Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

In general, I like to read a manga before I watch an anime, but Prison School was an exception because, quite frankly, I couldn’t believe the images/ cosplay/ rumours/ spoilers/ vinyl statues that I have seen.

I watched the anime first and what I found was a sexy and hilariously archaic parody of school that wouldn’t have been uncomfortable in the company of 80s teen comedies like Porky’s or Animal House. This led me to the manga, which I found the first collection to be pretty average, story wise, but the art was nice, and I’ll stick with it because I know what is coming from watching the anime.

Of all the characters in both the anime and manga, the one that sticks out more than any of the others, is one of the baddies, the Shadow Student Council Vice President Meiko Shiraki. Why does she stick out? Well, she’s tall, with silver hair and glasses, and an extraordinarily large breast to waist to hip ratio, can’t seem to find clothes to fit her appropriately (well, except for stilettos) and sweats profusely… and I mean SWEATS whenever she is under any kind of pressure.

Of course, this means mangaka, Akira Hiramoto, presents her in the most obtuse of positions, showing off her enormous breasts, buttocks or labia majora, usually covered in perspiration and generally before executing some cruel form of torture on an unexpected male pupil. She is the sexy straight man of the baddies, and is amusing to see in her various displays.

What we have here with Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All, is a series of 14 short manga vignettes showing Shiraki is various high pressure situations, such as a maths exam, trying to get back to a steeping cup of tea before it spoils, eating a mega-curry and several others. Some of the other characters peek in here and there, but these mostly wordless stories show her under pressure and then relieved of it.

It’s ecchi of the highest order for sure, and there is no doubt that the art by ReDrop isn’t sexy and over the top as the idea of the manga would suggest, but the stories themselves just aren’t engaging or, for that matter, very good. Actually they are less than not very good.

Considering Shiraki was the Darth Vader scaled villain of the piece, this is the equivalent of finding that major cinematic villain dancing on stage at Disneyland to MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This!’ and it’s a big disappointment. I imagined this to be some kind of a story about other horrible things she has done to people, but it’s just putting her into situations where she gets sweaty, or naked.

I’m not sure how successful this was, but considering that I, as a fan of manga and don’t mind a little ecchi in my comics, am probably the target market, and I don’t like it, when you can probably take that as a pretty big failure.

This manga was published by Yen Press.

Score: *

WIRIA: No.

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

Film: I didn’t know, until a few years ago, about the so-called ‘77 Rules of the Internet’.They exist, I swear!

The way I was introduced to them was via Rule 34: If is exists; there’s porn of it. No exceptions!

I laughed when I first heard if this amongst a group of friends, and so I whipped out my trusty smart phone and started searching… Overwatch porn: heaps. Pokémon porn: yep. Fidget spinner porn: I kid you not, but yes indeed.

Humans love to get off with the weirdest stuff. As nerdy culture has become more prevalent, it was only a matter of time before it became more regularly available as porn, and us us comic nerds are more exposed to sexy cosplay versions of Captain Marvel and Batgirl, it was certainly only a matter of time before someone in the prom industry came up with the idea of doing a regular series of films with superheroes in kind.

That man was Alex Braun. Honestly it’s not surprising at at all that eventually PornHub would be covered in cosplayers having various forms of intercourses in costume… what can I say, I’m a thorough researcher… but that’s a couple of independent homegirls doing it, Braun’s films are flat out, 100% obviously Thor, and Captain America, and She Hulk etc. There is a disclaimer at the beginning where it’s pointed out that this is a parody and not a genuine Marvel movie.

Anyway, for a film that goes for about 120 odd minutes, but only 15 minutes of that are actual story, whilst the rest is best all the sex stuff.

The story goes that after the Hulk and the Abomination destroy the city, the Hulk disappears with Iron Man in hot pursuit, leaving the rest of the Avengers to hang out at the ‘Avengers warehouse’ with nothing to do.

So basically they pair off and root. First off it’s Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee) with Hawkeye (Eric Masterton), followed by Sharon Carter (Phoenix Marie) and Nick Fury (Lexington Steele). Next, the Scarlet Witch (Danni Cole) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow) have a bit of all girl action in the gym before She-Hulk (Chyna… yep, from the WWE) and Thor (Brendon Millar) go at it. Finally, because they don’t get to go on a mission to find something in the ice in the Arctic (or Antarctic, I get them mixed up), the non-Spiderman-sounding Spiderman (Xander Corvus) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow again) decide to end the sexy part of the film before we lead into a shocking revelation…

This film is such a weird thing, and I mean over and above seeing beloved character from comics swapping fluids, as it creates a weird universe with both the comics and the movies, with some elements coming from either. Some of the costumes are on-point for the comics, whilst others are ok versions of the movies ones… maybe even store bought. The effects are surprisingly good too, as I imagine the SPFX on adult movies aren’t normally too high.

This isn’t a great film, but it is t supposed to be. As pornography, it’s sexy and titillating to seeing ’superheroes’ doing the nasty… let’s face it, most nerds have talked about how Superman and Lois would do it, or if Reed Richards isn’t just the greatest lover in the world due to his flexible body, but as a film with a solid story, it’s below average. If you do come across it (excuse the pun), watch it as a curio.

This film was reviewed on DVD, presented in a 1.78:1image, and with a Dolby digital 2.0 audio track.

Score: **

Extras: There are two extras on this disc:

A 47 image slideshow featuring stills from the film, and trailers for The Incredible Hulk: A Porn Parody, Threeway, and Unleashed

Score: *

WISIA: Nope. We’re done.

The All-New X-men: Ghosts of Cyclops

It would be a boring review if it were to start with something as terrible as a ‘look up convoluted in the dictionary, and you’ll find the history of the X-men as an example.’ Yep, boring, and lazy reviewing as well, so we won’t do that.

That’s not to say it’s not the absolute truth though. The X-men was nothing short of an absolute brilliant comics in the 80s, but it’s, and more specifically Wolverine’s, popularity came in the 90s at a terrible price.

Sure, the X-men cartoon was amazing, even though it starred lame jerk Gambit, but the comics were truly some of the worst in the history of comics as Marvel, close to going bankrupt, did everything from emulating comics industry bad-boys Image Comics’ style, to deciding that almost everyone was a bloody mutant.

Thankfully, since the turn of the century, and with the popularity of the X-men films, Marvel have attempted to clean up the mutant part of the Marvel universe… even if the films, also, became someone convoluted and confusing.

One of the interesting things that Marvel did was use their time travel deus ex machina (a cure-all for so many awkward story ideas) to attempt to ‘fix’ things by having the original X-men pulled out of time and transported to ‘now’ so they can not become who they do. Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, could be confronted by her possession by the Phoenix Force, and Scott Summers, Cyclops, could perhaps find himself to not become the seemingly megalomaniacal leader of all mutants.

Unfortunately, the ‘all-new’ Scott Summers is so horrified by his future self, that he wants to avoid being Cyclops at all, so he goes off-grid, separating himself from the All New X-men (whose ranks include the new Iceman, Beast and Angel, Wolverine (ex-X-23), Kid Apocalypse and Idie), until a mutant terrorist group called The Ghosts of Cyclops rise up in an attempt to continue Cyclops’ work, and Scott finds himself in a position where he has to reveal himself to stop them.

Story: This story is written by Dennis Hopeless who has given us an interesting take on the X-Men, and the exploration of a young man’s fear of becoming something horrible is an interesting look at the normally stoic Scott Summers character. Unfortunately, the second part of this trade paperback is a fairly stock standard cliff hanger starring the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, that only has half the story and therefore becomes somewhat anticlimactic.

Score: ***1/2

Art: The Official Marvel Try-out Book Winner Mark Bagley is Marvel’s version of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Bag key seems to have consistently been working for Marvel since the 80s and he offers the same quality of work that he always has, which is reminiscent of John Byrne’s 70s work. It’s is functional, reads easy and looks nice. The end if this book also features some alternate covers by Ron Lim, Ed Piskor, Pascal Ferry, June Brigman, Janet Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Score: ***

Doctor Stone Volume 1

Doctor Stone Volume 1

I’ve been trying to get through the embarrassing amount of manga I haven’t read, and was reminded, whilst looking at the pile, that a friend of mine had suggested that I, with my interest in science, sci-fi and teen movies, would probably appreciate a series with story by Riichiro Inagaki and art by Boichi called Dr Stone.

It’s just an average, but when a weird flash of light turns everyone to stone, mankind’s history comes to a catastrophic halt. Senku, a super intelligent high school student, kept his consciousness alive by counting nonstop for several thousand years before achieving the will power to burst out of his stone form… but not without his skin maintaining a couple of cracks from his stone form.

A year and a half later, his friend, Taiju, who is super strong but somewhat of a dummy, managed to break out through his not-stop thinking about the love of his life, Yuzurina, whom he was on the way to meet when the flash happened, and is now also stone.

The two start to research a ‘cure’ to the stone disease, and are on the right track when they are attacked by lions, and have to release the toughest fighter they know, Tsukasa Shishio, who subsequently dispatches the lions.

They also release Yuzurina, but soon they discover that Tsukasa and them have different values.

Whilst Senku and his pals are attempting to get life back to where it was all those thousands of years ago, Tsukasa thinks that all adults should be killed so the children can start the world over again… and so he starts smashing the stone adults…

This manga is extraordinarily surprising. At its surface, it’s a sci-fi mystery, but once you start dipping into it, it seems to be a massive moral story, but unusually with the GOOD guy wanting the corporation fuelled society back so he can indulge in his scientific and technological exploits. The writing is extremely tight, though occasionally leans into a bit of American catch-phrase-isms.

The art is extraordinarily beautiful, and all the characters are, probably deliberately, statuesque, and the action scenes are a joy to the eye.

Score: ****

Fairy Tail Volume 1

An ex-co-worker of mine was a big fan of Fairy Tail to the point she named her cosplay name after one of the characters in this anime (Hi Tash!) but honestly, even thoigh she pestered me to read it, I never got around to it… until now! I have to say it wasn’t what I expected!

Fairy Tail is a manga produced by mangaka Hiro Mashima, who also gave us Rave Master, and he says that the idea of Fairy Tail came from the sense of community he felt from being with his friends, and the quest that some young people have in real life to find their calling.

Fairy Tail Volume One takes us to the fantasy land of Earth-land and in this volume, we meet Lucy Heartfilla, 17 year old celestial wizard who wants to join a guild called Fairy Tail for the sense of community (like I said above… the main part of the guild is even a pub, which, it is said, Mashima got part of his inspiration).

While searching in a town, she accidentally finds herself embroiled in a human-trafficking ring (specifically one that kidnaps young women), until she is saved by Natsu Dragneel, a dragon slayer wizard who has fire based powers, and his associate Happy, a cat with some shape shifting abilities.

After they save her, she is invited to join Fairy Tail as it just so happens that they are members! They introduce her around the group, but discover one of their kin, Macao, has been kidnapped (a LOT of kidnapping seems to happen) by apes called ‘Vulcans’, and so immediately start what will no doubt be a series of adventures which will take them all over Earth-land.

Now even though I’ve watched anime since I was a kid, back in the days when we just called them ‘cartoons’, I’m only a recent full-tilt convert to anime, and it’s come from a sense of boredom with western comics. Prior to my current addiction I really only ever purchased Akira and a couple of western-styled manga like Dirty Pair. (I do have an occasional Lum, Ranma 1/2 and some only Shonen Jumps in my collection).

To this relative newcomer to manga, I find Mashima’s art and style to be reminiscent of One Piece, even down to the pseudo-fantasy/ historical setting. I imagine this is what Harry Potter would have been like if created by Eiichiro Oda!

The story runs along at a cracking pace, and the art style matches the frenetic tale it tells. I do have to admit I’m not a great fan of art going from a particular style and then changing to express an emotion like shock, but the story was good enough that I could overlook that.

The characters are great, though! Lucy is our access to the guild so we learn about their habits and laws through her eyes. I hav to say I also enjoy her magical powers as they are really inventive and not something I can recall seeing ever before!

Natsu is also an interesting, passionate character who like his powers suggest, is a bit of a hothead, and Happy is just (so far, it’s only volume 1) as his name suggests, a happy cat who can talk and grow wings!

This volume also has some descriptions of jokes that may not have translated from the Japanese too well, and describes a few translation changes to make sense to western readers.

I can see myself buying another volume of this as I enjoyed it, but I think the next volume will need to have more of a hook as I can’t really see the characters getting too much development, but I hope I am wrong.

Score:***1/2

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Film: A strange thing happened to the 13 year old me in 1983… no, not pubic hair and the realisation that boobs are amazing… no, I became a ‘proper’ comic collector. I had been collecting comics for almost a decade at this point, but comics were something I rolled up and shoved in my pocket, and carried around in cardboard boxes with little regard for comic company, numbering or continuing stories.

I just liked the pictures with the words.

In 1983, though, I picked up something special whilst at the local news agency with my mum, who was doing her lotto: the first issue of a comic which would change my life, The New Mutants.

The New Mutants told of teens, some the same age as me, who upon hitting puberty, discovered that hidden in their DNA was a horrible secret/ curse of special abilities that if untethered, could accidentally kill others. Thankfully, they were taken on by the kindly teacher Professor Charles Xavier, who at his private school would just teach them and protect them, would also train them to use their powers, but unlike his other team, the missing (at the time) X-men, he wouldn’t allow them to become ‘super heroes’… but they are strong-willed teens, so obviously THAT wasn’t going to happen!

Imagine my excitement, then, when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was going to make a HORROR film based on my favourite comic of all time! Imagine my disappointment at the constant delays, some COVID-related, and some due to the Disney buy-out of Fox, and other because it was getting some bad press, even though no one had actually seen it.

The New Mutants FINALLY got a release in late 2020, where it was unceremoniously dumped… even though it was part of the successful but floundering (well, except for Deadpool and the magnificent Logan) X-men series… to DVD and Bluray (in the companies defence, it was right during COVID lockdowns and few, if any, cinemas were actually open). Tragically you can tell it was dumped by the fact that bother the symbols for Marvel, and it’s parent company Disney, and not mentioned on the front of the packaging, and are a tiny part of the back cover, which is a resounding ‘we are embarrassed by this movie’.

At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, they are wrong.

This film was directed by Josh Boone, the director of teen drama The Fault in our Stars, who had envisioned it to be the first in a trilogy, which is now obviously abandoned, and was based on a script by him and Bad Grandpa’s Knate Lee… please don’t let those credentials scare you off… and is based loosely on the comics Demon Bear Saga, written by Chris Claremont, with art from Bob McLeod and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The New Mutants tells of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teenage girl who has been admitted to a hospital after a tornado destroys her community, and her father is killed by… something…

At this institute, she discovers that the doctor in charge, Dr. Celia Reyes (Alice Braga) intends on keeping her there until she understands and can learn to control her mutant powers of being able to make people’s worst nightmares come to life.

Maisie Williams and Blu Hunt

Dr. Reyes already has a group of kids at the institute though: the quiet, but lycanthropic Rahne (Maisie Williams), the Brazilian hothead, Roberto (Henry Zaga), southern boy Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Uber-bitch, is-she-actually-a-demon Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), and quickly, Dani discovers that she is being held with these others, in a cage if sorts.

The problem with cages, though, is sometimes they keep what’s outside, outside, but they also trap everything inside, perhaps even whatever it was that killed Dani’s rather… and with 5 super powered and erratic teens, that could be a dangerous mix!

Roberto’s girlfriend is a hottie!

Now this film isn’t your traditional ‘Bang! Pow!’ Superhero movie, oh no. This takes all that bluster and works it down to something that you saw in some of the X-men films, especially with the horrors of Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) powers which caused he to be unable to touch the skin of another human being: getting your powers for the first time would be horrible. Mix with that the difficulties of puberty and a bit of sexual chemistry and you have an absolute cracker of a movie.

It reads very much like a super powered, horror version of The Breakfast Club, and honestly this probably does tap into my love of that John Hughes film, with maybe a little of A Nightmare on Elm St 3: The Dream Warriors thrown in for good measure.

The cast, for me, are an absolute dream. Maisie Williams, hot off her time as Anya in Game of Thrones, Charlie Heaton, the creepy hot guy from Stranger Things and Anya Taylor-Joy, my current obsession, and star of The VVitch and hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. In a weird piece of chance, and I guess it’s what a good casting person does, the cast somehow both fit, and don’t.

The story is a great introduction to these characters, and choosing to make this film with horror and teen elements is just as clever as making Deadpool a full-tilt comedy. It was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy and it’s a shame we’ll miss out on that as this film quite heavily leans into a future appearances of X-men baddie, Mr. Sinister.

Just because this film was dumped by Disney, please don’t assume it’s anything bad. It’s great!

Score: ****

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian release, region B Bluray copy of the film. The 1.85:1 image and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are fabulous.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a bunch of extras on this Bluray:

There are 7 deleted scenes which the movie really doesn’t miss at all.

Origins and Influences sees Boone, Lee and Sienkiewicz talk about the New Mutants comic. For me this is an unusual featurettes as Boone and Lee talk about how much they loved the New Mutants comic but it started off as a usual superhero comic, which for me, it definitely did not. Towards the end, it became boring and generic, but at first it was a proper school for people learning to control their abilities. I do appreciate it did become something unique when Sienkiewicz could really unleash his art style into it.

Meet the New Mutants introduces us to the cast and the characters they play.

Audio commentary with Boone and Sienkiewicz is really fascinating. To hear two storytellers from different areas of creative storytelling coming together and discussing a project they both worked on in different media. It’s so refreshing to see a comic creative get such a voice in a commentary. Normally in most superhero movies, a tiny bit of lip service is paid to the source material, or poor Stan Lee was forced to tell one of his oft-told tales again, but this really feels like a tribute to the comic. Fantastic.

There’s also the teaser and theatrical trailer.

Score: ****

WISIA: Oh boy, it’s so good it’ll get regularly rewatched!

Anya Taylor-Jot is Magikal

The Spirit (2008)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Spirit (2008)

Film: While many comic’s fans may have never read The Spirit, they would at the very least be aware of the legend of comics craftsman Will Eisner. Eisner’s abilities with a comics board and the visuals that he displayed upon them are legendary and surpassed by no-one. His skill in relating a story in drawn visuals has influenced many, MANY cartoonists and filmmakers alike. His name is synonymous with the craft of comic writing and drawing, that the comic’s version of The Academy Awards is known as The Eisners.

Frank Miller is one of those people who were greatly influenced by Eisner. Not so much from an artistic point of view, though that is there, but more the way Eisner treated the images and ‘spirit’ of the city the characters resided in as a character as well, and his want of having the main character’s relationships with women being volatile and good guy/ bad guy barrier blurring. Take a look at Millar’s Elektra Saga from Daredevil and you will see what I mean.

Millar’s understanding of Eisner’s work and friendship with the man made him the perfect person to write and direct a film based on this character.

The Spirit tells of..the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a no-nonsense, two fisted, supposedly ex-cop who is seemingly unstoppable. He spends his days residing in his crypt, but at night defends his city from those who choose to abuse her and her citizens. One of those abusers is a crime boss known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), another unstoppable soul who seems to have a ‘spiritual’ relationship with the Spirit.

While in pursuit of a treasure of great importance to an experiment he is performing, the Octopus, with his scientist partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and her cloned lackeys (all played by Louis Lombardi) crosses paths with the Spirit’s old flame and professional thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) who is tracking down a treasure of her own. Of course they end up with each other’s objective, and then the fun really begins.

Does the Octopus’ experiment have anything to do with the Spirit, and if so will it be his undoing?

Frank Miller has made a beautiful film that is full of classic noir imagery, and scenes reminiscent of many classic directors work, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Aldrich; sometimes deliberate, and sometimes just to this viewer’s eye. The over the top performances he gets from Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht are totally cartoony, but are brought down to earth by the absolute gravity of Dan Lauria. His ability to get actors to act at their peaks is apparent as well, even Eva Mendes, who I occasionally find lacking in  ability (though she makes up for it visually) really exceeds any role she has previously played.

Speaking of babes, Miller has scored some spectacular woman to play the menagerie of femme fatales  from The Spirit comic, even though the character of Sand Serif was somewhat merged with the absent P’Gell. The afore mentioned Mendes is at her absolute sexiest as Serif, and her competition here are other gorgeous actresses such as Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and newcomer Seychelle Gabriel, all of whom really steal any scene they are in… a special mention for exploitation fans must be Scarlett Johansson dressed as a Nazi.

The combination of P’Gell and Sand Serif is not the only liberty Miller has taken with Eisner’s comic. The comic never revealed the Octopus as anything other than a pair of gloves, so his decision to show the Octopus in full is as brave as Judge Dredd taking off his helmet or making Aliens Vs Predator films suck. He also dumped the idea of the Spirit’s sidekick ‘Ebony White’ who was one of those unacceptable Negro characters: you know the ones, big lipped ‘Yes Massa’ types.

The end credits are cool. From a visual point of view they show a series of Miller’s storyboards with the credits over them, and from a soundtrack point of view, Christina Aguilera does a beautiful cover of Marlene Deitrich’s Falling in Love Again, which she sang in The Blue Angel in 1930.

The film looks great, but unfortunately suffers from 2 big problems. The first is that the story is choppy, and the film feels like it has no flow: the term ‘Mad Woman’s breakfast’ comes to mind, which is a shame as the story is potentially a good and fun one. The second problem is its identity. It looks SO much like Sin City that the whole film feels like a cut sequence from that film. Enjoyable, but flawed.

Score: **

Format: The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and is an amazingly detailed image: a credit to bluray. The soundtrack on this is spectacular and will take full advantage of your sound system. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Commentary with director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It’s an excellent commentary, which the two performers exposing themselves as lovers of comics, film, each others work and of the film they created together. They do occasionally talk about re-doing excised effects for the DVD (and Bluray I imagine) but judging by the fact that they are NOT there, I assume it never happened.

The Green Room is more or less a traditional ‘making of’ type extra. It covers the origins of the film, Will Eisner’s and Frank Miller’s artwork, how actors reacted to the green screen aspects of the filming and the special effects. It’s fairly brief for what it has to cover, but covers a lot!

Miller on Miller is a queer little feature which has Miller himself recounting tales of his life and career, looking at his work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight and others and his love of city based characters. He also takes a very brief look at the history of comics, and the career of Will Eisner. For Miller fans it is a decent feature, though he does recount tales that he previously discussed on the extras for Daredevil and Elektra, and for those not familiar with Miller will find it even more interesting. What I found interesting about it though was his decision to dress like Freddy Krueger for the interview.

Alternate Ending with Voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson is an animated storyboard, but with  dialogue spoken by the actors.

History Repeats is an excellent look at Eisner’s creation of the Spirit, with interviews with some of my personal heroes like Denis Kitchen and Neal Adams, and how he changed the world’s appreciation of comics.

We also have the theatrical trailer.

Score: *****

WISIA: It has enough surface appeal to perhaps give it another go, but essentially, watching either Sin City films again is a better option.

Book Review: Afterlife with Archie Vol 1

Afterlife With Archie

I have always been a comic fan, and for many years have entertained the idea of being a comic writer or artist. I mainly drew superheroes but also always found the drawings of Dan DeCarlo in Archie comics alluring. He just had this way about making the comics fun, and he really had a way of making all the women look gorgeous, which was probably from his previous occupation of drawing jokes in ‘men’s’ magazines. My love of horror leaked into my fondness for Archie and when I was about 19 I actually drew an entire comic of Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame, butchering his way through the Archie gang.

I had a lot of fun writing and drawing that and it featured scenes such as Veronica being cut in half during sex with Archie ( and Archie’s todger popping up in the middle of her corpse) and in a tribute to Heathers, Moose and Reggie dying after a love tryst in the woods when Voorhees first emerges from the River ( the comic was set between Friday the 13th Part VII and VIII).

Of course I knew that seeing as how Archie Comics were such a stickler for the oppressive Comics Code Authority, a self imposed body that restricts various acts in comics that may corrupt our children, that violence such as that would rarely if ever hit their books (though the inclusion of a clutch of Witches in the Sabrina comics were always a surprise) and even Archie’s brief encounter with the Punisher from Marvel Comics failed to raise too much interest, that is until now… As Archie and his friends fight the dead!

Afterlife with Archie started as a joke alternate zombie cover of the long time comic series Life With Archie, which was so popular that the makers decided that with that, and the popularity of comics such as The Walking Dead and Marvel Comics’ Marvel Zombies, that it should become a regular series.

This first collection collects the first 5 issues and has, as a bonus, all the alternate covers of the individual issues presented and artist Francesco Francavilla’s initial sketch layouts for each page, which is kind of like a DVD making of!

The story goes like this… And some of it may sound familiar. Jughead has a serious problem, his beloved dog Hot Dog was accidentally run over by Reggie late one night, so Jughead takes his dog to Sabrina, the teenage witch, to see if her aunts can bring him back to life, but they can’t as Hot Dog is well and truly gone.

Sabrina, however, visits Jughead later that night with a book called the Necronomicon which is full of dark magic, with the idea to bring the dog back to life. They go their separate ways, but Sabrina is punished by her aunts for using dark magic and banished to another dimension.

Hot Dog rises from the dead, but he has changed. He bites Jughead who of course becomes the first of the living dead and he then starts infecting the town of Riverdale, starting with the school Halloween party. Most of the gang eventually manage to escape and hole up in the Lodge residence… But are they really safe there from the legions of the undead.

I really wanted to like this comic, but it fell apart of SO many levels. First, Archie comics have a ‘look’ developed by the aforementioned Dan DaCarlo and continued since then by the likes of artists like Stan Goldberg, and occasionally they have experimented outside that look. To average success. The art in this is done more traditional comic style, and I’m sorry but if I am offered Archie Vs Zombies, that’s what I want  not something that is reminiscent of The Walking Dead. This is no criticism of artist Francesco Francavilla whose panel design and color palette for a zombie comic are fantastic, but I wanted ARCHIE comics, not a horror comic with familiar names.

Archie Comics has since completely abandoned that DeCarlo look, and I’m hoping it is to great success, and even though I’m am criticising the art as part of this review, it’s more how derivative it is that makes it a frustrating read.

Which leads me to the second, and for me the main issue, was the story. There is NOTHING new here. The resurrection of Hot Dog is stolen completely from Pet Semetary, Evil Dead’s incantation from the Necronomicon and the eventually holing up and escape from Veronica’s mansion feels a lot like the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I understand that both The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later stole their initial stories bases from The Day of the Triffids, but that doesn’t make it OK to do it in another format. Is a new idea SO hard to come by? I also get these may have been an attempt at getting horror fans onside with nudge nudge wink winks, but they’re were so obvious and cheesy that for me it felt more like fromage than homage.

With these art and story issues, it feels like it doesn’t know what it’s identity is. Is it an Archie comic or not? Is it aimed at horror fans? If so the story will disappoint, or is it aimed at Archie fans, in which case the art will disappoint. If it’s aimed at both, like I am, it will disappoint on both counts.  I will say though, the book itself, though, is nicely presented.

Overall: **

BOOK REVIEW : Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Whilst I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember, other than a few dalliances with Shonen Jump, arguably the biggest source of Japanese comics (or manga, if you prefer) I’ve never really read much except for a few reprints that companies like Dark Horse Comics did in the nineties, and the entire Akira series by Katsuhiro Ôtomo that Epic Comics, an adult line of Marvel set to emulate the more Euro Heavy Metal, released during the eighties.

I’ve always liked the style of Japanese art seen on anime like Battle of the Planets, Kum Kum, Kimba, Marine Boy, Astro Boy and the stunning space saga that is Macross aka Robotech, and I admire the fact that with manga, in general, one creator works on a title until they decide to give it up… I wonder how long Marvel would have survived if creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko just stopped Fantastic Four or Spiderman! I don’t know why I didn’t jump onto manga more, especially when on considers how much I loved a comic by Guinea Pig film conceptualist and mangaka (comic creator) Hideshi Hino, whose manga Panorama of Hell sat me firmly down and taught me that there was more to horror comics than the sexualised fantasies of Vampirella, or the sub-superhero is exploits of western horror characters like Werewolf by Night and Morbius.

This brings me to my more recent discovery of the work of Junji Ito. Ito was a dental technician who submitted work to a magazine called Gekkan Halloween (translation: Monthly Halloween… who wouldn’t love a monthly Halloween?) which was well received and became his series Tomie, about an immortal girl who curses the men she comes across. Ito has sited Hino and H. P. Lovecraft amongst his influences so how could I not immediately fall for his work?

This volume of his work, Venus in the Blind Spot, is a collection of 10 short stories, mostly in his exquisite tight black lines, but occasionally with colour pages or splashes of colour for effect, and a few mini-posters taken from covers of other comics like No Longer Human. This is all wrapped in a beautiful hardcover volume which has a double sided dust jacket: a similar image is on both sides (that of a beautiful blonde woman seen in the reflection of an eye) but the interior cover is clean (and the woman is smiling instead of staring blankly) with none of the titles obscuring it. This dust cover hides, on the actual cover, a terrifying image of the remains of a man being crushed by the foundations of a house, taken from one of the tales on the inside.

In this collection, there are several tales which are amazing: Billions Alone, which tells of a killer who is sewing people together, The Human Chair, based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo, a tale about a mythical chair that has a person living within it, An Unearthly Love, also based on a Ranpa story, which sees a woman married to a man with an unusual affection for a manikin, the very Lovecraftian The Licking Woman about a woman who attacks people and licks them, leaving a deadly rash where her tongue has touched, Keepsake, about the child born of a dead woman and finally, the masterfully bizarre story of The Enigma of Amigara Fault, a story of an earthquake that reveals a crevice covered in human shaped holes that seemingly echo actual people’s body shapes, causing them to have a compulsive need to enter them.

Unfortunately the other stories didn’t resonate too much with me, though I do think the art of Venus in the Blind Spot, the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears when you get close to her, is possibly some of Ito’s finest. I had a particular dislike for the fanboy-ish Master Umezz and Me, in which Ito explains his own obsession with mangaka Kazuo Umezu, who created the manga The Drifting Classroom, which Ito respectfully parodies/ pays homage to with his own manga The Dissolving Classroom.

The first thing anyone will notice about Ito’s work is how beautiful it is. His characters are all exquisitely beautiful in the execution, with delicate features and calm stature, which is juxtapositions fantastically by the grotesque monstrosities that they become when angered, or due to unfortunate circumstance, which is the key to great horror.

Of course, thematically one would expect there are occasional ideas that seem unusual which are due to culture and tradition, but when the actual stories themes kick off, they are quickly overlooked. His ideas of compulsion and obsession are prevalent and perhaps reveal that doom comes to those who are unable to control them.

This volume has some good stories in it, but it’s probably for completists of Ito only, and a starting reader might do better with Tomie, Gyo or Uzumaki instead.

This volume is published by Viz Media.

***

Punisher War Zone (2008)

One from the re- watch pile…

Punisher War Zone (2008)

Film: I love films based on comics. No matter how bad they are, I love to watch them. I see them as an opportunity for a different creative team to take characters from a medium I love and adapting them to a format that is NOT a continuing story, but instead a one off look at the character. This of course can be difficult, and judging by the amount of bad comic based films, the results can be disastrous: Judge Dredd, Thor: Ragnarok and Tank Girl come to mind. The reason for this is simple: comics are mainly character based and not story based. The comics usually have an infinite life span, so even though a storyline may finish, the character continues on and on and on….sometimes too long.

This of course is not always true: V for Vendetta and Watchmen being two good examples of story rather than character based comics, and both were executed well, but a character based story can sometimes be filled with too much, especially a first film of a character, as you have to have not just the characters origin, but also an engaging storyline to boot, a villain to vanquish and a damsel in distress to rescue. This is why the second film based on a character can occasionally flow better. Sure, the origin may to be refreshed, but in general, the antagonist can get about his work pretty quickly.

So here we are with the second Punisher movie, and I call it the second as I choose to ignore the Dolph Lundgren effort, for no reason other than the time between it, of the Thomas Jane one of 2004. Besides, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher was really just an action film that had elements of the comic Punisher in it, whereas the more recent effort directly had elements in common with the comic version, and at least attempted to be a Punisher movie.

I will say though, thankfully all versions have chosen to ignore the comic-based Punisher’s original choice of shoe, which was a Nancy Sinatra, These-Boots-Were-Made-For-Walkin’, don’t wear after Labour Day, lily-white pair of boots.

The Punisher: War Zone, based on the comic of the same name, does not have Thomas Jane playing the title character, but instead has replaced him with the, in my humble opinion, far more appropriate Ray Stevenson , who also has played Volstaggin the Marvel Studios films, whose presence during this movie screams The Punisher. Taking place about 5 years after his alter ego Frank Castle’s genesis as the Punisher, this movie sees him initially up against a fairly generic mafia, whom he absolutely annihilates in a bloody orgy of violence, except for Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and his immediate henchmen, one of whom is undercover FBI. Keen to finish the job on the whole family, the Punisher follows the gang to a glass recycling plant, where after a gunfight, he accidentally kills the FBI agent, and not so accidentally throws Billy into the glass crushing machine.

Billy, of course, survives, but with a severe facial deformation, and a new name to reflect his Frankenstein-ian looks: Jigsaw! The first act Jigsaw does is get his mental case brother, Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison… you should remember him, he played ‘Tooms’ in The X-Files) out of the mental facility in which he is being held, and then: vengeance. As far as Jigsaw is concerned, The Punisher needs to be taken out of the picture, and also, on a personal note, the wife, Angela (Julie Benz) and daughter Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) of the FBI agent need to go the same way.

Frank’s guilt in killing the FBI agent causes him to want to quit ‘the business’ but when his weapons and technology supplier Micro (Wayne Knight) and Angela and Grace are kidnapped, under the noses of FBI agent Paul Budiansky (Resident Evil’s Colin Salmon) and police officer Martin Soap (Dash Mihok), The Punisher goes absolutely ballistic…. Literally! Jigsaw, of course, gathers the might of as many gangs from across the city as he can, and the only way to describe what is about to happen is to use a quote from another Lionsgate film, which also contains a character named ‘Jigsaw’…

‘Oh yes, there will be blood’.

This film is directed by German karate champion Lexi Alexander, but don’t let her being a female director trick you into thinking that this film has its feminine side in place: this film is an arse kicking, head popping, guns blazing punch in the guts all the way. It is perfectly cast, and special mentions have to go to Stevenson’s totally dry and humorless portrayal of Frank Castle, Doug Hutchison’s totally bonkers Loony Bin Jim and Julie Benz as a brunette….wow!!

The direction of this film deserves a special mention as well: the total aesthetic of the comic has been captured perfectly, it is framed and colored like a comic is, so much so I almost expected there to be an ‘inker’ credit in the films titles. This film was also filled with little touches for the comic fans, like the Bradstreet Hotel named after Timothy Bradstreet (Punisher cover artist extraordinaire), and secondary characters such as Maginty and Pittsey that have featured in the comics, albeit maybe after a small cinematic facelift.

This truly is an excellent rendition of The Punisher. It is certainly the first time it has been done right (except for the dulling down of the Punisher’s chest logo), and Ray Stevenson is the absolute perfect man for the role. John Bernthal in the Netflix Tv series came close, but Ray’s 100% my guy for the role.

Even those who have no familiarity with the comic, or the character, should have no problem catching up, and should enjoy the film for the bloody action experience that it is.

This is the Punisher film fans of the comic character have been waiting for. Vicious retaliation mixed with senseless bloodshed is like a dream come true for fans of this character.

Score: *****

Format: Supersexy transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1, with a crystal image that shows off Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer’s efforts perfectly. A fabulous Dolby Digital 5.1 that used the subwoofer so often I thought I may have to get it replaced. Explosions, gunfire, furious retribution….yeah!

Score: *****

Extras: A pretty cool set of extras on this disc, though no ‘Comic to Film’ one tragically, which are the ones I really love! This Punisher release could really do with a thorough ‘Comic character’ documentary like the ones seen on the releases of Ghost Rider and Iron Man, but they seem to have gone by the wayside now that things like the MCU have completely different identities from the comics.

The audio commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Cinematographer Steve Gainer is a thorough one, with both of them commenting on many aspects of the film, from casting to design to special effects. There both seem to love their craft and the commentary only rarely, if at all, dips into mutual masturbation.

The Making of The Punisher Featurette is a traditional kind of feature, with a lot of the focus being on the casting, and voice bits from most of the major cast.

Training for the Punisher shows Ray Stephenson going through his paces with the marines, learning the ropes for both weapons training and hand to hand combat. Stephenson is an impressive model as an action hero, and the marines he is training with seem to appreciate his presence as well. There is also a small discussion with action sequence supervisor Pat Johnson, who talks about how important physical fitness is for an action hero, and we get to see footage of Ray Stevenson beating up on him… which when you see how short Johnson is, almost seems unfair (though I am sure that Johnson can handle himself quite well!!).

Weapons of the Punisher is a great featurette for fans of ordinance!! The weapons master of the film Paul Barrette discusses how the guns are applied to character archetypes to complete the look of a gang…. Something one may not generally take into account. John Barton, the military supervisor also speaks about the use of weapons in the film.

Meet Jigsaw introduces us to Dominic West, and he discusses the role, and the make-up application that go along with it. Most surprising in this featurette was the fact that West is actually English, as I was completely convinced by his over-da-top New York accent (which may be insulting to our American friends, so my apologies: my only exposure to this type of accent has been via gangster films).

Creating the Look of the Punisher is a fascinating look at the mise en scene of the film, and how efforts were made for a particular look, which included the use of only three colors in each scene. Alexander even talks about how she would freak out if one of the non-shot colors was present on the set.

We also get trailers for Right At Your Door, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Vinyan, Lakeview Terrace, and The Burrowers.

Score: ****

WISIA: This comic movie is easily one of my favourites and gets a regular look.