal. The woman the prince loves accompanies Bolt to retrieve the flower, she does not know that the prince has in fact chosen her to be his bride, and wants to get the flower for him in the hopes that the gesture will change his mind. At the close Bolt gets the flower and saves her from the monster guarding it (the monster actually IS the flower, its a strange story) and pops the radio from his hand, revealing a transmission from the prince that the woman he loves has gone missing, and for anyone having seen her to report to the palace. Did Bolt know that he would need this radio at the end of his adventure, to show the woman that the prince really loves her? Probably not, but in each tale Bolt has a similar gift of foresight.

Interestingly enough, the gimmick doesn't really get old. Bolt is a charming character, and the stories are exciting and creative. How bolt uses his unusual gift in each story is a sight to behold, and brings a smile to my face even today.

The artwork in EAT-MAN is pretty fantastic, the backgrounds and technology all look genuine and convincing, the world building is great here. The character's faces can be a bit cookie cutter, but that is to be expected sometimes in manga. The Author's sense of pacing and action storytelling is really effective, it is an exhilarating joy to read these pages. The stories here are generally light hearted, but get intense when they need to be. It is never too melodramatic, and definitely does not take itself too seriously. It is a cryin' shame that the rest of the series wasn't picked up. I know there is an anime of this that was brought over here, but I haven't seen it. Volume one is up on Amazon dot com...FOR ONE CENT USED!!!! That is more than worth it for this under appreciated gem of manga over here. Volume 2 is also available used one amazon starting at $1.27, still a great deal, although featuring a cover (that i do not like in the least) by American comics legend Jim Lee. CHECK THESE OUT!!!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Long Hiatus/Batman;The collected Adventures volumes 1 and 2

It has been a while, but it is time to get back on the horse. The titles I am going to review today have been on my shelves for quite some time, two trade paperback collections of the DC comics series THE BATMAN ADVENTURES, based on the holiest of comic book animated properties, BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, the cartoon that represents the ultimate version of batman to many fans, including myself. When I think of Batman, the image that is conjured in my head first and foremost is the animated series version, over all of his comic renditions, over Adam West, Micheal Keaton, even Christian Bale. It might be silly to hold the cartoon version in even higher esteem than his comic counter part, but I think that speaks to the quality of the show. Batman the animated series had a great setting, great mood, stellar character designs and actors, a fully orchestrated score, (for the most part) amazing animation, and fairly intelligent scripts for a Children's cartoon.A comic series based on the cartoon show was started, that would use the character designs and general style of the show as inspiration.Volume 1, written by Kelley Puckett, Martin Pasko, pencilled by Ty Templeton and Brad Rader, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, is a great start to a series that many probably thought would be a throw away comic based on a cartoon. All of the art is great, crisp and clean line work in an easily accessible cartoony style, with lots of rich black shapes and exciting compositions. The writing is great, just as snappy as the cartoon, reminiscent of the older comics and movies. There is a good mix of bumbling henchmen, menacing main villains, and wry wit from Bruce Wayne/Batman. This Batman is still dark, but also has a bit of charm to him, some times shown with a slight smirk. I think I like this Batman a bit more than the thin mouthed growler that seems to be popular today.
The stories here feature (in order) The Penguin, Catwoman, and the Joker, followed by the Scarecrow, as well as a Hitchcockian style murder story. The first three issues involve a sweeping plot devised by the Joker, who uses Catwoman and the Penguin to steal some important objects for him, in order to set into motion a master plan to rid himself of Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself. These stories are pretty standard Batman fare, but with good writing, and brilliant panel layout and staging, are carried to the next level of comic story telling.
Following these is a 2 part Scarecrow story, where the citizens of Gotham begin losing the ability to read. The pencils in this 2 parter are done by Brad Rader, and I really like the use of dark shapes and lighting. Rader has a great understanding of anatomy and noir Lighting, and really makes these issues epic in scope. Rader also pencils the last issue in the trade, THE THIRD DOOR, which doesn't involve any of Batman's rouge's gallery, which I find slightly refreshing. The staging and lighting in this issue is nothing short of amazing, and really gives the reader a cinematic vibe while reading.
Volume 2 is written solely by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Mike Parobeck, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins. Mike Parobeck is one of my favorite pencillers of all time, and has a very cartoony style to his art. Some of the characters have an almost rubber hose quality to them, he uses his dark shapes well and has an amazing knack for composing action scenes. The stories in volume 2 are much more stand alone, and involve (in order) Killer Croc, Clayface, Rupert Thorne, the Riddler, Manbat, and a tale involving Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.
Much like the show, the stories in volume 2 each play like little epics or films, telling a complete, compact story, packed with tons of action, humor and fun. I think this volume better captures the essence of what the cartoon was going for.
Overall I think these two volumes are a great addition to Batman the animated series, and a good addition to your comics library. They are a good read for kids and adults alike, not too violent or gritty, but not dumb either. The two trades are available used on amazon for about 25 dollars apiece before shipping.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fist Of The North Star Follow Up

I posted some more Fist of the North Star goodness here, at the Autumn Society 2 blog. Check it!