Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: A Hardcore Review *SPOILERS*

I know what you're thinking, "What's he reviewing? The comic, the original cartoon, the live action movies from the 80's, the video games, the toys, or the new line of comics, the new line of toys, or the new all CGI movie from a few years back?" Well, I am reviewing the original, Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as collected in First Graphic Novel of the original Mirage series. So with that being straightened out, let's begin, shall we.
The 80's were a decade of overindulgence, in pretty much everything. Neon spandex, cocaine, big hair, eye shadow, Converse All-Stars, cocaine, trippy new wave industrial music, Dire Straits, cocaine, ninjas, teenage driven horror movies and comic books, mutants, AIDS, hyper-sexuality and cocaine. Somewhere along that time frame, Kevin Eastman met Peter Laird, and the two came up with the idea to combine to comic book loving community, which still revolved around the news stands, love of ninjas from Frank Miller's now epic run on Daredevil and teenage mutant phenomenon running rampant over in Claremont and Byrne's X-Men. Throw in a common reptile and you have, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To think this all hatched in 1983 with Mirage's first issue of TMNT, and by the end of the decade the nation had gone Cowabunga Crazy for the foursome of cold blooded martial arts masters. Hell it not only brought about a hit live action movie, with several in descending order of failure sequels, a really cool cartoon that spawned toys, a cereal and Halloween costumes, but a rabid cult following of kids, teens and young adults that would help carry the torch for the next twenty years.
The story consists of four turtle brothers, mutated by a very familiar accident. An accident involving a runaway truck carrying glowing ooze and a kid rescuing a blind man. However the story goes further than that, with a canister falling off the truck and smashing a glass bowl being held by a little boy. In the glass bowl, four baby turtles. Brothers. Who grew up, and were mentored by a rat named Splinter, who was also transformed by the mutagen. Splinter had studied the art of Ninjitsu while in Japan. He was a pet of ninja master Hamato Yoshi.
I think you know the story from there. Splinter raises the turtles as his own, teaches them the way of the ninja. And sets them out to fight for those who cannot. But even in New York, a group of four foot tall, talking turtles are gonna gain some attention. And it's not a group of reporters seeking interviews. It's street gangs, organized criminals and a growing insurgence of a shadowy ninja clan called the Foot, headed by the next of kin of the man who's brother was killed by splinter's Master Yoshi, Oroku Saki.
The story is a lot faster paced than the original movie, which slowed things down quite a bit. It also changed it, in that there was no brother of Saki, just Saki himself. And Saki gets killed rather quickly. The second story in the collection involves Baxter Stockman and his hot assistant April, and Stockman's Mouser hoards that will rid New York of its rat problem, and rob it blind at the same time.
However this is just the first volume of collected graphic novels by Eastman and Laird. The subsequent collections don't all contain stories with art from the original creators.
After going in different directions with their creative lives, Eastman sold his half of the rights to Laird and went on to write Bodycount with Simon Bisley doing the art chores. Bodycount drew the turtles back to their hyper violent origins complete with stylized renderings of a super hot, buxom April and a savagely 'roided out Casey Jones teaming up with Raphael in a story filled with blood and guts.
Recently Laird has sold the rights to the turtles franchise to Nickelodeon Studios for sixty million dollars. It seems Nick is planning on returning the foursome to their late 80's kid friendly ways with more cartoons like 2007's all cgi animated feature.
A book like the this only comes along a few times in every generation. I was there when it all began. Meaning I was alive, not necessarily reading the reptilian exploits until I reached my thirties. However, I rarely missed an episode of the cartoon and owned several of the toys. I am glad to see the Turtles get their recognition with being around for over a quarter century now. And take their place in the annals of small press comic book history.
The story itself has quirky dialog, and the lettering is confusing. The word balloons are placed in the wrong order at times, making you have to back track a little in order to get the characters to speak in the right sequence. The art, much like The Crow is heavily stylized and dated in such a way with character's hair styles and clothing. But this is not a problem, as I have said, a dated piece is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps conjure up thoughts of that time period, helping you remember the things you loved about being that age. Although a lot of the clothing from the 80 was pretty fucking hideous. The only good thing to come back is the spikey short hair on chicks, leggings and the whole punk look. Back to the story downfalls. The dialog is cheesy. But you have to admit it's not a bad start for two guys who would become legends in the comic book industry. The artwork improves as it always does, or SHOULD, and the characterizations get better. Even though the turtles all look alike, they have distinctive personalities that seem to match the weapons they use.
A fun side note to the history of TMNT. I and my then girlfriend, Jessica almost named Sabu Splinter, because of his uncanny resemblance to the ninja master.
TMNT the original stories sparks a lot of nostalgia for me. In life, not just comics. I mean like I said, I didn't read these original stories until recently, and shame on me for not having done it sooner. And there's a big nostalgia in a young man making a road trip to Madison Square Gardens in the early 80's, while he was still in college to witness a moment that has been talked about, and watched over and over again. Mick Foley regales it best in his book, "Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks" when he talks about the time he hitch hiked from his college in order to get to the World's Most Famous Arena to watch Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka dive off the top of a steel cage onto a bloodied Don Muraco after the conclusion of their Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship match.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lisa's murderer sentenced to 22 years

Today in a Tucson court room, Paul Beam, the man responsible for murdering my old girlfriend Lisa Marie Berrie on August 12, 2008, was sentenced today to 22 years in prison after taking a plea bargain on second degree murder charges. This same time one year ago, Beam had been convicted of first degree murder, and in February of this year he was sentenced to 25 years to life without the possibility of parole. That was before it was discovered that one of the jurors had lied about her background.
For those of you who have never had the opportunity to be called for jury duty service I will let you know a little bit about the process. First, you cannot serve on a jury if you have ever been convicted of a felony. Unless your rights have been restored. This would include the ability to vote, and own a firearm. During the jury selection process, the judge will ask the prospective jurors questions about their lives, including job backgrounds, children, education and other thing relevant to the trial at hand. In the case of the juror misconduct, the woman lied about being both a victim and an assailant in domestic violence cases. This caused the judge, Clark Munger to order a mistrial. And for Beam to be retried.
I learned last night from Lisa's sister, Suzi, that the sentencing for Lisa's murderer was happening today. Which was a little bit odd, since I was called for jury duty today as well. Although in city court, not federal, which would handle a murder trial and sentencing. And I learned after being dismissed from service, that he had taken a plea bargain, dropping the charge from first degree murder which could carry a life sentence, to second degree murder which would involve significantly less time in prison.
Lisa would be 28 in December this year. Beam is 37 right now. Which means if he gets out prison he will be 59. I say "if" because, according to Suzi, Beam looked as if he had taken some abuse of his own during the past five hundred plus days he has spent locked up. Suzi also mentioned that Beam was chained to a small group of prisoners, all who faced sentencing today, and that the other felons looked disgusted when they heard what he had done.
My only thoughts are that when he gets out, twenty-two years is a long time to think about this. It's a long time to let emotions grow. And a long time to let the proverbial pot boil over. In twenty-two years I may be able to find the strength to forgive him for taking Lisa from this world... then again, probably not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dead West; A Hardcore Review *SPOILERS*

After going damn near a month without a review, I decided to start reading and rereading graphic novels I have in my library. As you may know, my favorite graphic novel of all time is Teenagers from Mars, written by Rick Spears and drawn by Rob Goodridge, better known in the industry as Rob G. Even his wife calls him Rob G. It's kind of like how a group of friends in a sketchbook all refer to one guy by his full name of Paul Fini. The same Paul Fini who does a book called Bliss from his own comic book imprint Indie Only Press. But that's a whole other story.
This story takes a two different genres and mashes them together in a bomb digity comic book. Spears and Goodridge strike again in this 2005 original graphic novel from Gigantic Press the same people who put out the Teenagers from Mars trade. It reads fast paced with seriously cool action in a zombie spaghetti western of movie quality proportions. Dead West could easily translate into either a full length live action movie or an animated movie with all the trimmings.
Dead West marks the revenge of a young native man, who longed to be a hunter and a brave. When his tribe was slaughtered by greedy white men, the brave, who is only ever referred as "Cub" hatches a plot to bring revenge on those responsible. Invoking some sort of death pact, the young brave makes a circle around the nearby town and then commits ritual suicide. But.... the young man comes back from the dead, along with everyone else in the cemetery. The key is the circle cannot be broken by the undead.
In the nearby town a man has been hanged for stealing livestock. A young woman, who is also a whore, pregnant, possibly with his child is forced, along with the rest of the town to witness the "justice." The way he comes back is awesome. Lifting himself up on the noose and biting the rope in half. Dozens of the dead come back to terrorize the town.
There was very little dialog in this book, but some of the lines were classics. When the pregnant whore is given a gun by the man with no name who is being chased by a bounty hunter, she shoots the owner of the whore house and laughs, "I got you! I fucking got you!" I largely suspect the man had raped her.
When "Cub" finds his zombie father, the chief about to take his final resting place, he tells his father that he has enacted revenge. His father tells him something so profound. He says, "Did you take a wife? Have a son?" When the tribe was killed all "Cub" did was live for revenge. When he should have kept the tribe going on.
The story closes with the formerly pregnant, now mother and the man with no name leaving the town and breaking the circle. And a vulture leaves the circle too.
This book is awesome on a lot of levels. True, Goodridge's style can be a bit stiff where his people look like mannequins. But altogether, this book is fucking solid as they come. And even better it's small press.
This Hardcore Review regards Dead West with the grade of a true old school tough son of a bitch who never got his due in the United States, until he got a World Heavyweight Title shot. "Dr. Death" Steve Williams took on the then Extreme Championship Wrestling World Championship Raven in a fight that saw "Dr. Death" bleed on American soil, which is super rare. But it was the end of the match that saw just how hardcore Steve Williams really was. It took three super kicks from leader of the Blue World Order, Big Stevie Cool and a DDT from Raven to stop the man who was an All-American in both collegiate wrestling and football and one of the most dominant American wrestlers who ever stepped foot into a Japanese ring.

Unwanted; A Hardcore Review *SPOILERS*

Several years ago (2008), when people were still using Myspace on a seriously regular basis, I became "friends" with Diablo, one of the writers on the graphic novel that would shortly be released called, The Unwanted. A bit later, at San Diego Comic Con 2007, I met Diablo and picked up the original book. Shortly thereafter I began to read it, but for some reason could only get about twenty pages in before I had to put the book down.
Three years since that time I finally sat down and read the book. It works on so many levels. The base of the story itself reminds me of the movie Stigmata. Thinking about it, woman goes to South America and buys a relic from a vendor. The relic, a necklace is manifesting in a type of possession of whomever wears it. The woman is a teacher at a school for juvenile delinquents. And the evil spirit is hunting the kids.
These stone wall, emotionless kids realize what is going on and they plan to take out the demon. The gather up everything they can find to use as weapons. And even though they started out as enemies, they became a team.
After they kill one of the demons incarnations, one of the kids gets sucked into a parallel world of brimstone and fire, populated by these creatures. With the help of one of the other instructors at the school/detention facility they find out how to bring her back. Smash the amulet.
The end of the story shows some of the kids, who at the beginning hated each other show a survivor's solidarity.
At times the writing was a bit stiff and hokey. Like some of the slang the kids threw, just seemed forced and unnatural. But on a whole, this is a solid story, that seems to scream for a sequel and a prequel. The artwork, as I was informed by Diablo was farmed out to an artist in South America, Juan Romera. His style is completely graphic and stylized. All the line work has a single line weight. Which in some respects is annoying, however, Romera has his own style, much like Mignola or Mike Allred, of Mad Man and X Statix and X-Force before that. The artwork is wholly rendered in black and white, graphic styling. And it works on so many levels. I appreciate small press, which this totally qualifies as. Diablo Productions is the publisher.
This book, as with everything else I review is graded based upon hardcore moments in wrestling history. The Unwanted rates a moment from Japan, probably the FMW or Frontier Martial Arts and Wrestling promotion, which inspired ECW in many ways. The moment came when Sabu was walking to the ring for a match. A fan grabbed Sabu's burnoose off of his head. Sabu, in full character jumps the railing and begins punching the fan. Sabu was and is a wrestler who was taught to protect the business by his uncle Ed Farhat, the Original Sheik. And by staying character Sabu is probably one of the last of a dying breed of wreslters who never wanted to be a superstar.

Monday, November 15, 2010

JLA Earth 2; A Hardcore Review

At Tucson Comic Con I picked up a few books, including JLA Earth 2, volume 2 of Love and Rockets and Denny Riccelli's Get That Chicken. Today I will be reviewing JLA Earth 2 which features the core of the Justice League, of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern going up against alternate Earth versions of themselves in the Crime Syndicate. Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quietly this graphic novel burst onto the scene in the early 2000's.
The Crime Syndicate are easily the best part of this book with Johnny Quick, The evil Flash needing Speed Force-like drugs to keep up his normal hyper self. And when he comes down he begins to annoy the Ring, Green Lantern's counterpart. The Ring's power ring is a mystical sentient being of it's own and continually talks down to him. While Batman's doppleganger is Owlman, who is just as cunning, but way more ready to kill anyone who gets in his way, possibly even the passive aggressive Ultraman who at first glance seems to be Superwoman's bitch. Lois Lane is the Earth 2 Superwoman who feeds on her own narcissism and deep seeded need to control others, like Jimmy Olsen and Owlman.
The strange thing about this whole storyline is that it's built around failure, not success. And I don't mean a failure of a story, cause it's awesome. The concept is that the only ones who can succeed on their respective Earths are the heroes that belong there themselves. It's a great concept that spawned a few episodes on Justice League the cartoon and an animated movie, Crisis On Two Earths, which you can watch on Netflix.
What would you do if you knew there was another Earth with an exact opposite version of yourself? Would you attempt to change that world for the better/worse?
The book begins with the Justice League attempting a rescue on a jet liner that is about to crash. After the plane is landed by the team, they discover all 24 passengers are dead, their money with pictures of Benedict Arnold instead of George Washington and their hearts on the right side of their bodies. Martian Manhunter discerns that there is some parallel dimension that the plane was pulled from. Meanwhile on the Crime Syndicate's Earth an identical plane appears with people from our Earth.
The whole story is filled with some amazing scenarios, including Owlman and Superwoman having an affair all in the plain view of Ultraman who appears to be wrapped around Superwoman's little finger.
In the end, the Justice League realizes nothing they do is going to change Earth 2. That the harder they try, the more they are destined to fail. Earth 2 cannot and will not allow the Justice League to win. It's an amazing ideal that the ultimate goodguys are in fact badguys on Earth 2. A fascinating concept. But the Justice League does in fact decide to do something evil in order to gain access to the Crime Syndicate.
It's essentially something I was just thinking about last night. Being a hero sometimes means knowing nothing you do will change the world for the better. No matter how hard you try. But as a hero you still do everything you can, no matter the futility.
This is the first review I have done in a while, as my laptop has been on the fritz and is probably on it's last legs in some respects. I am working to rectify this situation as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.
The grade for this book is a fairly recent match from TNA and more than 20 years in the making. Flair versus Foley in a Last Man Standing match. Or a Death Match if you will. Both combatants blade, with Flair pulling another four alarmer. Battling up and down the entrance ramp and back into the ring. Flair takes a back body drop onto a pile of thumbtacks. Ultimately the ending, which some feel was lackluster, I really liked. Flair lands a splash onto Foley putting them both through a table. And as the count reaches ten, both Flair and Foley stand with Flair crumbling to the mat just after. The end result being that even though Flair was the work horse for so many years it was the man he called a "glorified stuntman" who could take more punishment. And the match ended with Foley having his hand raised.