Monday, October 12, 2009

Magic: The Gathering: The Shadow Mage #1

I've never played Magic: The Gathering, and it's probably too late to start now. I've had a grudge against it ever since the nerd pendulum swung from Dungeons and Dragons to collectible card games, because can I play a half-elf thief in Magic? Possibly, but I never bothered to find out; I was too busy sulking. Anyway, I expected to hate this comic, too, especially after being greeted by this gaudy Hildebrant cover, but it turned out that the story wasn't too bad for a promotional volume based on an expansion to a game for 12 year olds. The art was pretty decent as well:

(Above: Why not just put this on the FRONT cover?)

Fortunately, I had a perfectly shitty Magic: The Gathering comic to read in its place. This one starts out with a half-naked king toting around his infant son in a fantastic land where shit just explodes everywhere for no obvious reason. Suddenly, King Poor Choices is attacked by a viking on a flying ship! The viking shoots an aging beam at the king's retainer, turning him into the Cryptkeeper, and KPC in retaliation blows himself up, taking the ship with him. Aged Retainer then brings the infant back to the castle, where he is of course not recognized, and he and the child are cast out to live in the street.

(Above: Uhh... I don't think the writer knows what "crone" actually means)

The infant grows up to be the world's ugliest boy, keeping soul and body together by begging and stealing. Oh, what a cruel twist of fate, to go from prince to pauper! But when he and the "crone" who has raised him are attacked, the boy realizes his true powers in what may be one of the most hilarious panels in any comic, ever:

(Above: For those of you unfamiliar with Magic, saying "you've tapped!" is similar to saying "you've gone directly to Go" in a Monopoly-themed comic book)

The story is to continue in upcoming issues, but if you think I'm going to read those, you are insane. Go read them yourself if you're so excited to know what happens.

Incidentally, the cover promises that there is a free Magic card inside, and this is what I found laid in:

I haven't the faintest idea how to play this. Magic: The Gathering is hard!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rune #1

I was pretty intrigued by Malibu Comics's Rune from the beginning - I knew that Malibu was a comics company created by a handful of creators who wanted to increase the visibility of nonwhite characters in superhero comics, and it seemed like a pretty weird choice to write a book starring a white beefcake antihero in shitty goth makeup. Then I realized that I was confusing Malibu with Milestone, and I was much less perplexed.

The titular character, Rune, is a vampire from outer space who eats souls and absorbs their power into a bunch of costume jewelry gems he keeps in a bag around his neck. As he mopes around in New York city, some business is going on in Africa with the remaining space vampire crystals that is more interesting but less comprehensible than the main story, so we'll stick with the latter.

Probably the main reason that Rune never became a quirky cult figure in the world of third-string comics publishing is that he is intensely unlikable and boring. Check out this full-page spread:

(Above: yawn.)

Now, I know this was written years before the kids went all crazy for their Twilights and their True Bloods and their Buffys the Vampires Slayers, but there's something pretty crucial the creators could have done to instantly appeal to a wide audience of rabid fangirls: make Rune hot. Specifically, make him beautiful, yet, masculine, with a cold broodiness that just makes you want to comfort him, even as he rips your throat out (and he does indeed rip a woman's throat out later in the comic). But no, he's apparently supposed to be interesting to thirteen year old boys who consider themselves to be pretty twisted, and who are supposed to go wild for this aging steroid abuser, prancing around with his bag of lucky charms. I mean, seriously:

(Above: This is allegedly supposed to be sexy)

There's so much going wrong in the top panel: The woman, wearing only a leather jacket, shrugging as she feigns interest in Rune's hobbies, the nautical flare that she's inexplicably lit, the unidentified animal with a "good grief!" expression, Rune's single terrifying bullseye nipple, etc. All of this is is miniscule in the face of the wrongness that this woman finds Rune hot. Two pages later, Rune's supermarket vending machine knickknacks attack him and the comic just ends. Interestingly, a little background research informs me that Rune has cancer, which I guess is kind of a funny twist, but not intriguing enough to make me want to read more.

SPECIAL BONUS! There's an even shorter Rune comic bundled with this one, and it features the Winner of the Wizard Create-A-Villain Contest! Confusingly, it's also numbered as Rune #1 (September 1996), but as I spend my days as a mild-mannered serials librarian, I can tell you that this sort of tomfoolery is in no way out of the ordinary. Rune looks way more orc-ish in this one, because they can't even keep his design consistent within two issues with the same numerical designation. Anyway, the real meat of this is the winning villain - who could it be?????

(Above: It is A'Charr, the Scarred God!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Resident Evil #1

Resident Evil! Although I've never played the games myself, I once sat in a darkened dorm room watching someone play the second entry in the series, and my current roommate has played the fourth game about 476 times in the past few years, so I'm practically an expert! And one of the things I know about the series is that there are zombies, and you shoot the zombies. There's a bunch of atmospheric spookiness and zany villains, but zombies is pretty much the core of it.

Which is why I was pretty surprised to read this (twelve-page, free) comic and find very few zombies at all. It opens with a terrified tactics squad member radioing headquarters to tell them that something very scary is happening in a mansion in a remote mountainside town. You wouldn't know it from the artwork, though:

(Above: Zombies. Or the guy's former teammates who got ripped up by "something horrible". Or oddly-shaped shrubs.)

Yeah, but survival horror games are like that, right? You see only glimpses of the horror and then once you've gotten yourself all calmed down, BLAMMO! Zombie in your face! So anyway, the comic builds atmosphere by... giving us three pages of conversation at the tactics squad headquarters, and then we're back with our hapless zombie hunter for:

(Above: WOW, a puzzle where you push stuff!)

This is actually pretty true to the game, from what I remember - for every minute you spend fighting horrifying creatures, you spend ten minutes pushing boxes around onto buttons or looking for the right keycard or whatever. It actually kind of works in the game, you get lulled into a false sense of security just long enough for the game to scare the crap out of you again, but in the comic, it's just silly. Oh okay, it's a little silly in the game as well.

Dude runs down the stairs and runs into a giant snake, and his buddies on the squad helicopter in to try to figure out what's up with him. And - it ends there. Although this is Issue #1, you were expected to buy the game to continue this gripping story. I don't know why you would, though, as the comic implies that this is a game where you stumble into pillars and have snakes jump out at you, and that doesn't sound very much fun at all. And why were there no actual zombies in the book? If you were a comics artist and you got the chance to draw a zombie, wouldn't you gleefully grab your pencils and bristol board and go to town? It's not like they were trying to keep the zombies a secret, there's one in the ad inside the back cover of the book:

(Above: HEY, A ZOMBIE)

There was basically one thing they could have added to make this not a boring story, and they left it out completely. I'm not counting the silhouette, I didn't even catch that on the first readthrough. Yes, I read this more than once. Why - I'm beginning to think that this was just a cheap marketing ploy, and not an attempt to create an engaging and entertaining story!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bloodstrike #1

Yeah, yeah, Rob Liefeld's a bad artist who steals drawings and who is reportedly difficult to work with. I say that Liefeld's art isn't so bad and has a sort of expressionistic charm, despite the tiny feet and bad foreshortening and other artistic mistakes, and that he has potential and could improve if he really tried. Really, what's worst about him is his terrible, terrible ideas.

When Big Comics inexplicably let him start thinking instead of just drawing looming hulks and large-breasted women, he created a whole stable of derivative characters, notably: Cable, who was distinct from Rachel "Phoenix II" Summers in that he was a Cyclops/Jean Gray (or Jean Gray-ish, long story) child who came from the future, but with a lot of guns and a cool glowing eye and bionic arm; Deadpool, who was a completely unabashed ripoff of Deathstroke from Teen Titans; and Supreme, who was like Superman only totally violent and hardcore, and who is famous for not only being completely redeemed by Alan Moore, but also for giving Moore the outlet for the Superman stories he's always wanted to write.

In 1992, Rob Liefeld helped found Image Comics, a company that allowed creators to retain the rights to their own characters. One of the forgettable titles Liefeld published with them was Bloodstrike, which is probably tied into his other Image stuff in some way, damned if I'm going to find out how. In this first issue, a bunch of bland characters break into a compound and shoot the hell out of some guy for some reason I couldn't figure out... do you get the idea that this was very, very boring? It typifies mid-90s comics by being flashy and gritty and utterly without any of the charm and creativity that made superhero books so popular.

(Above: Top row - Mazinger Z, Booba Fett; Middle row - Cable; Bottom row - Wolverine, A Bee or Something. I "rubbed the blood" and nothing happened)

As the story was so boring, I focused instead on the design, and considering that the characters had no actual personalities, you'd think their costumes and powers would make up for it, but no:

(Above: The bafflingly-named Cabbot, with his ponytail, his surplus guns, the five belts around his left arm, and the watch or something cutting off circulation below his knee. Also: pouches. All of Liefeld's characters have more pouches than they could ever dream of using)

(Above: Fourplay, whose powers are having four arms, a suggestive name, and a huge masculine crotch)

(Above: Not Wolverine, Seriously. Wolverine is a trademarked character of Marvel Comics, and this is totally not Wolverine. Look, he doesn't have claws, and his mask extends beyond his chin. And even though he calls someone "Darlin'" later on in the comic, he's got two wristwatches, so he couldn't possibly be Wolverine, okay?)

So the next time someone says to you, "hurr hurr, that Rob Liefeld is sure a bad artist," please remind them that his ideas are much, much worse. If only all he did was draw!

Marvel Chillers: The Thing in the Glass Case

So technically, this wasn't a comic, and it actually wasn't so bad, either. It's a chapter book for elementary school kids, the kind of thing you get a reluctant reader who loves those X-Men, but who won't sit down and read a "real" book. [Side note: I actually learned a lot of great vocabulary from X-Men books back in the days when Bard College grad Chris Claremont was writing - dude loved his fancy words] It's by my favorite Wolverine writer, Larry Hama, who is also notable for making G.I. Joe actually good and for creating Bucky O'Hare long before Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, Usagi Yojimbo, and the like.

Anyway, the story's acceptably spooky, and Special Guest Stars Wolverine and Jubilee are refreshingly in-character, and it's not even actually a comic, so why did I decide to write about this? LOOK AT THIS COVER:

(Above: Click for larger IF YOU DARE)

HOLY CRAP WHAT IS GOING ON HERE. Wolverine is bad enough, with his shirt that wrinkles alarmingly in ways physics dare not explain, and his muscles bulging out like goiters, and his neck that is somehow larger than his face, but Jubilee? Jubilee reaches new levels of terror. I have no idea what her upper body is doing, nor why her lower legs appear to be about five times as long as her thighs, nor WHAT HAPPENED TO HER EYES

(Above: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa)

Her face is so distressing that it took me a while to realize that Wolverine's legs stop somewhere behind the bike and never return:

(Above: See that "Chilling Poster Inside" seal? The poster is a larger version of the cover. Chilling indeed, Marvel. Well played.)

While I'd recommend the story for any kid who likes X-Men and who likes to be mildly spooked, I'd also recommend that you tear the cover off first. Kids don't need that kind of trouble.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Captain America Meets the Asthma Monster

First off, I love this title. It's not Captain America versus the Asthma Monster, or Captain America battles the Asthma Monster, it's "meets", as if he ran into the Asthma Monster in the supermarket or something. Unfortunately, you turn to the first page and the headline title is "Attack of the Asthma Monster", so that kind of dashes your expectations. 

This issue is by Louise Simonson, who wrote and edited for both Marvel and DC over the years, and who is notable for helping kill Superman and for introducing the world to Cable. Then again, she also created Power Pack, so I can't hate her too much. 

Captain America Meets the Asthma Monster begins with a boy named John who is so excited about meeting Captain America at a mall that he has an asthma attack. In the nurse's office at school, he meets Ruth, a young charmer with feathered hair who is the captain of the swim team even though she also has asthma. Unfortunately, their budding romance is cut short when Swamp Thing the Asthma Monster attacks the school, bent on giving everyone an asthma attack!

(Above: Miss Grady is awfully provocatively dressed for a school nurse)

The Asthma Monster is an inexplicably teleporting badass who uses his considerable scientific prowess to give asthma attacks to the staff and students of local elementary schools. John and Ruth are immune, though, because of their asthma medicine! Didn't think of that, did you, Asthma Monster? He's so pissed off by this that he goes to destroy the "antidote" to his evil scheme. And who could possibly stop him? Why, Captain America and his unmarked yellow van!

(Above: Batman has his Batmobile, the X-Men have their Blackbird, and Captain America has a sweet van he bought off of a retiring contractor. He's gonna get a unicorn airbrushed on the hood when he's got enough cash)

Turns out Cap himself had asthma when he was a kid, but presumably the Super-Soldier serum that gave him his powers cleared that right up. Anyway, seems that the A.M. read the prescription label on the kids' medicine and has gone to take out their pediatrician, Dr. David. So Captain America takes the kids with him to the epic standoff in the doctor's office, and they're able to help by spraying the monster with their inhalers. But hey! It wasn't a real monster after all! It was a normal adult who felt left out because he had asthma, and who put all of his energy into making a Swamp Thing costume and devising a formula to attack people's lungs, instead of just manning up and taking some common and readily available asthma medication! He wanted everyone to suffer like he did! This all leads up to the best panel in the comic:

(Above: I will never get tired of the "...IN JAIL!" stinger)

So what have we learned from this?

1. Building a teleporting monster suit is easier than purchasing an inhaler
2. Children with asthma will, if left untreated, grow up to be unpleasant and petty supervillains
3. Someone needs to pay to have Cap's logo stenciled on his van
4. I never, ever want to type "asthma" again

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs

All right, this is more like it. This one's a Peter David-penned comic from 1990, in which no one's favorite superhero, Captain America, teaches kids Not To Use Drugs in a tale that is both surprisingly heartfelt and mind-bogglingly convoluted. High above the Earth, a group of mysterious and warlike aliens are watching humanity in order to decide whether or not to invade. They point out that humans have a love of life and hope and freedom and fighting and would probably not give in easily, but also that they enjoy taking addictive drugs, which could destroy them! Therefore, although they can apparently see what's going on all over the earth, they decide to focus on four teenagers, and if half of them start using drugs, then the invasion will continue.

(Above: There is no way this plan could fail)

The real meat of the story begins with a kid named Keith emailing Captain America, worried that the star pitcher of his baseball team, Mitch Baskin (named so because Mitch rhymes with pitch, and because Peter David was hungry for some delicious Baskin-Robbins ice cream at this point in the script) is hepped up on the drugs. It's actually kind of refreshing to see a cautionary drug story where the user is a popular, talented kid and not a cartoonish bully or the victim of Peer Pressure, but unfortunately, the rest of the story isn't quite as realistic. Anyway, Mitch smokes meth before the Big Game or something and pitches so poorly that the ball somehow scoots up the batter's flank, knocks off his helmet and hits him in the head hard enough to knock him out.

(Above: Mitch disobeys drug laws; laws of physics)

Captain America shows up seemingly out of nowhere and alerts a passing patrol car by hurling his shield at it, and then blurts out to the whole team that Mitch has been mainlining cocaine or snorting pot or who knows what, the comic doesn't make it very clear. Everyone's understandably upset, but Cap points out that that what Mitch needs is treatment and a supportive group of friends and family to help him battle his addiction. Lucky Mitch! If this had been written two years earlier, during the Reagan era, he'd have been sent off to prison for twenty years to dry out among serial killers and crime lords!

Meanwhile, Mitch finds his (alien) pusher and really lets him have it:

(Above: Mitch gets crunk krunk)

The alien's mask cracks! He's not human after all! But the opposing team shows up to beat the shit out of Mitch, and the pusher gets away! Cap shows up out of nowhere again and shows the kind of compassionate understanding for the stresses in Mitch's life that doesn't belong in a story about faceless aliens giving teenagers drugs in order to decide whether or not to invade the earth. Mitch promises to try not to do so many drugs, and Captain America is surprised to find that Mitch's tale of masked alien dealers may not be an acid-fueled hallucination after all! And then the story just kind of... ends. What happened to the other three kids the aliens were selling drugs to? Maybe there were supposed to be three more books in this series?

What we have learned from this book? Anyone offering you drugs is probably an alien in a ceramic mask. Also, Captain America will answer any email you send him; go right ahead and write! He's got nothing else going on!